UK security aid may have funded Brit’s Ethiopian kidnappers

October 3, 2014

British taxpayers’ money is being used to provide Masters-level training for Ethiopian security sector officials, despite that country’s recent kidnapping of a British citizen, it has emerged.

Andargachew ‘Andy’ Tsege, a father of three from London, was travelling to Eritrea in June this year when he was seized during a stopover in Yemen. He was later rendered to Ethiopia, where he has now spent over 100 days in incommunicado detention at an undisclosed location. Mr Tsege, who is a member of an opposition party, is under sentence of death, imposed in absentia in 2009 on politically-motivated charges. The Ethiopian government has refused to allow the British government proper consular access, and the country’s Prime Minister, Hailemariam Desalegn, has declined to say whether the death sentence will be carried out or not.

Legal charity Reprieve, which is assisting Mr Tsege’s family, has unearthed details of a UK aid programme worth over £2m that provides a free Master’s degree in ‘Security Sector Management’ to approximately 70 top-ranking Ethiopian officials working in the policing and security sector; individuals who are very likely to be those responsible for Andy’s abduction and detention. The British-funded programme has no conditions attached to it, despite widespread concerns about human rights abuses in Ethiopia. The Department for International Development (Dfid) describes the Ethiopian police and defence forces as being “amongst the best in the region in terms of effectiveness and with regards to human rights.”

Torture is common in Ethiopian prisons, with political detainees such as Mr Tsege routinely subjected to serious abuses in order to extract ‘confessions’. Mr Tsege has twice been presented on Ethiopian state television as having ‘confessed’. In the highly edited footage, he appears gaunt and exhausted.

Reprieve has written to Justine Greening, Secretary of State for International Development, asking her to clarify the Government’s position on security sector aid to Ethiopia, and to ensure that UK support for the security forces does not continue while Mr Tsege remains in detention. In a reply received last week, the minister said that “all DFID’s work is carefully designed and robustly monitored […] I can assure you that the UK Government is and will continue to monitor closely the use of aid in Ethiopia.”

Maya Foa, director of Reprieve’s death penalty team, said: “British taxpayers will be shocked to learn that they have been funding training for the very same Ethiopian security officials who are likely to be responsible for the unlawful kidnap and incommunicado detention of an innocent British citizen. Andy Tsege has now spent over three months in secret detention, likely subjected to torture, and without access to a lawyer, his family or proper consular assistance. On top of that, he is under sentence of death. His family in London is desperately worried. Instead of subsidising this shameful state of affairs, the UK government should be doing all it can to ensure Andy is returned home without delay.”

ENDS

Notes to editors   1. For further information, including details of the Security Sector programme and Reprieve’s correspondence with Dfid, please contact Reprieve’s press office: +44 (0) 207 553 8160/66, or donald.campbell@reprieve.org.uk / clemency.wells@reprieve.org.uk alice.gillham@reprieve.org.uk.

2. Human rights abuses in Ethiopian prisons have been documented by Human Rights Watch, here.