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 EURACTIV.com, 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.)
AP– A court in Ethiopia has charged a social media activist for inciting violence and other terror-related offenses citing Facebook posts as evidence.
Yonathan Tesfaye, a former spokesman for the opposition Blue Party, was charged Wednesday by Ethiopia’s Federal High Court. If convicted, he could face a death sentence.
Yonathan was detained by Ethiopian security forces in December at the height of violent protests in the Oromo community over an alleged plan by the government to grab their land.
Rights groups say the Ethiopian government is using sweeping anti-terror laws to crack down on those critical of the regime.
Muthoni Wanyeki, Amnesty’s regional chief, said Yonathan spoke against a possible land grab in Oromia, which is not a crime and is certainly not terrorism.
The death toll from cross-border raids in Ethiopia by South Sudanese gunmen has risen to more than 200, with 108 children kidnapped in the attacks.
Ethiopian government spokesman Getachew Reda told Reuters that 208 people had been killed in the attacks, which took place on Friday in Ethiopia’s Gambella region, in the west of the country along the border with South Sudan.
Ethiopia’s Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn condemned the “primitive and destructive forces” behind the attack, who are believed to belong to the Murle tribe in South Sudan, according to the BBC. Reda said on Saturday that Ethiopian security forces had killed 60 of the attackers so far and are believed to have crossed the border in pursuit of the raiders.
Members of the Murle tribe have previously been accused of cattle rustling and abducting children to raise as their own. Reda said that 2,000 head of livestock had also been taken during the raids.
The gunmen are not believed to be affiliated to either side in South Sudan’s civil war. The country, which only achieved independence from Sudan in 2011, has been mired in conflict for the past two years. Tens of thousands have been killed in an ongoing struggle between troops loyal to President Salva Kiir and rebels affiliated with Riek Machar, Kiir’s former vice-president.
The two warring parties signed a peace agreement in August 2015 and agreed the makeup of a shared cabinet of ministers in January. Machar was reappointed as vice-president in February and was due to return to Juba on Monday, but his arrival has been delayed until Tuesday, according to his spokesman. Source Newsweek.
Since November, state security forces have killed hundreds of protesters and arrested thousands in Oromia, Ethiopia’s largest region. It’s the biggest political crisis to hit the country since the 2005 election but has barely registered internationally. And with the protests now in their fifth month, there is an almost complete information blackout.
A teacher arrested in December told me, “In Oromia the world doesn’t know what happens for months, years or ever. No one ever comes to speak to us, and we don’t know where to find those who will listen to our stories.”
Part of the problem is the government’s draconian restrictions on news reporting, human rights monitoring, and access to information imposed over the past decade. But restrictions have worsened in the last month. Some social media sites have been blocked, and in early March security officials detained two international journalists overnight while they were trying to report on the protests. As one foreign diplomat told me, “It’s like a black hole, we have no idea what is happening. We get very little credible information.”
With difficulty, Human Rights Watch interviewed nearly 100 protesters. They described security forces firing randomly into crowds, children as young as nine being arrested, and Oromo students being tortured in detention. But the Ethiopian media aren’t telling these stories. It’s not their fault. Ethiopian journalists have to choose between self-censorship, prison, or exile. Ethiopia is one of the leading jailers of journalists on the continent. In 2014 at least 30 journalists fled the country and six independent publications closed down. The government intimidates and harasses printers, distributors, and sources.
International journalists also face challenges. Some do not even try to go because of the personal risks for them, their translators, and their sources. And when they do go, many Ethiopians fear speaking out against government policies—there are plenty of cases of people being arrested after being interviewed.
Diaspora-run television stations have helped fill the gap, including the U.S.-based Oromia Media Network (OMN). Many students in Oromia told me that OMN was one way they were able to learn what was happening in other parts of the region during the protests. But since OMN began broadcasting in March 2014 it has been jammed 15 times for varying periods. Radio broadcasts are also jammed–as international broadcasters like Voice of America and Deutsche Welle have experienced intermittently for years.
In December OMN began transmitting on a satellite that is virtually impenetrable to jamming. But security forces then began destroying private satellite dishes on people’s homes. Eventually the government applied pressure on the satellite company to drop OMN, which has now been off the air for over two months.
Social media has partially helped fill the information gap. Photos of injured students and videos of protests have been posted to Facebook, particularly in the early days of the protests. But in some locations the authorities have targeted people who filmed the protests on their phones. At various times in the last month, there have been reports of social media and file-sharing sites being blocked in Oromia, including Facebook, Twitter, and Dropbox. Website-blocking has been documented before – in 2013, at least 37 websites with information from Ethiopia were blocked. Most of the sites were operated by Ethiopians in the diaspora.
Independent non-governmental organizations that might be reporting what is happening face similar restrictions. The government’s Charities and Societies Proclamation of 2009 virtually gutted domestic nongovernmental organizations that work on human rights issues. The independent Human Rights Council released a report on the protests in March. It was a breath of fresh air, but the council released it at great risk. As the first report from Ethiopian civil society on an issue of great political significance, it was a damning indictment of the limits of freedom of expression in Africa’s second-largest country, with a population of 100 million.
The government may believe that by strangling the flow of information coming out of Oromia it can limit international concern and pressure. And so far the response from countries that support Ethiopia’s development has been muted. The deaths of hundreds, including many children, have largely escaped condemnation.
Yet the government’s brutally repressive tactics cannot be contained behind Ethiopia’s information firewall for long. The sooner the government recognizes this and acts to stop the mass arrests and excessive use of force, the better the outlook for the government and the affected communities.
The government—with the assistance of its allies and partners—needs to support an independent investigation of the events in Oromia, commit to accountability and justice for the victims, and start dismantling the legislative and security apparatus that has made Ethiopia one of the most hostile places for free expression on the continent. What’s happening in Oromia has long-term implications for Ethiopia’s stability and economic progress, and Ethiopians and the world need to know what is happening. Source Foreign Policy in Focus. By