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Ethiopia admits 2016 unrest death toll reached 669

The official death toll from last year’s civil unrest in Ethiopia came to 669 people, according to a report to the parliament in Addis Ababa this week.

Euractiv | Long-standing grievances over land-allocation and political marginalisation in the Oromia and Amhara regions saw spontaneous ‘illegal’ protests and the killing of some 600 civilians by security forces, according to the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission (EHRC).

That lead to a six-month state of emergency in one of the few stable states in Horn of Africa, and a major beneficiary of EU and NGO aid.

At first the official figure for the dead was 177, although groups such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch were already saying the number was closer to between 400 and 500.

The EHRC report, appointed by the government and given to parliament on 18 April, gives a total of 669 deaths, with a detailed breakdown.

It finds that 495 people (465 civilians, 33 security personnel) died in Oromia, 140 people (110 civilians and 30 security personnel) in Amhara and 34 people in the Southern Nations, Nationalities, and Peoples’ Region (SNNP) regional states.

However, it finds that security forces only used tear gas and “proportionate” force at the religious Irrecha festival in October 2016.

In previous interviews with, the Ethiopian ambassador the EU blamed ‘outside forces’ for the unrest and subsequent deaths.

In this week’s report, Dr Addisu Gebregziabher, Commissioner of EHRC, admitted that “problems of good governance, failure to implement the special interest of Oromia in Addis Ababa as per the Constitution and the Addis Ababa Master Plan were the main causes for unrest in Oromia regional state.”

But the Commission also stated that illegal demonstrations orchestrated by the Oromo Liberation Front (OLF), Oromo Federalist Congress (OFC) and Oromia Media Network caused ethnic-based attacks, ruined religious equality, violated the right to life and inflicted physical injuries on people.

Whilst Ethiopia is a strategic geo-political ‘anchor’ in the troubled Horn of Africa region, and also struggles with repeated severe droughts that put up to 10 million people at the mercy of emergency food aid, NGOs and aid agencies in Brussels will privately criticise the government in Addis Ababa for its authoritarian nature.

With the help of Chinese investment, such as a new Metro line in the capital, the Grand Renaissance Dam on the Nile, and a new rail line to the coast, GDP has seen impressive increases – whilst the O Oromia and Amhara peoples complain they are sidelines by the Tigran political elite.

Despite the 1 to 10 ratio in civilian to security force deaths, the Commission said that “in most cases, measures taken by security officers were legal and proportionate.” it also indicated that security officers used unnecessary force in several cases.

The EHRC recommended solutions “ to ensure good governance, create employment opportunities for young people, rehabilitate those affected by the unrest, avert ethnic-based attacks, bring responsible security forces to justice, respect and promote people’s rights and prevent movement of illegal weapons.”

Yesterday (20 April) the Oromia and Somali state leaders within Ethiopia signed a conflict-resolution agreement.

The unrest hit headlines around the world after Ethiopian long-distance runner Feyisa Lilesa made the ‘cross arms’ symbol of his Oromia people at the 2016 Olympics in Brazil.

Ethiopia is an important partner in the EU’s new Emergency Trust Fund for Africa, its controversial ‘migration pacts’ and a major recipient of Official Development Aid (ODA.)