Death in Ethiopian custody of Tesfahun Chemeda, after refoulement from Kenya (Open letter of Dr Trevor Trueman of OSG to UK Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Foreign and Commenwealth Affairs)
Mark Simmonds MP
Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Africa)
Foreign and Commonwealth Office
King Charles Street
London SW1A 2AH 25 August 2013
Death in Ethiopian custody of Tesfahun Chemeda, after refoulement from Kenya
It is with sadness and anger that I report the death of a young Oromo in Kaliti prison, Ethiopia, on 24 August, yesterday. Tesfahun Chemeda was a student activist in Ethiopia and a political activist among refugees in Kenya, where he was granted refugee status by UNHCR. He was arrested with a colleague, Mesfin Abebe, by Kenyan anti-terrorist police on 2 April 2007.
Although cleared by the anti-terrorist unit and by the FBI, the men were subject to refoulement to Ethiopia at the request of the Ethiopian authorities. UNHCR, the Refugee Consortium of Kenya and the Kenyan Human Rights Commission were told in court, after their application for habeas corpus, that the men had been returned to Ethiopia, whereas they remained in custody in Kenya for at least two more days after the court hearing.
Tesfahun and Mesfin disappeared in detention in Ethiopia until charged with terrorist offences in December 2008. They were sentenced to life imprisonment in March 2010.  (Mesfin’s death sentence was later commuted.)
Tesfahun was transferred from Zeway prison to Kaliti, where he had been held in solitary confinement for nearly two years before he was killed.
This is not the first time young Oromo men have been killed in detention. For example, Alemayehu Garba, partially paralysed with polio, was shot dead with 18 others in Kaliti prison in November 2005.
Refoulement of UNHCR-recognised refugees from Djibouti and Somaliland continues.
How long must we wait for Her Majesty’s Government and other western governments to stop maintaining the EPRDF in power? Over one third of Ethiopia’s budget is in foreign aid. Ethiopia receives more aid from the UK than any other country in the world.
It is a shocking state of affairs and an appalling way to spend UK taxpayers’ money. I am tired of hearing from Ministers and officials that they take every opportunity to engage with representatives of the Ethiopian government at the highest level to express their serious concerns about human rights abuses and lack of democratic progress in Ethiopia.
I have been hearing this for over twenty years. When are we going to see an effective response by those who control Ethiopia’s purse strings?
If the UK is so wedded to providing aid to Ethiopia, than at least we should insist on it being contingent on real, measurable benchmarks of human rights and democratisation and not the desk-based studies of government-controlled data which support the status quo in Ethiopia.
This should be backed by effective sanctions so that members of the Ethiopian government are prevented from travelling to the UK and America and investing in property and businesses outside of Ethiopia.
Unless meaningful sanctions are applied, growing disaffection with the west, previously noted by former US Ambassador Yamamoto, is likely to mature further. Under the oppression of the Ethiopian regime, opposition voices are becoming more likely to find expression in the very movements which the support of Ethiopia, because of its cooperation in the ‘war on terror’, is meant to avoid.
The authoritarian regime in Ethiopia is a major cause of instability affecting the whole of the Horn of Africa. Supporting it and investing in it is a short-sighted policy.
Dr Trevor Trueman, Chair, Oromia Support Group.