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SHRC Statement on Gross Human Rights Violations in Ethiopia August 30, 2020

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SHRC Statement on Gross Human Rights Violations in Ethiopia

Sidama Human Rights Council (SHRC)

KMN:- August 28 | 2020 Ethiopia has witnessed a rapid deterioration in political stability, peace, and security since the change from elected government to a transitional government in April 2018. The initial promises of democratic reforms were quickly reversed and replaced with entrenched dictatorship. Violence against civilians and political actors demanding greater freedom escalated. In Sidama State, the recently formed 10th regional state, government security forces massacred over 153 civilians on 18 July 2019 and subsequent days to silence the demand for self-rule. Nearly 500 pro-democracy Sidama activists and prominent public figures – including former mayor of Hawassa City Tewdros Gabiba – are still languishing in Hawassa prison for simply demanding regional self-rule although this was achieved through a referendum conducted on 20 November 2019. Many of the prisoners have been infected by COVID-19 with some hospitalized for care and one person confirmed dead. More recently, following the assassination of the iconic Oromo artist and human rights activist, Haacaaluu Hundeessa, on 29 June 2020, violence against civilians intensified in Oromia State. Over 239 civilians lost their lives in the region in the week after Haacaalu’s assassination mostly due to excessive use of force by the police against the demonstrators protesting the targeted killing of the artist. This month dozens of civilians are reportedly killed in various parts of Oromia following the campaign of defiance and economic blockade by the Oromo youth movement, Qeerroo, who are demanding full degree of self-rule and an end to political and economic marginalization. In its May 2020 Report, Amnesty International documented extrajudicial killings of dozens of civilians and arbitrary arrests of over 10,000 civilians in Oromia State for allegedly supporting the Oromo Liberation Army, the splinter group from the Oromo Liberation Front, a legally operating opposition party in the country. In an unprecedented crackdown following the assassination of Haacaaluu Hundeessa, the government arressted prominent Oromo political leaders Jawar Mohamed and Bekele Gerba of the Oromo Federalist Congress – a legally operating Oromo opposition political party in the country – and their supporters. On government’s own admission, nearly 5000 civilians were arrested in Oromia State in July 2020 alone. Jawar Mohamed was credited for steering the 2014-2018 youth, Qeerroo, led revolution that brought the current government to power. Initially an ally, Jawar Mohamed became an ardent critique of the prime minister since recently as the government lacked policy directions on managing the transition and gravitated towards the restoration of an imperial Unitarian state in contravention to the federal constitution that upholds the rights of nations, nationalities and peoples to self-rule in a multinational federation. Lemma Megarssa – the ex-president of Oromia State and architect of the 2018 reform that paved the way for Abiy Ahmed’s ascension to power – has been removed from his ministerial position at the Ethiopian Ministry of Defense for rejecting Abiy’s “Medemer” philosophy and refusing to join the ruling Prosperity Party.Such massive gross human rights violations and crackdown on opposition political parties and marginalization of high-profile political figures such as Lemma Megerssa are indicative of a failed democratization and reform. The recent massacre by government security forces of more than two dozens of Wolayita civilians who demanded a regional self-rule proves the depth of political crisis gripping the country. The government has also shut down the only independent media outlet in Oromia State, the Oromia Media Network (OMN), which was the voice of over 95 million people from over 80 nations and nationalities in the country. The Oromia Media Network was targeted not only because Jawar Mohamed – the critique of the prime minister and now in jail – founded it but also because it provided unbiased, free and fair coverage to the hitherto marginalized minority nations, nationalities and peoples across the country. Access to information is a fundamental human right and the Ethiopian government flagrantly violated this right by closing down the OMN. Several journalists of OMN have also been arrested.On top of these all, the indefinite postponement of the 2020 election, and the unilateral decision by the ruling Prosperity Party to extend the constitutionally-mandated five-year term limit of the executive and the legislative on the basis of a flimsy constitutional interpretation has severely undermined the legitimacy of the transitional government deepening the constitutional crisis and political uncertainty beyond October 2020. On the other hand, the Tigray People’s Liberation Front, and the Government of Tigray State have decided to conduct election in September 2020 before the expiry of the constitutional term limit of the regional executive and legislative in October 2020. This is likely to deepen the confrontation between the federal government and the Tigray Regional State. The repeated call by the opposition political parties for all-inclusive dialogue has been rejected by the government deepening the constitutional crisis. Therefore, the Sidama Human Rights Council:1) Calls on the Ethiopian government to immediately release 500 Sidama political prisoners jailed for demanding a regional self-rule; the natural and democratic right of a nation;2) Calls on the government to immediately release OMN journalists and leaders of the Oromo opposition political parties including Jawar Mohamed, Bekele Gerba, Dr. Shiguxi Geleta, Hamza Borana and all other political prisoners in the country;3) Calls on the government to stop undue restriction on access to information and allow the Oromia Media Network to operate in Ethiopia and respect freedom to access information;4) Calls on the government to halt extrajudicial executions; rape; destruction of properties and arbitrary arrests and detentions of civilians in Oromia;5) Calls on the government to heed calls by the opposition political parties for all-inclusive political dialogue and reconciliation; 6) Expresses its deepest condolences to the family of iconic Oromo artist, Haacaaluu Hundeessa and the entire Oromo nation and calls on the Ethiopian government to set up an independent panel to investigate his targeted assassination;7) Calls on international human rights organizations, multilateral institutions and the international community to closely monitor the political crisis and the ongoing gross human and political rights violations in Ethiopia. 

Sidama Human Rights Council – SHRC

Oromia: #OromoProtests in Awwadaayii. Hiriirri Mormii Dubartootaan Awwadaayitti Godhame (August 30, 2020) August 30, 2020

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[SBO – Hagayya 30,2020] Hiriirri mormii, kan dhiittaa mirga dhala namaa raawwatamaa jiru mormu, kabajamuu mirgootaa gaafatuu fi gaaffilee adda addaa of keessaa qabu har’a Hagayya 30,2020 Baha Oromiyaa magaalaa Awwadaay keessatti haawwanii fi qarree Oromoo kumaantamaan lakka’amaniin geggeessamuun hubatameera. Humni waraanaa fi poolisootni mootummaa dubartootaa fi qarree Oromoo hiriira ba’an kana irratti akka dhukaasan maddeen oduu Awwadaay gabaasaniiru. Miidhaan dhaqqabuu fi dhiisuu ammatti waan adda ba’e akka hin jirre ibsameera.

The Observer: Ethiopia falls into violence a year after leader’s Nobel peace prize win August 30, 2020

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The Observer: Ethiopia falls into violence a year after leader’s Nobel peace prize win

Abiy Ahmed came to power promising radical reform, but 180 people have died amid ethnic unrest in Oromia state

Jason Burke, 29 August 2020

Ethiopia’s prime minister, Abiy Ahmed, centre, arrives at an African Union summit in Addis Ababa in July.
 Ethiopia’s prime minister, Abiy Ahmed, centre, arrives at an African Union summit in Addis Ababa in July. Photograph: AP

Ethiopia faces a dangerous cycle of intensifying internal political dissent, ethnic unrest and security crackdowns, observers have warned, after a series of protests in recent weeks highlighted growing discontent with the government of Abiy Ahmed, a Nobel peace prize winner.

Many western powers welcomed the new approach of Abiy, who took power in 2018 and promised a programme of radical reform after decades of repressive one-party rule, hoping for swift changes in an emerging economic power that plays a key strategic role in a region increasingly contested by Middle Eastern powers and China. He won the peace prize in 2019 for ending a conflict with neighbouring Eritrea.

The most vocal unrest was in the state of Oromia, where there have been waves of protests since the killing last month of a popular Oromo artist and activist, Haacaaluu Hundeessaa, in Addis Ababa, the capital. An estimated 180 people have died in the violence, some murdered by mobs, others shot by security forces. Houses, factories, businesses, hotels, cars and government offices were set alight or damaged and several thousand people, including opposition leaders, were arrested.https://interactive.guim.co.uk/uploader/embed/2020/08/ethiopia-map/giv-3902E7Ml0LJ7Dfz7Ethiopia

Further protests last week prompted a new wave of repression and left at least 11 dead. “Oromia is still reeling from the grim weight of tragic killings this year. These grave patterns of abuse should never be allowed to continue,” said Aaron Maasho, a spokesperson for the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission.

The Oromo community have long felt excluded from power and the benefits of Ethiopia’s booming economy. The Oromo protest movement gained momentum from 2015 and contributed to the appointment of Abiy, an Oromo from the ruling party, who promised democracy and prosperity for all.

“We are seeing a continuation of that movement, and also signs that the government’s response will be equally forceful. Once people are shot and arrested then that becomes a rallying cry,” said William Davison, an analyst based in Addis Ababa for the International Crisis Group.

The decision to indefinitely delay elections due later this year because of coronavirus – which has caused 600 deaths in the country of 100 million so far – has also worried diplomats and other international observers.

The protests in Oromia last week began amid claims that Jawar Mohammed, an Oromo opposition politician and one of Abiy’s most outspoken critics, was being denied medical attention in prison.

Young protesters described being “hunted down, shot in the streets” in the Oromia town of Aweday.

“Soldiers shot at us so I ran as fast as I could. I witnessed people getting shot in the back as they fled,” said Kedir, who took part in a demonstration on Tuesday.

Haacaaluu Hundeessaa performing in Addis Ababa in July 2018.
 Haacaaluu Hundeessaa performing in Addis Ababa in July 2018. He was known for his activism and political lyrics. Photograph: EPA

Aliyyi Mohammed, a 22-year-old from Hirna, was taken to hospital after being shot in the thigh on Monday. Relatives said he had been “nowhere near” the protests when injured and now feared for his safety. “There are police waiting outside the hospital … We have heard that they want to arrest him as soon as he’s recovered. We can only pray they leave him alone,” said a member of the family who requested anonymity.

Relatives of Farhan Ali, 22, claimed he had been killed by security forces after leaving his home in Dire Dawa to visit a neighbour. “Soldiers killed him in cold blood,” said Bahar Omar, a cousin. “He didn’t break the law. They shot him multiple times in the back. He died right there and had no chance.”

Officials have denied such claims. “There has been violence, but we are yet to confirm reports of any killings by state forces,” said Getachew Balcha of the Oromia region’s communication affairs office.

But claims of mistreatment by security forces are fuelling the cycle of unrest in Oromia. Graphic images of 21-year-old Durassa Lolo were widely shared on social media after relatives claimed he had been tortured in the town of Asasa by soldiers who had asked him for his name.

“My brother did nothing wrong. When they heard an Oromo-sounding name, his fate was sealed. They took him to a military camp and inflicted on him unbelievable savagery. [He] is fighting for his life in hospital. This is why there are protests. The government sees us as expendable,” Durassa’s brother, Abdisa Lolo, said.

The government says Haacaaluu was murdered by Oromo nationalist militants as part of a wider plot to derail its reform agenda. The ruling party has also suggested that its rival in the northern region of Tigray, the Tigrayan People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), masterminded the conspiracy. The TPLF dominated the ruling coalition until Abiy took office. It has since joined the opposition, accusing the prime minister of planning to replace the ethnic-based federal system with a more centralised state.

The aftermath of angry protests in Shashamene after Haacaaluu Hundeessaa was assassinated.
 After Haacaaluu Hundeessaa was assassinated in July, there were angry protests in towns such as Shashamene. Photograph: AFP/Getty Images

Both the TPLF and Oromo nationalist groups such as the Oromo Liberation Front deny involvement in either the murder or the unrest.

Government policy has also led to fallouts within the ruling party. The defence minister, Lemma Megersa, an ally turned critic of Abiy, was last week fired and placed under house arrest. State media reported Lemma’s dismissal from the ruling party being due to his “violating party discipline”.

Analysts say it was important to recognise that recent unrest has been limited to Oromia and that there was credible evidence suggesting violence over the previous months had not simply been inflicted on protesters by the security forces but also had occurred between ethnic communities.

The office of Ethiopia’s attorney general last week defended the government’s response to the unrest, saying in a statement that investigations would reflect a “commitment to human rights”.

Abel Abate Demissie, an Addis Ababa-based analyst with London’s Chatham House, said Ethiopia’s political polarisation has deep roots, with structural problems that have been insufficiently addressed under Abiy: conflicting narratives about Ethiopia’s history, an unfinished federal project and tensions over the division of power between the centre and the regions.

“Two years down the line [after his appointment], and you find every major political group is disappointed with Abiy,” he said.