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Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International have accused Ethiopia of detaining hundreds of people based on ethnicity since 2018, according to a statement by Ethiopia’s National Human Rights Commission on Saturday.
The National Human Rights Commission, the Ethiopian government’s main agency for human rights monitoring, called the detentions “an important shift from a past policy of targeting ethnic elites” and said it was launching an investigation.
The statement released via state-run media says that victims of alleged selective arrest and detention, including Ethiopian ethnic groups such as Oromo, SNNPR and Amhara who had established their own towns, were held at houses in Hararghe and Manahal in western Ethiopia.
The statement said those detained were given warnings to leave the cities if they wanted to be released and were accused of “entering an area of unrest that was already unsettled and violating the law.”
The “illegal” detentions were violating the rights of the detainees and violation of other individuals’ rights, it says.
It added that local authorities had allowed funerals of the victims and that compensation had been provided to the victims’ families.
The statement also says that around 80 percent of those detained were later released or allowed to leave, while the remaining inmates were charged with crimes and are in prison, according to state media.
Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch “continue to confirm (that) at least 50 opposition members have been detained since February this year in specific areas like Silawa, Burim and Daleha in Oromia. Some of them have been held for more than two months now,” Peter Bouckaert, emergencies director at HRW, said in a statement.
“Even more worrying, at least 220 people were also detained in pre-election incidents in August and September, and at least a dozen other people were detained between February and April this year.”
Late last month, Ethiopia’s Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed said the police had been granted special measures for fear of terrorists, ahead of the African Union summit taking place in Addis Ababa.
Addressing the police officers at a police force in the capital, Abiy said: “The police officer working with me cannot be selfish because he is protecting his family and others in the same situation.”
Both Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch accuse the Ethiopian government of suppressing peaceful opposition. Both human rights groups said there were ongoing arrests of detainees in Oromia over their perceived political affiliations, as well as another protest in Amhara Region.
Amnesty said on its website that police in the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa were dragging people out of their homes and arresting them for alleged “sedition” just “before or after” they registered to protest.
The human rights organization also accused the Ethiopian government of violating international law by failing to provide detainees with access to legal representation, family, friends or their own health workers.
Amnesty added that some detainees were held incommunicado, even after the transfer to prison.
CNN has been unable to confirm those allegations.