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Ninth Circuit refutes immigration judge statements made in Ethiopia asylum case

[JURIST] The US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit [official website] made an unusual ruling [opinion text, PDF] on Friday, finding that the adverse credibility determination made by an Immigration Judge (IJ) in an asylum case was not based on substantial evidence. The petitioner, Etagegn Haile Tekle, appealed the Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA) [DOJ backgrounder] decision which had affirmed the IJ's denial of her case for asylum, and the Ninth Circuit granted her petition for review. Etagegn is a citizen of Ethiopia [JURIST news archive] who applied for asylum to the US in 2004 because of a fear of arrest and torture due to her membership in the Oromo Liberation Front (OLF) [advocacy website], a political organization seeking independence for the Oromo ethnic group. The IJ had also found that even if her testimony were truthful, she is ineligible for asylum because she has “not demonstrated severe past persecution,” and her fear of harm is due merely to “general conditions of violence and civil unrest” in Ethiopia. In its opinion, the Ninth Circuit Court made a special effort to refute the assertions in the following statement made by the IJ on the record:

I have one other comment, and again, I don’t care if the 9th Circuit wants to report this to my supervisor. The 9th Circuit does not comply with Supreme Court law with regard to asylum. While I am in the 9th Circuit and have to comply, I do note that they don’t really care what Immigration [J]udges do. If an Immigration [J]udge makes an adverse credibility determination, they will, in only one case out of every 250 to 300, affirm it. So I don’t play their game with regard to credibility determinations. [sic]
The case was remanded to the BIA for additional proceedings, including a determination as to the availability of relief under the Convention against Torture [text].

Ethiopian human rights practices have been strongly criticized lately. Last month a report [text, PDF; JURIST report ] from Human Rights Watch (HRW) [advocacy website] detailed atrocities committed by both the Ethiopian military and the ethnic Somali group the Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF) [official website], who are seeking independence for the Ogaden region. In October 2007, the US House of Representatives passed the Ethiopia Democracy and Accountability Act of 2007 (H.R. 2003) [text; JURIST Forum article], aimed in part at encouraging the human rights situation in Ethiopia, and the bill awaits a Senate vote. In July 2007, HRW accused Ethiopian troops of violating international humanitarian law [JURIST report] by burning homes and forcibly relocating civilians in Ogaden. In March 2007, HRW also accused Ethiopia of complicity with the US and Kenya in secretly detaining Somalis [JURIST report] accused of being Islamic militants. Ethiopia had admitted [JURIST report] in April 2007 that it detained terror suspects but denied that the detentions were secret.

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