Ethiopia/Kenya: Account for Missing Rendition Victims
Secret Detainees Interrogated by US Officials Are Still in Custody
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."
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
Human Rights Watch is one of the world's leading independent organizations dedicated to defending and protecting human rights. By focusing international attention where human rights are violated, we give voice to the oppressed and hold oppressors accountable for their crimes. Our rigorous, objective investigations and strategic, targeted advocacy build intense pressure for action and raise the cost of human rights abuse. For 30 years, Human Rights Watch has worked tenaciously to lay the legal and moral groundwork for deep-rooted change and has fought to bring greater justice and security to people around the world.
"Today is a good day for democracy in Michigan because more people will have a voice at the polls, in how our state is governed, and how our tax dollars are spent," said one campaigner.
On the heels of approving a clean energy package to combat the climate emergency, Democratic Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer on Thursday signed a series of bills to tackle another urgent issue: voting rights.
"In Michigan, we're proving through our actions that we stand for fundamental American values of freedom and democracy," Whitmer
on social media. "Let's keep working to protect our democracy and ensure our elections are free, fair, and safe."
The governor held a signing ceremony at the NAACP building in Detroit, where she was joined by local leaders, voting rights advocates, and Democratic Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson, who said that "we are here today to protect the people who protect democracy."
The package includes legislation to create criminal penalties for intimidating an election official or preventing them from performing their duties; allow 16-year-olds to preregister to vote when they turn 18; and expand Michigan's automatic voter registration (AVR) process, according to Michigan Advance , which published a roundup of the bills.
"The job of election officials has increasingly become politicized. It's critical that we step up to protect their safety and their ability to do their jobs," asserted state Rep. Kara Hope (D-74), who led some of the bills. "These basic safeguards are critical to addressing the threats to our democracy as we head into 2024."
Aquene Freechild, co-director of Public Citizen's Democracy Campaign, said that "we applaud Michigan for prioritizing protecting election officials, and we're proud to support Rep. Hope and Secretary of State Benson in their efforts to address this threat to Michigan elections. We hope more states follow suit to protect these essential workers of American democracy."
As part of the AVR expansion, Michigan's secretary of state will now be required to coordinate with the state Department of Corrections to register people to vote when they are released from prison—a first for the country, according to Common Cause.
"Today is a good day for democracy in Michigan because more people will have a voice at the polls, in how our state is governed, and how our tax dollars are spent," said Common Cause Michigan executive director Quentin Turner. "Voting rights are under attack in many parts of our country, but today Michigan takes a step forward to expand access to the ballot. The right to vote is a cornerstone of our democracy, and our democracy is stronger when more of us [are] able to cast a ballot."
The National Voting in Prison Coalition—founded by Common Cause and allied groups—plans to champion similar bills during other states' 2024 legislative sessions. Common Cause justice and democracy manager Keshia Morris Desir stressed Thursday that "federal and local laws must allow more voices to participate, be heard, and ultimately be represented."
Whitmer also signed legislation to "regulate political ads that use artificial intelligence and tighten the election certification process that former President Donald Trump tried to disrupt following his 2020 loss," reported Bridge Michigan .
State Rep. Penelope Tsernoglou (D-75), who chairs the Michigan House Elections Committee, declared that "Michigan has sent a strong message that it rejects any attempts to deceive voters through the use of artificial intelligence."
Public Citizen said that Michigan is the fifth state to regulate artificial intelligence in election communications, and the legislation effectively bans " deepfakes ," which are AI-generated images, audio, or video of people that appear real.
"Thank you Michigan for showing that we don't have to stand helplessly aside as political deepfakes threaten to destroy voters' ability to distinguish authentic content from fraudulent audio, video, and pictures," said Public Citizen president Robert Weissman. "Michigan's requirement that political deepfakes be labeled is an example for the rest of the nation—one we expect states across the country to follow."
As Bridge Michigan detailed:
The new law governing election certification aligns Michigan with the federal Electoral Count Reform Act , which was introduced in Congress with a handful of GOP co-sponsors and signed last year by Democratic President Joe Biden.
Among other things, the federal law makes clear that the vice president has a “ministerial” duty to count electoral votes that states send to Congress, contradicting Trump's claim that former Vice President Mike Pence could and should have blocked certification of the 2020 presidential election.
The new Michigan law similarly states that partisan election canvassers at both the county and state levels have a "ministerial, clerical, and nondiscretionary duty" to certify results based on results compiled by local clerks.
Biden is seeking reelection next year and could face Trump—despite the Republican's various criminal cases and arguments that he is constitutionally disqualified from holding office again after inciting the January 6, 2021 insurrection.
A year into Biden's presidency, Democratic right-wing Sen. Joe Manchin (W.Va.) and Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (Ariz.)—who switched from Democrat to Independent last December— worked with Republicans in Congress to block a federal voting rights and election reform megabill that included the Freedom to Vote Act and the John R. Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act .
Democrats have reintroduced both of those bills this year, but they are highly unlikely to pass the split Senate or GOP-controlled House.
"Working people don't get to play by the same rules as billionaires. They don't get to call up an army of high-priced lawyers and accountants every time they don't feel like paying their taxes."
In a bid to "restore fairness to the tax code and level the playing field for working families," U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden on Thursday led 15 Senate colleagues in introducing the Billionaires Income Tax Act , legislation the Oregon Democrat said would "ensure billionaires start paying their fair share in taxes."
"Right now, the average billionaire can wriggle their way into a measly 8% tax rate while a nurse or firefighter making $45,000 is paying a 22% tax on their wages," Wyden, who chairs the Senate Finance Committee, said on the upper chamber floor.
"Tax laws simply don't apply to billionaires in the same way they do to everybody else," the senator continued. "They're optional, while everybody else's tax rules are mandatory."
"Working people don't get to play by the same rules as billionaires," he added. "They don't get to call up an army of high-priced lawyers and accountants every time they don't feel like paying their taxes."
That unjust disparity, Wyden said, boils down to three words: "Buy, borrow, die."
"Here's how it works: A billionaire buys a business, and then borrows against its growing, untaxed value to fund their extravagant lifestyle," he explained. "Everything from superyachts, to luxurious vacations, expensive art deals, you name it. It goes up and up in value all while not paying a dime in tax."
"And when they die," the lawmaker added, "their assets are passed to their kids—often entirely tax-free—and the cycle continues."
Wyden said his bill "will put a stop to" buy, borrow, die, "one of the most common schemes billionaires use to avoid paying their fair share."
The measure would raise an estimated $560 billion over 10 years from less than 1,000 of the wealthiest U.S. households.
Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), one of the bill's co-sponsors, said in a statement that "teachers and firefighters shouldn't be paying higher tax rates than the ultrawealthy. It's that simple."
Co-sponsor Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) asserted that "for too long, billionaires have rigged the rules to cut their taxes to the bone, all while working families struggle to make ends meet."
"We should be investing in American families, not letting billionaires off the hook—and the Billionaires Income Tax takes an important step to make our tax system fairer," she added.
The Billionaires Income Tax Act is supported by more than 100 organizations.
Earlier this year, U.S. President Joe Biden unveiled a plan to raise taxes on wealthy individuals and corporations to 25%.
"A billionaire minimum tax of just 25% would raise $440 billion over the next 10 years," the president
on social media on Thursday. "Imagine what we could do if we just made billionaires pay their taxes like everyone else."
Wyden's bill was introduced on the same day that the advocacy group Americans for Tax Fairness—which supports the legislation— reported that "the collective fortune of America's 741 billionaires has grown to $5.2 trillion at the end of November 2023, the highest amount ever recorded."
Also on Thursday, UBS published a report revealing that in the 12-month period between April 2022 and April 2023, newly created billionaires around the world acquired more wealth through inheritance than entrepreneurship for the first time since the Swiss bank began studying trends of the ultrawealthy in 2015.
"World leaders are not listening to the younger generation, so what if we turn young climate advocates into older versions of themselves—into their future voices?"
With help from generative artificial intelligence, We Don't Have Time turned over a dozen young climate campaigners into future versions of themselves to stress to world leaders the necessity of bolder action to tackle the climate emergency.
We Don't Have Time, the world's largest social network for climate solutions, launched the "Future Voices" initiative on Thursday, as the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP28) began in the United Arab Emirates and scientists warned that after months of devastating heat and extreme weather events, 2023 is "virtually certain" to be the warmest year on record.
"World leaders are not listening to the younger generation, so what if we turn young climate advocates into older versions of themselves—into their future voices?" said David Olsson of We Don't Have Time. "Then the demand for ending fossils and accelerating solutions can't be ignored. We encourage everyone to support this message."
The Future Voices website highlights that current children and young adults will suffer the consequences of the fossil fuel-driven climate emergency "to a much higher degree than previous generations," and already, youth worldwide are enduring the impacts of heating the planet and reporting that the crisis is taking a toll on their mental health.
The website features an interactive globe through which users can view video testimonies from campaigners around the world (also included below). One of them stars Swedish Fridays for Future and Climate Live campaigner Andreas Magnusson, who said in a statement that "in the fight against the climate crisis, including and listening to young people is crucial."
Speaking from Sweden in 2050, the AI-aged Magnusson says in his video that "in my hometown, Mockfjärd, I've seen landslide after landslide hit, caused by the heavy raining. And yet, I am not the one who suffers most. I come from a great place of privilege. I come from a part of the world that is not affected by nature's fury like other parts of the world are."
Activists from other parts of the world, in their own video messages from 2050, speak of "vast droughts causing water shortage," more frequent hurricanes, rising sea levels, and "floods and plagues."
Near the end of Magnusson's video, the 2023 version of him warns: "Time is running out. The choices world leaders make today will determine the kind of world we will live in tomorrow. The future is now."
In addition to the AI videos, the Future Voices initiative includes an online hub to help young activists who can't make it to Dubai still participate in COP28. Organizers are planning daily broadcasts with climate leaders and decision-makers.
"We are very proud and happy to be able to offer this opportunity for young people to get access to the most important climate negotiations of the year and deliver their messages to world leaders," said Olsson. "It would not have been possible without our incredible community of youth climate advocates."
Magnusson said that "Future Voices and the youth hub make the discussions at COP28 more inclusive."
"World leaders hold not only our future in their hands, they also hold our present, because we are already today affected by the climate crisis," the campaigner added. "And, frankly, it is youth who most of the time bring bold ideas and the unfiltered truth to the discussions about the future of humanity. Discussions that for 30 years haven't been able to even mention 'oil' in their agreements."
Watch more of the Future Voices videos below:
Nikka Gerona of the Philippines is co-chair of the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) Regional Young People's Action Team in East Asia and the Pacific.
Isaias Hernandez of the United States is an environmental justice educator and public speaker who created QueerBrownVegan.
Valeria Horton of Mexico founded Green Reconnection and was the Mexican lead negotiator for loss and damage at COP27.
Sophia Mathur of Canada is a climate advocate with Fridays for Future and recipient of the 2021 Action for Nature International Award.
Agustín Ocaña of Ecuador is the founder and chairperson of the Global Youth Coalition.
Anita Soina of Kenya is a climate advocate, politician, and global youth champion for the U.N.-hosted partnership Sanitation and Water for All.
Other featured activists include Farzana Faruk Jhumu of Bangladesh, an advocate with Fridays for Future and Feminist Action Coalition for Climate Justice; Denzel James of Australia, a UNICEF young ambassador; and Madina Kimaro of Tanzania, a UNICEF youth advocate and climate advocacy champion for the Tanzania Girl Guides Association.
There are also videos from Emma Kroese of the Netherlands, a climate advocate with Fridays for Future; Ashley Lashley of Barbados, a UNICEF youth advocate and CARICOM youth ambassador; Geoffrey Mboya of Kenya, a humanitarian, sustainability advocate, and youth adviser of the WeDontHaveTime Foundation; and Joaquín Salinas Atenas of Chile, a socioenvironmental artivist and UNICEF COP26 youth delegate.