Wednesday, July 2, 2014

No country for Ethiopian Activists? The growing danger of illegal rendition in the region

Andargachew Tsige, Secretary General of Ginbot 7, detained in Yemen while in transit
July 1, 2014 (The Gulele Post) — Asylum, Citizenship and western passport seems to no longer protecting Ethiopia’s opposition leaders and human rights advocates from being illegally renditioned by regional and neighboring countries. Neighboring governments and humanitarian agencies are not doing enough to protect refugees who sought protection, while Western countries failing to stand up for those whom they  granted asylum and citizenship.
Bashir Makhtal, an Ogadeni businessman and Canadian citizen was arrested by Kenyan security and sent  to Ethiopia in 2006. Accused of membership to the Ogaden National Liberation Front, Mukhtal  was sentenced to life in prison in 2009 where he still languishes. Although Canadian authorities appealed for  his release, the Ethiopian regime has ignored it because the appeal was not back with any serious threat of economic or political sanction.
In 2007, despite having UN refugee protection mandate, Oromo refugees Tesfahun Chemeda & Mesfin Abebe were detained by Kenyan security on bogus charge of terrorism and illegally sent to Ethiopia against the order of the Kenyan court. The two were sentenced to life in prison. Tesfahun Chemeda died on August 2013  from injuries sustained during years of  torture.
Just last month Okello Akoy, former president of the Gambella region who defected from the regime and formed an opposition party  was arrested by South Sudan and extradited to Ethiopia. Mr Okello has a Norwegian citizenship. There is no information if the Norwegian government has said anything at all. Let’s not forget Norway signed a deal with the Ethiopian regime to forcefully deport thousands of  asylum seekers.
Now, Andargachew Tsige, the Secretary General of Ginbot 7 opposition group, who is a British citizen,  was detained last week by Yemeni authority while he was in transit. The Ethiopian  court had already sentenced Mr Tsige to death in absentia in 2009  for membership in diaspora based opposition. Aside implementation of this sentence,  he will be at real risk of torture if Yemeni decides to hand him over to the Ethiopian authorities.
These are just few of the high profile cases. Over the last decade governments of  Somaliland, Djibouti and Sudan have been arresting thousands of  refugees and handing over to Ethiopian securities. These refugees often made to disappear or incarcerated without due process.
This is dangerous trend and must be confronted. If sufficient pressure is not mounted, diaspora based activists and even regular people might be at risk of been whisked away any time they visited an African, Arab, Asian or even some Western countries.
Campaign should focus on:
  1. Demanding Western countries to stand up for people they granted citizenship and refugee status. They must use their leverage to pressure these neighboring countries to refrain from illegal rendition.
  2. Pressuring countries which grant refugee status to respect universal convention of protecting such individuals even in third country territories. Likewise, for those seeking asylum, UNHCR should be pressured to speak up  and ensure their safety against illegal renditions and abductions.
  3. Protest against the neighboring countries  to protect those who seek refuge within their border and refrain from detaining and rendering people to Ethiopia.
Such campaign  should be coordinated with existing refugee advocacy organizations such as Oromo Support Group led by Dr Trevor Truman, the renowned humanitarian who has decades of experience in regional affairs.

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