For Immediate Release
Ethiopia/Kenya: Account for Missing Rendition Victims
Secret Detainees Interrogated by US Officials Are Still in Custody
WASHINGTON - At least 10 victims of the 2007 Horn of Africa rendition program still
languish in Ethiopian jails and the whereabouts of several others is
unknown, Human Rights Watch said in a report
released today. Several of the detained men were interrogated by US
officials in Addis Ababa soon after they were secretly transferred from
Kenya to Somalia, and then to Ethiopia in early 2007.
The 54-page report, "‘Why Am I Still Here?': The Horn of Africa Renditions and the Fate of the Missing,"
examines the 2007 rendition operation, during which at least 90 men,
women, and children fleeing the armed conflict in Somalia were
unlawfully rendered from Kenya to Somalia, and then on to Ethiopia. The
report documents the treatment of several men still in Ethiopian
custody, as well as the previously unreported experiences of recently
released detainees, several of whom described being brutally tortured.
"The dozens of people caught up in the secret Horn of
Africa renditions in 2007 have suffered in silence too long," said
Jennifer Daskal, senior counterterrorism counsel at Human Rights Watch
and author of the report. "Those governments involved - Ethiopia, Kenya
and the US - need to reverse course, renounce unlawful renditions, and
account for the missing."
In late 2006, the Bush administration backed an Ethiopian
military offensive that ousted the Islamist authorities from the Somali
capital Mogadishu. The fighting caused thousands to flee across the
border into Kenya, including some who were suspected of terrorist
Kenyan authorities arrested at least 150 men, women, and
children from more than 18 countries - including the United States, the
United Kingdom, and Canada - in operations near the Somali border and
held them for weeks without charge in Nairobi. In January and February
2007, the Kenyan government then rendered dozens of them - with no
notice to families, lawyers or the detainees themselves - on flights to
Somalia, where they were handed over to the Ethiopian military.
Ethiopian forces also arrested an unknown number of people in Somalia.
Those rendered were later transported to detention centers
in the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa and other Ethiopian towns, where
they effectively disappeared. Denied access to their embassies, their
families, and international humanitarian organizations such as the
International Committee of the Red Cross, the detainees were even
denied phone calls home. Several have said that they were housed in
solitary cells, some as small as two meters by two meters, with their
hands cuffed in painful positions behind their backs and their feet
A number of prisoners were questioned by US Central
Intelligence Agency and Federal Bureau of Investigation agents in Addis
Ababa. From February to May 2007, Ethiopian security officers daily
transported detainees - including several pregnant women - to a villa
where US officials interrogated them about suspected terrorist links.
At night, the Ethiopian officers returned the detainees to their cells.
"The United States says that they were investigating past
and current threats of terrorism," Daskal said. "But the repeated
interrogation of rendition victims who were being held incommunicado
makes Washington complicit in the abuse."
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For the most part, detainees were sent home soon after
their interrogation by US agents ended. Of those known to have been
interrogated by US officials, just eight Kenyans remain. (A ninth
Kenyan in Addis Ababa was rendered to Ethiopia in July/August 2007,
after US interrogations reportedly stopped.) These men, who have not
been subjected to any interrogation since May 2007, would likely have
been repatriated long ago but for the Kenyan government's longstanding
refusal to acknowledge their claims to Kenyan citizenship or to take
steps to secure their release.
Human Rights Watch recently spoke by telephone to several
of the Kenyans in detention in Ethiopia, many of whom complained of
physical ailments and begged for someone to help get them home.
Although Kenyan Prime Minister Raila Odinga made a campaign pledge to
help repatriate these detainees, little progress has been made to date.
In mid-August 2008, Kenyan authorities visited these men for the first
time. The officials reportedly told the detainees they would be home
within a few weeks, but more than a month and a half has now passed.
"The previous Kenyan government deported its own citizens
and then left them to rot in Ethiopian jails," Daskal said. "The new
Kenyan government should reverse course, bring these men home, and show
that it is not following the same shameful path as the old."
The Ethiopian government also used the rendition program
for its own purposes. For years, the Ethiopian military has been trying
to quell domestic Ogadeni and Oromo insurgencies that receive support
from neighboring countries, such as Ethiopia's archrival, Eritrea. The
Ethiopian intervention in Somalia and the multinational rendition
program provided them a convenient means to gain custody over people
whom they could interrogate for suspected insurgent links. Once these
individuals were in detention, Ethiopian military interrogators and
guards reportedly subjected them to brutal beatings and torture.
Detainees said Ethiopian interrogators pulled out their
toenails, held loaded guns to their heads, crushed their genitals, and
forced them to crawl on their elbows and knees through gravel. Several
reported being beaten to the point of unconsciousness.
The Human Rights Watch report calls upon the Ethiopian
government to immediately release the rendition victims still in its
custody or prosecute them in a court that meets basic fair trial
standards. It also urges the Kenyan government to take immediate steps
to secure the repatriation of Kenyan nationals still in Ethiopian
custody, and the US government to withhold counterterrorism assistance
from both governments until they provide a full accounting of all the
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