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After welcoming speakers and participants from across the globe, the conference’s host, MEP Liliana Rodrigues, opened the event by expressing that the responsibility to stop the atrocities in Ethiopia belongs to us all: “We are here to help break the silence.” Dr Shigut Geleta, of the Oromo Liberation Front (OLF), reminded the audience that large donors, such as the European Union and the United States, continue to provide substantial aid to Ethiopia despite the country’s heinous human rights record. Dr Geleta emphasised that this aid has been crucial in maintaining the ruling coalition’s stranglehold on political power in Ethiopia.
Continuing off of this point, Mr Denboba Natie, an executive committee member of the Sidama National Liberation Front, raised the question of how marginalised communities can make their struggle known when internationally sponsored funds are flowing into the authoritarian regime, contributing to their repression. For a moment of reflection, Mr Natie asked the entire conference to stand in silence to honour the pain and sacrifices of these subjugated peoples and of the women and girls who have been victims of gender-based and sexual trauma in Ethiopia. UNPO Secretary General Marino Busdachin made reference to the array of issues affecting these regions, such as land-grabbing, eviction, poverty and extrajudicial killings, ultimately declaring that “enough is enough.”
To open the first panel, a statement by Graham Peebles, freelance writer and director of The Create Trust, was read by moderator and UNPO Programme Officer Julie Duval. Mr Peebles’ statement drew attention to a number of worrying issues in Ethiopia – the lack of independent media sources, the stifling of any political dissent, the routine sexual abuse and rape of imprisoned women – all of which contribute to the precarious condition of human rights for marginalised populations. Ms Ajo Agwa of the Gambella People’s Liberation Movement and the Gambella Women’s Association gave a poignant overview of the ongoing violence in her region, where public schools and medical clinics are looted, children are abducted and civilians are massacred by assailants clad in military uniforms under the guise of enforcing protection along the border with South Sudan.
The testimony of MsDinknesh Dheressa, Chairwoman of the International Oromo Women’s Organization, highlighted the extreme level of state violence in Oromiya, where government security forces have repeatedly “used live ammunition to disperse protests.”
Mr Garad Mursal, Director of the African Rights Monitor, stated that “civilians in Ogaden, Oromiya, Benishangul-Gumuz, Gambella and Sidama have been subjected to mass murder, torture and rape” by the Ethiopian government and their allies. Mr Mursal explained that due to the famine and the cholera epidemic in the Ogaden region, entire villages of Somalis are being wiped out and yet the Ethiopian government continues to prioritise economic development over fundamental human rights. Following Mr Mursal’s speech, a clip of Mr Peebles’ short documentary entitled Ogaden: Ethiopia’s Hidden Shame was shown in which Somali women give first-hand accounts of the sexual violence and torture they endured at the hands of Ethiopian security forces.
The second panel focussed more exclusively on women’s rights and sexual violence. Mrs Rodrigues reminded the audience that Ethiopia is hardly a unique case when it comes to sexual abuse and rape being used as a weapon of war. She called for accountability measures to be enacted by the Ethiopian government to guarantee that the perpetrators of these crimes are brought to justice, but also to provide physical and psychological care for victims of sexual trauma. Significantly, Mrs Rodrigues emphasised that there must be liability where foreign aid is concerned, and she urged the European Union to put Ethiopia at the top of its agenda.
MEP Julie Ward (S&D) succinctly but powerfully intoned that “The root cause of violence against women and girls is inequality.” In considering the effects of how widespread sexual violence has contributed to the devastation of marginalised communities in Ethiopia, Ms Ward stressed that as a war tactic, mass rape is constitutive of genocide and ethnic cleansing. She further declared it “absolutely wrong that EU aid money should be in any way complicit in these human rights violations and crimes of sexual violence”.
Oromo medical doctor Dr Baro Keno Deressa reiterated Ms Ward’s statements about rape being used as a tool of war in Ethiopia, where sexual violence is used strategically to terrorise and ultimately destroy marginalised communities. He maintained that “it is a violation of human rights when women are not given the right to plan their own families”. Moreover, women from these regions are deliberately excluded from the women’s empowerment programmes touted by the Ethiopian government as a model of their progress. Both Dr Deressa and Ms Mariam Ali, an activist currently studying at the School of Oriental and African Studies in London, asserted that rape has become institutionalised in Ethiopia.
In closing the second panel, Ms Ali provided a summary of facts about the situation in the Ogaden region, including that the Ethiopian army’s blockade has kept independent journalists and medical officials from entering the region. The population is being starved by a “man-made famine”, and Ms Ali affirms that women are subjected to near-constant rape and torture. Ms Ali ended her speech by addressing these brutal human rights violations with a Somali proverb, “Dhiiga kuma dhaqaaqo?” which translates to “Does your blood not move?”
Mrs Rodrigues and Ms Duval gave the final remarks, addressing both the general human rights situation in Ethiopia and the particular burden born by women from marginalised regions. Mrs Rodrigues underlined once again that action must be taken to see that international funds are solely being used in a fashion that supports human rights and ensures women’s rights. Overall, the conference provided a distinct opportunity for representatives of marginalised groups in the regions of Oromiya, Ogaden, Benishangul-Gumuz, Gambella and Sidama to speak directly to Members of the European Parliament and recount their experiences to a wider audience of human rights activists and civil society actors. A fruitful exchange of views following the official programme brought this important event to a close and allowed representatives from the media, academia, political decision-makers, as well as representatives of civil society and diplomatic missions to engage in a lively discussion.
Click here to find the conference declaration and here to find more photos of the event
UNPO has released a report on human rights in Ethiopia, shedding light on the worrying situation of the Oromo and Ogadeni peoples. While international partners tend to hail Ethiopia as an African democratic role model and a beacon of stability and hope in an otherwise troubled region, the fundamental rights of the country’s unrepresented continue to be violated on a daily basis. With the support of major international donors such as the European Union, Addis Ababa increasingly prioritises strong economic growth, development and a high degree of enforced political stability at the expense of human rights and civil liberties.
Ethiopia’s economy has been growing steadily in recent years, boasting a small emerging middle class and receiving continuously-increasing foreign investment. The country is seen as a key ally by Western powers in the fight against terrorism and the regulation of international migration. Meanwhile, Ethiopia remains one of the world’s poorest countries, with a third of the population living in abject poverty and the country’s regime is also one of the African continent’s most authoritarian in character, cracking down mercilessly on those who voice dissent.
Those living in the Ogaden and Oromia regions are most vulnerable to the State-sponsored persecution. Protests in Oromia were violently repressed by the government since they started in April 2014, and continue to be. “Jail Ogaden” holds thousands of prisoners of conscience in overcrowding conditions and unhygienic facilities. Rape is systematically used as a weapon by the government and local polices such as the Liyu Police, combined with other forms of torture. And those are just a handful of examples.
As of March 2017, 300 people have died of hunger and cholera in the Ogaden region, because of the restrictions imposed by the Ethiopian government. Limitations on freedom of movement bars access to healthcare facilities and the trade embargo causes critical food shortages. UNPO calls on the international community to play its role in safeguarding human rights by putting an end to the financial flows fueling the Ethiopian State’s oppression and intimidation of the most vulnerable among its population.
Photo courtesy of Minasse Wondimu Hailu/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images
Despite punitive suppression, Oromo people continue to gather in protest of the state of affairs in Ethiopia. Through the current state of emergency, the government is attempting to solidify central power and quash opposition groups, which results in the heightened marginalisation of already-disadvantaged communities. Voices in these communities express distrust in small democratic concessions, and call instead for a total overhaul of the political system to ensure inclusivity. With no opportunities for opposition to engage politically, and with the often-violent suppression of peaceful protests, the options for the Oromo are severely limited. For now, legitimate grievances fuel continued unrest, and the ruling party coalition maintains a chokehold on every pathway to power.
In a muted show of defiance near Ethiopia’s capital city, a tall farmer glanced around before furtively crossing his arms below his waist to make the Oromo people’s resistance symbol.
Ethiopia’s government outlawed the gesture made famous by Olympic men’s marathon silver medalist Feyisa Lilesa – who formed the “X” above his head at last year’s Rio games – when it enacted a draconian state of emergency in October in an attempt to stem 11 months of protests. Although that decree has suppressed unrest, the farmer thinks demonstrations will start anew.
“The solution is the government has to come with true democracy. The people are waiting until the state of emergency is over and then people are ready to begin to protest,” he said.
While the emergency has led to at least 25,000 people being detained, security forces aren’t visible on roads flanked by fields with workers wielding curved sickles to harvest crops. Beyond that seeming normality, there is pervasive discontent with authorities accused of responding to claims of ethnic marginalisation by intensifying repression.
“The protests will come again because the government is not responding to the demands of the people in the right way,” said another young Oromo man in Ejere town. Like others, he answered via a translator in the Oromo language, and asked for his views to be kept anonymous.
Farmers in the restive West Shewa district of Oromia dismissed the political response so far, which has amounted to replacing regional leaders. Despite positive noises from the new Oromia president, many seek a wholesale change of government. “People need new faces and a new system,” the Ejere man said.
The problem for activists is how to translate popular anger stemming from grievances into political change. The security apparatus has shown it can quell protests and a de facto one-party state offers few opportunities for opposition activities.
Longstanding complaints by the Oromo about state exploitation coalesced around opposition to a metropolitan development plan in November 2015. In January the government suspended the blueprint for the integrated development of Addis Ababa with surrounding Oromo areas, but that didn’t stem the revolt. Some demonstrations were peaceful; others involved torching investments and government offices. Security forces gunned down as many as 600 protesters, according to the Association for Human Rights in Ethiopia.
Now the demands are less policy-oriented due to outrage over repression. Allegations of ethnic bias are prevalent, though it is Oromo officials who are culpable for local failings. The claims centre on a view that the Tigrayan ethnic group benefit disproportionately from a system said to be controlled by the Tigrayan People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), which founded a coalition that has ruled the country since 1991. Activists, many of whom are based abroad, also allege that Ethiopia’s territorial expansion in the late 19th century dispossessed Oromo, who at roughly 35 million people-strong nonetheless remain Ethiopia’s largest community.
Under a multinational federal system introduced in 1995, the Oromo group runs its own region, but people complain the resource-rich state is economically exploited, and their leaders subservient to the TPLF in the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF). “There’s an Oromo saying: what the husband says, the wife cannot change,” said another opponent apropos of the political dynamic.
Land, which is state-owned in Ethiopia, is a particularly emotive issue. An aggressive, government-driven approach to development, combined with corrupt officials and investors, led to Oromo families losing farmland without receiving adequate compensation over the past two decades, particularly on the sought-after fringes of the capital.
Around Guder town, 80 miles (130km) west of Addis Ababa, farmers believe Oromo officials enriched themselves by selling plots on the edge of town to developers and using the proceeds to build houses near the capital. One man interviewed can’t give a specific example of an unfair eviction near Guder, but he’s worried about the trend. “People have a fear about what happened in the Addis Ababa area,” he said.
Other common concerns are mundane, and acknowledged as legitimate by officials: people want an improved road, or better supplies of water and electricity. Despite evident progress, Ethiopia, where the population of close to 100 million is Africa’s second largest, still lies 174th out of 188 countries on the UN’s 2015 human development index, below South Sudan and Afghanistan.
The evolving and multi-layered grievances are an acute test for the government, as well as a conundrum for major donors, such as the UK’s Department for International Development, which remains silent on the EPRDF’s repression as it lauds its development record. While efforts to improve public services, create jobs and reduce corruption may make headway, there’s little chance of the desired systemic reform.
That was reinforced by the arrest in November of Merera Gudina, the most high-profile Oromo opposition leader not in jail or abroad. He was accused of breaking emergency rules by communicating with a banned nationalist opposition leader at a European parliament hearing in Brussels.
Across West Shewa, locals said there had not yet been any changes in community leaders and the government hadn’t reached out to discuss the problems with them. Some said they were no longer interested in what officials had to say.
In Addis Ababa, the federal communications minister, Negeri Lencho, an Oromo professor of journalism, offers a different view. “The change belongs to the people. The reform belongs to the people. The reform includes increasing awareness of people to defend their interests,” he said.
Despite this gulf between officials and public, serious dialogue is unlikely, according to Zelalem Kibret, an Ethiopian blogger who was arrested in 2014 and is currently a visiting scholar at the Center for Human Rights and Global Justice at New York University.
“The government will not go for any type of concession while the opposing force is weak. The activists also seem unwilling, since they are aimed at ousting the regime. I think the brutality that was unleashed by the regime for the last 12 months pushed every moderate voice to the fringe,” he said.
If the movement were to opt for incremental gains through the ballot box, opposition parties would have to compete in local elections scheduled for 2018, but that presents formidable political and logistical obstacles. As well as holding all seats in the federal parliament and regional chambers, the four-party EPRDF and allied organisations occupy all of up to 100 seats on each one of more than 18,000 village councils, and also on roughly 750 larger administrations, said Zelalem. With opposition leaders and activists exiled, imprisoned, or fearing arrest, already weak parties are in no shape to loosen the coalition’s hold.
“The EPRDF is still the only strong political force in Ethiopia. I doubt the protesters have any solid bargaining power other than sporadic demonstrations that are likely to be quashed easily. It is an impasse. Most probably the regime will stay in power for many years,” Zelalem said.
Mr Mohamed Ademo, editor of the OPride news platform, shares his perspective on the importance of the mobilization of Oromo youth, or the “Qubee generation”, as he prefers to call it. Over the past year, Olympic athlete Feyisa Lilesa has been an important example of this generation, but he does not stand alone. Members of the Qubee generation were the first able to study in their native language and therefore developed a strong and resilient sense of identity. In the context of the state of emergency which turned Ethiopia into “a violent, repressive surveillance society” over the course of 2016, it is important to support and enable this generation of young Oromos to keep faith in the face of repression.
Mohammed Ademo, an Ethiopian journalist and editor of the OPride news platform, had a difficult time choosing the 2016 Oromo Person of the Year. In fact, Ademo admits in his end-of-year essay that he originally planned to write about Olympic athlete Feyisa Lilesa’s courage, and how Feyisa’s protest at the Olympic Games made visible the oppression of Oromo people that the world didn’t yet know it ignored.
Feyisa made the year-end lists of changemakers at Foreign Policy, Deutsche Welle and Huffington Post, Ademo wrote. But the more the Washington-based journalist thought about it, the more he realized that Feyisa is emblematic of a more powerful cultural shift. Feyisa represents an entire generation of young Oromo in Ethiopia – the Qubee, who were the first Oromo permitted to learn in their native language and thus described by an alphabetical feature associated with Afaan Oromo.
Essentially, they’re Oromo millennials.
“The Qubee generation appears ready to fight on until, in the words of Oromo leader Bekele Gerba, either all Oromos are jailed, killed and exiled, or until everyone is free,” Ademo writes. Even as Bekele Gerba, Merera Gudina and others remain imprisoned, the youth represent inevitable change.
Yet that change is coming at a cost that should shame the Ethiopian government as it strangles its own future under a violent, repressive surveillance society – and shame international leaders for their complicity. Because the Oromo are Ethiopia’s largest ethnic group, numbering more than 35 million, and one that has historically felt marginalized and severely discriminated against by successive governments. The Ethiopian Peoples’ Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) has held power for decades and has awarded power to elites from the minority Tigrayan ethnic group.
Last month, Human Rights Watch (HRW) praised the release of 9,800 prisoners participating in anti-government protests, many of them in the Oromia region. But they remain less than half of the 24,000 people who have been detained since Ethiopia announced a state of emergency in October. That decision followed the Irreecha massacre, in which the Oromo Federalist Congress puts the death toll at nearly 700, a number wildly at odds with official counts of just 52. OFC leader Mualtu Gemechu says there were up to 70,000 people who had been detained in recent months, not necessarily all Oromo protesters.
Their youth is emphasized in the December HRW report, which describes the harrowing experience of a 16-year-old girl from Hararghe whose father was killed, her brothers imprisoned and other family members disabled. She was banned from school after the military found a protest song, one of many recorded by Oromo’s young generation, on her mobile phone.
The Ethiopian teen told HRW that security agents went through her community “arresting every young person they could find,” and she refuses to return until the violence stops and the Oromo are heard.
“Many other young people have told me the same thing,” writes Felix Horne, author of the HRW report.
To say “young Ethiopians” is almost redundant, because one third of the population is under 25 years old. In 2014, almost half of all Ethiopians – 45 percent – were less than 15 years old. So it’s not that a new generation of Oromo don’t know the history or the sacrifices made by their elders, especially those active in organized political resistance that’s designed specifically for them. The reality is that they know that history all too well, and in an era of connectivity and engagement, they demand a different future.
Ethiopia is, in theory, governed under autonomous regional authorities aligned with ethnicity and historical homelands, although in practice that governance and self-determination are rarely true for some groups, including the Oromo. Although they are the largest ethnic group, and along with the Amhara account for a 60 percent majority among Ethiopia’s 100 million people, both groups are ruled by a coalition that’s dominated by the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF).
Through the Tigray minority, that Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) coalition has retained power for decades that have seen Oromo excluded from opportunity in government, the economy and other avenues. Protests that began in November 2015 over land annexation in Addis Ababa, plans that would adversely affect Oromo interests, reflected decades of anger and frustration.
The leader of an Ethiopian Somali rebel group, Abdirahman Mahdi of Ogaden National Liberation Front, warned last May that tensions were about to boil over in the manner of the 2011 Arab Spring uprisings – and his assessment was accurate. Yet Ethiopian officials rarely pay more than lip service to promises of change.
This week, Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn again professed his support for “deep reforms” in government and society that he believes will be successful through public participation. His words are as hollow as those of Western leaders who profess their concern for Ethiopian human rights and the democratic process, while failing to insist that any reforms be implemented. That’s especially true of the United States and the need to protect an Ethiopian ally in combatting terrorism in the Horn of Africa.
While Hailemariam speaks of public engagement, the detentions continue and the disappearances remain unexplained. The trials and lengthy sentences of high-profile journalists, political activists and opposition leaders make more headlines. The draconian control of media and independent reporting has yet to see its well-deserved demise. Ethiopia’s promises are broken, but the world now sees the Oromo, whether through media outlets based in the diaspora like Ademo’s, or thanks to solidarity protests in Europe and America.
What Ethiopian officials must accept – and the world must ensure – is that in this young nation, this race toward freedom and equality is not a sprint but a marathon. Feyisa Lilesa understands this well, but he is not running alone. The Qubee generation runs behind and beyond him, and they will not be deterred.
In the midst of celebrating one of the chief successes of his athletics career, a silver medal at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games, Feyisa Lilesa symbolised the tremendous sufferance of his people, the Oromo by crossing his arms over his head in a gesture of protest. In the following days, his gesture has reverberated around the globe making headlines in many countries as one of the images of the 2016 Olympic Games. While the fate of Lilesa remains unknown as the outcome of the act of protest moves on, the gesture of solidarity has given reasons of hope to many and definitely helped raise awareness of the struggle of his people.
The Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organization (UNPO), which for several years has been advocating for the Oromo and other ethnic groups oppressed by the Ethiopian regime, praises Mr Lelisa for his brave gesture and hopes that it will help convince the international community to take a bolder stand on the issue.
Following his gesture, the athlete might face problems if he goes back to Ethiopia, where the authorities have been violently repressing protests for months. The protests began several months ago as peaceful demonstrations regarding development plans, before the government’s harsh and ongoing response led to the death of several people. Many in Oromia now live in fear, and gestures like the one Lilesa made are essential symbols of resistance and solidarity.
During the protests, the government had blocked internet service and scrambled social media apps to stop people from collaborating or expressing dissent. She said Lilesa’s feat exemplifies how fearful a lot of the Ethiopian diaspora is to speak out on this subject.
Lilesa’s silent statement while crossing the finish line in Rio instantly reverberated worldwide. Rule 50 of the Olympic charter bans political displays or protests and the IOC have confirmed that they are gathering information to better understand the case. Ethiopia’s government has said he will be welcomed as a hero for winning a medal, but state media is not showing photos of him crossing the line. Ethiopian state-owned television station EBC Channel 3 covered the race live, including the finish, but did not repeat the clip in subsequent bulletins – focussing instead on the winner, Kenya’s Eliud Kipchoge.
Information Minister Getachew Reda told the BBC the government had no reason to arrest him and it respected his political opinion. He also said none of Mr Feyisa’s relatives had been jailed over the Oromo protests.
Lilesa’s agent Federico Rosa stated that the runner would not be returning home after staging his protest, despite Ethiopian government assurances he would not face any problems if he went back.
A crowd-funding campaign to help Feyisa Lilesa seek asylum, has raised more than $136,000 (as of time written), to the surprise of its California-based organizer, who had initially set a target of $10,000, exceeding it within an hour.
“Among his compatriots, including those in the diaspora, Lilesa’s protest was welcomed with tears of joy,” said Mohammed Ademo, the founder and editor of OPride.com, a website that aggregates Oromo news. “A hero was born out of relative obscurity. […] I have no doubt that it will be remembered as a watershed moment in the history of Oromo people.”
Ethnic Oromo athletes have often been erased from Ethiopian lore, yet they were the first black Africans to win Olympic gold, Ademo said. Abebe Bikila did so in the 1960s while running barefoot and Derartu Tulu followed in the 1992 and 2000 Olympics. Yet, behind the scenes, these same athletes faced implicit and explicit biases. For example few Oromo athletes spoke Amharic, the language of power in Ethiopia, but Oromo translators rarely accompanied them.
“In the context of this long and tortuous history, Lilesa’s protest was revolutionary. Beyond the politics within the Ethiopian Olympics federation, his gesture brought much-needed attention to escalating human rights abuses in Ethiopia,” Ademo said.
You may find below a list to some of the news sources that covered the story:
Oromo: Nationwide Protests Against Continued Marginalization and Suppression
Photo Courtesy of: Awol Allo 2016 @Zehabesha
Already, dozens have been killed and thousands arrested by security forces in what is a new, nation-wide wave of Oromo protest which has swept through Ethiopia. When the protests started in November 2015, the focus was primarily on the central government’s proposed expansion of the capital into Oromo territory. Since then, the protestor’s focus has widened – mainly due to the government’s brutal response – and they now raise broader economic and political grievances which are also shared by other ethnic groups in Ethiopia.
Ethiopia’s largest ethnic group, the Oromo, have staged nationwide rallies today to protest their continued marginalisation and persecution by the government. These are a culmination of ongoing protests by the Oromo people since November 2015 and mark by far the most significant political development in the country since the death of the country’s long-time authoritarian leader, Meles Zenawi, in 2012.
At least hundreds of thousands of protestors reportedly took to the streets in more than 200 towns and cities across Oromia, Ethiopia’s largest regional state, to demonstrate against widespread and systematic persecution. According to local media reports, over 50 individuals have been killed and thousands arrested as police and security forces opened fire on peaceful protestors. These details are likely to change as more information comes in, though the government has severely restricted the internet and social media making communication difficult.
What are now widely referred to as the #Oromoprotests began in November 2015 when the government introduced the Addis Ababa City Integrated Master Plan, effectively expanding the territorial limits of capital Addis Ababa into neighbouring Oromo towns and villages. Oromo political leaders and activists argued that the plan, as designed, would displace millions of Oromo farmers from their ancestral lands and would threaten to eventually cleanse Oromo culture and identity from the area.
The protests were triggered by the announcement of the Master Plan and menacing land-grab policies that have already displaced more than 150, 000 Oromo farmers from the area, but they were also manifestations of a much deeper crisis of massive ethnic-based inequalities and discontentment that have been boiling underground, waiting to erupt.
Since the protests have begun, the government has arrested and jailed many of its vital and outspoken activists and organisers. A recent report by the Human Rights Watch puts the death toll from the first seven months of the protest at over 400 while the figure tallied by activists is significantly higher.
The Oromo are the largest ethnic group both in Ethiopia and East Africa, consisting of more than a third of Ethiopia’s 100 million people. However, the group has been marginalised and discriminated against by subsequent Ethiopian governments. Oromo culture and identity have been stigmatised and pushed into the periphery of country’s national life, while Oromo history has been filtered out of public memory.
Since assuming state power in 1991, the Tigray Peoples Liberation Front (TPLF) has sought to exploit historic disagreements between the Oromos and Amharas, the second largest ethnic group, to sustain the hegemony of ethnic Tigrayan elites. The TPLF framed longstanding Oromo demands for equality and justice as the greatest threat to Ethiopia’s unity and regional stability, and it used historic antagonisms between Oromo and Amhara as a political instrument to legitimise, justify, and consolidate its political and economic hegemony. The “Oromo question” became the quintessential Ethiopian problem.
Within this frame, Oromos are presented as narrow-minded, extremist, and exclusionary, while the Amharas are presented as chauvinist and violent. By producing crisis between the two groups, the current TPLF-led system presented itself both locally and internationally as the only moderate centrist force that can secure Ethiopia’s sovereignty and territorial integrity from the secessionist threat of the Oromos and the perceived far-right extremism of the Amharas.
In the decade since 9/11, Ethiopia refashioned itself as an anchor of stability in an increasingly restless region and began to build a reputation as a regional policing and intelligence powerhouse. As part of this West-facing strategy, it announced its 2006 invasion of Somalia as a war against terrorism, conning the US into sponsoring its proxy war with Eritrea. As the crisis in Somalia deepened, Ethiopia cemented its reputation further, emerging as America’s most reliable partner in the Horn of Africa.
This is not a partnership based on shared values of freedom, liberty, and commitment to democracy, but one based purely on security considerations. Ethiopia served as America’s local ally, and America, in turn, provided enormous financial, technical and diplomatic support. This brought in much-needed resources for the government to build the political and security infrastructure that has as its main aim the policing, control, and surveillance of internal dissent and opposition.
As the US began to define its foreign and human rights policy through the lens of fighting terror − entering a period of post-truth and post-moral politics in which sacrificing people in distant places in return for security became fair game − this emerged as the paradigmatic threat upon which the West’s fears and anxieties were projected. This made its ally Ethiopia completely impervious to criticism, even as the government used its grotesque anti-terrorism law to crush dissent, decimate the opposition, muzzle the media, and shrink civic space to extinction – all the while holding periodic elections.
Just as terrorism in the West is entangled with religion, terrorism in Ethiopia is entangled with ethnicity. And Oromos have been the primary victims of Ethiopia’s cynical appropriation of the cultural referents and resonances of the War on Terror.
Ethnic domination forms the hidden underside of the terrorism-politics nexus in the country. And its anti-terrorism law has provided the government with the most powerful political device to criminalise, police, and prosecute independent expressions and articulations of the Oromo question. Through the magic of this law, even the most basic of demands for human rights or expressions of opposition to government policy can be twisted into an existential threat.
Ethiopia’s persistent turn to its anti-terrorism law to purge critical opposition, activists, journalists, and community leaders is an unqualified disgrace to Ethiopia and its partners on the Global War on Terror.
The #Oromoprotests are a clear response to these and other forms of historic discrimination, and today’s nationwide protests mark a clear break from previous forms of protests in terms of its coordination and mobilisation. In a letter addressed to the government, protestors expressed their rejection of “the regime” and specifically asked the government to stop the violence against the Oromo, to free Oromo and other political prisoners, and to end military rule in Oromia and allow genuine self-rule, among others.
The government’s violent response to peaceful demands has led protestors to demand more radical and systemic change. The #Oromoprotests are no longer a single-issue movement. This is unchartered territory for the country and how the government reacts could go a long way to determining its fate. But today’s protest makes it clear that there can be no more business as usual for Ethiopia’s ruling elites.
UNPO Side-Events at UN Human Rights Council Raise Awareness of Gross Human Rights Violations in Ethiopia
UNPO, 24 June 2016
Aiming to raise awareness of the gross human rights violations perpetrated by the Ethiopian government against its own citizens, the Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organization (UNPO), in cooperation with the Nonviolent Radical Party (PRNTT), the Human Rights League of the Horn of Africa and the Ogaden People’s Rights Organization, convened two side-events to the XXXII Regular Session of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva, on 22 and 23 June 2016, respectively.
On 22 June 2016, a conference entitled ‘Business and Human Rights in Ethiopia: Double-Digit Growth at What Cost?’ looked at the systematic and large-scale violations of human rights committed hand-in-hand by transnational corporations and the Ethiopian government, with particular focus on the Ogaden region.Mr Abdirahman Mahdi, Chairman of the Ogaden People’s Rights Organization (OPRO), provided the audience – comprised of human rights defenders, diplomats, politicians, journalists and academics from all over the world – with an introductory overview of the Ogaden, a region that has recently seen its territory divided into 22 blocks to be then assigned to transnational corporations, with no regard whatsoever to the local inhabitants, who are being forcefully displaced and denied access to their grazing lands. Mr Mahdi reminded the audience that, although the Ethiopian constitution stipulates that the land is owned by the state and the people of Ethiopia, “the Somali people in Ogaden have no say or right in deciding the fate of their land and are never consulted”.
In a region where aid is severely restricted and international NGOs are denied access or operate under direct supervision, “detention, rape, summery execution and torture are rampant”, Mr Mahdi explained. Even the International Committee of the Red Cross has been banned from working in the Ogaden since 2007, while it is allowed in other parts of Ethiopia. Only during the last six months, several civilians in 69 localities were rounded, detained, beaten, looted or killed. On 6 June 2016, 51 people were killed in Jama Dubad, in the Gashamo District On 15 June, more than 400 civilians, relatives of Ogaden diaspora members were detained and tortured in Qabridahar, Dhanaan, Wardheer, Godey and Dhagahbur, after some demonstrations against the regional president had taken place in Australia.
Following Mr Mahdi’s presentation, journalist and director Mr Graham Peebles screened for the first time his recent short documentary “Ogaden: Ethiopia’s Hidden Shame”. The film is based on interviews conducted in Dadaab Refugee camp in Kenya in October 2014 and reveals the state-sponsored terrorism taking place in the Somali Ogaden region of Ethiopia, showing related stories of extreme violence, torture and rape at the hands of the security forces. After the screening of his poignant film, Mr Peebles shared with the audience the experience of shooting and producing the piece. Mr Peebles remarked that, in addition to Ethiopian military and paramilitary being engaged in killings to clear the area for resource exploration, the Ogaden has also been severely affected by drought and famine. “Although the WFP is providing emergency food aid in the Ogaden, the relief programme has been forced to recruit locals who are said to be working for the Ethiopian security services”, he explained. As a result, food aid is increasingly being diverted from WFP warehouses to local agencies, “who reportedly transfer it to the army or government regional administrators, who then divide the food amongst themselves with the purpose of being sold on the black market or given to groups that support the ruling party”.
Scene of the film “Ogaden: Ethiopia’s HIdden Shame’ by Graham Peebles, screened at the UN in Geneva
Followed by a debate, this first conference sought to address the complex relationship between business and human rights in Ethiopia, where the most basic rights of the local population are sacrificed on the altar of major economic interests and so-called ‘development’.
On 23 June 2016, the second side-event, in collaboration the Human Rights League of the Horn of Africa (HRLHA), shifted the focus to the Oromo region of Ethiopia where, in November 2015, national security forces responded to largely peaceful protests with excessive and lethal force. The roundtable was entitled “Violations of Freedom of Assembly and Demonstration: Brutal Crackdown on Peaceful Oromo Protests”.
Mr Garoma Wakessa, Director of the Human Rights League of the Horn of Africa, opened his presentation by offering a comprehensive overview of the situation of the Oromo, who despite being the largest ethinic group, are largely socially and politically marginalized. Mr Wakessa presented the origins of the protests that broke out across Oromia, in 2015, when civilians took to the streets to protest against the so-called ‘Integrated Master Plan’, the central government’s intention to expand Addis Ababa’s municipal boundary into Oromia regional territory. Mr Wakessa emphasized that the demonstrations were mainly led by Oromo students and while the protests started as an opposition to the ‘Master Plan’, they gradually evolved into a wider Oromo movement levelled against the central authorities.
Mr Felix Horne, Ethiopia Researcher for Human Rights Watch, offered with his most recent report, “‘Such a Brutal Crackdown’: Killings and Arrests in Response to Ethiopia’s Oromo Protests,”, further details of the Ethiopian government’s use of excessive and unnecessary lethal force and mass arrests, mistreatment in detention, and restrictions on access to information to quash the protest movement. His publication was based on interviews with more than 125 protesters, bystanders and victims of abuse, who documented serious violations of the rights to free expression and peaceful assembly by security forces against protesters and others, between the very beginning of these protests in November 2015 and up until May 2016. Moreover, Mr Horne explained that Ethiopian government’s pervasive restrictions on independent human rights investigations and media have meant that very little information has been coming from affected areas. Since mid-March , the Ethiopian government has restricted access to Facebook and other social media, as well as restricted access to diaspora television stations.
The well-achieved goal of convening two side-events to the XXXII Regular Session of the UN Human Rights Council was to raise awareness of the dangerous misconception that Ethiopia is ‘an African democracy on the make’ and ‘a beacon of stability in an otherwise troubled region’. Both events informed human rights defenders, diplomats, politicians, journalists and academics from all over the world about the dire human rights’ situation in Ethiopia, firstly by shedding a light on the damage caused by large-scale business operations, notably in areas inhabited by ethnic groups who are already being systematically marginalized and suppressed by the central government. Secondly, by looking at how an authoritarian regime uses brutal and lethal force against peaceful protestors, such as the case of Oromia. The international community clearly has an active role to play in ensuring investigations into the mass atrocities taking place in Ethiopia, to hold perpetrators of crimes responsible and to end the enduring impunity.
Mr Abdirahman Mahdi, Chairman of the Ogaden People’s Rights Organization (OPRO)
Mr Graham Peebles, Journalist and Film Director
Mr Garoma Wakessa, Director of the Human Rights League of the Horn of Africa
Mr Felix Horne, Ethiopia Researcher Human Rights Watch
Ethiopia is often hailed as an African role model and a beacon of stability and hope in an otherwise troubled region. The developmental community is smitten by the country’s alleged progress in areas such as GDP growth, school attendance and provision of public healthcare. As British journalist and filmmaker Graham Peebles points out in his documentary, however, the reality for most of the people in the Ogaden region of Ethiopia is radically different from the sugar-coated image put forth by the Ethiopian government. Scores of Ogadenis flee their home region to escape state-sponsored violence and abuse, while the international community turns a blind eye to their plight.
Ethiopia is regularly cited as an African success story by donor nations; the economy is growing they cry, more children are attending school and health care is improving. Well GDP figures and millennium development statistics reveal only a tiny fraction of the corrupt and violent picture.
What development there is depends, the Oakland Institute relate, on “state force and the denial of human and civil rights”; the country remains 173rd out of 187 countries in the UN Human Development Index and around 40% of the population live below the extremely low poverty line of US-$1.25 a day, – the World Bank worldwide poverty line is $2 a day.
The ruling party, the EPRDF, uses violence and fear to suppress the people and governs in a highly centralised manner. Human rights are ignored and a methodology of murder, false imprisonment, torture and rape is followed.
The ethnic Somali population of the Ogaden, in the southeast part of the country, has been the victim of extreme government brutality since 1992. It is a familiar story of a region with a strong identity seeking autonomy from central government, and the regime denying them that democratic right.
In 2013 and again in 2014 I visited Dadaab refugee camp in Kenya and met a number of people who had fled state persecution in the Ogaden. Men and women told of false imprisonment, murder and torture. All the women I spoke with relayed accounts of multiple rape, and sexual abuse; defected military men confessed to carrying out such appalling crimes.
We filmed the meetings and put together a short documentary, Ogaden: Ethiopia’s Hidden Shame. Most people have never heard of the region and know nothing of what is happening there.
The purpose of the film is to raise awareness, of what human rights groups describe as a genocidal campaign, and to put pressure on the primary donors – America, Britain and the European Union. Countries that collectively give around half of Ethiopia’s federal budget in various aid packages, and whose neglect and indifference amounts to complicity.
The film records the distressing stories of three extraordinary young women, Anab, Maryama and Fatuma.
On 23 June 2016, the Human Rights League of the Horn of Africa (HRLHA) and the Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organization (UNPO) will convene a side-event entitled “Violations of Freedom of Assembly and Demonstration: Brutal Crackdown on Peaceful Oromo Protests”. The side-event, taking place on the occassion of the 32nd Regular Session of the UN Human Rights Council, seeks to assess the human right situation ine Ethiopia, while giving special attention to the recent crackdown in Oromia, where the Ethiopian security forces responded to largerly peaceful protests with excessive and lethal force.Full article UNPO-HRLHA Statement
Oromo: HRW Report Highlights Ethiopian Government’s Excessive Use of Force in the Oromo Protests
UNPO, 16 June 2016
A report published by Human Rights Watch [June 2016] reveals that the Ethiopian security forces have killed more than 400 by using excessive and unnecessary lethal force in the peaceful protests in the Oromia region, since November 2015. Many have also been arrested and mistreated in prison, and have been restricted in access to information by the Ethiopian government in order to supress the protest movement. Human Rights Watch urges the Ethiopian government to immediately free those who have been wrongfully detained and to start an independent investigation to hold the security forces accountable for abuses.
(Nairobi) – Ethiopian security forces have killed more than 400 protesters and others, and arrested tens of thousands more during widespread protests in the Oromia region since November 2015. The Ethiopian government should urgently support a credible, independent investigation into the killings, arbitrary arrests, and other abuses.
The 61-page report. “‘Such a Brutal Crackdown’: Killings and Arrests in Response to Ethiopia’s Oromo Protests,” details the Ethiopian government’s use of excessive and unnecessary lethal force and mass arrests, mistreatment in detention, and restrictions on access to information to quash the protest movement. Human Rights Watch interviews in Ethiopia and abroad with more than 125 protesters, bystanders, and victims of abuse documented serious violations of the rights to free expression and peaceful assembly by security forces against protesters and others from the beginning of the protests in November 2015 through May 2016.
“Ethiopian security forces have fired on and killed hundreds of students, farmers, and other peaceful protesters with blatant disregard for human life,” said Leslie Lefkow, deputy Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “The government should immediately free those wrongfully detained, support a credible, independent investigation, and hold security force members accountable for abuses.”
Human Rights Watch found that security forces used live ammunition for crowd control repeatedly, killing one or more protesters at many of the hundreds of protests over several months. Human Rights Watch and other organizations have identified more than 300 of those killed by name and, in some cases, with photos.
The November protests were triggered by concerns about the government’s proposed expansion of the capital’s municipal boundary through the Addis Ababa Integrated Development Master Plan. Protesters feared that the Master Plan would displace Oromo farmers, as has increasingly occurred over the past decade, resulting in a negative impact on farm communities while benefiting a small elite.
As protests continued into December, the government deployed military forces for crowd-control throughout Oromia. Security forces repeatedly fired live ammunition into crowds with little or no warning or use of non-lethal crowd-control measures. Many of those killed have been students, including children under 18.
The federal police and military have also arrested tens of thousands of students, teachers, musicians, opposition politicians, health workers, and people who provided assistance or shelter to fleeing students. While many detainees have been released, an unknown number remain in detention without charge and without access to legal counsel or family members.
Witnesses described the scale of the arrests as unprecedented. Yoseph, 52, from the Wollega zone, said: “I’ve lived here for my whole life, and I’ve never seen such a brutal crackdown. There are regular arrests and killings of our people, but every family here has had at least one child arrested.”
Former detainees told Human Rights Watch that they were tortured or mistreated in detention, including in military camps, and several women alleged that they were raped or sexually assaulted. Some said they were hung by their ankles and beaten; others described having electric shocks applied to their feet, or weights tied to their testicles. Video footage shows students being beaten on university campuses. Despite the large number of arrests, the authorities have charged few individuals with any offenses. Several dozen opposition party members and journalists have been charged under Ethiopia’s draconian anti-terrorism law, while 20 students who protested in front of the United States embassy in Addis Ababa in March were charged with various offenses under the criminal code.
Access to education – from primary school to university – has been disrupted in many locations because of the presence of security forces in and around schools, the arrest of teachers and students, and many students’ fear of attending class. Authorities temporarily closed schools for weeks in some locations to deter protests. Many students told Human Rights Watch that the military and other security forces were occupying campuses and monitoring and harassing ethnic Oromo students.
There have been some credible reports of violence by protesters, including the destruction of foreign-owned farms, looting of government buildings, and other destruction of government property. However, the Human Rights Watch investigations into 62 of the more than 500 protests since November found that most have been peaceful.
The Ethiopian government’s pervasive restrictions on independent human rights investigations and media have meant that very little information is coming from affected areas. The Ethiopian government has also increased its efforts to restrict media freedom. Since mid-March  it has restricted access to Facebook and other social media. It has also restricted access to diaspora television stations.
In January, the government announced the cancellation of the Master Plan. By then, however, protester grievances had widened due to the brutality of the government response.
While the protests have largely subsided since April, the government crackdown has continued, Human Rights Watch found. Many of those arrested over the past seven months remain in detention, and hundreds have not been located and are feared to have been forcibly disappeared. The government has not conducted a credible investigation into alleged abuses. Soldiers still occupy some university campuses and tensions remain high. The protests echo similar though smaller protests in Oromia in 2014, and the government’s response could be a catalyst for future dissent, Human Rights Watch said.
Ethiopia’s brutal crackdown warrants a much stronger, united response from concerned governments and intergovernmental organizations, including the United Nations Human Rights Council, Human Rights Watch said. While the European Parliament has passed a strong resolution condemning the crackdown and a resolution has been introduced in the United States Senate, these are exceptions in an otherwise severely muted international response to the crackdown in Oromia. The UN Human Rights Council should address these serious abuses, call for the release of those arbitrarily detained and support an independent investigation.
“Ethiopia’s foreign supporters have largely remained silent during the government’s bloody crackdown in Oromia,” Lefkow said. “Countries promoting Ethiopia’s development should press for progress in all areas, notably the right to free speech, and justice for victims of abuse.”
The status of the Oromo students whose US Embassy protest in March was deemed unlawful by the Ethiopian authorities has remained unchanged due to a delay in proceedings. Their dire situation is seen by many as an example of the harsh treatment handed out to the Oromo ethnic minority within Ethiopia, as well as an attempt to crush resistance to damaging policies from the governing body in Addis Ababa, such as the Addis Ababa Master Plan. The protests in Oromia and the authorities’ violent repression attracted some international attention in the past few months and led, among others, to a European Parliament Resolution.
The 20 Oromo students of Addis Ababa University who were arrested for protesting in front of the US embassy last march were brought to court today. The court having been summoned to hear recorded testimonies of witnesses against the students was required to delay proceedings because of the clerk responsible for transcribing the recorded material is on vacation.
Dozens of Oromo students protested in front of the US Embassy in March denouncing the brutal actions of the Ethiopian government against the Oromo protesters who are demanding greater constitutional rights (self-rule, control over resources & democracy) for the last for months.
The students made the demonstrations to bring the situation in Oromia to the attention of the US government, the leading donor to the Ethiopian government. The students were, however, attacked by the security forces, and the demonstration was dispersed. In connection with the demonstrations, 11 Oromo students have been detained and their whereabouts are still not known.
Oromo: Unity Found Between Oppressed Groups in Ethiopia
By UNPO, 22nd February 2016
The oppressive Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) has found itself facing increasing anti-government protests over the last few years and months. More significantly, these protests have shown another trend, which has been the increased action taken jointly by oppressed groups, such as the peoples of Amhara and Oromia. This comes as a result of the continual violent suppression of opposition by state forces, oftentimes resulting in arbitrary arrests, injuries and even death. The recent increase in unified response, however, gives some hope for the future of democracy in the country.
Division and fear are the age-old tools of tyrants; unity and peaceful coordinated action the most powerful weapons against them.
Frightened and downtrodden for so long, there are positive signs that the Ethiopian people are beginning to come together, – peacefully uniting in their anger at the ruling party – the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) — a paranoid brutal regime that suppresses the people, is guilty of wide-ranging human rights violations, and has systematically encouraged ethnic divisions and rivalries.
Anti-government protests have been growing over the last few years, and in recent months large-scale demonstrations have taken place throughout Oromia and also in Gondar, where university students have been demonstrating, demanding, academic rights, freedom, democracy and justice.
Tribal groups, particularly the peoples of Amhara and Oromia (the largest ethnic group – accounting for 35% of the population), have come together. Thousands have been marching, running, sitting, shouting and screaming.
Government slays Peaceful Protestors
The EPRDF’s response to the demonstrators’ democratic gall has been crudely predictable: brand protestors ‘anti-peace forces’ and terrorists, then shoot, arrest and imprison them.
Whilst Human Rights Watch (HRW) say security forces have killed at least 140 people, independent broadcaster ESAT news estimates the number to be over 200. The government, which human rights groups state authorised the police and military to use “excessive force, including…live ammunition against protesters, among them children as young as 12”, has so far admitted 22 fatalities.
ESAT reports at least1,500 have been injured and to date over 5,000 arrested (in Oromia alone), including Bekele Gerba, deputy chairman of the Oromo Federalist Congress (OFC), Oromia’s largest legally registered political party, and his son. Senior members of the OFC, as well as members of other opposition parties and their families, have also been imprisoned. Scores more people are harassed, their homes searched. Acting on behalf of an unaccountable government, security forces are “on a mission of wanton destruction of human lives and properties”.
State plan cancelled by protest
The under-reported protests in Gondar (in the Amhara region) were triggered by two separate, but related issues: government cession of an expanse of fertile land -– up to 1,600 square km, to Sudan under new demarcation proposals — and the widespread belief that state forces are responsible for a mass killing that took place in November 2015 against the people of Qimant. Leaders of The Gondar Union Association told ESAT news they believed the murders were “committed by TPLF [government] cadres, who then blamed it on the Amhara people to incite violence among the two groups.”
In Oromia, where protests began in April 2014 throughout the region, it was the government’s plan to expand the capital, Addis Ababa, on to agricultural land. Hundreds of smallholders would have been displaced, villages destroyed, livelihoods shattered. Following months of demonstrations the government has announced that the plan is to be scrapped. The official statement virtually dismissed the protestors’ opposition, claiming it was “based on a simple misunderstanding” created by a “lack of transparency”.
Activists reacted with derision to the government’s condescension, and vowed to continue protesting unless their longstanding grievances of political exclusion are addressed. Sit-ins and peaceful demonstrations have continued in various locations across Oromo, evoking more violence from the ruling party’s henchmen.
The Oromo people see the government’s violence as part of a systematic attempt to oppress and marginalise them. As Amnesty International (AI) states in its report ‘Because I am Oromo’: “Thousands of Oromo people have been subjected to unlawful killings, torture and enforced disappearance.” People without any political affiliation are arrested on suspicion that they do not support the government – “between 2011 and 2014, at least 5,000 Oromos have been arrested”. Amnesty asserts that recent regime violence was “the latest and bloodiest in a long pattern of suppression”. This description of government intimidation and brutality will sound familiar to most Ethiopians.
Whilst it was the ‘master-plan’ for Addis Ababa that brought thousands onto the streets, anger and discontent has been fermenting throughout the country for years. Feelings fuelled by restrictions on fundamental freedoms, and human rights violations, many of which can only be described as State Terrorism.
The EPRDF have been in power for 25 long, and for many people, painful years. The ruling party was formed from the four armed groups that seized power in May 1991, including the now dominant Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF).
Despite the theatre of national “elections” being staged every five years since 1995, the EPRDF has never been elected. Last year’s sham saw them take all 547 parliamentary seats. In order to convince a suspicious, if largely indifferent watching world (the EU refused to send a team of observers to legitimise proceedings) one might have expected a token seat or two for an opposition party, but the government decided they could steal every one and get away with it, their arrogance confirming their guilt.
The Tigrean ethnic group makes up a mere 6% of the country’s 95 million population, but the TPLF (or Weyane as they are commonly called) and their cohorts dominate the government, the senior military, the judiciary, and, according to Genocide Watch, intend “to internally colonize the country”, a claim that the ethnic Somalis living in the Ogaden region, as well as . the people of Amhara and Oromia, all of whom are subjected to appalling levels of persecution, would agree with.
Undemocratic, repressive regime
The Government claims to adhere to democracy, but says the introduction of democratic principles will take time. ‘Outsiders’ (critics such as HRW, Amnesty International and the EU) ‘don’t understand’ the country: thus Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn pretends Ethiopia “is a fledgling democracy – a house in the making”.
Well, it is not a house being built on any recognizable democratic foundations: human rights, civil society, justice and freedom, for example. Indeed there is no evidence of democracy actual or potential on the government’s part in Ethiopia. On the contrary, despite a liberally-worded constitution, the ruling party tramples on human rights, uses violence and fear to suppress the people and governs in a highly centralised manner: Opposition parties are ignored, their leaders often imprisoned or forced to live abroad; the government, Amnesty International (AI) states, routinely uses “arbitrary arrest and detention, often without charge, to suppress suggestions of dissent in many parts of the country.”
The judiciary is a puppet, as is the “investigative branch of the police”, Amnesty records, making it impossible “to receive a fair hearing in politically motivated trials”, or any other case for that matter. Federal and regional security services operate with “near total impunity” and are “responsible for violations throughout the country, including…the use of excessive force, torture and extrajudicial executions.”
There is no media freedom; virtually all press, television and radio outlets are state-owned, as is the sole telecommunications company – allowing unfettered surveillance of the Internet. The only independent broadcaster is internationally based ESAT. The Government routinely blocks its satellite signal, and employee family members who live in Ethiopia are persecuted, imprisoned, their homes ransacked.
Journalists who challenge the government are intimidated, arrested or forced abroad. Ethiopia is the fourth most censored country in the world (after Eritrea, North Korea and Saudi Arabia) according to The Committee to Protect Journalists, and “the third worst jailer of journalists on the African continent”. The widely criticized, conveniently vague “2009 Anti-Terrorism Proclamation” – used to silence journalists – and “The Charities and Societies Proclamation”, make up the government’s principle legislative weapons of suppression, which are wielded without restraint.
The vast majority of Ethiopian people – domestic and expatriate – are desperate for change, freedom, justice and adherence to human rights; liberties that the EPRDF have total contempt for. Their primary concern is manifestly holding on to power, generating wealth for themselves, and their cohorts, and ensuring no space for political debate, dissent or democratic development.
Without a functioning electoral system or independent media, and given government hostility to open dialogue with opposition parties and community activists, there are only two options available for the discontented majority. An armed uprising against the EPRDF – and there are many loud voices advocating this – or the more positive alternative: peaceful, consistent, well-organized activism, building on the huge demonstrations in Oromia and Gondar, uniting the people and driving an unstoppable momentum for change.
Ethiopia is a richly diverse country, composed of dozens of tribal groups speaking a variety of languages and dialects. Traditions and cultures may vary, but the needs and aspirations of the people are the same, as are their grievances and fears. Tolerance and understanding of differences, cooperation and shared objectives could build a powerful coalition, establishing a platform for true democracy to take root in a country that has never known it.
People can only be trapped under a cloak of suppression for so long. Eventually they must and will rise up. Throughout the world there is a movement for change: for freedom, justice and participatory democracy, in which the 99% have a voice. The recent demonstrations in Ethiopia show that the people are at last beginning to unite and are part of this collective cry.
Oromo: Ethiopian Government Resumes Oppression of Protesters
UNPO, February 11, 2016
A tireless struggle continues on Addis Ababa’s streets and in other 100 towns of the Oromiya Region where a multitude of students try to make their voices heard against the creation of the Addis Ababa Master Plan. The protests started in November 2015 and the Government’s reaction has brought to a number of deaths, injuries and imprisonments. Additionally, it seems that the Government has no intention to investigate the local authorities’ abuses and general aggressive behaviour, which also included several arbitrary detentions without due legal process.
It is happening again, sadly. The government in Ethiopia is back to its signature of killing, maiming and jailing its own people because they are exercising their chance of rejecting state excesses using the only means available: taking to the streets to protest.
Ethiopia is a country that has effectively obliterated several channels that normally help foster a healthy communication between citizens and the state .The sorry state of independent media and civil society organization is distressing; and every day lived experienced of Ethiopians and their contacts with authorities at any level is alarmingly toxic.
Authorities in Ethiopia should have therefore been the last ones to get started by the idea of citizens taking to the streets to make their grievances heard. Alas, that is not to be.
Hundreds and thousands of students and residents in more than 100 cities and towns in Oromiya Regional State (Oromiya for short), the largest and most populous state in Ethiopia, are in and out of the streets since early Nov. last year. Like every experience when Ethiopians were out on the streets protesting state excesses, every day is bringing heart breaking stories of Ethiopians suffering in the hands of security personnel. Since Nov.12th 2015, when the first protest broke out in Ginchi, a small town 80km west of Addis Abeba, countless households have buried their loved ones; young university students have disappeared without a trace; hundreds have lost limbs and countless others are jailed
Ethiopians are once again killing, miming and jailing Ethiopians.
The immediate trigger factor is the possible implementation of the infamous Addis Abeba and Surrounding Oromiya Special Zone Integrated Development Plan, popularly known as ‘the Addis Abeba Master Plan.’
The federal government claims it is a plan aimed at only creating a better infrastructure link between the capital Addis Abeba and eight towns located within the Oromiya Regional State Special Zone. But the reason why it is having a hard time selling this otherwise fairytale like development plan is the same reason why it is responding heavy handedly to any dissent against it: it is what it wants to do.
The current protest is led by the Oromos, who are the largest ethnic majority in Ethiopia. In all the four corners of the Addis Abeba surrounding localities, Oromos also make up the single largest majority whose way of lives have already been affected by mammoth changes Addis Abeba has been having over the last Century.
They are rejecting the central government’s top down plan because they are informed by a merciless history of eviction and dispossession. Several researches show that over the last 25 years alone about half a million Oromo farmers have unjustly lost their farmlands to give way to an expansion of a city that is xenophobic to their way to being.
Not the first time
Sadly, this is not the first time Ethiopians are pleading with their government to be heard in regards to the so-called ‘Master Plan.’ The first protest erupted in April-May 2014 when mostly Oromo student protesters from universities in Ambo and Jimma in the west, Adama in the east and Medaawalabu in south east Ethiopia, among others, expressed their disapproval of the plan. Like today, they have resorted to communicate with authorities the only way they possibly can: take to the streets to protest. And like today authorities have responded the only way they have so far responded to Ethiopian voices calling for justice: killing tens, maiming hundreds and incarcerating thousands.
As of 1991, when the current regime first came to power, students, mostly Oromo students, have staged several protest rallies calling for justice. Each time the end result has been nothing short of a disaster.
Although the 2014 Oromo students protest marked the first of the largest protest against the central government, a not so distant memory of Oromo students’ protests and subsequent crackdowns reveal a disturbing history of state brutality gone with impunity. To mention just two, in late ’90s Oromo Students at the Addis Abeba University (AAU) protested against a systematic expulsion of hundreds of Oromo students, who, authorities claimed, had links with the then rebel group, Oromo Liberation Front (OLF). But many of those who protested against the dismissal of their dorm mates soon joined the growing list of expulsion; hundreds of were also jailed. Today mothers speak of their kids who have disappeared without a trace since then. And in early 2000 Oromo students have taken to the streets to protest against the federal government’s decision to relocate the capital of the Oromiya regional state from Addis Abeba to Adama. Many of them were killed when police opened fires in several of those protests, including the one here in Addis Abeba.
Although in 2005 the federal government decided to relocate the capital of Oromiya back to Addis Abeba, fifteen years later Ethiopian prisons are hosting hundreds of students who were jailed following their protest against the decision in the first place; hundreds of them have left the country via Kenya and have become homeless in foreign lands. Less mentioned are also the lives that have been altered forever; the hopes that were dashed; the students’ quest to study and change their lives that were cut short; a country that is deprived of its young and brightest; and family fabrics that were shattered.
State impunity and all that
Following the 2014 Oromo students’ protest and the killing spree by the federal and the regional state police, Abadula Gemeda, speaker of the house of people’s representatives and former president of the Oromiya regional state, promised to bring to justice those who were responsible for the killing.
But two outstanding experiences explain why Abadula’s words were mere rhetoric. And the government in Ethiopia should address both if it wants to remain a legitimate representative of the people it claims to govern.
First, so far no one who represents the government has been held accountable for the killings, maiming, disappearances and unjust incarceration for countless Ethiopians following protest crackdowns. No matter how excessive the use of force by its security agents against unarmed protesters is, the government knows (and acts as such) it can simply get away with it, as it did several times in the past. This is wrong. A state that has no mechanism to hold its rogue agents accountable for their excesses is equally guilty.
In addition to that, in what came as a disturbing twist, the government has adopted a new strategy aimed at portraying itself as a victim of public vandalism. It is rushing to clean itself of the crimes committed by its security agents. Using its disproportionate access to state owned and affiliated media currently the government is presiding over the stories of victimhood more than those whose lives have been destroyed by it. In an act of shame and disgrace to the profession, these state owned and affiliated media are providing their helping hands to complete the act of state impunity.
Second, the central government’s first answer to the repeated cries of justice by Ethiopians is to communicate with them through its army. Like in the past, in the ongoing protests by the Oromo, which have largely focused on cities and towns within the Oromiya regional state, protesters are not only facing the regional state’s security apparatus but also the merciless hands of the federal army reserve. This is an act that not only trespasses the country’s constitutionally guaranteed federal arrangement but also makes the horrific crimes committed by necrophiliac security agents against protesters to get lost in unnecessary details, hence go unpunished.
Public protests in the past and the manner by which the current government dealt with them should teach the later a lesson or two. But the first and most urgent one is that it should stop killing, maiming and jailing its people’s questions.
In addition to the unknown numbers of those who have been killed by the police and the army in the wake of the ongoing protest, cities have seen their hospitals crowded with wounded Ethiopians of all ages; hundreds of individuals, including senior members of the opposition Oromo Federalist Congress (OFC), are already thrown into jails without due legal process. In clear violation of the constitution by none other than the state most of them are held incommunicado in places unknown to their loved ones.
In the wake of his release after serving four years in prison, Bekele Gerba, the prominent opposition figure, told this magazine in April last year that prison was “not a place one appreciates to be, but I think it is also the other way of life as an Ethiopian.” Sadly, Bekele is once again thrown in to jail because that is Ethiopia does to its people’s questions. But an end to this is long overdue.
Oromo: Civil Society and International Bodies Condemn Violence
UNPO, 25 January 2016
On 22 January 2016, the Human Rights League of the Horn of Africa issued a statement, emphasising the recent attention accorded by the United States, European Union and United Nations to the human rights situation in Ethiopia. While The European Parliament, through a recent urgent resolution, calls for a credible,transparent and independent investigation into the killings of at least 140 Oromo protesters and into other alleged human rights violations, the HRLHA condemns the state sponsored violence, calling on the Ethiopian government to “immediately withdraw its special force “Agazi” from the Oromia Regional State and bring the perpetrators to justice.”
Below is the statement published by the Human Rights League of the Horn of Africa:
The tireless voices for the voiceless spoken by human rights organizations such as Amnesty International (AI), Human Rights Watch (HRW), the Human Rights League of the Horn of Africa (HRLHA) and others- for decades-about the gross human rights violations in Ethiopia have caught the attention of the world and finally the hard truth has been revealed.
The US Government, the EU parliament and UN experts condemn the killings, detentions and kidnappings in the Oromo Nation by Ethiopian Government forces. The Oromo nation demand and that their basic freedoms and fundamental rights be respected in their own country.
The USA Government in its statements of December 18, 2015″The United States, Calls for Meaningful Dialogue About Oromo Community Concerns” and 14 January 2016 ” The United States Concerned By Clashes in Oromia, Ethiopia “condemned the Ethiopian brutality against peaceful protestors and urged the government of Ethiopia to permit peaceful protest and commit to a constructive dialogue to address legitimate grievances.
The European Union in its debate on 21 January 2016 discussed the “Human Rights Situation in Ethiopia”. The EU Parliament strongly condemns the recent use of violence by the security forces and the increased number of cases of human rights violations in Ethiopia. It calls for a credible, transparent and independent investigation into the killings of at least 140 protesters and into other alleged human rights violations in connection with the protest movement after the May 2015 federal elections in the country.
The UN Experts in their release of 21 Jan. 2016: “UN experts urge Ethiopia to halt a violent crackdown on Oromia protesters, ensure accountability for abuses“. They called on theEthiopian authorities to end the ongoing crackdown on peaceful protests by the country’s security forces, who have reportedly killed more than 140 demonstrators and arrested scores more in the past nine weeks.
The Human Rights League of the Horn of Africa appreciates the statements coming out from different governmental agencies and governments exposing the ethnic persecutions and crimes against humanity in Oromia Regional State by Ethiopian Government forces in which over 180 Oromo nationals from all walks of life have been brutalized by the special force “Agazi” , over 8, 050 Oromo were arbitrarily detained and where large numbers were kidnapped and taken to an unknown destination.
To stop further human catastrophes in Oromia Regional State, the HRLHA urges the world community to continue putting pressure on the Ethiopian government:
To immediately withdraw its special force “Agazi” from the Oromia Regional State and bring the perpetrators to justice To unconditionally release the detainees To compensate, all casualties have been done by the government-sponsored criminals To abort the state of emergency declared in Oromia Regional State All authorities who were involved in the present political crisis in the Oromia Regional state, including the PMs special advisor AbayTseye and the PM of Ethiopia HailemariamDessalengn, should be stripped of their government responsibilities To allow independent investigators into the country to conduct an investigation into the present and past gross human rights violations in Oromia Regional State.
Citizens from all over Oromia have been protesting for months against the Addis Ababa Master Plan, which would see Oromo farmers around the capital evicted from their land with the city’s expansion. Marches have intensified since the events at Haromaya University last week, where Oromo students, protesting peacefully against the government plans, were shot at by the Ethiopian Federal Police, killing at least three and injuring many more. The attack was recorded on a video, which can be viewed from the link below.
The following video shows as the Ethiopian Federal Police, known as Agazi and part of the elite force of the ruling Tigrean People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), shooting at Haromaya University’s Oromo students – who were out protesting against the Addis Ababa Master Plan in late November 2015. According to media reports, at least three were killed and many more were wounded. The students were protesting against the Addis Ababa Master Plan, whose goal, they say, is to expand the City of Addis Ababa by many folds by evicting Oromo farmers from their land around the City of Addis Ababa in Oromiyaa. The Oromo people, especially students, have been expressing their protests against the Addis Ababa Master Plan, ever since it was unveiled by TPLF officials in April 2014. As a result of the Oromiyaa-wide protests against the Addis Ababa Master Plan, over the last year and half, more than a hundred Oromos were killed by the Agazi force, including the four who had been reported dead at the recent Haromaya protest.
The students, pronounced dead, and those others protesting, come from all sections and all zones of Oromiyaa for their higher education at Haromaya University.
Oromo: Enforced Disappearance of Prominent Community Leader
Dabassa Guyo Saffaro, an important member of the Oromo community, with expertise in Oromo culture and cosmology, has been missing since 27 September 2015. He has long been persecuted by the Ethiopian government, and fled to Kenya in the 1970s. He has been living under UNHCR protection in Nairobi since then. His disappearance marks a continuation of the Ethiopian government’s consistent attacks on the Oromo people; his family and friends are calling on international human rights organisations to help the search effort.
A prominent Oromo wisdom keeper, oral historian and spiritual leader, who spent more than 30 years teaching the Oromo culture and cosmology, has been missing since September 27, family and friends said.
Dabassa Guyo Saffaro was born and raised in Yabello, Ethiopia. He moved to Kenya in the early 1970s fleeing political persecution, according to his daughter Darmi. He has since lived in Nairobi at times under the protection of the UNHCR. Guyo was in the process of renewing his expired Kenyan ID and UNHCR travel documents when he vanished.
Darmi, 22, is calling on the UN refugee agency, the Kenyan media, government and lawmakers to help locate her father, whom many describe as a living encyclopedia of Oromo wisdom, cosmology and oral tradition. The family is also asking international human rights organizations, the Oromo diaspora and other indigenous community leaders to help in the search effort and in investigating the circumstances of his disappearance.
“My father is a good man,” Darmi told OPride by phone from Mlolongo, where until recently she lived with Guyo, her two children and two other siblings. “He doesn’t have any quarrels with people. He is the greatest dad in the world.”
About half a dozen of Guyo’s former students contacted by OPride attest to the oral historian’s generosity, gentle spirit and kindness. Asnake Erko is the first of Guyo’s graduates and his former assistant. “I met him in Kenya in early 2000,” Erko told OPride. “Dabasa is a very kind man who shares from what he gets from good Samaritans. He is a man whose knowledge has no limits.”
Erko and nine other Oromo refugees eventually convinced Guyo to start teaching a course on Gadaa and Oromo culture. The effort led to the establishment in 2000 of “Arga Dhageettii Gadaa Oromoo,” an Oromo cultural institute where Guyo continued to teach Oromo culture, spirituality and the Gadaa system until recently.
Guyo was picked up from his residence in Mlolongo, a township outside of Nairobi, on September 25 by his son-in-law, Shamil Ali, and another individual from Kenya’s Oromo community, according to Darmi. He was invited by the community to preside over and perform rituals at an Irreechaa celebration at Nairobi’s City Park on September 27, something he has done every year for decades.
The respected leader reportedly returned to Eastleigh that evening after performing the ritual to spend the night with Ali, Darmi’s ex-husband. Ali says the father of six changed into a regular wardrobe after they got home and stepped outside for what he assumed was a “routine” walk. Ali says he became gradually more concerned when the elder did not return after an hour and as the night began to fall. Guyo was last seen wearing white pants and green sandals.
Darmi thought it was odd — and even uncharacteristic — for Guyo to leave behind all of his belongings and identification cards even if he ventured out for a quick walk. “My father never leaves his bag behind,” said Darmi, adding that her father had lived in Kenya for nearly four decades and knew his way around Eastleigh very well. “I was told Dad left everything of his behind, but still he can’t just get lost like a kid.” Guyo speaks Swahili and Oromo.
Ali and Guyo’s acquaintances in the United States and Europe fear that he might have fallen into the wrong hands, noting that Eastleigh is no longer a friendly neighborhood for immigrants. That the missing elder looks like a Somali in his physical appearance almost doesn’t help in an environment charged with official ethnic profiling, according to Jim Berenholtz, who had known Guyo for more than two decades. In recent years, Kenyan security officials have rounded up immigrants — particularly Somalis — en masse amid a heightened crackdown on those suspected of having links or sympathies for the militant group, Al-Shabab.
Erko and some members of the Oromo diaspora have raised concerns that Ethiopian security forces might have kidnapped Guyo because of his political views. (The Ethiopian intelligence in Kenya has a long history of targeting and kidnapping Oromo nationals in the country.)
Guyo’s family is desperately seeking information about his whereabouts. Ali maintains that he had searched local police stations, jails, hospitals and mortuaries for the missing elder at no avail. Darmi, who is seeking a divorce from Ali, questions some of her ex-husband’s accounts of her father’s unexplained disappearance and she plans to file a separate missing person report this week.
Both say they can’t rule anything out at this point, including a possibility that Ethiopian spies might have kidnapped the spiritual leader. One theory is that Guyo gave an unfavorable speech at Ireechaa and there were spies at the event. Ali also recalls Guyo had in recent months complained about some “pressure” from the Ethiopian embassy in Kenya. Erko and at least two of Guyo’s former acquaintances in the U.S. recall he always had concerns about his safety and had told them unidentified individuals had been nagging him to return to Oromia and teach Gadaa — an offer they say Guyo had repeatedly refused. Those who knew him say Guyo was openly critical of the Ethiopian government and the atrocities it commits against the Oromo people and the systemic repression of their culture. Understandably, there are a lot of speculations about his whereabouts and what might have befallen him. But at this point the family says their best hope is that the elder is indeed in Kenyan or Ethiopian custody.
His former students, including Berenholtz and Erko, say Guyo was a truly gifted orator with a very deep knowledge of the universe and the Oromo Gadaa system. The highly respected seer and mystic was an informant to such prominent anthropologists as Gamachu Magarsa, Paul Baxter and many others who have studied the Gadaa system.
In recent years, Guyo has been working with several globally recognized researchers, anthropologists and other indigenous nations, such as the Mayans, American Indians , Kyrgyz, the Altaic and other indigenous groups to raise awareness about Oromo cosmology and indigenous belief system. Over the past decade, the Oromo wisdom has travelled to the U.S., Guatemala, Kyrgyzstan, Australia and several European countries to share his wisdom with Oromo expats and other indigenous people.
Erko and others say Guyo had a unique ability to distill complex concepts about astronomy, a sophisticated Oromo calendar and numerology system “and make you sit there (listening) the whole day without even thinking that you were there for a second.” The renowned historian can reference specific dates and historical events from memory in each and every part of Oromia, according to Erko. He also had an unmatched ability to not only interpret but also connect age-old Oromo prophecies with current events.
None of the people we spoke with could conclusively say he’s kidnapped but all point to the history of Ethiopian intelligentsia in targeting such prominent Oromo nationals even beyond its borders. In addition to his lecture at Irreechaa, which his friends say may have drawn the ire of the Ethiopian intelligence, Guyo has been traveling around the world to teach Gadaa and raise awareness about the systemic suppression of Oromo culture and heritage in Ethiopia. Guyo’s disappearance on the same day he spoke at Irreechaa appears to lend some credence to their suspicion.
Anyone with information about Guyo’s whereabouts is encouraged to contact his family or the Oromo community organization in Nairobi. You can also send an anonymous tip to OPride at firstname.lastname@example.org.
British Ambassor: Ethiopian election results bad for democracy
July 3, 2015 Ethiopia(Horn Affairs) — Britain’s Ambassador said: “It is starting to sound as if the ruling party and its allies will have a 100 percent of the seats in parliament. And I think that is not good for democracy; that is what you get in places like North Korea. But actually in Ethiopia you need some diversity of opinion in parliament.”
The Ambassador made the remark during an interview with the English-weekly The Reporter. The interview, published in the weekend, was conducted days before the officially announcement of final election results last Friday. Nonetheless, a total win by the ruling party EPRDF and its allies was widely expected since the last week of May.
“AFRICA DOESN’T need strongmen, it needs strong institutions.” Those were President Obama’s words when he addressed Ghana’s parliament in July 2009, during his first trip to sub-Saharan Africa as president. The historic speech, watched around the globe, was an optimistic clarion call to the leaders on the continent from the son of a Kenyan. “First, we must support strong and sustainable democratic governments,” Mr. Obama said.
The president seems to have forgotten that speech. Last week, the White House announced that, while traveling to Kenya next month, Mr. Obama also will stop in Ethiopia, the first such visit by a sitting U.S. president to the country of 94 million. It’s almost unfathomable that he would make time for an entrenched human rights abuser such as Ethiopia while cold-shouldering the nation that just witnessed a historic, peaceful, democratic change of power: Nigeria.
Administration officials justify the trip by citing the United States’ long-standing cooperation with Ethiopia on issues of regional security and the country’s accelerating economic growth. Ethiopia is a major recipient of U.S. development assistance, and the African Union has its headquarters there. But it also stands out in Africa for its increasingly harsh repression and its escalating chokehold on independent media and political dissent. Since June 2014, 34 journalists have been forced to flee the country, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists. Ethiopia is also one of the world’s leading jailers of journalists.
The administration already undermined Ethiopia’s struggling journalists and democracy advocates in April, when Undersecretary of State Wendy Sherman said Ethiopia has “moved forward in strengthening its democracy. Every time there is an election, it gets better and better.” Shortly after her statement, the ruling party held an election in which it secured 100 percent of the parliamentary seats. That was indeed an improvement upon its 2010 performance, when it won 99.6 percent of seats. In the months ahead of the May 24 polls, opposition party members and leaders were harassed and arrested. The Ethiopian government refused to allow independent election observers, except from the African Union. Since the election, two opposition members and one candidate have been murdered. The government hasdenied any responsibility for the killings.
Meanwhile, Nigeria, the continent’s most populous nation and the one with the largest economy, overcame risks of electoral violence and Boko Haram’s terrorism to manage a peaceful transfer of power for the first time since the country’s return to democracy in 1999. With numerous African countries facing elections in the next two years, a visit to Nigeria would have signaled U.S. commitment to partnering with governments that respect freedom, the rule of law and the will of their people. Snubbing Nigeria for a trip to Ethiopia sends the opposite message, in essence validat ing Ethiopia’s sham elections and rewarding a regime that has shown no intent to reform. Six years after his idealistic speech in Ghana, Mr. Obama is sending a message to Africa that democracy isn’t all that important after all.
Obama’s plan to visit Ethiopia criticised as ‘gift’ for repressive government
Ndesanjo Macha for Global Voices, part of the Guardian Africa network
Wednesday 24 June 2015
Activists express anger at US president’s trip to country widely criticised for human right abuses. Global Voices report
Barack Obama’s decision to visit Ethiopia has shocked human rights activists, who say the visit sends the wrong message to a repressive government widely accused of clamping down on dissent.
A White House statement said Obama will visit the east African country for meetings with government officials as part of his last African trip as president. As well as meeting the leadership of the African Union, the visit will form part of US efforts to strengthen economic growth, democratic institutions and improve security in the region.
But as activists and social media users have been making clear, Ethiopia’s track record on human rights and democracy is deeply troubling.
In its 2014 report, Human Rights Watch noted that Ethiopia increasingly clamps down on the freedoms of its citizens “using repressive laws to constrain civil society and independent media, and target individuals with politically motivated prosecutions”.
While the US state department has expressed concerns about restrictions on civil society, media, opposition parties, and independent voices, Ethiopia remains a significant recipient of foreign aid money and security support.
On Twitter Hannah McNeish, a freelance journalist , juxtaposed last month’s suspicious elections results with the White House’s decision to honour Ethiopia with an official visit:
At this time as I Write my country is facing a crisis! Our President wants to run again for the third-term, and almost everyone, substracting the ruling party wants him gone! So he has decided to use violence towards the peaceful manifestations and The number of the deaths so far is unknown to us, but i assume it is of a greater number for such a short period. I understand Politic’s main purpose is not to detriment but to govern countries which is why I believe some african leaders (not naming anyone in particular) have misinterpreted the purpose of it. Some african countries dont remember the last time they had a different leader. Is it because Power is too sweet? Or is it because of the love of leading? As much as I try to be optimistic, I highly doubt these leaders are experienced enough to claim power and rule…
The following is a letter from former U.S. Senate candidate Prof. Mohammed Tahiro to U.S. President Barack Obama regarding Ethiopia’s General Election, which was held on 24 May 2015:-
May 27, 2015
President Barack Obama
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue
NW Washington, DC 20500
Dear Mr. President, Thank you for the opportunity to write to you on an issue that is important to me as well as the United States. Ethiopia held regional and parliamentary elections for the fifth time under the current Constitution on Sunday, May 24, 2015. Unlike previous elections, the current election was conducted in the absence of international observers. The African Union sent fifty six observers to monitor elections with over forty five thousand polling stations. The 2005 and 2010 elections were marred with serious allegations of vote rigging by the ruling EPRDF. The European Union and international human rights organizations had condemned the practices of the Ethiopian government as fraudulent and undemocratic. In 2010, the ruling party declared itself winner of 99.6 percent of parliamentary seats; out of a total of 547 seats, only 1 seat went to an opposition politician. Many people believe this alone is evidence enough to indict the government as illegitimate. In the years and months leading up to the current election, the government had allegedly been engaged in open prosecutions of opposition party leaders and supporters. There are credible reports of political killings throughout the country. In Oromia State, opposition leaders were detained, tortured, and some allegedly killed by an unpopular government determined to staying power. Allegations of widespread vote rigging have also been reported in Gondar and throughout the northern counties as well as the South. Opposition parties allege the Ethiopian Electoral Board is staffed by government operatives with the sole purpose of putting its seal of approval on a preordained outcome. Mr. President, diaspora-based independent media outlets, such as the Oromia Media Network (OMN) and others, have been reporting claims of harassment and abuses against opposition leaders and supporters perpetrated by the government. Entrenched political and economic interests are testing the legendary decency of the Ethiopian people. Contempt for the people and the rule of law has been the hallmark of this government. Their refusal to yield to the will of the people has nudged the country one step closer to a civil conflict. As an American, I believe supporting true democracy in Ethiopia is in the long term strategic interest of the United States. In the election held last Sunday, the ruling party printed the ballots, took possession of the ballots, manned the polling stations, and counted cast ballots. This is not a democratic process by any measure. MEDREK, a coalition of main opposition parties, has declared the election fraudulent and that it will not accept the outcome. The people of Ethiopia are demanding fair elections. Fair elections mean guaranteeing the integrity of the process. To that end, I’m asking you, Mr. president, to support the initiative to hold new elections in twenty four months, with at least one international observer from the United States, the United Nations, or the European union manning every polling station. Until such time as Ethiopia is ready to have an independent election commission, it’s only fair that the elections be conducted under the auspices of the United Nations. only then, can we even come close to guaranteeing the integrity of the process.
Thank you for your consideration and I eagerly await your response.
Mohammed Abbajebel Tahiro
Former U.S. Senate Candidate for the State of Texas
Election Delays Stable, Secure and Democratic Future for Ethiopia
UNPO, 24 May
Almost 37 million Ethiopians had registered to cast their ballots in Ethiopia’s parliamentary and regional elections which took place on Sunday 24 May 2015. Although the results will only be announced in June, history shows that the only winner will be the long-ruling Ethiopian Peoples’ Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF), led by incumbent Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn: the party is expected to “win” nearly all – if not all – of the 547 seats in parliament and thus form the Government. Since 2005 the EPRDF has engaged in repressing any dissent and political opposition in Ethiopia, cracking down on independent media and civil society organizations, while charging government critics under harsh anti-terrorism laws. This has left the country without any viable counter voice to the ruling party and resulted in highly controlled political participation – something which according to the Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF), Oromo Liberation Front (OLF) and Sidama Liberation Front (SLF) is reflected in Sunday’s “fake” election.
In 2010, the EPRDF won 99.6% of the parliamentary seats, with various election observation missions (EOMs), including that of the European Union, saying the election was marred by intimidations and harassment of opposition activists. Human Rights Watch stated that the victory was the “culmination of the government’s five-year strategy of systematically closing down space for political dissent and independent criticism”. Such allegations were repeated on the occasion of this year’s election, which was the first since the death of former PM Meles Zenawi, the man who transformed the EPRDF into a powerful political organisation, while completely disregarding international standards for democratic governance and respect for human rights. The Government has denied any allegations of misconduct and accused the opposition, as well as its archenemy Eritrea, of plotting a disruption of the vote. Just before the elections, PM Desalegn claimed: “We remain vigilant and confident that the general election will be peaceful, free and fair, notwithstanding destabilisation attempts that may be tried by Eritrea or its local emissaries, which we will respond to with stern measures”.
The National Election Board of Ethiopia claims that the environment created for political parties this year was exceptional. However, the only international body present to monitor the electoral process was the African Union, the headquarters of which is based in Addis Abeba. The European Union and the United States, which monitored the 2005 and 2010 elections, did not participated this time, and their recommendations from the previous years remain largely ignored. It should also be noted that already before the Election Day, human rights groups claimed on Saturday 23 May that the polls could not be free or fair due to a lack of freedom of speech and participation byindependent media.
According to Al Jazeera, the voting process itself was smooth but the fractured opposition has complained of irregularities in the run-up to the election and of harassment and intimidation of their supporters. Furthermore, opposition groups also complained that several of their members were detained. Despite all these allegations, on the day of the election, the African Union’s EOM stated that the electoral process was held in an “orderly manner”. The polls closed at 6 pm on Sunday, but the final results will only be released by the National Electoral Board after 22 June 2015.
In a joint statement released the day after the elections, the Ogaden National Liberation Front, the Oromo Liberation Front and the Sidama Liberation Front put forth that the elections were not an expression of the democratic will of all the people, and that the preparation, the process and the final results of this election were and will be intentionally flawed. Therefore, according to international standards, the election process cannot be considered free, fair and impartial. The three liberation fronts also argue that is not an accident that the international community opted out of observing this election, and instead purposely kept away to avoid legitimising this fake excercise of democracy. The complete statement is available here.
As highlighted during the latest in a series of conferences organised by UNPO, entitled “Cartoon Democracy: Authoritarian Rule and Elections in Ethiopia”, UNPO deeply regrets that ethnic and political opposition groups in Ethiopia were once again deprived of their basic right to freely participate in determining the future course of their country. This should serve as a wake-up call for the EU, US and UK – the three largest development donors to Ethiopia – to better monitor and condition how their funds are being spent and to increase their support to democracy and human rights. Otherwise, the much praised stability of Ethiopia is very much at risk.
In Bule Hora university, ethnic Oromo students broke through security and closed the polling station citing ”no need to vote if it will not be counted properly”.
Two Observers killed in Kofele Arsi and Ambo , also over 500 Obsrvers are jailed.
About 85% of nearly 36 million Ethiopians casted their votes, says the National Election board of the country. The board has said the election was peaceful, free and fair. The only international observer, the African Union mission, on its part has said the election has met their standards.
Addis Ababa remains largely calm following Election Day, yesterday. Security has clashed with protesters in Oromia, the largest and most populous state that has seen large pro-opposition rallies over the last weeks. At least one killed in Midakengi district of west Shewa in election related violence.
Compared to the rest of the country, turnout was low in Addis Ababa and there are many reports of voter intimidation, observers harassment, and other irregularities. In places where results are announced, the incumbent regime has won most of the votes. The opposition has dismissed these results citing they are rigged.
In Oromia region, the situation is very tense. In West Shewa zone that had seen large crowds of demonstrations in support of the opposition Oromo Federalist Congress (OFC), and a stronghold, there has been number of incidents of disputes and conflicts. In some places such as Gudar, dispute between observers, between voters and observers, voters and reps of election board escalated to confrontation. In other places such as Gindeberet, local militia opened fire on the local voters harming some of them.
Eye witness are reporting reinforcement and deployment of large regime security forces to districts such as Cheliya, Ambo, Toke-Kutaye, Bako, Jeldu, Dandi, Gindeberet and Midakengi. These areas had also seen widespread protests last year against the Addis Ababa master plan.
The opposition bloc Medrek has claimed that over 90% of its observers were chased away from polling stations by security of the ruling party. According to reports over the last hours, situation remains very tense after one individual was killed in Arsi zone, another one also was killed in Hadiya in SNNPR.
In Bule Hora university, ethnic Oromo students broke through security and closed the polling station citing ”no need to vote if it will not be counted properly”.
The Ethiopian regime has already declared it is a winner through its affiliated websites and openly on its state radio. The regime will likely continue its 99.6% share of the parliament, even more if not. — Korma
Ethiopia’s May 24 Parliamentary and Regional Elections
May 27, 2015
Marie Harf Deputy Department Spokesperson, Office of the Spokesperson
May 27, 2015
The United States commends the people of Ethiopia for their civic participation in generally peaceful parliamentary and regional elections on May 24. We acknowledge the National Electoral Board’s organizational efforts and the African Union’s role as the only international observer mission on the ground. We also note the importance of the nine televised party debates as progress in fostering open public discussion of the challenges facing the country. We encourage all candidates, political parties and their supporters to resolve any outstanding differences or concerns peacefully in accordance with Ethiopia’s constitution and laws.
The United States remains deeply concerned by continued restrictions on civil society, media, opposition parties, and independent voices and views. We regret that U.S. diplomats were denied accreditation as election observers and prohibited from formally observing Ethiopia’s electoral process. Apart from the election observation mission fielded by the African Union, there were no international observer missions on the ground in Ethiopia. We are also troubled that opposition party observers were reportedly prevented from observing the electoral process in some locations.
A free and vibrant media, space for civil society organizations to work on democracy and human rights concerns, opposition parties able to operate without impediment, and a diversity of international and domestic election observers are essential components for free and fair elections. The imprisonment and intimidation of journalists, restrictions on NGO activities, interference with peaceful opposition party activities, and government actions to restrict political space in the lead-up to election day are inconsistent with these democratic processes and norms.
The United States has a broad and strong partnership with Ethiopia and its people. We remain committed to working with the Ethiopian Government and its people to strengthen Ethiopia’s democratic institutions, improve press freedom, and promote a more open political environment consistent with Ethiopia’s international human rights obligations.
Blue Party Wins in Addis Ababa with 61.9%, Medrek Wins in Oromia with 52.1%
(Eritrean Press) – IT IS A LANDSLIDE FOR THE OPPOSITIONS
Allen Connelly, a western representative for the exit poll organizing group said, “The exit poll was carried out by a coalition of university student volunteers from Addis Ababa, Jimma and Adama.”
Independent team of college students randomly surveyed thousands of voters statewide on Sunday. The exit poll reportedly cross-examined thousands voters from Oromia and all 10 districts of Addis Ababa. All voters surveyed were asked for their party selection, their age and their ethnicity.
Mr Connelly said his group organized exit polls in Addis Ababa and Oromia state because of shortage of volunteers in other states. Two volunteers were arrested (then later released) by police in Dire Dawa and Ambo while operating the exit polls, added Mr Connelly.
According to the exit poll final results, the ruling party EPRDF received 26.4 percent of the votes in Oromia while the opposition party Medrek got nearly 52.1% (most of them in central and western Oromia zones.)
The OFC branch of Medrek and OPDO branch of EPRDF were the most popular parties mentioned by Oromia voters during the exit polls.
The EDP, UDJ, AEUO and other small opposition parties collectively received only 21.5% in Oromia, according to the survey.
In Addis Ababa city, the unofficial results show the opposition Blue Party won the election with 61.9% while the EDP, UDJ, Medrek and AEUO got a combined 30.6% and the ruling party EPRDF received only 7.5%. The AEUO and EDP parties were more popular among the older age city voters while the city youth overwhelmingly selected the Blue Party. Many Blue Party voters cited previous UDJ (Andinet Party) affiliation.
Among those Addis Ababa voters who voted for all the opposition (92.5%); nearly 38% identified themselves as Amhara ethnic groups, 21.5% mixed ethnic group, 17% as Oromo, 14.5% as Gurage and the rest were smaller ethnicities.
Some voters complained about the ballot box malfunction and many eyewitnessed opposition party election observers being harassed by the police. The majority voters during the exit poll said they have no confidence that their vote will be counted.
In Pictures/Videos: Review of the Historic Oromo Nationals’ Rallies for OFC/Medrek in Oromia (April/May 2015)
VOA: Mr. Elias Hadero, Hadiya National & Medrek Candidate in Southern Region, Claims Vote Rigging.
VOA: Mr. Elias Hadero, a Hadiya National and a Regional Parliament candidate of the Ethiopian Social Democracy-Southern Ethiopian People’s Democratic Union (a Medrek party), explains the vote rigging in the Southern Nations, Nationalities and Peoples’ Region. http://gadaa.net/FinfinneTribune/2015/05/voa-mr-elias-hadero-hadiya-national-medrek-candidate-in-southern-region-claims-vote-rigging/
No Democracy in Ethiopia. No fair and free election in Ethiopia. Caamsaa 24/2015 Mooraan Yuunibarsiitii Jimmaa, Mattuu, Wallaggaa, Amboo, fi Dirree Dawaa addatti humni waraanaa guddaan itti seenee jira.
OLF Statement: The Ethiopian sham election serves only the dictatorial government
The Ethiopian sham election serves only the dictatorial government
The Tigray dictatorial ruling class was built on excessive military power. The regime indulged the country into extreme poverty. The corruption of the ruling class was one of the main machinery that put the country into the highest level of economic inequalities where the few members of the ruling class became the richest and the majority of the citizens are unable to even earn their daily bread. This high level of inequality resulted into absolute poverty, migration and loss of lives of hundreds of thousands of people. Today hundreds of thousands of Ethiopian people are living in hunger and insecurity in their own country. Some are cherished in Sahara desert and Mediterranean Sea while they were trying to escape from unfair and abusive government. For the last 24 years, since the Tigray ruling class came to power, the corruption, displacement of people and human rights abuses have increased with the tremendous speed. This misery darken the political space and eradicated people’s hope for democracy. The Ethiopian people have been denied political freedom and rights of expression of their opinions. In this current regime, it is a crime to have different political opinion rather than supporting the Tigray ruling class’s party. The Ethiopian regime recorded highest level of Human rights abuses, killings, and intimidations not only in African continent but also in the world. The Tigray ruling class came to power with military force; it has built its dictatorial regime on military power and will continue to do so. One party dictatorship rule was the vision they had from the very beginning. They proved their vision within the last 24 years. In the future, they want to rule Ethiopia under one party dictatorship rule. The Tigray ruling class never listened to the Ethiopian people, nor willing to listen in the future. The responses to peoples’ questions were imprisonments, tortures and killings. The main priority for the Tigray ruling class is to stay on power. One of the strategy they designed to stay on power is to carry out fake election every five years. The last four elections proved that the ruling class is the most dictatorial regime on the planet. This 5th election that will take place on May 24, 2015 is not different from the previous elections. This election will not make any change to the political system and democracy in the country but it is only to renew the power of the ruling class for the next 5 years. This election is not democratic and not expected to fulfil the interest of the Ethiopian people. The election board is established by the current ruling class; the so called participating political parties are not treated fairly; the members of the opposition parties are arrested, harassed and beaten; the election process do not follow the democratic principle. Therefore, one can easily to judge the outcome of such unfair and sham election. The Ethiopian people was struggling for peace and democracy for several years. Among the people struggling for their rights the Oromo people was on the forefront. The Oromo people was struggling for many years and made huge sacrifices to regain their freedom and democracy. The Oromo people is not struggling to gain nominal seats in dictatorial government system but to become free from a century long political, economic and social domination. This objective cannot be achieved through participating in the election organised by the dictatorial ruling class. Particularly to the Oromo youngsters and students, you have made significant sacrifices to move the Oromo struggle forward. In order to make your sacrifices yield a fruit, you must continue your struggle for freedom and democracy. Participating in this fake election means that you forget the sacrifices your brothers and sisters made. Participating in this election means that you’re building the power of your perpetrators. From many years’ experience, the OLF knows the plan and behaviour the Tigray ruling class. The OLF knows that this regime is not prepared to leave its position even if they lose the election, which is unlikely within the current election process. Therefore, the OLF wants to inform the Ethiopian people in general and the Oromo people in particular, that this election stands only to serve the Tigray ruling class and to keep them in power for the next 5 years. This election does not fulfils the interest the Ethiopian people and do not lead to peace, stability and economic development of the country. The OLF wants to remind the Oromo and other people in Ethiopia that it should not mislead by this sham election. Particularly to the Oromo people, you are the first target of the Tigray ruling class. The power and strength of this regime works against you. So the OLF remind you to stay away from any activity, including the current election that build the Tigray regime and keep them in power. Victory to the Oromo people! Oromo Liberation Front May 23, 2015
Filannoon Fakkeessaa fi Kijibaa Abbootii Irree malee Ummatoota hin Fayyadu.
Filannoon Fakkeessaa fi Kijibaa Abbootii Irree malee Ummatoota hin Fayyadu. Bittaan gita bittoota Tigraay ummatootaa Itophiyaa irratti humna qawween of irroomse Itophiyaa tarree biyyoota hiyyeeyyii keessaa baasuu hin dandeenye. Kadhaa gargaarsa alagaa irraa argamuun jireessuu keessaa baasuu dadhabee har’as taanaan Impaayerittiin hiriira biyyoota gargaarsaan jiraatan keessatti akka hiriirtetti jirti. Saaminsi daangaa dhabe murna aangoo irra jiruun adeemsifamu abbootii aangoo duroomsee lammiilee sadarkaa of jiraachisuu dadhabuu fi abdii dhabuu irraa, kanneen osoo jireenya barbaadanii galaana keessatti dhuman, biyyoota gara garaa keessatti haala suukanneessaa fi gaddisiisaan ajjeefaman lakkoobsi guddaa dha. Bilisa tahanii gurmaa’uun, yaada qaban ibsatuun guutummaatti yakkatti fudhatamee hidhaa, ajjeechaa fi roorroo gosa gara garaa lammiilee irraan gahuun Itophiyaan biyyoota Afriikaa irra dabree sadarkaa addunyaatti iyyuu tarree duraa keessatti argamuun haala qabatamaa biyyattii keessaa ibsa. Saaminsi, cunqursaan, buqqa’insi fi dhiittaan mirga dhala namaa waggoota 24 dabraniif adeemsifamee fi sadarkaan har’a irra gahe egeree biyyattii kan dukkaneesse, ummatoota kan abdii dhabsiise dha. Wayyaaneen qawween dhufe. Qawweenis jiraate. Fuula duras Itophiyaa abbaa irrummaa paartii tokkoo jala tursuun murtii isaa bosonaa qabatee dhufe tahuun kan shakkamu miti. Ammas kana ifaan labsatee jira. Mootummaan Wayyaanee, ummatootni maal barbaadan? maal gaafataa jiran? Maalis hawwan? jedhee yaada ummatootaa hubatee gaaffii isaaniif deebii kennuuf kan fedhii hin qabne tahuu irraa gaaffiin ummatootaa deebii hin argatiin jiran. Kan Wayyaaneetti fardii, akkaataa itti aangoo humnaan argate tiksatuu danda’u irratti bobba’uu qofa. Waan taheef aangoo isaatti iggitii godhatuuf mala adda addaatti fayyadama. Tooftaalee aangoo irra ittiin of tursuuf itti gargaaramaa turee fi jiru keessaa filannoon kijibaa waggaa shan shanitti adeemsifamu isa tokko. Filannoon Caamsaa 24, 2015 itti baallamamee jirus Wayyaanee aangomsuun alatti faydaa biraa argamsiisu hin qabu. Sababootni isaas haalli filannoon kun ittiin adeemsifamu kan ulaagaa filannoo dimokraatwaa hin guutne tahuu qofa osoo hin taane murni Wayyaanee sagalee ummataan aangoo kan gadi hin dhiisne tahuu murteeffatuu irraa ti. Filannoon 5ffaa kun filannoota kanaan duraa irraas addummaa hin qabu. Kan filannoo kana mataa itti tahuun geggeessaa jiru boordiin filannoo kan sirnichaan sirnichaaf utubame dha. Kana waliin dorsisii fi dinniinni, hidhaa fi dhaaninsi mootummaa Wayyaaneen ummatoota irratti raawwatamaa jiru nageenya isaa kan gaaffii jala galche, bilisummaa isaa haqee sodaa itti bulche dha. ABOn akeekaa fi amala Wayyaanee bareechee waan beekuuf, akkasumas, itti bahi filannoo iftoomina hin qabnee, haqa irratti hin hundoofnee fi dimokraatawaa hin taanee maal akka tahu waan hubatuuf filannoo Caamsaa 24, 2015 hawwii fi fedhiin ummatootaa ittiin guutamaa irraa hin eegu. Kana irraa ka’uudhaanis yeroo gara garaatti ummatootni Itophiyaa addatti ammo ummatni Oromoo filannoo fakkeessii Wayyaanee akka lagatu waamichaa kan dabarsaa ture. Har’a Itophiyaa keessatti jibbinsa Wayyaanee fi sirna cunqursaa Wayyaaneen durfamu irraa ummatootni qabsoo hadhaawaa geggeessaa fi gaaffiilee adda addaa kaasaa jiran. Kanneen sirnicha irratti mormii finiinsaa jiran keessaa ummatni Oromoo durummaan hiriiree argama. Ummatni Oromoo kan ilmaan isaa wareegaa jiru, qabeenya isaa itti dhabaa fi baqaaf saaxilamee mankaraaruu irratti argamu, filannoo kijibaa keessatti hirmaatee barcuma lamaas tahe kudha lama argatuuf miti. Rakkoo siyaasaa, dinagdee fi hawaasummaa jaarraa tokkoo oliif irratti saare dhabamee walabummaan isaa dhugoomee bilisa tahee jiraachuufi. Akeeknii fi hawwiin ummata Oromoo kun ammoo filannoo sirna abbaa irrummaa jalatti geggeeffamuun tasa hin argamu. Waan taheef ummatni Oromoo haqa kana hubatuun furaan dhibdee isaa qabsoon malee kan hin argamne tahuu beekee, filannoo kijibaan akka hin dagamne ABO irra deebi’ee gadi jabeessee hubachiisuu fedha. Filannoo kana keessatti hirmaatuun mootummaa irratti qabsaawaa jiru seeressuu qofa taha. Filannoo mootummaa farra ummata Oromoo irroomsu keessatti qooda fudhatuun haada sirnichi mormatti nu kaa’ee jiru ofitti jabeessuu qofa taha. Addatti ammo dargaggoon Oromoo qabsoo bilisummaa Oromoo fuula dura tarkaanfachiisuu keessatti wareegamni baasaa turtanii fi jirtan akka firii godhatu dandeessisuuf Fincila Diddaa Gabrummaa jabeessuun filmaata isa duraa akka tahetti itti fufsiisuun murteessaa dha. Morkaa fi xiqiin ykn jibbiinsa Wayyaanee qofa irraa ka’uun filannoo kijibaa jala gugatuun wareegama kanaan dura baafame irratti bishaan naquu taha. Waan taheef ummatni keenya sochii aangoo mootummaa Wayyaanee seeressuu kamuu lagatuun mirga isaa qabsoo isaan harka galfatuuf akka qabsoo isaa finiinsu ABO gadi jabeessee waamicha isaa haaromsa. Injifatnoo Ummata Oromoof! Adda Bilisummaa Oromoo Caamsaa 18, 2015
Ethiopia’s election is a wake-up call on human rights and sound governance
By Daniel Calingaert and Kellen McClure The Guardian, Saturday 23 May 2015
‘Ethiopia’s elections are just an exercise in controlled political participation.’ Jason Mosley
On Sunday, millions of Ethiopians will line up at polling stations to participate in Africa’s largest exercise of political theatre. A decade-long campaign by Ethiopia’s government to silence dissent forcibly has left the country without a viable political opposition, without independent media, and without public challenges to the ruling party’s ideology.
For most Ethiopians, these elections are a non-event.
The one potential dividend of these sham polls, however, is the international attention they will garner for the government’s growing political repression. The blatant disregard for internationally recognised standards for free and fair elections just might convince Ethiopia’s largest donors that it is time to rethink their relationship with an increasingly authoritarian government.
As long as democratic governance and respect for human rights are pushed aside by donors in favour of economic development and security cooperation, Ethiopia’s long-term stability is at serious risk.
Since 2005, the ruling Ethiopian Peoples’ Revolutionary Democratic Front’s (EPRDF) has cracked down on independent media and human rights groups.
In 2009, parliament passed the charities and societies proclamation, which placed restrictive regulations on non-government organisations, including limitations on foreign funding. Today,only a handful of these groups exist, and most are struggling to survive.
The preferred government strategy for eliminating independent media is to file criminal charges against publishers, and to impose hefty fines and prison terms. When lawsuits do not succeed, the government simply arrests journalists, as occurred last year when bloggers and journalists affiliated with the Zone 9 blogging collective were apprehended. The group remains imprisoned and charged as terrorists.
Post-election, the EPRDF, secure in its hold on power, might be willing to allow a small degree of dissent: Ethiopian officials are increasingly wary of reactions by the international community to the crackdown on critics and in 2013 published a national human rights action plan.
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The US, UK and European Union – Ethiopia’s largest donors – need to increase their support for democracy and human rights because much can be done right now.
Despite years of political repression, a new generation of human rights defenders is slowly emerging. The Zone 9 bloggers represented this new generation, using new technologies to educate fellow Ethiopians on exercising and defending their rights.
The human rights and democracy groups that remain are finding creative ways to conduct their work. This includes working with traditional development organisations, which the government generally tolerates, or focusing on seemingly apolitical issues, such as government accountability and corruption, that are important in strengthening Ethiopia’s democracy.
Donor countries fall short in their support for these groups. In the US, President Barack Obama’s latest budget request includes some $400m (£257m) in assistance to Ethiopia – but only $2m of it is for democracy and human rights programming.
The UK is equally parsimonious in democracy support. One reason is that the EPRDF makes it difficult for domestic groups to accept outside aid.
Donors could take concrete action right now. First, supporting off-shore programming allows activists to travel outside Ethiopia to get technical and strategic advice. Second, donors’ strategies for Ethiopia should include funds specifically dedicated to strengthening independent media outlets and journalists; the EU intends to take this step after the election.
Placards belonging to protestors outside the Foreign Commonwealth Office to demand the immediate release of UK citizen, Andargachew Tsege, who is being held in incommunicado detention in Ethiopia, having been kidnapped in Yemen in June 2014. Facebook Twitter Pinterest
A poster demanding the release of UK citizen Andargachew Tsege, who was kidnapped in Yemen last June and is being held in Ethiopia. Photograph: Stephen Chung/Alamy
Also, donors can find ways around foreign funding restrictions by pushing for the creation of funding pools considered local under Ethiopian law. The EU did this in 2011, when it created the Civil Society Fund, providing assistance to local human rights and democracy groups. The US should use its economic and diplomatic leverage to do likewise, a move that would provide a much-needed lifeline for these groups.
Greater funding for human rights will be vital for Ethiopian activists, whose reach has been limited by the charities and societies proclamation.
Before that came into being six years ago, the country’s leading human rights organisation, the Ethiopian Human Rights Council (EHRCO), operated with a budget of $400,000 and 60 employees.
Today, its budget is less than half that figure, and staffing is down 80%. The only thing keeping EHRCO alive is financial aid from the EU Civil Society Fund.
Ethiopia receives nearly $4bn in official development assistance. This is more than any other country in Africa and makes up a significant portion of the government’s annual budget. If the US, UK, EU and Canada coordinated policies, Ethiopia would have to respond to their human rights and democracy concerns.
Ethiopia’s election should be a wake-up call for the international community. With each successive election that does not allow genuine choice, both apathy and resentment grow, and Ethiopia risks falling prey to the same instability that has plagued its neighbours.
Daniel Calingaert is executive vice-president of Freedom House. Kellen McClure is an advocacy officer in its Africa programmes.
Even by Ethiopia’s own standard, the 2015 elections appear to be far less competitive than the last two polls. The country’s one-time vocal opposition is all but decimated, in part because of their own undoing but largely due to the ever-tightening political space and the lack of freedom to organize.
Ethiopia: Onslaught on human rights ahead of elections
Amnesty International, 22 May 2015
The run-up to Ethiopia’s elections on Sunday has been marred by gross, systematic and wide-spread violations of ordinary Ethiopians’ human rights, says Amnesty International.
“The lead-up up to the elections has seen an onslaught on the rights to freedom of expression, association and assembly. This onslaught undermines the right to participation in public affairs freely and without fear as the government has clamped down on all forms of legitimate dissent,” said Muthoni Wanyeki, Amnesty International’s Regional Director for East Africa, the Horn and the Great Lakes.
The Ethiopian authorities have jailed large numbers of members of legally registered opposition political parties, journalists, bloggers and protesters. They have also used a combination of harassment and repressive legislation to repress independent media and civil society.
The lead-up up to the elections has seen an onslaught on the rights to freedom of expression, association and assembly. This onslaught undermines the right to participation in public affairs freely and without fear as the government has clamped down on all forms of legitimate dissent.
In the run-up to Sunday’s elections, opposition political party members report increased restrictions on their activities. The Semayawi (Blue) Party informed Amnesty International that more than half of their candidates had their registration cancelled by the National Electoral Board. Out of 400 candidates registered for the House of Peoples Representatives, only 139 will be able to stand in the elections.
On 19 May, Bekele Gerba and other members of the Oromo Federalist Congress (OFC)-Medrek were campaigning in Oromia Region when police and local security officers beat, arrested and detained them for a couple of hours.
On 12 May, security officers arrested two campaigners and three supporters of the Blue Party who were putting up campaign posters in the capital Addis Ababa. They were released on bail after four days in detention.
In March, three armed security officers in Tigray Region severely beat Koshi Hiluf Kahisay, a member of the Ethiopian Federal Democratic Unity Forum (EFDUD) Arena-Medrek. Koshi Hiluf Kahisay had previously received several verbal warnings from security officials to leave the party or face the consequences.
In January, the police violently dispersed peaceful protesters in Addis Ababa during an event organized by the Unity for Democracy and Justice Party (UDJ). Police beat demonstrators with batons, sticks and iron rods on the head, face, hands and legs, seriously injuring more than 20 of them.
At least 17 journalists, including Eskinder Nega, Reeyot Alemu and Wubishet Taye, have been arrested and charged under the Anti-Terrorism Proclamation (ATP), and sentenced to between three and 18 years in prison. Many journalists have fled to neighboring countries because they are afraid of intimidation, harassment and attracting politically motivated criminal charges.
Civil society’s ability to participate in election observation has been restricted under the Charities and Societies Proclamation (CSP) to only Ethiopian mass based organizations aligned with the ruling political party.
Amnesty International calls on the Africa Union Election Observation Mission (AU EOM) currently in Ethiopia to assess and speak to the broader human rights context around the elections in both their public and private reporting. It also calls on the AU EOM to provide concrete recommendations to address the gross, systematic and widespread nature of violations of the rights to freedom of expression, association and assembly which have undermined the right to participate in public affairs freely and without fear.
“The African Union’s election observers have a responsibility to pay attention to human rights violations specific to the elections as well as more broadly,” said Wanyeki. “The African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights protects the right of Ethiopians to freely participate in their government. This right has been seriously undermined by violations of other civil and political rights in the lead-up to the elections.”
Amnesty International has been monitoring, documenting and reporting on the human rights situation in Ethiopia for more than four decades.
Since the country’s last elections in 2010, the organization has documented arbitrary and politically motivated arrests and detentions, torture and other ill-treatment, as well as gross, systematic and wide-spread violations of the rights to freedom of expression and association.
European Parliament Discusses Situation in Ethiopia ahead of 24 May Election: Is the EU Evaluating an Ambiguous Tradeoff?
UNPO, 22 May 2015
On 20 May 2015, the situation in Ethiopia ahead of the 24 May parliamentary election was discussed during the European Parliament’s monthly plenary session in Strasbourg. After an introductory statement on the EU’s policy towards Ethiopia by Commissioner Christos Stylianides, speaking on behalf of EU foreign affairs chief Federica Mogherini, MEPs from across Europe and the political spectrum were given the opportunity to express their point of view on the issue. While several MEPs expressed deep concern for the human rights situation in Ethiopia, especially in the Ogaden region, and argued that the EU should make better use of its power and funds, others underlined the importance of maintaining a good relationship with the country, considered to be a cornerstone for stability in the Horn of Africa. Overall, the debate largely reflected the EU’s dilemma of a constant tradeoff between economic/security related interests and its core values of human rights, democracy and the rule of law.
That Ethiopia is an important partner to the European Union, especially thanks to the stabilising role it plays in the Horn of Africa and in countering religious extremists such as Al Shaabab, is hardly any breaking news. Neither is the important progress the country has made in terms of economic development in recent years. And yet, this is what the statement of the EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy/ Commission Vice-President Federica Mogherini emphasised, while also, albeit rather softly, approaching the problems surrounding the upcoming Ethiopian election. While recognising that 24 May will not signify a victory for pluralist democracy with a free and fair plebiscite, the statement continued by stressing that the EU has raised its concerns with the Ethiopian government and that democratic transition always takes time.
Among the MEPs participating in the debate, Davor Ivo Stier (EPP), Miroslav Piotrovski (ECR), Cécile Kyenge (S&D), Lidia Senra Rodriguez (GUE), Jordi Sebastiá (EFA/Greens), Bogdan Wenta (EPP), Fabio Massimo Castaldo (EFDD), Josef Weidenholzer (S&D), Alessia Mosca (S&D), Julie Ward (S&D) and Ana Gomes (S&D) expressed great concern with regards to the human rights situation in the country, referring to, amongst others, the appalling statistics on imprisoned and exiled journalists and the difficulties faced by opposition groups who had tried to register for the elections. Many of the aforementioned also highlighted the fact that the previous elections, in 2005 and 2010 respectively, to which the EU had sent election observation missions, had been declared ‘not fair’ – a criticism bluntly rejected by Ethiopia.
The alarming situation in the Ogaden region, where trade and humanitarian embargos, accompanied by severe repression and human rights violations, including systematic rape, are severely affecting the population, was raised by Julie Ward, Ana Gomes, Josef Weidenholzer and Jordi Sebastiá. Well informed about the dynamics in the Horn of Africa, they warned that the situation in Ethiopia is all but stable; on the contrary the Ethiopian Government’s repressive policies are providing fertile ground for extremists to operate on.
Moreover, many of the interventions echoed that the EU and its Member States should be bolder in conditioning development funds to Ethiopia on the respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms. Also highlighted was the importance of carefully monitoring these funds and making sure that they are actually used for development projects, rather than to finance crackdown on dissidents and political opposition movements. In this context, it was recommended that the EU issue a statement ahead of the elections, or immediately after, stating clearly that it does not consider these elections a manifestation of democracy.
Another line of argument was maintained by MEPs Louis Michel (ALDE), James Carver (EFDD), Marie-Christine Arnautu (non-attached) and Steeve Briois (non-attached), who argued that although the EU should encourage Ethiopia to adhere to international human rights standards, the first priorities should be to keep a good relationship with the government and put even more emphasis of the question of regional stability.
Following the heated debate the ball was passed back to the Commission for the HR/VP’s response: whereas the EU will continue to engage in development efforts, it will also work towards strengthening human rights, and deepen its engagement to promote long-term democratisation in Ethiopia. This seemingly vague approach shows that the EU is currently facing a moral dilemma with regards to Ethiopia, whereby the economic and security interests at stake allow for a rather relaxed attitude towards Ethiopia even, if it is clear that the latter does not adhere to the Union’s core values of democracy, rule of law and respect for human rights, including minority rights.
Nevertheless, the announcement made during the Plenary session of HR/VP Mogherini’s intention to travel to Ethiopia in the near future could be seen as an opportunity for the EU to take a firmer stance on the human rights dimension of its relations with Ethiopia under the Cotonou Agreement, and to pressure for the embargo to be lifted and for international NGOs and journalists to be allowed access to the Ogaden region. Although it might be economically beneficial for the EU to maintain its soft approach to Ethiopia in the short term, UNPO firmly holds that the only way to achieve long-term stability and prosperity is through the unconditional fulfilment of the human rights of all Ethiopians, including the Ogaden and Oromo people.
You can access the list of speakers and the video of their statement on the European Parliament’s website(the discussion on the situation in Ethiopia started at 17:10).