CAGE Africa calls for full accountability for the UK government’s role in financing Ethiopian security forces and supporting the Ethiopian government in the name of counter-terrorism, which is facilitating widespread human rights abuses in the country.

A recent Freedom of Information request has revealed that more than a million pounds from Britain’s one billion pound Conflict, Security and Stabilisation Fund is being paid towards the training of security services in Ethiopia.

The money has been divided roughly into two halves. One half is flowing towards a master’s programme in ‘security sector management’ run by Cranfield University in Ethiopia, which is attended by top-ranking security officials from Ethiopia’s brutal dictatorial regime, and the rest is going towards supporting the Ministry of Defence’s Ethiopian Peace Support Training Centre, which produces military forces for deployment in neighbouring countries including Somalia.

The Conflict, Security and Stabilisation Fund is governed by the National Security Council, a Cabinet Committee of which Prime Minister David Cameron is the chair, and whose purpose it is to enforce Britain’s national security agenda, including its countering violent extremism (CVE) policies in foreign countries.

This is clear evidence of a definitive link between Britain’s global CVE agenda, UK foreign policy, the protection of “UK interests”, and large-scale human rights abuses.


Read More: PREVENT: a story of community resentment

Violations of the rule of law in the name of counter terrorism


Ethiopian security services have used counter-terrorism legislation to enforce their power, and detain, torture and even kill opponents of the government.

It has held Andargachew Tsege, a British citizen and father of three from North London known as ‘Ethiopia’s Mandela’, for two years without charge and under torture. Tsege exposed corruption in the Ethiopian government and founded a pro-democracy party, earning him the ire of the government, which branded him a ‘terrorist’ and accused him of contriving a coup, which he denies. But according to reporter and foreign correspondent Ian Birrell, in the same week that a British Minister raised the case with the Ethiopian Prime Minister, DFID announced extra British aid to Ethiopia.

In November last year, security services shot live ammunition into crowds of students protesting the clearance of a forest for development in the Oromia Region. Students as young as 12 were killed, or arrested and detained in secret detention centres. Young people were accused of being members of the Oromo Liberation Front (OLF), designated a ‘terrorist’ organization by the government, and they were tortured with electric cables. Human Rights Watch has declared that killings and arbitrary arrests continue, and students have reported how security forces have invoked the ‘counter-terrorism’ response.

Ethiopia’s ‘reindoctrination’ campaign angers Muslims

Ethiopia’s securitised response in the name of counter-terrorism has been accompanied by a concerted effort to shape Islamic belief, a more concentrated distillation of Britain’s PREVENT strategy which aims to subtly determine what is acceptable Islamic belief and what isn’t.

A group of 29 Ethiopian Muslims were sentenced in July 2015 to between seven and 22 years in prison after thousands-strong protests by Muslims of the Awoliya Movement against what they termed government interference in religious affairs.

This interference included the 2011 closure of Awoliya College and Secondary School, a highly regarded Islamic school based in Addis Ababa, and the sponsorship by the government of Al-Ahbash teachings – a form of Islam palatable to the government and the pinnacle of what is termed a “reindoctrination campaign” that resulted in widespread protests during which seven Muslims were killed by security services. The campaign is reported to have its end aim the issuing of Al-Ahbash ID cards to pro-government Muslims, while those without will have their movements restricted and be vulnerable to harassment by security forces.

“The trial and the verdict against the Muslim leaders is a political spectacle designed to conceal the regime’s reindoctrination campaign and silence long-standing grievances of the Muslim population,” wrote Awol Allo, a fellow in human rights at the London School of Economics and Political Science, for Al Jazeera.

The Awoliya Movement is a peaceful movement. Nonetheless, the ruling party has co-opted global ‘War on Terror’ narratives to wage a propaganda campaign against the movement, whom they accused of links with al-Shabaab and Boko Haram.

The trial itself of Awoliya Movement leaders was also a farce. “The government presented various forms of evidence — including documents, audio and video of sermons and speeches by the defendants, witness testimonies and material obtained through surveillance. However, most of the evidence was presented in closed sessions, and the accused were not given adequate opportunities for cross-examination,” wrote Allo.

This court process mimics Britain’s own ‘terrorism’ trials, and PREVENT related cases, in which secret evidence is employed against the accused, in violation of the rule of law. The Ethiopian government’s divide-and-rule tactics aimed at the Muslim population, is not only reminiscent of South African Apartheid, but seeks to silence Muslim political expression in the same way Britain’s CVE policies hone in on Muslim individuals and organisations that take a principled stance on issues such as Palestine and the ‘War on Terror’.


Read More: Britain’s war in East Africa

Legislation that enables human rights abuses


Ethiopia’s Proclamation on Anti-Terrorism in August 2009 is seen as a threat to free speech, freedom of association, thought and dissent, and has been used to detain and convict in trial proceedings that violated due process, journalists and bloggers who reported on corruption in government. Political opposition members and human rights activists have also been among those detained without charge.

In September 2014, the United Nations warned Ethiopia not to use counter-terrorism legislation to curb human rights.  “The right to a fair trial, the right to freedom of opinion and expression, and the right to freedom of association continue to be violated by the application of the anti-terrorism law,” a UN panel said. “We call upon the Government of Ethiopia to free all persons detained arbitrarily under the pretext of countering terrorism. Let journalists, human rights defenders, political opponents and religious leaders carry out their legitimate work without fear of intimidation and incarceration.”

The United States and Britain are silent in the name of the ‘War on Terror’


The UN warnings have little teeth, however. Ethiopia is allowed to continue with impunity in its campaign against human rights, because the US and Britain, and their allies, support its CVE stance and its military campaigns that fall in line with the ‘War on Terror’. This in turn is leading to an increase in individuals turning to political violence.

CAGE Africa calls for full accountability for Britain’s role in facilitating human rights abuses in Ethiopia, through training and supporting security service personnel by means of its Conflict, Security and Stabilisation Fund, rubber stamped by British Prime Minister David Cameron himself.


Read More: British surveillance technology used to crush dissent for “counter-terrorism purposes” in Uganda


Global CVE policies modelled on PREVENT and instituted by governments with a securitised stance, will alienate and antagonize Muslims. We reiterate our calls for dialogue and a return to the rule of law and fair judicial process as a means of ending the cycles of violence in the ‘War on Terror’.


CC image courtesy of Rod Waddington on Flickr

(NOTE: CAGE represents cases of individuals based on the remit of our work. Supporting a case does not mean we agree with the views or actions of the individual. Content published on CAGE may not reflect the official position of our organisation.)