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Story Publication logo April 16, 2007

Ethiopia's offenses noted by State Dept.


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U.S.-backed Ethiopian troops grabbed headlines in late 2006, invading Somalia to drive the Islamic...

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The State Department's 2006 human rights report for Ethiopia cited "numerous credible reports that security officials often beat or mistreated detainees." It included more than 30 pages of detailed accounts of violations, ranging from the beating of teenagers to arbitrary arrests to the banning of theater performances that send the wrong political message.

Among the most notorious recent cases was a raid on a high school in the western town of Dembi Dollo. Students had protested the killing by police of a local teenager, and began throwing stones. What followed was a raid by about 30 riot police, who crashed into the school compound and chased after students, beating them with nightsticks. Several were hospitalized. Sixteen of those left standing were taken to jail.

Many of the most seriously injured were girls because the boys were strong enough to scale the school compound walls and flee, according to a teacher who was in the school during the raid. He spoke anonymously for fear of arrest.

"First, the majority of students were harmed. Some of them, their hands were broken. Some had teeth falling out," said the teacher. "And the majority of them were female students because the male students already escaped. The girls just were attacked at that time."

In a recent interview with Al-Jazeera television network, Prime Minister Meles Zenawi acknowledged that his country's human rights record was a work in progress. Still, he said the State Department annual reports "tend to get things wrong." He has yet to respond to letters from human rights groups demanding an explanation for the police beatings in Dembi Dollo.

Concerns about Ethiopia's rights abuses may arise in the coming weeks in Congress, where Rep. Donald Payne, D-N.J., is redrafting legislation that would limit U.S. assistance to Ethiopia if it does not improve its human rights record. Last year, the Republican-controlled House of Representatives quashed a similar bill after Meles' government lobbied hard against it.

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