AI Index: AFR
Amnesty International witnesses
cruelty of mass deportations
"I was picked up at
night, thrown into prison, not allowed time to
I asked what my crime was. 'You're an Eritrean,'
Amnesty International representatives
returning from investigations in Ethiopia and Eritrea warned
today that forced mass deportation now threatens everyone of
Eritrean origin in Ethiopia, causing untold suffering to
thousands of families every week.
Last week in Eritrea, Amnesty
International's representatives witnessed the arrival of some
1,280 women, men and children of Eritrean origin who had been
rounded up and deported by the Ethiopian authorities. Most of
those Amnesty International spoke to either had Ethiopian
passports, or had been born or spent their entire working
lives there, and considered themselves Ethiopians.
Ethiopia's policy of deporting people
of Eritrean origin after war between the two countries broke
out in May 1998 has now developed into a systematic,
country-wide operation to arrest and deport anyone of full or
part Eritrean descent. Fifty-two thousand Eritreans have been
arbitrarily deported from Ethiopia over the last seven months,
6,300 so far in January 1999.
"Women, some of them pregnant,
children, the elderly -- even hospital patients -- are now
being arrested and detained in the middle of the night,"
Amnesty International's representatives said.
"People of all
ages, from babies to pensioners, are imprisoned in harsh
conditions for several days before being forced to board buses
under armed guard with only one piece of luggage each -- if
that -- and being dumped at the border. They arrive hungry and
exhausted, and often ill, after the three-day journey."
Families have been split up, the male
head usually deported first, and his wife, parents and
children weeks or months later. The many Ethiopians married to
Eritreans are forbidden to leave and forced to watch
helplessly while their spouse and children are deported.
Deportees have had
to abandon their homes, possessions, businesses and other
property with no guarantee of ever recovering them.
Individuals who have protested have been threatened or beaten.
The deportees were arbitrarily stripped of their Ethiopian
citizenship without any warning, legal process or right of
Ethiopia’s Prime Minister Meles Zenawi
has said that the deportees posed a threat to national
security and that they had forfeited their Ethiopian
citizenship by voting in Eritrea’s independence referendum in
Amnesty International representatives
visited Ethiopia in October 1998 and Eritrea in January 1999
to examine allegations from both sides of human rights abuses
arising from the May 1998 conflict. They met government
officials and interviewed returnees from both
22,000 Ethiopians have returned to Ethiopia from Eritrea since
May, most after losing their jobs and being rendered destitute
as a result of the hostilities, and some in fear of reprisals.
No evidence was found to support Ethiopia's allegations that
40,000 of its citizens have been seriously ill-treated and
forcibly deported from Eritrea since May
were also made into the Eritrean bombing of a school in
Mekelle, northern Ethiopia, in June 1998. The Eritrean
government admitted the resulting deaths of 48 civilians,
including women and children, were a "mistake", but has
established no independent investigation into the bombings. An
Ethiopian plane bombed and killed one person at the airport in
Asmara, the Eritrean capital, the same
International is reiterating its appeal to the Ethiopian
government to put an immediate stop to the deportations and
ill-treatment of deportees, and arbitrary detentions of
thousands of other Eritreans, including 38 students in
Blattein military camp. They contravene Ethiopia's laws and
Constitution, as well as the international human rights
treaties Ethiopia has ratified.
In the event of further fighting, the
human rights organization urges both sides to respect the
Geneva Conventions, which Eritrea should immediately ratify.
They should also ensure that civilians do not become targets
or victims of the fighting, and that no Eritreans in Ethiopia,
or Ethiopians in Eritrea, should suffer reprisal because of
their national origin.
"The international community --
particularly government representatives stationed in Ethiopia
-- must break their silence and make a joint stand against the
deportations and other human rights violations," Amnesty
The deportations of Eritreans from
Ethiopia began on 12 June, one month after war broke out in
May 1998 between the former close allies who fought together
as guerrilla movements to overthrow the Dergue government in
Ethiopia in 1991, when Eritrea became a separate independent
state. What began as a border conflict led to some ground
fighting, then air attacks by both sides, and occasional
artillery firing along the border.
Mediation by the Organization of
African Unity (OAU), the United Nations, the United States and
other governments is continuing to avert a near-imminent
all-out war which would be devastating for both sides. Each
side has re-armed and has mobilized massive forces along the
border, and the fighting has already displaced up to a
Ethiopia is state party to
International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the
African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights, the Convention
on the Rights of the Child, and the Geneva
|AI Index: AFR