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Civil Rights Defenders: Escalation of Human Rights Violations in Ethiopia Must Stop and an independent investigation is Required. #OromoProtests December 26, 2015

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Escalation of Human Rights Violations in Ethiopia Must Stop and an independent investigation is Required

Ethiopia is once again witnessing another round of mass crackdowns by the authorities as scores of protesters have been killed and hundreds arrested in recent weeks. The government must be held accountable for these murders, provide redress, and most importantly of all allow citizens’ the right to express their grievances and demands.

Students and other members of Ethiopia’s largest ethnic group, the Oromos, have been staging protests in many parts of Oromia regional state since mid November 2015. The protests were originally sparked the previous year and resulted in the death and arrest of numerous protestors. The protests arose from a draft plan called the “Addis Ababa and Oromia Special Zone Integrated Master Plan” which protestors insisted would see the displacement of communities and farmers dispossessed them from their lands, without prior consultation and proper compensation.

#OromoProtests, healthcare professionals at Bishoftu hospital saying No! to the Master Plan, 14 December 2014

“Land rights are crucial when it comes the realisation of other human rights especially for people whose economic, social and cultural lives are strongly attached and dependent on the land. In light of this, the students’ demand a constructive consultation process and the initiation of an adequate compensation scheme in Ethiopia as a start when it comes to acknowledging basic rights.” said Robert Hårdh, Executive Director at Civil Rights Defenders

The excessive use of force by armed police and military personnel has inflamed the situation turning the peaceful protests into violent clashes which has subsequently led to death and the destruction of property.

While the main opposition party in the region, the Oromo Federalist Congress (OFC), put the number of people killed at 85, Civil Rights Defenders accessed a list of victims compiled by activists who quoted the numbers at 119. The Government, meanwhile, has vaguely stated the casualties as being “high in numbers.”

Silent protests and sit-ins have continued to materialise in several areas and institutions while house-to-house searches and widespread detentions have taken place throughout the Oromia region, according to local residents. Some students, suspected of taking part in the demonstration, have been reportedly expelled by University administrations although to date this has not been verified by independent sources.

In a late but noteworthy move, the Ethiopian government recently announced that the ‘Master Plan’ would not be implemented without consultation from the public, and even admits that the demonstrators’ have a legitimate right to protest.

Despite this symbolic gesture, senior government officials have also engaged in contradictory provocative rhetoric.

The government is consistently labeling the protestors as having links with “terror groups” with aim of attempting to spark a “revolution.” Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn accused the protesters as being misled by “destructive forces” whose aim is to “destabilise the area.”

Another senior official has likened the protesters to genies “let out by OFC (Oromo Federalist Congress), Ginbot 7 and OLF (Oromo Liberation Front)” that should be put back in the bottle. The later two groups are based outside Ethiopia and have been branded as “terrorists” by the parliament.

Allegations such as these echo previous incidents where the Ethiopian authorities have used the “terror label” to silence critics and civil society groups and thus constitute a worrying development.

The killing of peaceful protestors, harassment and mass arrest of those suspected of organising protests will only harm the already shaky human rights record of Ethiopia. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights, which Ethiopia is party to, provide that the right to freedom of peaceful assembly includes the right to participate in peaceful assemblies, meetings, protests, strikes, sit-ins and  demonstrations.

In a further act, which has led to the escalation of the crisis, the government has also attempted to limit the flow of information to and from the areas affected by the protests. In some areas government operatives have been seen removing satellite dishes from the rooftops of private residences.

Last week, the head of the nation’s Broadcast Authority told a parliamentary committee that he has warned media houses to pay attention to the content of their reports of the protests coming out of the Oromia region.

A foreign correspondent based in Addis Ababa recently wrote that a translator who had traveled with him to one of the protest areas was subjected to interrogation and mistreatment. A journalist working for the state owned broadcaster, Fikadu Mirkana, was also arrested during the week. Known for persecuting journalists, few independent reports are available about developments in Ethiopia particularly in times such as this. Social media, particularly Facebook, remains the principal source of information and exchange though the country’s Internet penetration rate is among the lowest in the world.

“The flow of independent information can be an influential tool in avoiding public unrest, while acting as a catalyst in exposing human rights abuses especially in times of protests. Furthermore, denying people access to information contravenes Ethiopia’s obligation to respects citizens’ rights regarding access to information,” added Robert Hårdh








Ethiopian opposition urges scrutiny of industrial plan


The international community needs to pressure the Ethiopian government to halt land grabs and respect human rights, an opposition party leader has said after two prominent opposition members were arrested for inciting protests in Oromiya earlier this week.

Oromiya is the largest region in Ethiopia. Groups such as the OLF, accuse the ruling Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) coalition of marginalising ethnic Oromos.

Bekele Nega, secretary of the Oromo Federalist Congress (OFC), said security forces have killed at least 86 people since protests began earlier this month over government plans to create an investment and industrial zone near the capital, Addis Ababa.

“They have killed 86 and wounded thousands [and are] imprisoning people and political leaders including our vice-chairman Bekele Gerba,” Nega told Al Jazeera.

Merara Gudina, OFC chairman, said police detained Gerba on Friday and the party’s assistant secretary, Dejene Tafa, a day earlier.

“They suspect that our party and some of our members are part of the protest movement, that we have been inciting the demonstrations,” he told Reuters news agency, denying that the OFC had incited violence.

 The protests are being described as some of the biggest in Ethiopia in recent times [Reuters]

“We do not know when Bekele and Dejene will be released or be charged for anything.”

Opposition leaders and activists said the “Addis Ababa Integrated Development Master Plan” designed to merge certain rural areas into Addis Ababa will result in land grabs and the displacement of farmers.

Hailemariam Desalegn, Ethiopia’s prime minister, told parliament on Friday that people had a legitimate right to oppose Addis Ababa’s plan, but that the government would take “unflinching measures” against those who incite violence.

Hailemariam said “anti-peace forces” had incited violence by spreading false information about the plan.

The government has accused the secessionist Oromo Liberation Front (OLF) and opposition group Ginbot 7 of involvement in the protests. Both organisations are regarded by the state as terrorist entities.

Amnesty International, the human rights monitor, said earlier in December that protesters have been labelled “terrorists” by Ethiopian authorities “in an attempt to violently suppress protests against potential land seizures”.

The Ethiopian government has neither released an official death toll nor confirmed how many people were arrested since the protests started.

‘Impartial investigation’ 

Betsate Deneke, the head of the the Human Rights Council (HRCO), said his organisation was currently collecting information on how many were killed and would announce their findings next week.

He told Al Jazeera that HRCO demanded an “impartial investigation into the killings of people” takes place.

Earlier this week, the opposition said the government had rejected, for the second time, an application to hold a public demonstration on December 27 to protest against the Addis Ababa Master Plan.

Four out of five Ethiopians still live in rural areas even though the country has witnessed tremendous growth over the past 10 years.

Ethiopia has also faced significant criticism for forcibly removing tens of thousands of people from their homes to make way for large scale commercial ventures, often to the benefit of foreign investors.

Opposition leaders say some 86 people have been killed over the past four weeks at the hands of security forces [Reuters]