Rendition Victims "Missing" in Ethiopia

UNITED NATIONS - A new report by Human Rights Watch (HRW) accuses the Ethiopian government of detaining at least 10 victims of unlawful rendition incommunicado and without charge since early 2007.

According to the New York-based watchdog group, the detainees were interrogated by U.S. officials last year.

"HRW is calling for the Ethiopian government to immediately release all captives or prosecute them for cognisable criminal offences in a court that meets international fair trial standards," Jennifer Daskal, a senior counsel at HRW, told IPS.

Daskal authored the 54-page report released Wednesday outlining the capture and rendition of at least 85 men, women and children in 2006 and 2007, involving security forces and intelligence agents from Kenya, Ethiopia and the United States.

In late 2006, hundreds of people were fleeing Somalia after the outbreak of heavy violence between the Transitional Federal Government -- assisted by the Ethiopian military -- and the Islamic Courts Union.

Presumably more than 150 refugees were captured by Kenyan authorities along the Somali border. They were accused of having links to the Islamist terror group al Qaeda.

HRW claims that Kenyans held captives from more than 18 countries -- including the U.S., Britain and Canada -- for several weeks without formally charging them.

Among the captives was Kamilya Mohamed Tuwein, a 43-year-old mother of three from Dubai who had traveled to Nairobi. On Jan. 10, 2007, Tuwein and two business partners were arrested by Kenyan police.

"We kept asking to speak our embassies," Tuwein told HRW. "They said, 'When the right time comes'. At one point, one of the police commanders told us if we paid a 35,000 shilling (500-dollar) bribe, we would be set free."

Tuwein did not pay the bribe, and she was rendered to Somalia and then to Ethiopia, without anyone telling her or her family where she was taken.

According to HRW, a total of at least 85 people shared her fate between Jan. 20 and Feb. 10, 2007 - including 19 women and 15 children. In July, Kenyan officials expelled another three men into Somalia where they were given over to Ethiopian officials and rendered to Ethiopia.

One of those arrested in January 2007 was Ishmael Noor, a 37-year-old Ethiopian shepherd.

"We were handcuffed behind our backs with white plastic cuffs that were very painful. Our shoes were removed and we were pushed into the plane. Our legs were tied and we were tied down to the seat of the plane. I saw one man being beaten -- officers were kicking him, punching him, and holding him down," Noor told HRW.

Detainees reported to HRW that in Ethiopia, they were "held for months without charge, and interrogated and tortured by men in Ethiopien military uniforms".

Noor said: "They beat me from head to toe. They used a stick made from a tree. They also used the butt of their gun. If they thought I was too strong, they would target my testicles."

Early in 2007, agents of both the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency and the Federal Bureau of Investigation interrogated detainees in Addis Ababa, according to HRW information that was confirmed by a U.S. government official.

"The U.S. government is complicit in this case," said Daskal.

After U.S. interrogations were completed in May 2007, the Ethiopian government released most of the captives, acknowledging that it had been holding at least 41 individuals in custody who had been transferred from Kenya. HRW believes the real number, however, was closer to 85.

According to HRW, nine Kenyan nationals and one Canadian-Ethiopian national are still being detained, and the whereabouts of 22 Somalis, Ethiopians, Eritreans, and Kenyans who were also rendered to Somalia in early 2007 remain unknown.

Through the systematic rendition, Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia violated several fundamental human rights guarantees under international law, HRW says. Ethiopian security forces are also suspected of torturing and mistreating their captives.

Backed by the United States, Ethiopian military forces first invaded Somalia in July 2006 to support the Transitional Federal Government (TFG) in fighting the Islamic Courts Union (ICU).

Earlier that year, the ICU had taken over Somalia's capital Mogadishu and large areas of the country -- assisted by Ethiopia's archrival Eritrea. Ethiopia also feared the ICU and Eritrea supported Ethiopian insurgency groups based in Somalia.

On Dec. 29 -- nine days after the outbreak of heavy fighting -- the TFG and Ethiopian troops gained control over Mogadishu, ousting the ICU from the city. The fighting triggered waves of refugees.

U.S. support for Ethiopia was a key part of the George W. Bush administration's "war on terror"in the Horn of Africa region, as the ICU was accused of supporting militant Islamist groups and sheltering members of al Qaeda who were responsible for the 1998 U.S. embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania.

Referring to the Bush's administration's tactics, which have come under fire from human rights groups around the world, Daskal said: "Far too often have human rights and the rule of law been disregarded in the last seven years."

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