Fate of African ‘rendition’ victims unknown

At least 10 victims of a secret ”rendition” programme in the Horn of Africa remain in Ethiopian jails and the whereabouts of others is unknown, an international human rights group said on Wednesday.

Activists and Muslim groups have long accused Kenyan authorities of rounding up scores of people for transfer to Somalia and then to Ethiopia in early 2007 after the fall of a Somali Islamist movement and the scattering of its fighters.

Many of them were taken for questioning to Ethiopia, the groups say, and kept in jails that some campaigners called an ”African Guantanamo” in comparison with the United States jail in Cuba.

Torture was rife, rights groups say.

”The dozens of people caught up in the secret Horn of Africa renditions in 2007 have suffered in silence too long,” said Jennifer Daskal, author of the report Why am I still here? for US-based Human Rights Watch (HRW). The governments of Kenya, Somalia and Ethiopia have all denied illegally transporting and jailing people, saying they have only taken action against legitimate suspects.

HRW said at least 150 men, women and children from more than 18 countries, including the United States, United Kingdom and Canada, were rounded up near the Somali border in early 2007.

Ethiopian forces, who entered Somalia in 2006 to help oust the Islamists from the capital Mogadishu, also rounded up an unknown number of people in Somalia, HRW said.

”Denied access to their embassies, their families, and international humanitarian organisations such as the International Committee of the Red Cross, the detainees were even denied phone calls home,” it said.

”Several have said that they were housed in solitary cells, some as small as two metres by two metres, with their hands cuffed in painful positions behind their backs and their feet bound together.”

Most detainees were eventually sent home after interrogation, including by US agents, the group said. But 10 remain in Ethiopia and several others are missing.

Washington has denied involvement in interrogations.

Former prisoners said they were tortured.

”Detainees said Ethiopian interrogators pulled out their toe-nails, held loaded guns to their heads, crushed their genitals, and forced them to crawl on their elbows and knees through gravel,” HRW said.

”Several reported being beaten to the point of unconsciousness.”

HRW called on Ethiopia to release remaining rendition prisoners or prosecute them in an open court. It also urged Kenya to secure repatriation of all its nationals.

”The previous Kenyan government deported its own citizens and then left them to rot in Ethiopian jails,” Daskal said.

”The new Kenyan government should reverse course, bring these men home, and show that it is not following the same shameful path as the old.” – Reuters

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