News: Ethiopia rights body calls for immediate end to illegal detention of around 9,000 Tigrayans in Afar state

Over the past several weeks, dozens of pictures were posted by Tigrayan activists showing children with severe skin diseases

Addis Abeba – A new report by the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission (EHRC) said that in the month of May the Commission has followed and monitored the detention of around 9, 000 Tigrayans who are held “illegally and unconstitutionally” since December 2021 in Semera and Agatina camps in the town of Semera, Afar Regional state. The Commission has called for the immediate end to the detention.

According to the report released on Wednesday, the detainees were taken from three districts in the Afar Region bordering Tigray, namely, Abala, Koneba and Berhale, in connection with the civil war. Local authorities said they were held for the purpose of “their own security” and in connection with “suspicion of crimes.”

EHRC’s report mentions several disturbing cases inside the Semera camp. It said that within the last five months alone, there are accounts of Tigrayans who have died of diseases; a mother who lost a child during birth; a young woman who is kept chained by her family due to mental illness; up to ten people who are suffering from open wounds; five children with mental disabilities, and children aged 4-5 years who are suffering from an epidemic of skin diseases, the contagious spread of which has threatened the remaining detainees in the camp due to lack of medical treatment.

They were taken by the Afar Regional State Security Forces, in collaboration with the zonal and woreda authorities, and transported them on different days to the camps they remain detained since.

The extremely limited availability of humanitarian aid and medical services caused epidemic-like diseases in the camps, including loss of lives”

The detainees interviewed by the Commission said that they had been evicted from their homes and were being held without their consent.

During the visit by the EHRC team, there were 8,560 people in the two camps, the report said; and men and women were separated, forcing members of the same family to live apart. “The extremely limited availability of humanitarian aid and medical services caused epidemic-like diseases in the camps, including loss of lives”, and it is “exacerbated by the fact that they are “not allowed” to receive medical facility except for when a woman is “to give birth.”

EHRC said local authorities who spoke to its team say the “restrictions on movement have been imposed [on the detainees] because of the need to their own security, and to identify people who are wanted on suspicion of a crime.” EHRC Chief Commissioner Dr. Daniel Bekele said, “the detainees in Semera and Agatina camps in Semera, Afar Region, should be released immediately as they are detained illegally and arbitrarily based on ethnic identity. If there are people who want to stay in the camp until they return to their places of residence, it must be done voluntarily and without any restrictions. All those who wish to voluntarily return to their place of residence or remain in their current location should also be given the necessary support and assistance.”

“If there are those who are “reasonably suspected of crimes”, who should otherwise be treated under the “formal criminal justice system”, the current treatment is “unconstitutional and is exposing the people inside the camp to multiple human rights violations; it must end immediately and unconditionally,” Daniel added. AS

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