Concentration Camps, Torture Chambers and Hard Labour in Ethiopia

Military bases across the country being converted into concentration camps

By Alem Mamo

Two of the most notorious and well – publicized prisons in Ethiopia are Kaliti which is located 25 km south of Addis Ababa and Meakelawi located at the heart of the city just a stone throw away from the new Chinese government donated African Union (AU) building and all other offices of regional and international agencies. Much has been written and reported about these two dungeons of human suffering and brutality over the past quarter century. The routine prevalence of cruel treatment of political prisoners in these dark and must dungeons is a clear demonstration of the regimes contemptuousness to the sanctity and dignity of human life. The physical, emotional and psychological torture of political prisoners that began more than twenty-five years ago continues to this day in a more expanded and institutionalized form.

While, the record of these two sites Meakelawi and Kaliti is well-known and well-documented by local and international human rights organizations, there are little known and secretive and hidden concentration camps scattered across the country. The genesis of these army base/concentration camps goes back to July 1998 following the Ethio-Eritreal war in which Eritrean POW’s where sent to Bilate and Dedessa military camps for internment. The permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague concluded “Ethiopia was found liable for subjecting Eritrean POW’s (prisoners of war) to “enforced indoctrination” from July 1998to November 2002 in the camps of Bilate, Mai Kental and Dedessa and for delaying the repatriation of 1, 287 in 2002 for “for longer than was reasonably required” (IRIN 11 July 2011)1

By the time the 2005 post -election uprising erupted across the country the regime has already tested the viability, effectiveness and capacity of these future concentration camps using Eritrean POW’s and civilians as a test subjects. What followed was unpresented level of mass imprisonment and establishment of permanent torture chambers and sites of hard labour within these military camps. Well positioned government insiders who spoke under the conditions of anonymity say that the government views these military base/concentration camps as “multi – purpose, cost effective strategy for crushing any dissent and potential challenge to power. On one hand as a military base they serve as cheering out soldiers with minor training to face various military resistances mushrooming across the country. On the other hand these facilities provide perfect space for mass incarceration, torture and and hard labor away from the potential eyes and ears of the international and national human rights investigators and media outlets. Furthermore, the military trainers posted in these bases could also conduct the interrogation and torture of political prisoners.

The location of these military bases has a high degree of malaria infection and most prisoners suffer with malaria related illness lacking any medical attention. While, the physical, emotional and psychological pain inflicted on the prisoners remains the main factor affecting their health, lack of food, water, medical treatment and proper sanitation facilities is taking its toll as the number of prisoners in these hidden concentration camps increases over the last few years.

The abhorrent and inhumane conditions at these camps and elsewhere in the country requires immediate international focus and attention. The scale of repression and mass incarceration in Ethiopia can not be ignored by the international community any longer. The systemic, institutionalized and state sanctioned practices of torture which has been incorporated within the system of governance in Ethiopia must and should be investigated as the country is signatory to all international conventions and instruments condemning and outlawing torture and all other inhuman treatment of prisoners.

  • The four camps shown in this map have high concentration of political prisoners. Their geographic location serves as “regional sites” for the regimes policy of mass incarceration and torture. Political activists, human rights advocates, journalists and other suspects from the western and central part are sent to Camp Dedessa while Camp Hurso accommodates political prisoners from eastern part of the country. Camp Bilate and Camp Birsheleko house southern and Northern part of the country respectively.

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