The trashing of constitutional rights  

The Ethiopian Constitution guarantees, “Persons arrested have the right to remain silent. Persons arrested shall not be compelled to make confessions or admissions which could be used in evidence against them. Any evidence obtained under coercion shall not be admissible.” (Article 19(2)(5).) In reality, this guarantee is not worth the paper it is written on!

Last week, Human Rights Watch (HRW) issued a report documenting the horrors that take place in the little shop of horrors of the ruling regime in Ethiopia known as the “Federal Police Crime Investigation Sector” (the dreaded “Maekelawi (Central) Police Station”). Located in the capital Addis Ababa, Maekelawi is “the country’s most notorious police station.”

HRW’s report, “They Want a Confession” Torture and Ill-Treatment in Ethiopia’s Maekelawi Police Station”,  is based on intensive interviews of former detainees, many of whom were tortured for opposing the regime. Maekelawi is the first stop for “many of Ethiopia’s political prisoners — opposition politicians, journalists, protest organizers, alleged supporters of ethnic insurgencies, and many others after being arrested.”

Maekelawi lives up to its reputation as “third degree” central — a place “beyond wrath and tears” where “looms but the horror of the shade” to borrow from William Ernest Henley. Regime opponents, dissidents, independent journalists and others are “interrogated, and, for many, at Maekelawi they suffer all manner of abuses, including torture.” I have met some former detainees who were delivered from the “clutches” of  Maekelawi — that black pit of physical and mental suffering and citadel of false confessions. HRW’s report barely scratches the tip of the iceberg of horrors that take place at Maekelawi.

In 2011, the U.S. Department of State in its annual human rights report concluded:

Numerous credible sources confirmed in 2009 that in Maekelawi, the central police investigation headquarters in Addis Ababa, police investigators often used physical abuse to extract confessions. Citizens widely believed that such treatment remained a common practice at Maekelawi. Authorities continued to restrict access by diplomats and NGOs to Maekelawi.

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