October 25, 2019 (AO) – Former Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn has denied he was aware of secret torture prisons in the country noting he could not change some human rights violations since he was an outsider in a ‘deep system’.
In a hard-hitting interview with the German broadcaster Deutsche Welle, Desalegn said he tried to initiate reform to pave way for the current Premier Abiy Ahmed but noted the entrenched political system was largely sanctioned by the ruling party.
“It is a deep system which I was not able to look into because of my background and because I was an outsider coming into a deep system so I couldn’t see that,” said Desalegn responding to claims of failure to deter human rights violations and torture by security organs.
Desalegn said his resignation was a means of taking responsibility for what he could not change noting even though he may have disagreed with the party, he could not ‘utter a word’.
“I resigned to take all the responsibilities,” said Desalegn. “You know when there is a communist mentality, when there’s a Marxist mentality, there’s centralism where you don’t utter a word after the party decides on an issue, even though you have differences as a minority.”
The former premier who resigned in early2018 said he prepared the ground for Abiy Ahmed’s assumption to power adding the reforms were initiated during his time.
“I have done my share to bring this change to happen. Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed did come from the blue; he has come from the party which I was presiding.”
Regarding torture in prisons within the country including the notorious Jail Ogaden, Desalegn said he did not know there were secret prisons and that the regional government had control over them.
“I did not know there were informal prisons. The regional governments have their own rights and I think the whole thing is I did my work according to intelligence report I get,” the former PM said.
Pressed on the torture at Jail Ogaden, Desalegn said the decisions of the government were collectively arrived at by the party and that Abiy Ahmed was part of it. I am sorry for human rights violations, the former PM said but noted he paved way for reforms.
Unlike the conventional ending of interviews characterized by a handshake, the former PM walked out in a huff.