Case Material on Ethnic Eritrean Deportees from Ethiopia Concerning Human Rights Violations
Case Material on Ethnic Eritrean Deportees from Ethiopia
Concerning Human Rights Violations
by Prof. Asmarom Legesse
on behalf of Citizens for Peace in Eritrea
Asmara, 26 July 1998
We present a summary of the experiences of Eritrean deportees from Ethiopia and case material representing violations of human rights or the rights of the child. Ethiopia and Eritrea are signatories to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the Convention on the Rights of the Child.
Each of the individuals profiled here represents a different type of deportee in terms of their social situation and the grounds for or methods of their deportation. In all the cases we examined, there was a common pattern of deception in the manner they were taken from their homes. When they were taken into custody, almost all of them were told that they were to fill a form or sign a document at the police station and return to their homes in a few minutes. They never did go back to their homes to make arrangements about their property, to provide for the care of the children they were forced to leave behind, or pick up essential things for the trip such as water, food, clothing and medicine. They went on a 1200 to 1300 km trip out of their adopted country into the country of their birth, the land of their fathers or forefathers, without saying good bye to their families.
Most of the deportees were born in Ethiopia or spent a major part of their lives in that country. A survey (Appendix 2) of the first group of deportees who arrived at the Asmara reception center reveals that the majority (59%) of them lived in Ethiopia for 25 to 60 years. Nearly all of them hold Ethiopian passports or identification cards bearing the words "Citizenship: Ethiopian." Some were very young, others old and frail. Some were extremely old people picked up in the early morning service in church. Many were retirees from public or private sector jobs who lived on their pensions. Some were veterans of the Ethiopian army who lost their limbs in battle. Some were blind and others had chronic illnesses that needed constant care. This extraordinary array of deportees includes even Catholic nuns and Orthodox priests, picked up in monasteries and churches. They were all said to be "security risks" to the Ethiopian government, spies and saboteurs or supporters of the Eritrean regime who were raising funds for the "invasion" of Ethiopia. They were punished for vaguely defined crimes without making any attempt to attribute individual responsibility for the crimes they had allegedly committed.
The actions taken against the deportees are in violation of the following articles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Article 11, sub 2 reads
No one shall be held guilty of a penal offense on account of any action or omission which did not constitute a penal offense under national or international law, at the time when it was committed.
Nearly all the subjects described here were accused of membership in associations which were, until the time of the deportations, legally recognized by the Government of Ethiopia as entirely legitimate and positively encouraged communal and political associations. In other words, they were accused of crimes retroactively. It is worth noting that this articles concerning the non-retroactivity of criminal law must remain in force at all times. Signatories may not derogate this article even in states of national emergency.
Most of the cases also represent violations of Article 5 which reads:
No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, and inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.
The law concerning cruel and inhuman treatment cannot be derogated by Party States in times of national emergency. It is one of the "imprescriptible" or inalienable rights enshrined in the Universal Declaration and in the subsequent International Covenants. There is ample of evidence indicating that most of the deportees were subjected to cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment. Eritrean news media have graphically reported on Eritreans, who were jailed and locked up in containers for days or weeks before their deportation, in the blazing heat of Humera, near the south-western Eritrean border. The containers became so hot that their skin blistered and broke up. Peasants along the southern border had their homes and crops destroyed, causing some terrified women to give birth outdoors. The full range of atrocities committed during the present conflict will not be revealed until the people who are held in Ethiopian concentration camps are properly investigated by humanitarian organizations (ICRC) or set free.
The experiences of most deportees, but particularly of businessmen, also represent violations of Article 16, sub 2, which reads
No one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his property.
This is one of the shortest and most unambiguous articles in the Universal Declaration. The designers of the Ethiopian deportation scheme appear to have been aware of this article, since they attempted to devise methods of expropriation that have some semblance of legality. Most of the deportees were told to designate someone as their legal agent, with power of attorney authorizing him or her to sell their properties. However, the "document" was a note jotted down in the police station, without the designated agent's knowledge or consent. The document was not registered in the courts and, therefore, lacks legal validity. Husbands often designated their wives as their legal agents, only to find that the wives were given a month or two to sell their properties and were then deported a week or two after they were told to sell. Rental property was taken over, some bank accounts were frozen, and some savings books were torn up, making it impossible for the deportees or their designated agents to get access to them. These are instances of de facto confiscation of property, done without taking an inventory, without giving the deportees receipts, and without due process of law. In particular the tearing up of savings books is an act of official vandalism.
With regard to the Convention on the Rights of the Child the cases we have examined so far indicate that the Government of Ethiopia is in violation Article 9, paragraph 1 :
States Parties shall ensure that a child shall not be separated from his or her parents against their will.
This right has been violated recklessly and extensively: parents and children have been separated without any provision for the care, feeding, and housing of the children. A survey (Appendix 1) done by UNICEF-Eritrea at two reception centers on 10 July 1998, reveals that 63 % of their adult respondents had left children behind. Of those children 5.8% were left with older siblings, 1% with maids, 4.5% with neighbors, and 15% with no care takers at all. Furthermore, our interviews indicate that many children who were left behind were often driven out of their homes, be they state-owned houses or houses owned by the parents, leaving the children completely stranded after the deportation of the parents.
Article 10, paragraph 1 seeks to remedy such situations by providing for family reunification:
... application by a child or his or her parents to enter or leave a State Party for the purpose of family reunification shall be dealt with by States Parties in a positive, human and expeditious manner.
At present, no such steps have been taken. Neither parents nor children can travel across the Eritrean-Ethiopian boundary and even telephone communication has been made difficult. There are no established channels of communication that would enable parents to find out about the situation of their children or to make provisions for their upkeep and care. Such channels can be readily opened through the good offices of UNICEF in Eritrea and Ethiopia.
In this section we present testimonies of the deportees accompanied by verbatim text of the interviews that appear in Appendix 4. This lengthy appendix is attached to the summary profiles because we believe that the deportees' own words are more valid than anything that journalists, politicians, or academics can say about them, for them or against them. In these pages, the Uprooted speak for themselves and we are but their scribes. Their names and addresses as well as their tape-recorded interviews are on record and are available to international and humanitarian organizations for verification purposes only, as are the deportees themselves. We begin the narratives with the testimony of an adolescent girl.
A fifteen- year-old girl who was taken away from her family in Addis Ababa and deported, was told that the reason for her deportation was the fact that she took part in the school children's summer program in tree planting – a type of activity in which most Eritrean youth participate. She was eager to take part in the program because it gave her an opportunity to see Eritrea. She was born and raised in Ethiopia, had never seen Eritrea, spoke no Eritrean languages, and had no involvement whatsoever with Eritrean associations or organizations in Ethiopia. When she reported all that to her interrogators, they said that she might have been trained in planting bombs, not just trees. They said that EPLF is, after all, capable of training even five-year-olds for such nefarious purposes. (Appendix 4, case 1, pp. 12-13)
A forty-year-old school teacher, the mother of a nine-year-old boy, married to an Ethiopian citizen of Amhara descent, was taken away from her family and deported. When the officers were taking her away, her husband had already left for work, and she had no one else to look after the child. Confused by the sudden turn of events, she asked the soldiers what she should do with her son, who was still sleeping. She asked if she should lock him up. They told her that it would not matter if she locked him up in the house since she was coming back in a few minutes. She did and she never saw him again. The reason given for her deportation was that she was a member of the Eritrean Community Association in Ethiopia and of the national political party of Eritrea (PFDJ) – organizations registered by the Ethiopian government or granted freedom of association in Ethiopia.(Appendix 4, case 2, pp. 13-17)
A twenty-three year old mother, who was recently widowed and had also lost her sister a month earlier, was mourning her losses and living with her invalid mother when she was taken away from her mother and her baby and deported. As she was taken to the police station, a neighbor followed her carrying the baby on her back. The young mother screamed and begged to be allowed to take her seven months old infant son with her. They ignored her pleas and shoved her into the bus. She was deeply traumatized by the experience and was still sobbing uncontrollably when she was interviewed in Asmara three days after her deportation. The reason for her deportation had nothing to do with what she did, but what her brother did. He had written a poem about an Eritrean war hero, named Hamid Idris Awate, and sent it to the Eritrean radio station. He later briefly joined the Amharic language program of Radio Eritrea before it was discontinued. (Appendix 4, case 3, pp. 17-18)
A widow, mother of five, who lived on her husband's meager pension of 102 Birr (US $16) per month was separated from her children and deported. She was their sole provider and sold handicraft to make ends meet. She was accused of raising money for the EPLF. She was ill and very weak when she began her journey. After a harrowing trip to Humera, near the Eritrean border, she collapsed and was left for dead. The bus carrying the deportees went across the border without her. She was taken to hospital, given first aid, and regained her consciousness, but she was having hallucinatory episodes. In that confused and weakened state, she was taken to the border and dropped. Painfully she staggered for a few minutes toward the border crossing. People from across the border noticed that she was floundering aimlessly and rushed to her aid and carried her across. After receiving medical treatment, she rejoined the other deportees and momentarily forgot all her pain and confusion when she saw the crowds welcoming them to Eritrea. (Appendix 4, Case 4, pp. 19-21)
An elderly businessman who had invested his life's savings – 13 million Birr (2 million dollars)– in a four-story hotel, overlooking lake Zway, was taken away from his estate and family and deported. He grew up in Tigrai and lived in Ethiopia for 39 years. He was one of the many Ethiopians of Eritrean descent who were allowed to bear arms to help pacify the country, after the Tigrai Peoples Liberation Front overthrew the Mengistu regime. He was an Ethiopian and never thought of himself as anything else. He refused to let his interrogators record his name as Eritrean. Like all the other deportees who had a house or a business, he was asked to give power of attorney on a blank piece of paper to somebody who could sell his property. He designated his wife as his legal agent, knowing full well that the document had no validity before a court of law. She was given two months to sell the estate – an impossible task. (Appendix 4, case 5, pp.21-25)
Another businessman who is one of the most successful in Ethiopia, owner of the Nile Construction Company, with a total worth of 34 million Birr (5 - 6 million US dollars) was deported leaving some major national projects and 700 employees stranded (Appendix 4, case 9, pp 30-35). The projects which the company was working on are the waterworks of the capital city worth 250 million and of the capital of Tigrai zonal government worth 74 million, a private hospital worth 22 million etc. Under duress from his jailers he designated his wife as his agent so that she can sell the properties. She was told that she had one month to sell the entire company. She explained to some very junior policemen who had no inkling about the complexities of a major business enterprise, that the legal procedures involved are formidable and cannot be completed in short order. They harassed her for days about that and finally said the she should at least sell the company buildings. She explained that they were mortgaged. They then told her to sell the house they were living in and she told them that their house too was mortgaged and that the title deeds were held by the bank. All the properties, equipment, and supplies were then "taken over" without preparing an inventory. The procedure was simply to drive out all the employees, collect all the keys, lock all doors and cupboards, and paste a piece of paper on the doors marked "sealed." She, her 16 year old son, her sister who happened to be visiting but who had a house elsewhere, and an employee who happened to be present in their garage when the police officers were inspecting the premises, were all deported revealing the highly arbitrary nature of the deportation procedure. The following case illustrates even more vividly how arbitrary the process can be. (Appendix 4, case 8, pp. 28-33)
A mother (age 60) and her daughter (age 40) were deported while visiting a cousin in Addis Ababa. Their home was in a town called Alem Tena, in Southern Ethiopia. They went to Addis Ababa, because their cousin was deported and wanted to check on the state of his children who had no one to look after them. While they were sleeping, 25 armed soldiers, jumped over the fence and entered the house, allegedly looking for weapons. They ransacked the house and found nothing. They deported every one in the house including the two visitors. The visitors attempted to explain their situation but no one heard their pleas. The soldiers just pushed them into the bus and sent them off to Eritrea. Their children still had no idea of their whereabouts at the time of the interviews. (Appendix 4, case 7, pp. 25-28)
As we write this report, there are more than eleven thousand ethnic Eritreans who have been deported and the number escalates day by day. The cases cited here are by no means atypical but the unfolding evidence will probably reveal scenarios we cannot anticipate. There is also some indication that the Ethiopian regime shifts its practices with each new wave of deportations. As international pressure mounts, beginning with the criticism of these practices by the UN Commissioner of Human Rights, Mary Robinson, on July 1, 1998 the procedures are altered. One major shift appears to be from deportation of individuals to deportation of entire families. That gets around the criticism about family break up and children left stranded without care takers, but it introduces another problem of people being lumped together as "family" who are not even members of it. Even visitors, employees and neighbors are included among the deported "families." There are many instances of the police or security officers coming for one individual and failing to find him (or her) taking another individual as a substitute. There are also instances of one member of a family being held responsible for an alleged crime committed by another. These actions violate Article 6 of the Universal Declaration of Human rights – a fundamental article that cannot be derogated even in times of national emergency -- which reads: "Everyone has the right to recognition everywhere as a person before the law." That implies that adults are held responsible for their own crimes not the crimes committed by others who are genealogically related to them. It is only in archaic or primitive law that the lineage pays for the crime of its members.
Ethiopian authorities also seem to have abandoned the perfunctory interrogations that were common in the early days of deportation, intended to identify the prospective deportee and purporting to determine his (her) guilt or innocence. In later stages, people were presumed guilty, simply because their names appear in the membership records of Eritrean associations in Ethiopia. Hence, no need to ask questions. As long as the interrogations were done, they were at least sure about the identity of the people they were deporting. Now, even that most minimal effort at legal procedure appears to have been abandoned.
It is our intention to continue this inquiry while maintaining the highest standards of academic ethics that we can muster in such a turbulent context. We will compile further case material and detailed testimonies, as well as conducting a survey of a representative sample of deportees, in order to determine the magnitude and statistical characteristics of the crisis. In the meantime we attach two tabulated results of surveys: one was conducted on July 3, 1998 by a committee of the deportees, mostly professionals, who gathered data on the first group of deportees who arrived at the Asmara reception center (Appendix 2) and the other conducted by UNICEF-Eritrea on July 10, 1998, at two reception centers in Southern Eritrea (Appendix 1).
We appeal to the UN COMISSION ON HUMAN RIGHTS and to UNICEF to look into violations of rights protected by international law, to take the necessary steps to rectify the social and economic situation created by these violations, and to stop the escalating flow of deportees sent across the border without due process of law, often under cruel and inhuman conditions.
Citizens for Peace in Eritrea:
The Horn of Africa has had more than its share of wars, conflicts and instability that have left its member states impoverished and their peoples destitute. Ethiopia and Eritrea are just two examples of victims of this phenomenon. However, since the war between the two countries ended in 1991, an exemplary relationship of friendship and co-operation had been forged between their peoples and governments. Both countries had put the thirty-year liberation war behind them and focused their efforts on developing their respective economies and improving the quality of life of their peoples.
Unfortunately, this hopeful trend was shattered when Ethiopia's Federal Parliament recently declared war on Eritrea allegedly because Eritrea had occupied land that belonged to Ethiopia. What has developed during the last few weeks, however, is not a simple border dispute but a conflict that has quickly escalated into extensive fighting on several fronts along the common border. Ethiopia's fighter planes attacked the international airport in Eritrea's capital, Asmara. This prompted a retaliatory air strike against military planes on the ground in a Northern Ethiopian regional capital and a military supply depot in a nearby town. There were civilian casualties on both sides. Ethiopia then declared Eritrean airports and sea ports off limits to international flights and shipping, under the threat of air attacks. That resulted in an exodus of foreigners – including the diplomatic corps -- out of Eritrea. There is now a widespread fear and concern that the conflict may develop into a drawn-out war much worse than that fought by both the Ethiopian and Eritrean liberation fronts against the Ethiopian Marxist regime of Mengistu Hailemariam (1975-1991).
Equally distressing is the prospect of the high economic and social price that peoples would be forced to pay if this fear becomes a reality. High civilian death tolls, displacement of large segments of the population, destruction of the means of livelihood are consequences that would bring untold suffering, which the feeble economies of the two countries would not be able to cope with. The end result would be to bring the situation full circle into further instability and destitution for the Horn of Africa.
Another potentially dangerous impact that may result from the war is the animosity that it could generate between the two peoples who have had age-old historical and cultural links. Already sensibilities have been offended when the Ethiopian leaders publicly declared, as one of their goals, the overthrow of the Eritrean Government and made a call to all Eritreans to take part in the effort. However, it would seem that it is not the Eritrean but the Ethiopian government that faces the potential of internal disintegration, a fate that can be avoided by actively looking for peaceful solutions.
Public attitudes were further hardened by Ethiopia's action of prompt and arbitrary deportation of thousands of families of Eritrean origin, claiming that they were agents or spies of the Eritrean Government. Most the deportees are long-time legal residents of Ethiopia, who entered the territory after the federation, and later annexation, of Eritrea by Emperor Haile Sellassie. Many others were born and raised in Ethiopia. They have made significant contribution to national growth as businessmen, and technocrats in the Ethiopian private and public sectors. All of them carry Ethiopian passports or citizen identification cards. The human rights violations that accompanied the deportations may grow to a level where the brotherly relations between the two peoples are seriously damaged.
Despite Eritrea's sustained attempts to seek a peaceful solution, going back several years prior to the opening of hostilities, Ethiopia has waged a propaganda war whose substantive claims were shown to be false by the testimonies of UN agencies and the diplomatic corps. However, the international press corps, which is deeply imbedded around the international organizations resident in Addis Ababa, has often given only the Addis Ababa perspective on the conflict, being apparently oblivious of the fact that there are two sides to every war. If constructive peace is to be achieved, there should be balanced reporting that rests on information gathered on both sides of the border, de-emphasizes and condemns inflammatory language, and favors empirical evidence and high ethical standards of journalism.
Therefore, we the Citizens for Peace in Eritrea, are mobilizing to inform the World's public of developments in the war which are beginning to have severe consequences on the civilian population of both Eritrea and Ethiopia and threatening to destabilize the entire region.
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Verbatim text of interviews with
Interviews conducted by
Prof. Asmarom Legesse, July 9 through 23, 1998
on behalf of Citizens for Peace in Eritrea
The following is the testimony of the deportees presented without comment. The text is as close to the original tape-recorded interviews as we can make it. Explanatory material added to the text is in square brackets. Text omitted because it is repetitive is marked with ellipsis points (...). Some parts of the text are summarized. Please note that the names of the deportees were withheld at the request of the respondents because, if publicized, they feared there would be repercussions that would affect their families in Ethiopia. For verification purposes, the names, tape recordings, and full text will be archived and made available to international and humanitarian organizations, with the understanding that the contents of the interviews can be publicized without the names.
Fifteen year old girl taken away from her family and deported Reason: Took part in school children's summer program in tree planting, in Eritrea
Q. Please tell me how you came to Asmara and what your life was like in Addis prior to your departure.
A. Saturday, I was taken from my home to the police station. I was told that they were just gathering Eritreans and recording their names. [After the interrogation,] they told the women that they were not needed and sent them back..
Monday night, a woman representative of EPRDF at the Qabale level came and told me that I was needed for just a while and that I would come right back. She said "You will just sign and come right back." My mother said please let her have her dinner first and they said there is no need, she will come right back, she will not spend the night at the station. My mother said in any case let her take some warm clothing. No need for that, they said, she will come right back. Nevertheless, I took my Gabi along.
We spent the night in the police station and the following morning they took us to Shogole. We spent the night there. On Thursday they took our pictures -- individual pictures. We filled some forms. … I asked him why I was being taken, " I went to Asmara only to take part in community development projects (Ma'tot). All I did was plant trees." He said, "How do we know that you did not go [to learn] to plant bombs? The Sha'bia [EPLF] government trains not only young women like you but even five-year-old children."
Q. Had you, in fact, come for the summer development program (ma'tot)?
Q. Why did you come?
A. I came with my parents' permission: I wanted to see Eritrea. We are poor. I could not pay to come to Eritrea. We heard that [in the summer program] we would work for forty days and get 10 days vacation. That is what I did: I worked for forty days and saw my relatives during the remaining 10 days.
Q. What exactly did they tell you at the police station: why were they taking you?
A. They asked me why I went to Asmara.
I said "I went to take part in development (ma'tot): that is all I did. I know nothing about weapons, I do not know how to dis-assemble and assemble a rifle. There were also friends of mine who testified that I received no military training, but took part only in the summer development projects. These friends were graduates of Sawa [military training camp]. My friends were unable to persuade them [i.e. the interrogators]. On Friday without my family knowing, they took us on the trip to Asmara. My family knew that I was detained. They used to come and visit me and bring me food during the five days I spent in Shogole. But they were not informed that I was being taken out of the country."
Q. Who are the members of your family?
A. I have a younger brother and an older sister. She is married. I am the second child. They told me that all I would do is to fill a form. Without letting my family know, they brought me here on Friday.
Q. How was the trip?
A. There was no difficulty. I came by bus. There were two busses.
Q. How did you feel about coming?
A. I felt very sad about leaving my family and without their knowledge. I am also very angry because they did not tell me I was being taken to my country. I was born and raised in Addis Ababa. Except for the one trip I made to Eritrea, I had no knowledge of the country.
Q. How old are you?
A. I am 15. I was in the 9th grade and I was due to go to the 10th grade.
Q. They brought you over just as you were about to complete the 9th grade?
A. Yes, I was in the middle of the exams. We were returning our [9th grade] books.
Q. Did you ask to be allowed to take those exams?
A. Yes, and they said that there is even a University student who was due to take her final exam for the doctorate, she had one exam left and even she is not being allowed to take the exam.
Q. She came with you on this trip?
Q. Is she a Sawa trainee?
A. No. Her name is ... She is from Asmara. She was sent to Addis by the government [on an exchange scholarship program].
She was earlier expelled from Yemen and now she is expelled from Addis.
Q. Since you came, were you able to talk to your parents [by phone]?
A. I called, but did not find my mother. I spoke to my younger sister.
Q. Did they know that you had come to Asmara.
A. I told her that I arrived in Asmara and that I am well. A friend of mine had called her own family in Addis and told them about my coming and they in turn told my family.
Q. Who do you now have in Asmara?
A. I have relatives from my village and one uncle. He is in Assab. He is a fighter [EPLF]
Q. Do you have any other members of your family who belong to EPLF?
A. No, they are dead. I had uncles who died in the war.
They [the interrogators] had in fact asked me if I had older brothers, but I said I did not.
Q. Are there any others like you who came because they had participated in the summer projects?
A. Yes there is one girl with me. She is 17 years old. We came together.
Q. The reason was the same as yours?
A. Yes, they said if you were born and raised here [in Addis] why did you go [to Eritrea]?
END OF INTERVIEW
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Wife taken away from Ethiopian husband and nine- year-old son
Reason: membership in Eritrean Community Association in Addis, Fund raising, Membership in PFDJ
Q. Please tell me how you were brought to Eritrea and about your life prior to your departure.
A. It was the 6th (Ethiopian calendar). My husband went to his job at the Air Force Base.
Q. What does he do?
A. He is a Mig 21 technician. He left at 6 a.m. and they came at 6:15 a.m. They presented me with a court order saying that I should appear at the police station and answer questions. The document was in Amharic. Two people came to my house and gave me the document. One was a uniformed Oromo soldier and the other was a member of the party (EPRDF). My child was asleep. I have only one child. He is nine and a half years old. I said I did not have any one to look after my child and that I should wake him up; my husband has gone off to work and I have no other children. We live by ourselves in the compound. He said "If governments go crazy, we are not going to be crazy; we want you only for five minutes, you will come back, don't wake him up. I asked if I should lock him up in the house and he said "Go ahead, you will come right back."
[She never saw her child again.]
Q. You live by yourselves, you had no neighbors in the compound and no employee.
A. Yes, that is right. I asked if I could change my pajamas and put on my street clothes. They said that there is no need. I picked up a shawl and they took me away. When we got to the police station there were many Eritreans. All the Eritreans of Debre Zeit were there. We said to each other, why have they brought us all together. My turn came and the police took me to a room. My husband is an Ethiopian. They asked me
Q. which organization I belonged to.
A. My Amharic is poor, I came recently from Asmara, so please ask me your questions as clearly as you can and I will answer."
Q. Are you a member of PFDJ? [The successor party to EPLF established after independence.]
Q. Are you among the leaders [of the local chapter]?
A. Yes I was, but I am not any longer. I was chairman for three years.
Q. Are you a member of the "Com" [Local Eritrean Community Organization]
Q. Were you in a leadership position?
Q. With a mocking voice "You are ‘our' auditor, you collect the contributions and hand it over to them."
A. That is not right, all the associations – Oromo (O-Hi-Di-D), Amhara (I-Hi-D-Ri-N) – etc. collect contributions. [These are phonetic renditions of the Amharic acronyms.] We too have an Eritrean association under the umbrella of the Eritrean and Ethiopian governments, who gave us political freedoms. The money we raise is not for war, it is a contribution of two Birr per month, which we use to buy the things we need for our activities.
Q. Your husband is Amhara, this country is your country. How can you participate in such activities, while they are bombing us and invading our borders?
A. The government of Ethiopia had given us political freedoms. We meet monthly in a hall given to us by EPRDF, the same hall where EPRDF hold their education programs. … The security office gave us permission to hold our meetings. Were we not holding our meetings in EPRDF halls? If you are in conflict now, how can you treat us like criminals?
He then began talking about a man named Tirfit who is now with the Eritrean Air Force. He said
Q. It is Tirfit Yosief, who grew up eating our butter and white Teff, who is bombing us now, do you know that?"
A. I know the Yosief family, but I did not know that they have a son with the Air Force.
Q. You belong as much to Eritrea as to Ethiopia, the country of you children, your country. What you are doing now, raising money for Eritrea, to be used to bomb us? That is a crime." A. It is not a crime. We did not try to hide our activities from you. We had the approval of the district (Wereda) administration. There was nothing criminal or evil about our activities.
We gathered for the cause of the development of our land and to learn about the present state of our country. We have committed no crime, killed nobody.
They then sent me to a dirty jail where criminals are kept, a jail with urine and feces [on the floor]. After some hours they took us to a community development hall. We spent the evening there. At midnight they brought in a dump truck and told us to climb on it. There were very old women among us called Mother Yeshi, Mother Tsigewoyni, Mother Luul, whom they picked up in church [the early morning service]. They cried because they could not climb up the truck. They came exactly at midnight, just as the Dergue used to do: take people out at midnight and shoot them. We feared that we were going to be shot. It was bitter cold and windy. We arrived at the Mexico square police station. They took us around, all over Addis, and finally brought us to Shogole. I never saw my boy or my husband again. I was put on a bus to Asmara wearing nothing by the pajamas I was wearing when they took me out of my house.
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When Makalle was bombed, they took it out on us, those who came from Debre Zeit. Some of the people who came with us were allowed to bring personal belongings (clothing, jewelry etc.) but we did not. I was nearly crazy. I left my son locked up behind steel doors. It is barbarous to tell a mother to lock up her child and leave him there.
She said that after they crossed the Eritrean border, people raised money to buy them clothing. Since arriving here, she was able to telephone her husband with great difficulty. "At the Air Force Base they keep you waiting for 15 minutes and then hang up on you. They did that several times." she said. But she found out that neighbors unlocked the door to her house got her child out. "My sister in Addis has agreed to take my son from Debre Zeit to Addis Ababa and keep him there. My child has been registered with the Red Cross. My husband too has suffered because they say that we are a Sha'bia [EPLF] family. He was ready to come to Eritrea just before the conflict began. I am a teacher and we could live on my salary alone. The house [in Addis] is ours, but I do not care about that as long as my husband and son are allowed to come here. There, he is neither Eritrean nor Ethiopian, it is best for him to live here. Even if he does not join the Air Force he can find an office job. There are three other families from Debre Zeit town who – like me -- have left their children behind."
She cites the case of a family who married off a daughter to a member of the Eritrean protocol department. The mother voted in the referendum but otherwise had no connection with Eritrean associations. The connection between her daughter and a member of the Eritrean protocol office was enough of a cause for her deportation. The mother was deported leaving behind three daughters. Since her arrival here, she has called her daughters and they said that they have also been told to vacate their house and not to remove any of their belongings. The children are 12 to 15 years old. The father had come to Asmara before the conflict began to see his married daughter, and he was unable to go back.
She then discussed the relationship of the Eritrean community in Debre Zeit with Amhara, Oromo, Tigrayan organizations. She said that she personally contributed to all of them. In particular, she paid 1/3 of her salary for 7 months in support of the Oromo Development Association, because they were living in the Oromo region. She said " We contributed far more to Ethiopian than to Eritrean organizations."
END OF INTERVIEW
24 year old mother, separated from her seven- month-old infant.
Reason: her brother used to write poems celebrating an Eritrean hero named Idris Awate and briefly worked for Eritrean radio programs
Q. Tell me about your marriage, your family, and how you came to Asmara.
A. My mother and father are in Dessie. We were born and raised in Dessie. After liberation, my father came to Asmara. He retired and began to live in Senafe. He was an office worker with the Ministry of Education. He was given a job as a teacher. We used to come [From Dessie] and see him from time to time. My mother too worked for the Ministry of Education [in Dessie]: she was a messenger. After liberation, my young brother wrote a poem in Amharic about Idris Awate and sent it to Eritrea radio and it was broadcast. We had newspaper clippings of his poem in our house. He came to Asmara and was placed in the Kagnew compound. He lived there for two years and worked in the Amharic radio program. He read jokes, poems, news etc. Sawa training was then initiated. Since he was partially disabled, he was allowed to do national service in non-military activities. When the Amharic radio program was discontinued, he began to work privately producing plays on video cassettes about love and other topics. While he was doing that, I came [to Eritrea] to see my father during the summer months. The plan was to bring the children to Eritrea one by one. My father then suggested that I get married in Eritrea. I consented to the marriage. I got married in Asmara. My husband, my brother and I began to live together: my brother became our dependent. My husband got the lottery to emigrate to America (USA). I became pregnant and could not leave the country. My family said that he should not go right away, but that I should stay behind until the child is born. I went back to Dessie and gave birth. He waited until my child was born and christened before leaving for the States. He wrote to say that he got there safely and was well. Soon after I received his letter I was informed by phone that he died suddenly of a heart attack. His corpse came to Asmara and I came here for his funeral.
My mother is too weak to be able to raise my child. She is virtually bed ridden. I was without money because my husband needed a lot of money for his trip to the USA. While I was still in mourning, my brother came to Dessie. My older sister had also died just before my husband.
I was waiting to leave for Asmara, when this sad day arrived. The soldiers came and took my brother away. Soon after that, a car full of security men came and surrounded and searched our house. They turned the house upside down. All of my brother's materials were in Asmara. They found one Eritrean newspaper. They also found a copy of his poem on Idris Awate. They took him to jail and put him in chains. When we visited him there and took him food they would ask "Is it the Sha'bia newsman?" They claimed that they had found his communication equipment -- which is untrue. They then took my younger brother, age 18. They also came for my father, because they heard that he had come for the mourning. But he had already gone back to Asmara. They came three or four time for my father and then gave up. They used to come so often to knock on our doors that my mother was ill with fear. ...;
On a Sunday morning, while I was breast feeding my seven-month-old son, a car full of security men came and asked for me by name. I asked if I could finish breast feeding my child and they said "You are only needed to answer some questions, you will not be long. When they took me away, my mother went crazy and had to be restrained. My neighbors followed us and one of them carried my baby on her back. ...; When we arrived at the police station, a bus was ready to take us away. One neighbor gave me 100 Birr. Otherwise I had nothing. They told us to get into the bus. I screamed and screamed and begged and pleaded to be allowed to take my baby with me but nobody would hear me. I never saw my child again.
She describes her trip, her thirst, the pain in her breasts because she had suddenly stopped breast-feeding. When she asked for water they said "Don't complain, you will yet drink the blood of Nakfa [the town that was held by EPLF throughout the war years and was razed to the ground by Ethiopian Migs.]" The soldiers used all kinds of intimidating language. " You have to walk 30 km at the border." "When you get to Region two, they will shoot you." In fact, when they arrived at Humera the local officials demanded to be given custody of the deportees but the officers accompanying them would not hand them over. There was a long argument over that. They took pictures (video and still) of them at Humera and they ordered her to remove her black shawl – a sign that she was in mourning. With a great sense of relief, she describes her peace of mind after crossing the border.
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Widow, mother of five separated from her children and deported;
became very ill, left for dead in Humera Reason for deportation: she was member of the Eritrean Community and a cashier of the local PFDJ chapter, her son was doing national service in Eritrea.
Q. The main question I want to ask you is how you came to Asmara, and what your situation was like before you came.
A. I used to live in Debre Zeit.
Q. Please speak up so we can record what you say properly.
A. I am weak [She gave the interview in a half whisper]. My husband died 10 years earlier. He was a teacher. After he died I lived on his pension money. I was raising five children. The children are a girl 23 years old and the next child, a boy, is in Eritrea doing national service [at Sawa] in the 7th round. The next child is a girl age 18, left behind in Debre Zeit. The next is a boy age 16, also left behind. The last child is a boy age 12. I was raising them with great difficulty.
Q. How much was the pension.
A. 102 Birr [per month]. I used to supplement that income by doing various types of handiwork and selling it. I lived a peaceful life. But I had little trust in them, the Ethiopians. I knew my poverty and weakness well. There was virtually nothing I did for this country [Eritrea]. But they believed that I was a spy. They were making my life horrible. In the eyes of God I was leading a straight life. They came to my house in the dead of night and took me away, wearing nothing but what I wore in bed. ...; They asked for me by name and I told them who I was. I asked who wanted me and why. They said just come with us. My daughter handed me a shawl and I was taken to the police station. The children were crying. When I arrived at the station I saw all the members of our [Eritrean] community there. We asked each other what the matter was and sat and waited. They interrogated us all day. In the evening they took us to Hizbawi Nuro Idget [a community development center?].
Q. Before you come to that, what was the interrogation all about?
A. He opened a note book and told me
Q. You were the cashier of PFDJ.
A. I did not respond.
Q. Don't try to hide anything from me. Tell it to me straight. You are a member of the Community.
Q. You are a member of PFDJ.
A. Yes. I am Eritrean and I will not deny my Eritrean identity. So what is my offense? Q. You were having meetings?
A. Of course, the Government allowed us, you gave us a hall, and a guard. Everything was allowed by the Government. We did nothing beyond that.
The hall was where the Ethiopian party in power (EPRDF) gave instruction to its members. Q. How often were the meetings? Monthly?
A. PFDJ was every month, the Community was every six months or so, as convenient. They know all this, there was nothing we did without their knowledge. [The interrogation continued]
Q. When did you become a member of PFDJ?
Q. You became a member in 1985 [Ethiopian calendar], say yes. A. You have the record. You will find it there. What is true, is true.
He then sent me to the police station. We were taken by pick up truck to the Community Development Center (Hizbawi Nuro Idget). We spent the night there. Something else I forgot. They told me to designate an agent (with power of attorney) on a blank sheet of paper. Knowledgeable people like Colonel Aseffaw who were with us said "This is a joke, power of attorney given on a blank sheet of paper has no value." [They ignored his comment.] They said "just sign."
Q. What was the substance of what you wrote.
A. "I, so and so, have delegated my eldest daughter to look after my property." Most of the men believing their wives to be safe, designated them as their agents. A few days later many of the wives were also taken into prison. Sometimes they let the husbands delegate their wives in the day time and at night they go around arresting the wives.
Q. So you delegated your daughter who is 24 years old.
A. No, about 23, approximately. We spent the night there and they took us away at mid-night in a dump truck. They packed us like hay. There were sick old women with us who were shivering in the cold. They were screaming: [they could not climb up the truck]: others lifted them and threw them into the truck. We were driven across Addis to Shogole. Shogole looked like a garrison town or village. We spent the night there. I was very weak. We were allowed to urinate outdoors. There were Weyane soldiers there who were treating us brutally, intimidating us. We were packed so closely that we could not sleep. We were taken out in the morning and loaded onto busses. On the way here , I was conscious until I got to Gondar. My children were before my eyes. Then I fainted. The brothers in the bus were worried about me and cared for me. By the time I got to Humera I was virtually dead. The thirst, the heat, the exhaustion. I was taken to a hospital. But soon after that, they took me out of the hospital and had me sit on a rock for a half hour. At that time I began to see things. Some man, totally naked, was in front of me, calling me names. He would rush up to me and then go back. As he approached me I would duck. I had no idea where I was. They then put me in a small car. I think it might have been a Red Cross car -- I am guessing. They took me from Humera. I was in some village. I think I was near the border. They told me to get out or the car. One of them said we should drive her closer [to the border]. They put me back in the car and drove me some distance. They told me to get out and walk. I asked them which way do I go and they said "Just walk." I asked "Where are the people who came with me?" and they said "They have gone across!"
She painfully staggered some distance heading North, was picked up by people from across who saw her floundering and stumbling and came to her rescue. They carried her across. She was given first aid and joined the rest of the deportees. She said she was like a new person when she saw the kind of reception they were given, in particular the cheering crowds lining the road.
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Elderly businessman, 15 million Birr investment in a multi-story hotel, 2 million Birr bank loan; deported leaving behind his estate and family.
Reason: was vice-chairman of Eritrean Community and chairman of the PFDJ chapter.
Raised and schooled in Addi Grat, Tigrai, he was also vice chairman of the Tigrayan Development association in Zway.
Q. Please tell me how you came to Asmara and what your situation was like before you came, where you lived and what, specifically, they said when they brought you here, what reasons they gave for your deportation.
A. I lived in Zway. I am a businessman and have a hotel, four stories high, just finished, at Zway town, next to Lake Zway. My estate is worth about 15 million Birr. I have other businesses as well, a cement block factory in my daughter's name, a metal shop, a wood shop etc. My own shops did most of the work on the building. I also borrowed 2 million from the bank. I was given land, loans, and business permits as an Ethiopian.
Q. Do you have an Ethiopian passport?
A. No. [he never traveled abroad] but I worked there for 39 years. I grew up in Addi Grat (Tigray) and received my schooling there. My place of origin is Addi Kaieh [Eritrea] on my maternal and paternal sides. At 14 I went to Jimma for many years, and I have been in my present place for 25 years. There was virtually no town in Zway when I got started. I made much effort to try to develop the town and the community loved and respected me. I built the hotel there because I believed that the town would grow and I would grow with it. The hotel was to be opened on Sunday the 13th of Nehassie. The hotel has 34 rooms upstairs, complete with individual toilets, quite modern, designed in accordance with the recommendations of the [Department of] Tourism. It has a hall for meetings, a restaurant, and bar. It is quite complete.
Q. The bank loan is not yet paid up?
A. No. We were to start paying next September. That was the agreement. I was arriving back from Addis with supplies for my hotel when the police picked me up and took me to the station.
Q. The 15 million Birr estimate you gave me, was that of the hotel alone, or all your businesses?
R. All the businesses. The Hotel is worth about 13.5 million. The rest is all my other properties, including my residence in Zway and my properties in Jimma. ... I also have a place for my workers.
The Dergue had armed us to fight against Weyane [in 1991]. This was three days before Weyane came. As soon as Weyane came we became the pacification group [helping the new government to create law and order]. We were elected by the community to do this job. The aim was to control the unruly elements. They told us to protect the community until the Weyane government is established.
We informed them that we had been armed by the Dergue. They said that is fine: since you were elected by your community you can take on the job of pacification. I was then elected Qabale chairman and I served as judge in cases where rights of citizens had been violated. I worked in that capacity for three years. Then the Tigray Development Association was established and the question of Eritrean identity and the referendum came up. I served as the vice-chair of the Tigray Development Association. I used to pay 15 Birr per month as contribution. The highest in the town.
I also served as the chairman of the Eritrean community. We paid 3 Birr per month [as membership fee]. There was no other payment. We did make some contributions for [Eritrean] development. ... We believed that we were working for the good of both countries and we had no idea that something like this would happen. I believed Tigrayans were my brothers. I also became a member of PFDJ and of Tigray Development Association. I have a membership card as a member of the latter association. They knew all about the Eritrean associations and they supported us. They gave us office space and assistance whenever we needed to have meetings. Not for one second did we think that we would face a situation such as this. When the policeman summoned me, I asked to be allowed to unload the hotel supplies in the truck. I asked what my offense was. I asked "Did I kill any one?"
I spent the entire day at the police station. We asked where we were being taken. They said "We do not know, the order came from Nazareth."
Q. You were in the Oromo regional state?
A. Yes, this is the Oromo Region. They took us to Shashamanne by car. They asked us question like these.
Q. Did you vote? [in the referendum to decide the future of Eritrea]
Q. Were you a member of the [Eritrean] Community?
Q. In what capacity?
A. Vice chairman.
Q. Were you with PFDJ.
Q. In what capacity?
Q. What is your nationality?
A. Ethiopian. Now I may become an Eritrean but until now I have done everything I did as an Ethiopian. Please write down "Ethiopian." There was some argument. I insisted and he wrote down "Ethiopian."
After that, I had no idea where they were taking us. We just boarded [a bus] and came here. Q. Did they ask anything else? It seems that all they wanted to know was about membership in Eritrean organizations?
A. Yes, membership in the community, the party, and whether we voted during the referendum or not, and whether we contributed money for Eritrean development, and my answer was "Yes, I contributed three Birr per month to the Community and to the Party. My contribution was higher because I owned a business, others paid one Birr. This money was used to bring newspapers to keep us informed about Eritrea. It was not to support Sha'biya [EPLF]. If you want to believe that it was, feel free to do so."
Q. Did he know that you were also the vice chairman of the Tigray Development Association [in your area]?
A. Yes he knew. I still pay may dues. But that issue was not raised [in the course of the interrogation.] When we arrived in Gondar I told the officers that I was the vice chairman of the Tigray Development Association in my area and that I had an ID that testified to that. They asked for the ID and I told them that I was not given a chance to bring any of my documents when they picked me up and brought me here. If given a chance, I said, I could produce the documents. They said that is OK, you can tell that to the officers at Humera [near the Eritrean border.]
We had great problems on the trip. When we were traveling from Gondar to Humera, … It started to rain. The road became impassable. Our bus slid off the road into a ditch. We screamed and pressured the driver to let us off.. … Our shoes and legs were loaded with mud and we spent the night right on the mud. … The next day a truck took us to Humera. From Humera a police vehicle took us to the border.
As soon as we crossed over, we were given water for the first time. We were dying of thirst. I cannot express the way people welcomed us. I never dreamed that we would receive such a welcome. It was like being born again. We were given water, food and everything else that we needed. From Omhajer all the way to Tessenei people cheered us along saying "Don't fear, we are with you!" At Tessenei there was a dust storm (khamseen). Nevertheless, people turned up in great numbers to greet us with their heads wrapped in shawls. The crowds cheered us all the way to Asmara and we have been given good accommodations here.
Q. OK. Let us go back and talk about your property. When you left your estate behind, was the issue of the power of attorney raised.
A. The issue was raised only when we arrived in Nazareth [the administrative capital of the Oromo region]. We were asked if we had designated a legal representative (wekkil) before leaving our town. I said, we did nothing of the sort. Nobody asked. He then told me to designate someone as my legal representative. A blank piece of paper was furnished for that purpose. He said that it would be taken by the policeman who brought us here, back to the town and that it would be presented to the court and that my property will be protected.
Q. Meaning, your property would be passed on to your representative?
A. Yes, I delegated my wife. I have no idea whether he gave her the document or not, and whether the representation has been properly done. I spoke to my wife [by phone] last week. She went to Addis to get my call. She said she has problems. She has been told to sell the property by Nehassie month. [The date when the hotel was due to be inaugurated.]
Q. How long was she given?
A. Two months. I told her "You are in no position to sell all this property in such a short period of time and we have a two-million Birr loan from the bank. Please hand over everything to the government, including the bank loan. And when they tell you to leave the place, do so." So far, I do not know what she had done.
Q. Do you have grown children?
A. I have an 18 year old boy, and a girl age 23. The rest are younger. I have five children. The youngest is one and a half years old.
Q. Was your wife involved in the running of the business? Does she know the business?
A. Yes, she used to run the business in my absence. I do not know whether they will let her do so or not. So far she is still running the business but she has no idea who will be able to buy it. …I have told her to prepare a document listing our bank loan and assets and hand everything over to the Government; and to get a lawyer to help with all that.
Out here I am penniless. I did not bring anything. Thanks to the assistance given to us I have food and shelter. Relatives are also helping us. The government has promised to do all it can to protect our property. …
Q. Do you have any idea as to what is happening to your other properties e.g. residential properties?
A. I have no idea.
B. Q. Was the hotel operating when you left?
A. Parts of it were operating for about 2 years. The multi-story structure was just completed and was due to be inaugurated. It has a terrace from which the lake can be seen.
Q. Were tourists coming to your hotel?
A. Yes, some. There is an island called Gelila. I made a study of the island and had put together a proposal to invest 30 million to develop it. The district administration were happy about it and it was approved by the Oromia Investment Bureau. I was given about 3 hectares on the island for a hotel and camping facilities. I needed about three or four days to complete the deal. I was planning to have boats on the lake to transport tourists to and from the island and to visit historical sites in the area. The hotel I was planning to build was a three-star hotel.
Q. How many stars did your Zway hotel have?
A. That had not been decided [by Tourism Commission]. It was to be done at the inauguration.
Q. The people in the area are Oromo, what about the town?
A. The region is Oromo, the town is mixed, most are Gurage and other nationalities, Amhara and Tigrayans. When I went to Zway it was a small village. I worked hard to develop it. I believe the town was going to grow, and I hoped to grow with it. Just as I was about to start reaping the benefits of many years of work, this situation developed. …
Q. When did you first go to Zway?
A. In 1966 Ethiopian calendar, [1974 European calendar] the time when the Dergue [military communist government] took over power.
Q. What was Zway like when you first came?
A. It was tiny. Except for the little hotel I put up in a rented property, there was not much by way of business. Since then it has grown rapidly. Mine is the principal business in town. I have put a life time of savings into it.
Q. What kind of relatives do you have here?
A. Uncles and cousins. A few people whom I helped while I was in Jimma [Southern Ethiopia] are now in Asmara and they are in a position to help me.
Q. Any property here?
A. I have a four-by-six [meters] room in my home town in Addi Kaieh. That is shared by several heirs. It is rented. Six years ago I came and got it organized. The rental revenue is accumulating at a bank. We will see what can be done. One of my brothers – who is disabled – was with me in Zway. I took him with me to Jimma, got him married and he now has nine children. He is still there. I have also a sister in Bahrein who sends some help to my brothers.
Q. Thank you for this extensive information. If I have any other questions I will come back.
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Mother (60) and daughter (40) deported while visiting another family in Addis Ababa, leaving behind their respective families in Alem Tena, in Southern Ethiopia. New factor: Most of the people who came with them were women (and their children) whose husbands had already been deported.
Q. The main things we want to know is what your life was like before coming to Eritrea, where you were living, who are the members of your family, what reasons were given to you for being deported. We need the language used in the interrogation, then what your trip was like, who are the members of your family you left behind, in what state you left your property, who is looking after it, and what you were able to learn about your family since you arrived here.
A. We live in a town called Alem Tena. We went to Addis to visit a "brother" who lives in Addis but was recently sent to Asmara, with the second group of deportees. He is my father's brother's son. We spent the night with the family. They came knocking on the door at 1 a.m. and asked us to open the door. We said, we cannot – it is too late, please come in the morning. The jumped over the fence and came in. There was a large number of soldiers with arms.
Q. How many? Were they all armed?
A. About 25, all armed. The first thing they did was to rip the telephone cord off the wall. They then ordered us to open every room and every cupboard, bedside table, and drawer. They said there are four rifles in the house and demanded to see them. They were told that there are no rifles in the house. At the very beginning (of the conflict) an announcement was made to all Eritreans to hand over weapons in their possession. My cousin went of his own free will, and handed over his pistol. This was, I believe, a piece given to him by the Government. They said that they had been informed that there were four weapons in the house and insisted that we hand them over. They asked different members of the family in different rooms but were not able to find anything. They ransacked the house and when they could not find what they wanted they gathered us in one room and told us that we were going to Eritrea.
We tried to explain that we were guests in the house and that we lived in a town on the way to Shashamanne [Southern Ethiopia]; if you want to take us please take us from our town. They said there is no way for them to do that. Most of the soldiers then went to other houses in the area and left behind two soldiers in the house where we were visiting. We spent a sleepless night. A police van came at 6 a.m. and took us to the police station where a bus was ready to take us away. We pleaded with them to let us go to our own town and homes and that we would be happy to show them where we lived. They said absolutely not. Thus we came without ever saying good bye to our children.
Q. What is the name of the town?
A. Alem Tena. Now, we have no way of communicating with our families. There are no telephone lines to the town. When they realize we are missing, they will probably go to Addis Ababa and inquire, but there is no way they can find out where we are. As far as property is concerned, we have houses in the area, houses we built, we also ran a tea house in the town. My husband was a gardener – he worked at a government plantation. He was recently retired. Nearly all Eritreans employed by the government have been fired from their jobs.
Q. How many people are there in your family?
A. I have six children age 15 to 20. I also have children here who are with EPLF. … My daughter has six children age 5 to17, all boys. I also have one daughter who was staying with the family we were visiting in Addis: she came with me [to Asmara].
Q. None of the members of your family [i.e. children] in Alem Tena has been deported.
A. No. We told them that we do not belong to the family they came after, we were visitors, and that if they want us, they should come for us in our homes in Alem Tena. They just pushed us into the bus.
Q. After they took you into the police station, did they conduct any kind of interrogation, did they ask you questions about yourselves.
A Nothing was spoken. There was a bus waiting for us at the police station. As soon we got there they pushed us directly into the bus. There were many others who came in cars and were transferred from the cars into the bus. We begged them to hear us and they would not. Q. The weapon that was taken from the house, was that handed over to them voluntarily?
A. Yes, the father himself took it to the administration. He is now in this country [Eritrea]. He is my cousin. I was visiting his family. The children had no mother. That is why we went to see them.
Q. Was the weapon given to him by the government?
A. I do not know, I think he had a pistol. Earlier on they gathered all the Eritreans and told them "We know what your are doing, we are on to you." Later on, they heard a radio broadcast announcing that all Eritreans who possess weapons are no longer permitted to keep them, that they should hand them over, and that steps would be taken against those who do not. He did not think that this would happen, he went and handed over the weapon. Soon thereafter, he was deported. They went to his garage, they drove out the workers, took his small daughter away and sealed off the Garage. They also came to his house and drove all of us out and sealed off the house. They collected all the keys to cupboards, bedside tables, doors etc. It is a beautiful house. All the people in the house were driven out, all of his children as well. We were all taken to the station and deported. The children came with us.
There is a difference between the people who came before us and our group. Initially they were bringing mainly the men (household heads) and leaving the women and children behind. Now they are picking up the women and children and deporting them as well. Most of the people who came with us are women and children or entire households.
Q. Did they say anything about appointing an agent who would take charge of the properties?
A. Initially, they had said that they would permit people to appoint an agent. This time they told them, that they had two months to sell their properties before they were deported. But who would buy the properties? They advised the community not to buy any properties belonging to Eritreans. Then without waiting for two months –i.e. two weeks later -- they deported the owners. My cousin had appointed his daughter as his agent when they deported him. Soon they deported her as well and told her that she could not appoint an agent. The law, they said, does not provide for an agent's agent. So, she was deported with us. It is, quite simply, a form of confiscation by the government.
Q. He had a garage?
A. Yes, a very large garage with many vehicles belonging to him and to others. They locked up all the vehicles. We do not know what they will do with them. The eldest son (age 24) and daughter (age 20) who had remained behind to manage the properties came with us. I am sure that they have presented their case to government here. We came by bus via Assab. We spent two nights on the way. The second night was horrible: it was extremely hot. We were met by EPRDF solders who made us spend the night in the bus. Early next morning they brought down the luggage from the top of the bus, searched it, and then put it inside the bus which was already full of passengers. Crammed in the bus, we made the rest of the trip. They told us not to open windows, curtains, not to look out at all, to hold each other hand to hand and make sure that no body looks out.
Q. What was the purpose of all that?
A. We do not know, we think that they did not want us to see their fortifications and trenches. Then we stopped and we got off the bus. They told us not to say a word, but to just pick up our luggage and start walking. "Just follow the road," they said. We walked some distance. It was 6 am. From the other side, the EPLF soldiers rushed toward us. They carried our luggage the rest of the way and took us to their place. It was a wonderful reception. As for the people of Assab it was something else: they put on a feast for us. Many cars came to greet us. They drove us into town, saying we should not have to wait for the bus to come. The streets were lined with people cheering, singing. We danced and danced. We then came to Massawa by boat, then to Asmara by bus.
Q. Have you been able to call your families since you came?
R. No. It is very difficult, our families would have to go to Addis to get our call. We will try to reach them by having our families call our friends in the USA and try to reach them that way. That is the normal way of communicating with family in Addis right now.
Q. How many years did you live in Ethiopia?
A. 35 years.
Q. Did you have an ID card?
A. Yes, it was not really a card, but looks more like small note book. We had that issued to us by our Qabale [neighborhood organization]. It was a picture ID.
Q. What nationality did they record on the ID?
A. When they asked where we came from, we simply said we were from Asmara. They told us "If people ask for your nationality, you simply say ‘Eritrean.'" That is what we said and that is the information they are using now to deport us.
A. Were you members of the Eritrean Community?
Q. Were you members of PFDJ?
A. No. We belonged to the women's association only. At the place where we lived there were only a handful of Eritreans.
B. Why did you choose Alem Tena as they place to live?
C. There was a foreign owned plantation nearby and my husband is a gardener, he worked there. In time, he bought some land (one gasha) and started to do his own gardening. Later the government confiscated the land and he was employed on the farm as a gardener-manager. He is now retired. He is about 70 years old [and deported to Asmara.]
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Two adolescent sisters deported
Reason: took part in summer development program in Eritrea
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Sertsu Gebremeskel, owner of a large construction company
Among all the individuals who gave their testimony, he is the only one we identify by name. His firm was one of the very largest construction firm in Ethiopia and as such it seemed pointless to try to present his case anonymously. Any description of his firm and his huge projects would pinpoint his identity instantly. He was asked to give information about his deportation and his personal and business activities prior to that.
A. I am Sertsu Gebremeskel, a civil engineer. I received my master's degree from Stanford University, in California. My wife is Wro. Lemlem Beyin. She has a B.Sc. in accounting from Addis Ababa University. We started our firm – Nile Construction -- in 1971 in Addis Ababa. After we got married, she was helping me with running the office, and I was doing the outside work. Nile Construction was small when we started. It had a low rating ("class"). As time went on, the Ministry of Construction were satisfied with our work, and the rating kept going up until finally we were classified as Class 1, Grade 1, which is the highest type of license given by the Government. We were permitted to take on any kind of [construction] project. We have been working for 27 years and I can justly say that we have contributed to Ethiopia.
Q. Tell me what kinds of projects you started out with and how your projects changed as your company grew.
A. In the early stages we built private houses, stores, schools, hospitals. Later we went into highway construction – gravel roads. We had appropriate equipment for that kind of work. The last highway project we did was a road from Awash to Arba Guggu, a distance of 54 kilometers. That was quite successful. Later we started working on bridges and large buildings. We have, for instance, built several bridges in Addis Ababa, large bridges. In the last stages we started on waterworks projects. In 1983 we started as a sub-contractor for a large Italian firm called Saisa Dermi. We installed 340 kilometers of pipes in Addis Ababa alone. Our client, Addis Ababa Water Supply Authority, was very satisfied with our work and took us on as principal contractor [rather than sub-contractors working with foreign firms]. We went on to build the water supply system in the Kotebe region of Addis Ababa. Our next project was a sewer treatment plant for the city. We built the CMC plant: 7 km of mains and the plant itself. The purified water goes back into the river.
Next we embarked on a very large project called the "Emergency Ground Water Project."
Q. Why was it called "Emergency Ground Water."
A. Because there was a severe water shortage in Addis Ababa, and the job had to be done in the shortest possible time. Eleven wells were dug, and the water was pumped to Addis Ababa at the rate of 72,000 cubic meters per day. We won the bid and 85% of the job was completed when we were deported. The total cost of the project was 250 million Birr.
Simultaneously, there was also the Akaki Water Supply Project financed by the World Bank. Our client was the Addis Ababa Water Supply Authority. The project was to be done at a cost of 45 million Birr. That project was completed: about 99% of it was already done when I came to this country. Since then I received a message from them [my firm] indicating that the completed job was handed over to them [the Water Supply Authority].
That was in Addis Ababa. We also worked on the Makalle water supply. [Makale is the capital city of the Tigrai Regional Government]. The project cost was about 74 million. We had done much work on it and we had completed about 70% of the job. The part of the project that we were working on, the "civil works" part, was worth about 12 million. The rest was for supply of pipes, fittings and filters.
These were the three major government projects that we were working on. They were all very substantial projects. We were also engaged in private projects, principally Ato Ibrahim Nawud's hospital called the Hayat Hospital at Bole [in Addis Ababa]. That was 90 to 95% completed. There were also other small projects, two and three story buildings. These were also private projects.
Q. When they came and accused you of having committed some offenses, what was the nature of their accusation?
A. Two policemen came on a Friday morning at 6 a.m. and took me to the district police station. From there I was taken to the police station of the Zone (Killil). The question that was presented to me was very very simple. The man asking the question was, I believe, an Oromo. He asked
Q. You are an engineer, are you not?
Q. You have an association?
Q. Meaning an Eritrean association?
A. Yes that is what he meant.
Q. Did he mean the community association?
A. No, this was the Eritrean Engineers and Architects Association. There were about 300 members. In all, there were probably 400 [Eritrean Architects and Engineers in Ethiopia] but only 300 of them were in the Association. I have the list. We gathered for the purpose of determining how we can be of service to Eritrea. [Momentarily thinking about his plight he said to himself] "It is very sad." [And then continued with his lucid narrative.] We came to Eritrea and looked over the houses that had been destroyed [during the war] in Massawa. We gave detailed recommendation on how to rebuild the city. So much of the city was destroyed that we felt there was also need for low cost housing. We, therefore, prepared complete drawings, specifications and a bill of quantities for the construction of 700 houses and presented it to the Government.
Q. Were the houses built?
A. Portions of the project were. They were short of resources.
We also prepared the plans for the Mass Media Center in Asmara at Tsetserat. We prepared the survey, architectural, structural plans, bill of quantities, and specifications. They wanted to put the project up for bid, but because of a shortage of funds, the Chinese Government offered to do the job partly as a form of aid and partly against payment. We then prepared the plans for the Pharmaceuticals Factory which was originally to be built in Asmara but later it was decided to be built in Keren, because the policy was not to concentrate industry in Asmara, but to build up other growth centers. The Eritrean engineers [in Ethiopia] were all very eager to help. I was their board chairman and I had six colleagues on the board. This is one of the points their raised during the deportation procedure. They said,
Q. You had an Eritrean Association?
Q. It was an association of Engineers?
Q. You were their chairman?
Q. You were giving assistance to Eritrea?
A. Yes but we were also giving assistance to Ethiopia as a whole and to Tigrai in particular.
Q. Who were the members of the executive body?
I gave him the names. He then said "I am done with you." The interrogation took 30 seconds. He had no desire to ask questions.
Q. Did they ask any other questions during the deportation procedure.
A. Yes. We were due to leave Addis Ababa on Sunday morning and the security chief came to me the day before, around 5 p.m., and asked questions. He asked
Q. How much money did you borrow from the bank?
A. About 4 million in cash and about 5.4 million in mortgages secured by the buildings and vehicles that my firm owned.
He laughed and said that the amount you have borrowed is very small compared with all the activities that you are engaged in, [i.e. that his assets can cover his bank loans]. He then added "You will be deported to Eritrea."
Next, when we were ready to cross the border at Humera, the chief of the mission – Ato Meressa - told me [and three other businessmen] to get off the bus [carrying the deportees to Asmara]. He asked me what I had done and I told him that I had committed no crime. He asked what my work was and I told him that I was an engineer and a contractor. I then detailed the projects I had undertaken in Tigrai and that the entire water supply system of Makale was being built by my firm – Nile Construction. I also told him about the two major water supply projects in Addis Ababa. He was impressed and said that he would call Addis and if he has the green light he would send me back to Addis. Later, I believe he made some telephone calls, and the Gondar police chief came and told me, and three others [Eritrean businessmen] that our case was cleared and that we would go back to Addis.
We spent the night in Humera and early the next morning the Humera police chief told us that we were to cross over into Eritrea. We entered Eritrea soon after that.
Q. Another major issue that we have noticed in our interviews is the matter of legal agent [who is appointed to dispose of the properties of the deportee.] In your case you had given your wife the power of attorney some years earlier and that the document was properly done.
Q. So there was no need to write a note in the police station authorizing her to sell you properties?
A. At Shogole Mieda jail, they had told us to write the authorization on a piece of paper. I did not think that a paper like that would have any value. I told my colleagues not to write the note because unless a judge verifies the identity of the two persons giving and receiving authorization the representation has no validity in court. They pressured us into writing the note.
Q. Does a power of attorney document have to be witnessed and registered [in Ethiopian law.]
A. No, there is no need for that. I still have the draft of the note which I signed. We did this under duress, not voluntarily. They said that our properties will be sold and to do that somebody has to represent you in the proceedings. I gave my wife the authority to do that.
Q. How long did your wife run the business after you were deported.
A. About two weeks, a bit more. She was able to do everything to run the business. She always did that, anyway, for many years. I did the technical aspect of the work and she did the financial and administrative work.
Q. So now, she too has been deported: what reasons did they give her?
A. They harassed her for days: I do not think that anybody in Addis had as much difficulty as she did. As soon as I left, they told her to sell all the properties. They gave her one month to do so. She said that she cannot sell because if she sells the equipment the project will stop; if she sells the bulldozers all the other vehicles will stop; if the wheel dozer is sold the earth moving equipment will stop. If the excavators are sold all the pipe laying equipment will be idle. ... She told them "If you would like, I can hand over the entire project to you but I cannot begin to sell any part of the company." Then they told her to sell the buildings, at least. She said she could not do that either because they were mortgaged and the title deeds were with the bank. Finally, they told her to sell our house and she said she could not do that either because that too was mortgaged. Then they said that her situation was unusual, that they would take the matter up with higher authority and get back to her. They were worried about the fact that the company had about 700 to 800 employees who would lose their jobs if the company folded. She waited for three or four days and they told her that none of the explanations she gave is relevant to their job and that the properties must be sold. She and they never came to an agreement. They had given her a month to sell everything. Thirteen days later, they came to take her away. At 11 p.m., about 15 soldiers came and took possession of the house. They put her on the bus that would take her to Assab.
Q. How did they take possession of the house?
A. They just said that they did. Two of them spent the night there. In the morning they drove the workers out and pasted a piece of paper on the doors marked "sealed." They did the same with the garages and stores. They asked her to take them on an inspection tour of all the premises and when they were done they declared that these properties were now "sealed."
Q. Did your son come with her?
A. Yes, he is 16 years old. Her sister was also visiting. The garage chief whom they found while inspecting the place with her was also taken into custody. They took not only the company's properties but also properties that belonged to clients.
Q. What did they do with bank accounts?
A. We do not know. So far they have not raised any questions about them. In any case they know my bank account since the police chief told me that [the revenue of] my projects are bigger than my bank debts. ...
Q. Are there people in Addis who can keep you informed about any new developments with regard to you firm?
A. Yes, the engineers are there. There are about ten of them. They go to the office daily. They are just waiting for something to happen. The chief engineer and an office engineer, a very able woman, with an MA from Finland. She manages all the documents.
Q. [Comment] Surely complex projects such as the one's your firm was working on would have to be handed over in detail to whoever is to continue them, if not the projects would be disrupted. Incidentally, your wife's sister was just visiting, is that not so?
A. Yes, they just said that she is a member of your family and had to be deported.
Q. Did she have her own house?
A. Yes, she had her own house, close to ours. She was in our house because my wife was alone. She came [to Eritrea] without any clothes other than what she was wearing.
Q. Did they ask for her name?
Q. But they had no prior knowledge about her. In other words she was not in their book. She was deported just because she was present when her sister was being deported..
A. That is right. But since she is related to my wife, then she can apprehended and deported.
As I mentioned earlier, there were many projects that we were working on and there is a great deal that our clients owe the firm: payments that had not been made because the projects were still in progress. In the Akaki Water Supply Project, for instance, we are owed 5.2 million. The last payment certificate was not written up. There was also a 10% "retention" that is held back on each phase of the projects as security until the entire project is completed. It adds up to quite a bit of money.
The equipment is also very substantial. We have a current inventory of it. The company building is six stories high and was rented for 60,000 per month. Midrock and Alamudin are among our tenants. Alamudin is the biggest investor in Ethiopia. His head office is in our building. Our home is very large, worth about 2 million. We were also building a private building, three floors high, 400 square meters wide. That was completed.
One sad news I got yesterday is that Ibrahim Naud had borrowed about 22 million from the bank [for his hospital project]. We were doing the construction. He is Eritrean by birth. They have just told him that of the 22 million, 10 million had to be paid back immediately. At a minimum, he owes us 1.5 million. If he is deported, we will lose that income.
We will present to you all the documentation that is needed as background to our situation. We also have a detailed inventory of all the equipment along with serial numbers of all the vehicles and earth moving equipment. If any organization wants more evidence than that, I can travel abroad and present it. I have no problem with that, I can bear all the expenses. There are also many other Eritreans in a similar situation.
Q. We need to obtain also their testimony.
A. We can arrange that. My firm is probably the biggest among them. In my estimation, the total assets of the firm are more than 34 million. But the problems are the same across the board and all the investors who have been deported have to rally together and pursue the matter until the very end. I can testify anywhere. I have nothing to fear.
Q. Did they ask you about membership in Eritrean associations?
A. Yes, they did at Shogole. They asked about the Com (Eritrean Community Association) The Com is viewed from two perspectives. If it is membership they want to know, all Eritreans in Ethiopia are members. But the assumption of a leadership position is another matter. They have a chair, vice chair, secretary etc. I told them that I had no leadership position but I was a member. Most of the people imprisoned at Shogole Mieda were leaders. They also asked if I was a member of PFDJ (People's Front for Democracy and Justice) and I told them that I was not. They asked me if I was an Eritrean and I said I am not, I am an Ethiopian. I have a passport. I am Eritrean by birth, Ethiopian by nationality. I still am an Ethiopian. So are my children. They too have Ethiopian passports. I said that also to Eritrean officials here.
Q. What about financial contributions to Eritrea, did they ask about that?
A. The did not ask.
Q. Did they ask if you voted in the referendum [to decide the future of Eritrea].
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Footnote to page 1, next to author's name
The author is an anthropologist, Ph.D. (Harvard), emeritus professor, formerly of Northwestern and Boston Universities and Swarthmore College (USA), academic vice president of University of Asmara (1995-96), chairman of the Eritrean Relief Committee in the United States (1984-91), chairman of the first national conference on the Rights of the Child Convention, Asmara, Eritrea.
Footnote to page 1, first mention of "Citizen's for Peace," after author's name Citizens for Peace in Eritrea (CPE) is a voluntary association of concerned Eritrean citizens who have come together as a committee for the purpose of studying and disseminating information about the Ethio-Eritrean conflict and its human consequences. The chairman, Petros Tesfagiorgis, is a founding member of ERA (Eritrean Relief Association) a world-wide organization which was active during the last decade of the liberation war, devoted to relief and the alleviation hunger and dislocation caused by droughts and wars. The aims and objectives of CPE are described in Appendix 3. Address: Citizens for Peace, P.O.Box 4588, Asmara, Eritrea; Tel. 291-1-11-92-95; Fax. 291-1-18-30-31; E-mail, firstname.lastname@example.org
Footnote to page 2, paragraph ending with "national emergency." All the articles cited here were examined in relation to how they appear in the International Covenants on Human Rights of the United Nations and whether or not there were disabling clauses in the Covenants which allow Party States to derogate the articles in times of national emergency. The covenants in question are those on Civil and Political Rights and on Economic Social and Cultural Rights. United Nations, The United Nations and Human Rights, 1945-1995, Blue Books Series, Volume VII Department of Public Information, New York, 1995, pp. 38-47, 229,235.
Pages edited 1 (sub heading capitalized) 2 (delete were) 4 (change and to or) registered by the Government or given freedom of association 5 (ever ŗ even) more vividly 6 (who they were deporting) ŗ (identity of the people they were deporting) 6,7 (date of survey moved higher)