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HRW: Interview: Ethiopia Lets in Human Rights Watch for First Time in 8 Years Genuine Progress on Rights, Yet Ethnic Tensions Loom in Rural Regions February 23, 2019

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Interview: Ethiopia Lets in Human Rights Watch for First Time in 8 Years

Genuine Progress on Rights, Yet Ethnic Tensions Loom in Rural Regions

Amy Braunschweiger,  Senior Web Communications Manager, HRW and Felix Horne, Senior Researcher, Horn of Africa, HRW

After more than two years of protests, power changed hands in Ethiopia last April. Under the new Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, Ethiopia is shedding its reputation as a country that tortures detainees and spies on its citizens. The authorities have released thousands of political prisoners and dismissed some abusive security force officers. The decades-long conflict with neighboring Eritrea came to an end. And for the first time in eight years, Human Rights Watch staff who cover Ethiopia were permitted to visit the country. Senior Researcher Felix Horne talks with Amy Braunschweiger about these exciting steps forward, as well as his concerns about rising tensions among ethnic groups in the country’s rural areas.

Abiy Ahmed, newly elected prime minister of Ethiopia, is sworn in at the House of Peoples' Representatives in Addis Ababa, April 2, 2018. © 2018 Hailu/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images
Abiy Ahmed, newly elected prime minister of Ethiopia, is sworn in at the House of Peoples’ Representatives in Addis Ababa, April 2, 2018.  © 2018 Hailu/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

How has Ethiopia changed since you were last there?

Addis Ababa, the capital, has changed so much. Unlike before, modern asphalt roads are everywhere, there are freeways, tall, modern shiny buildings, lots of new restaurants, and a light rail system. It used to smell of smoke, from people burning wood to prepare food, but that smell is now gone. People seemed to feel much more free to express their opinions. They were speaking very openly about sensitive subjects in public spaces, cafes, and mini buses. That’s not the Addis I knew, where everyone was looking over their shoulder to see who was eavesdropping.

You went specifically for a workshop on rebuilding civil society. What did you learn?

Under the 2009 Charities and Societies Proclamation, civil society groups working on human rights issues in Ethiopia was decimated. Most nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) were closed. Others had their bank accounts frozen. But a new law was passed earlier this month. It eliminates most of the draconian restrictions from previous legislation. The new agency registering NGOs needs to get up and running and that will take time, but we hope NGOs will be able to register soon, which will open up possibilities for funding. Then they can document abuses and advocate for respect for human rights, which is critical ahead of the May 2020 elections.

What was the workshop like?

There was a feeling of newfound optimism there. Still, it was starkly evident the extent to which civil society working on human rights has been decimated since the Charities and Societies Proclamation was passed 10 years ago. It will clearly take time for the sector to recover.

At the workshop, international and Ethiopian NGOs, such as the Human Rights Council of Ethiopia and the Consortium of Ethiopian Rights Organizations, discussed advocacy strategies and research gaps, and talked about economic, social, and cultural rights. It was a chance for everyone to get together in person. There were people there who I knew quite well but had never actually met. It was nice to put faces to names.

Newspaper readers at Arat Kilo, a square in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.
Newspaper readers at Arat Kilo, a square in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. © 2011 Tom Cochrem/Getty Images

Did anything surprise you?

Some of the activists organized a press conference at the end of the workshop, and I honestly didn’t expect much media interest. But 60 journalists showed up, and most were from the state media. When I talked about how it was our first visa in eight years, there was applause. They asked questions about what work we planned to do in Ethiopia and if we’d open up an office there.

State media never covered our work in the past, and that has clearly changed. But media is still publishing a pro-government prospective. For example, we spoke about all the great reforms happening, and we also talked about our concerns. But most of the media never reported on the concerns.

I have this memory from the press conference, when, among the microphones was one from ETV, which is the main state broadcaster, and next to it was one from OMN, the Oromia Media Network, which used to be banned in Ethiopia. The former government went to great lengths to jam OMN’s television broadcasts and had unfairly charged it under the counterterrorism law. It was great to see them side-to-side and a powerful image of change in the media landscape.

Over the past few years, there have been simmering ethnic tensions across Ethiopia. Where do these tensions now stand?

In Addis, things are good. There’s lots of optimism. But outside the capital – and I’ve been in regular contact with people around the country since Abiy came to power – it’s almost the exact opposite.

Previously, the ruling coalition’s direction was implemented from the highest-level officials down to the villages. An expansive network of intelligence at every level meant the government knew everything, allowing it to suppress any emerging threats to its power and control. The government also used other strategies to stem criticism, including force.

But that system in many places has all but broken down, as people associated with serious abuses, or those not loyal to the current government, have been purged. There is little governance happening at local levels, and local security officials are often ineffectual, allowing some vigilante groups to take control. At the same time, people are feeling newly empowered to speak openly after years of suppression, and many have longstanding grievances over land, border demarcations, access to state resources, and perceived discrimination against their ethnic group.

June 15, 2016 Report

“Such a Brutal Crackdown”

Killings and Arrests in Response to Ethiopia’s Oromo Protests

Unfortunately, institutions that would normally resolve those grievances – the judiciary, parliament, the Human Rights Commission — aren’t yet seen as independent or capable of doing so.

All this is happening at the same time as a massive influx of firearms into the country, many from Sudan. It’s a dangerous mix.

What does this look like on the ground?

The ethnic tensions play out in different ways. In some places, you see young armed gang members stopping cars and demanding payments, smuggling goods, controlling regional trade. There has been open fighting in other places, and the Ethiopian army has recently been engaged in clashes with the Oromo Liberation Front forces. The OLF was welcomed back into the country, but some of its members weren’t willing to disarm or reintegrate into government security forces.

What’s really worrying is that this violence could just be the tip of the iceberg. Around the boundary between the Tigray and Amhara regions, both sides are engaging in war-like rhetoric and heavily arming themselves. If open fighting broke out between those regions, it would affect the whole country. Yet there has been notable silence from Abiy around this and other emerging conflicts around the country.

Some of the challenges facing the government are inevitable in transitioning from an authoritarian government to a fledgling democracy. But restoring law and order doesn’t seem to be high on the government agenda. Officials don’t seem to be taking these risks seriously. Eighty-five percent of Ethiopians are rural, mostly small-scale farmers or pastoralists who need grazing land and water for their animals. If there is widespread conflict, if they’re displaced, or if they can’t plant or harvest because of fighting, the humanitarian consequences would be dire.

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The Ethiopian government is forcibly displacing indigenous pastoral communities in Ethiopia’s Lower Omo valley without adequate consultation or compensation to make way for state-run sugar plantations and the construction of Africa’s highest dam, the Gibe III hydropower project. The Lower Omo valley, one of the most remote and culturally diverse areas on the planet, is home to around 200,000 people from eight unique agro-pastoral communities who have lived there for as long as anyone can remember. Their way of life and their identity is linked to the land and access to the Omo River.

What about the problem of internal displacement?

There are over two million internally displaced people in Ethiopia. This includes 1.4 million new displaced people in the first half of 2018 alone – the largest internal displacement of people in the world during that time period. A changing climate brought increased drought and variability of rains, causing the displacement of pastoralists who didn’t have enough grazing for their animals. But most of those displaced were fleeing armed conflict. In many places along the 800 kilometer boundary between the Oromia and Somali regions, groups, many of them armed, violently removed people from their lands. Because these places are remote, it’s difficult to provide food and other types of humanitarian aid there.

We are worried the government may be forcing internally displaced people back to their lands before it’s safe. Recently, about 900,000 people from the Gedeo ethnic group were forced to flee their lands in the country’s coffee-growing south by the Guji Oromo ethnic group. But the spike in the number of those displaced embarrassed the government, so local officials pressured them to move back in part by telling humanitarian groups – which were feeding the Gedeo – to only provide them food in the places they had fled. Many Gedeo went back because of the pressure, even though for many there is nothing to return to or they feel it is still unsafe.

October 19, 2010 Report

Development without Freedom

How Aid Underwrites Repression in Ethiopia

Using aid to control people’s movement was a strategy the former government regularly deployed. It’s concerning to see it being used again in Abiy’s Ethiopia.

How will these factors play into Ethiopia’s 2020 election?

In the past, Ethiopia’s elections were riddled with irregularities, with the government “winning” over 99.6 percent of federal parliamentary seats in 2010 and all 547 seats in 2015 election. Expectations are high that the 2020 elections will be different.

But lots of important issues about the upcoming elections aren’t being addressed. Key elements for an environment conducive to credible elections, like an independent media, fair registration procedures, and a vibrant civil society, just aren’t in place. Opposition parties, many of which only existed outside of Ethiopia for many years, are starting from scratch. An oft-delayed census, historically controversial in Ethiopia, has still not taken place.

Many people are quietly asking if the elections should be postponed. The ruling party and most opposition parties have not sought a postponement because they all think they will do well. And many of the youth – those who joined the protests that brought about the changes over the past year – don’t feel represented by the existing parties. Combine all this with the current ethnic tensions and the security void, and it’s a potential powder keg.

How does all of this affect your work?

In the past, we never were able to get the government’s perspective on the abuses taking place. We always reached out to officials but got nothing back, which denied them an opportunity to tell their side of the story. I’m hoping this new government will continue to give our researchers visas and be responsive to meeting and discussing our findings. We hope we will also be able to do more research on the ground in Ethiopia, and tackle issues that were previously off limits because of access and security constraints. We also look forward to working more openly with local civil society groups and activists as the sector rebuilds itself. After many years stuck on the outside, there’s lots to do, and we intend to be there to do it.

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Ethiopia: U.S. State Department Sanctions ex-Intelligence Chief, Getachew Assefa November 28, 2018

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Ethiopia: U.S. State Department Sanctions ex-Intelligence Chief

Ethiopia: U.S. State Department Sanctions ex-Intelligence Chief

The U.S. State Department is set to impose travel, assets and financial sanctions against the fugitive former Ethiopian Intelligence chief Getachew Assefa under the Global magnitsky act.

BY ANDUALEM SISAY | THE EAST AFRICAN/ TESFA NEWS

The US has imposed a travel ban travel and assets freeze on the fugitive former Ethiopian Intelligence head Getachew Assefa.

The sanctions follow the House of Representatives (HR) 128 Bill passed by the US Congress against Mr Getachew’s violation of human rights.

The request to the State Department was made by the House of Representatives’ Mike Coffman (R), who sponsored the HR 128 bill and finally got it passed by the Congress.

Gang Rape

Mr Getachew is accused for orchestrating the assassination attempt on the Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed in Addis Ababa during the rally called in support of the reformist leader. The charges against him also include crimes against humanity on thousands of prisoners across the country such as allowing gang rape of both males and females, torturing and killings using different techniques in secrete jails.

The US federal prosecutor recently indicated that many secrete prisons used for torturing inmates had been found in Ethiopia, seven of which were in Addis Ababa.

While about a dozen former intelligence officers were arrested recently, Mr Getachew, whose face was not known by the public, was reportedly hiding in Tigray region.

Reports show that billions of dollars have been stolen from Ethiopia and stashed abroad over the past few decades, mainly by officials who run political party mega businesses and their affiliates, including holders of foreign passports.

Illicit Money

Over $2 billion was reportedly stolen from Metal Engineering Corporation, owned by the military.

Ethiopia lost $11.7 billion in illegal capital flight from 2000 through to 2009, according to Global Financial Integrity report released in 2011.

More worrying, according to the study, is that Ethiopia’s losses due to illicit capital flows were on the rise. In 2009, illicit money leaving the economy totalled $3.26 billion, which was double the amount in each of the two previous years and more than its $2 billion annual export earnings at the time.

As Ethiopia went through political crisis and instability over the past few years, the amount of money that left the country was estimated to exceed far more than was the case in 2009.

Read more at TESFA NEWS

      U.S. govt asked to sanction Ethiopia’s ex-spy boss, Getachew Assefa,  Africa  news

Ethiopia state of emergency vote failed – U.S. congressman insists March 5, 2018

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Ethiopia state of emergency vote failed – U.S. congressman insists

Ethiopia state of emergency vote failed – U.S. congressman insists

ETHIOPIA

A United States Congressman has waded into the controversy surrounding the March 2 state of emergency ratification by parliament.

According to Congressman Dana Rohrabacher, the vote failed because the government failed to get the necessary votes. He, however, quoted initial vote tally that saud 346 votes were in favour lesser that the 359 votes required.

The speaker of parliament, Abadula Gemeda, was forced to apologize over mix-up with figures he announced earlier. He mistakenly said 229 votes was required to attain two-thirds of the 539 seats.

Speaking to state-owned Ethiopian Broadcasting Corporation on Saturday, Abadula said 395 was the correct number of votes in favour of the legislation.

Ethiopia government imposed a state of emergency on February 16 with the view to curb rising insecurity. The measure was imposed by the Council of Ministers and by law needed ratification by parliament within a two-week period.

The House of People’s Representatives was summoned to an emergency session to debate and vote on the issue. That 88 MPs opted to vote against the measure was seen as a big boost for people who continue to protest the emergency rule.

Dana Rohrabacher is a Republican lawmaker representing California’s 48th congressional district. He is a former speechwriter for President Reagan. He has been vocal about political ongoings in Ethiopia.

He recently insinuated that Ethiopia’s dominant party, the Tigrayan Peoples Liberation Front (TPLF) was on its way out of power. ‘Game Over TPLF,’ he said in a February 21 tweet which incidentally mentioned three people including a famed Ethiopian activist, Jawar Mohammed.

The other two were the Eritrean ambassador to Japan and one Neamin Zeleke, an expert on political and security ongoings in the Horn of Africa region.


Related:

The controversial Ethiopia’s regime Sate of Emergency (SOE) failed to get the required support of not less than two-thirds of the 547 MPs entitled to vote. Paarlaamaan Labsii Muddamaa Kuffise – Oromian Economist

UNPO: Oromo: Protests Leave 8 Dead October 13, 2017

Posted by OromianEconomist in Oromo Protests, Uncategorized.
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Odaa Oromoooromianeconomist
Oct 13, 2017

Oromo: Protests Leave 8 Dead


Photo Courtesy of Quartz

Protests this week in Oromia have raised concerns, with one on Wednesday 11 October 2017 killing 8 people. Sections of the Oromo diaspora accused the Tigrayan People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) of having orchestrated these deadly demonstrations, since they were organized unlike the others.

Below is an article published by OPride:

At least 8 people were killed and more than 30 others injured on October 11, 2017 in renewed protests across Ethiopia’s restive Oromia state. Peaceful protests were reported again on Thursday in several Oromia towns, including Woliso in West Shawa, where locals reported a peaceful rally of more than 15,000 people.

Yesterday’s deadly protests appear to have been organized unlike previous ones, which were usually, although not always, preceded by media announcements from abroad. In fact, some diaspora-based activists denounced yesterday’s demonstrations as the work of spoilers and agents of the ruling Tigrayan People’s Liberation Front (TPLF). Officials from the Oromia regional state also said the protests were planned by forces that want to weaken Oromo unity.

The protests went ahead despite calls for their cancellation. Demonstrators took to the streets in large numbers in more than dozen towns in West Arsi, West Shawa, Wallaga, and Hararge zones. The protests in the latter have been ongoing and largely in response to continued incursions by the Liyu Police of the adjoining Somali Regional State of Ethiopia.

For days, several Oromo activists warned protesters not to join the protests called by unknown individuals under the banner of “waamicha harmee” – meaning Oromia’s call – out of concern that protests lacking clear political goals were fruitless. Although the organizers were unknown, the slogans were nothing unusual: Down down Wayane, release opposition leaders from prison, and no to fake federalism.

What does this mean? Does it mean diaspora activists are being left in the cold by home-based groups who have their own agenda other than waiting on a hollow promise of change to be midwifed by Oromo Peoples’ Democratic Organization (OPDO) at some future date? Does it mean the OPDO has lost control of the streets? Does it indicate the lack of coordination and clear chain of command within the grassroots movement? Was this the inevitable instance of social media being weaponized by state actors? Were there targeted and geotagged campaigns within Ethiopia by TPLF agents and social media consultants?

Prior to yesterday’s protests, senior OPDO leaders held massive town hall meetings in flashpoint towns, including Ambo, and it appeared they were connecting with the public. But the widespread protests upended it all. In three-years of protests, the prelude to Irreechaa 2017 was the only time protest leaders across the Atlantic were seen to be on different pages. The peaceful conclusion of this year’s thanksgiving festival signaled that the fences were all mended. Then came the Malka Atete celebrations in Sabata and Burayu towns in central Oromia. The latter events differed from Irreecha by the unusually large display of Oromo resistance flags.

The sheer size of flags at the event came as a surprise because leaders of the Oromo Gadaa council had called on all attendees not to bring any flags and partisan emblems. This led to spirited debates among Oromo activists for several days. Others speculated that the unusually large display of the flags must be the work of some organized group, perhaps even the regime with the aim of using it as a pretext for violent crackdown and justification for another Oromia-wide state of emergency.

The development was significant enough that even pro-TPLF bloggers weighed in. For example, Horn Affairs editor Daniel Berhane noted that when people hoist that flag and mention the name Oromo Liberation Front (OLF), they are not referring to the OLF faction in Asmara but the nation’s spirit of resistance against oppression. This focus on the flag and OLF prompted the Asmara-based group to aggressively pushback on social media, even appearing to suggest it was behind the protests.

From what we know, OLF and its affiliated Qeerroo Bilisummaa did not publicly call Wednesday’s protests and its reach doesn’t extend as widely as the protests were. They simply lack the kind of grassroots organizational capacity necessary to pull off demonstrations of this size. Besides, the group calls its protests Fincila Xumura Gabrummaa (FXG), the final push to end Oromo subjugation, and no calls for protests under this slogan went out. Most importantly, it would have formally claimed responsibility for the massive turnout if it was behind it. Besides, some of the slogans, for example about making the federation meaningful, are contrary to the demands of the Asmara group.

Regardless, #OromoProtests is entering a new critical phase. Many hope that this week’s deadly protests were but a one-off instance of breakdown in communications and leaders of the grassroots movement will move swiftly to assert control. A repeat of a similarly uncoordinated protest would be seen as a sign of rupture within the protest movement. If past trends are any indication, the grassroots movement has been so resilient that it overcame its shortcomings after each hiccup.

Revolutions are slow-cooking. However, prolonged revolutions tend to self-destruct and atrophy. The culprit is usually the appearance on the stage of dark forces that may not necessarily be in line with the overall objective of the movement other than disrupting the status quo. Without the decisive battles that mark watershed moments and make whatever gains are made irreversible, revolutions are still in uncertain waters.

So far the gains made as a result of the huge sacrifices incurred over the past three years are largely symbolic and rhetorical…with the possible exception of the change of attitude by Oromia police as well as the Oromia regional administration. It had once appeared as if the latter is in charge. Yesterday’s mass protests requires a rethink of all calculations by the OPDO and diaspora activists and all responsible forces.

That said, OPDO leaders should not and could not rest on their laurels. The youth protesters have great sympathy for their plight and dreams of autonomy from the domineering Center. Arresting suspects in the killing of protesters yesterday is a remarkable departure from the past and could only increase sympathy towards the regional government. However, sympathy is far from loyalty. Besides, the organization is only recently baptized as part of the Oromo struggle for freedom rather than a Trojan horse for the TPLF, which was the prevailing view among the Oromo public until 2014, when nation-wide protests broke out, and more incontestably after October 2016 when Lemma Megersa and his nationalist wing of young Turks took the helm at the organization. Protesters will garner confidence only after seeing concrete change at the federal level. The changes in Oromia state level are encouraging. The state-run media outfit is putting out critical reports and airs documentaries critical of the federal authorities that have refused to heed the demands of the Oromo people and instead ordered not only killing of peaceful protesters but also displacements of thousands from their ancestral homes using a proxy army, the Somali regions Liyu Police. But that is far from enough.

Labeling it as the work of the enemy harkens back to the dark days of the past when Oromo against Oromo rivalries undermined a united struggle against oppression and marginalization.  Rather than the work of an enemy or http://www.satenaw.com/breaking-news-least-eight-killed-dozens-wounded-protests-across-oromia/internal saboteurs, the protests could also signal a renewed push towards taking the struggle into a new stage aimed at changing the TPLF regime.


Related:-

#OromoProtests

Satenaw:Breaking News…… At least eight killed, dozens wounded in protests across Oromia

Protests in different Oromia towns, Ethiopia, continued on Wednesday and Thursday; at least six people were killed and more than 30 wounded during protests. –  By Solomon Abate, Salem Solomon, Tizita Belachew (VOA) |

 

Fox News:  6 dead as protests surge again in Ethiopia: Official

Tesfa News:Protests flared up in Oromia, scores killed