Ethiopia admitted for the first time April 10 that it detained 41 suspected terrorists from 17 countries. The statement comes a week after the Associated Press reported that terror suspects had been transferred from Kenya to Somalia and then to secret facilities in Ethiopia. Ethiopian officials at the time denied any suspects were in custody. Human rights groups call the detentions a violation of international law. The International Committee of the Red Cross says it has not been granted access to the detainees despite having sought meetings for the last month. A Canadian, Bashir Makhtal, is believed to be among those held. The Canadian government has officially asked Ethiopia for consular access to the former Toronto resident.
“Suspected international terrorists have been and are still being captured by the joint forces of the transitional federal government of Somalia and Ethiopia,” the Ministry of Foreign Affairs said in a statement. “Pursuant to a common understanding between Ethiopia and the TFG authorities, some of those captured have indeed been brought to Ethiopia.”
The statement said 29 of the suspects have been ordered released by an Ethiopian military court and five already have been freed. It asserted only 12 foreign detainees would remain in custody after the next round of releases. (AP, April 10)
The Foreign Ministry statement justified Ethiopia’s actions in the context of the Global War on Terrorism:
Ethiopia has been the target of international and local terrorism for quite sometime. A quick glance at the history of the Horn of Africa in the 1990s should make this obvious. Today, international terrorism is a clear and present danger to Ethiopia’s national security… The danger is real, concrete and palpable… Ethiopia has the legitimate right to defend itself from this danger.
The Ethiopian government strongly denied it acted in secrecy or violated human rights:
Almost all the states whose citizens are involved were notified in good time after the transfer to Ethiopia of the suspected terrorists. The only exceptions are few individuals whose dual and multiple citizenship is under investigation. Nothing has been done in secret. All legal procedures are being followed, and the suspected terrorists have been allowed to appear before the relevant court of law, in this instance before the competent Military Court.
Ethiopia, in fact, has tried to be as transparent and as non-secretive as possible in this matter. All states who have approached Ethiopia claiming to possess expertise in these area have been allowed to render assistance in the investigation process. But no expert from any country has been given the right or the opportunity to question the suspected terrorists without the presence of Ethiopian personnel. As a result, Ethiopia can confirm that no detainee has been subjected to violation of his/her rights, to torture, to inhumane or to degrading treatment.
Note that failure to allow access to the detainees “without the presence of Ethiopian personnel” runs contrary to the demands of human rights groups, and that rights groups deny they have been granted acccess at all. Meanwhile, the statement also harshly criticized human rights groups and journalists:
This is being done while the war against international terrorism is still underway in Somalia. Conditions in the real world are always murkier than the situation faced by those in an ivory tower. And when those in the ivory tower seek to promote their own agenda under the cover of investigative journalism and the defense of human rights, the situation becomes destructive, even tragic.
A real and concrete struggle against international terrorism conducted in full compliance with the provisions of international humanitarian law, is made to look like a battle between protagonists, in which the terrorists become saintly and heroic and victims are derided. This is not helpful in the fight against international terrorism. It has to stop.
The statement said the five already released are from Tanzania, Sudan, Denmark, UAE and Sweden. (Text of statement online at AllAfrica, April 10)
Georgette Gagnon, deputy director for the Africa Division at Human Rights Watch, told Free Speech Radio News that HRW believes that more foreign detainees are being held in Ethiopia than the 41 now admitted to. (FSRN, April 10)