Monthly Archives: May 2014

Ambo Protests: Spying the Spy?

This account of events that took place in early May in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, was originally posted on the blog Jen & Josh in Ethiopia: A Chronicle of Our Peace Corps Experience

As the authors note in their first post in their series about the Oromo student protests, they are no longer Peace Corps Volunteers. In their first post in the series, Ambo Protests: A Personal Account, Jen and Josh describe in gripping detail what they saw and heard from April 25 to May 1: Students and others in the town of Ambo began to protest against the Ethiopian government’s “master plan” to expand the territory of Addis Ababa and annex lands belonging to the state of Oromia.

Federal police hunted down Jen and Josh’s two young neighbors, who were university students, and shot and killed them in their own home, far away from the student protests. Jen and Josh decided to flee, witnessing hundreds of demonstrators packed into the prison at the Ambo police compound, many showing signs of having been beaten. With the intervention of the U.S. Embassy, the Ambo police authorities allowed Jen and Josh to leave. This post takes up their story from there.

After the protests and violence in Ambo, we fled to the capital city of Addis Ababa and stayed at a little hotel called Yilma. Immediately, we started telling everyone about what happened in Ambo. We called and texted our friends, we talked to anyone at the hotel that would listen, and we posted things on Facebook. If we tell everyone about the protesters in Ambo being imprisoned and killed, surely it will stop, we reasoned.

The next day, two strange men – one tall with dark skin, the other short with lighter skin – struck up a conversation with us in the hotel restaurant.

“We’re from Minnesota, here to visit our family in Wollega,” they said.
“Oh, we’re from St. Paul!” we replied, excited.
“Oh, we’re from St. Paul, too!” they said, pulling out a fake-looking Minnesota driver’s license.

The address said Worthington, not St. Paul.

“How long have you lived in St. Paul?’ we asked.
“Yes.” the tall man said, nervously.
“I mean…how long have you lived in St. Paul?” we said, slower.
“Just 2 weeks.”
“And you’re already back in Ethiopia. And you just drove through Ambo, past all the protests and the police, to visit your family in Wollega?” we asked, thinking about the single paved road that heads west through Ambo.
“Yes.” he replied.
“You must be very brave,” we said, thinking about how the road was closed due to the violence.
“Why?” he asked, baiting us with a stoic face.

We froze, afraid to speak further. At that moment, after 20 months in Ethiopia, we finally understood why so many people in Oromia are afraid of spies. When we first arrived in Ambo, people thought WE were C.I.A. spies, which we found amusing…spies who couldn’t even speak the language? If we had been spies, we certainly weren’t very good at our job. But now, the tables were turned.

The two men began following us around the hotel area, sitting next to us whenever possible, walking slowly past our table, then returning slowly past our table – sometimes up to 10 times per hour. A different man followed us to a restaurant about a mile from the hotel, then sat at the closest table to ours, rudely joining a young couple’s romantic dinner.

For the next three days, we stopped telling people about the protests and the imprisonments and the killings in Ambo. We were afraid that the two men would be listening. We were afraid that someone was monitoring our communications on the government-controlled cell phone service and the government-controlled internet. Were we just paranoid? Were we really being monitored? Maybe we had just integrated too much, to the point where we had become Oromo, afraid of government spies and afraid of speaking out and being put in jail. While being ferenji (foreigners) gave us some level of protection, thoughts of the Swedish journalists thrown into an Ethiopian jail in 2011 lingered in the backs of our minds. The journalists “were only doing their jobs, and human rights group Amnesty International said the journalists had been prosecuted for doing legitimate work.” Did we seem just as suspicious to the government as those Swedish journalists? We didn’t want to find out.

Peace Corps gave all the volunteers strict instructions NOT to blog or post on Facebook about the protests or killings across Oromia. It is just too dangerous to say anything about the Ethiopian government, they pointed out.

That’s when we decided to leave Ethiopia. For us, staying in Ambo, not ruffling any feathers, was not an option. How could we go back and pretend that our neighbors, students, and and fellow residents didn’t die or didn’t end up in prison?

To read more from the authors, or to share your appreciation, please visit their blog,Jen & Josh in Ethiopia: A Chronicle of Our Peace Corps Experience.

More posts about the crisis in Ethiopia:

Oromo Diaspora Mobilizes to Shine Spotlight on Student Protests in Ethiopia

Ethiopian Government Faces Grilling at UN

“Little Oromia” Unites to Advocate for Justice and Human Rights in Ethiopia

Diaspora Speaks for Deliberately Silenced Oromos; Ethiopian Government Responds to UN Review

Ambo Protests: A Personal Account (reposted from Jen & Josh in Ethiopia: A Chronicle of Our Peace Corps Experience)


Australia’s Oromo people rally in Canberra, Australia

(A4O, 30 May 2014) More than 400 Oromo across Victoria, NSW, QLD, TAS, SA and WA will be gathering at Canberra’s Parliament house in a bid to expose the Ethiopian government’s recent human rights violations dubbed “Oromo Protests”.

logo2Since April 25, leaked photographs and videos show Ethiopian security forces shooting live ammunition at unarmed students in universities across Oromia. Reports of 85 students are confirmed as dead, 500 protestors wounded and over 5000 people detained in unknown camp locations as the Ethiopian government restriction of public media is in full force.

In response, more than 30 international cities including Washington, Oslo, Tel Aviv and London have staged mass peace protests, picking up interest globally and trending heavily on social media. US Congress members have also released legislature on May 9 to publicly condemn the violence perpetrated by the Ethiopian government against its people as well as publicly acknowledge and urge the Ethiopian government to respect human rights and democratic processes.

The government violence in Ethiopia continues to escalate in a bid to silence dissent for the proposed land grabbing in the capital city Finfinne (Addis Ababa). The “Master Plan expansion” seeks to dispossess Oromo farmers and displace 1.1 million hectares of land.

Ethiopia’s human rights abuses are well documented by human rights watch and US state departments and the current Oromo protests has renewed support to launch an international investigation to bring the responsible perpetrators to justice.

Federal Melbourne MP, Adam Bandt called for support of the Oromo people during Oromo protests held at Victoria’s State Parliament House.

On Monday, Australian Oromo communities will call on the Australian government to set an example by using its influence in the United Nations to put political, economic and diplomatic pressures upon the Ethiopian government to stop its continued attack on Oromo lives, their political organisations, educational establishments and the right to self-determination.

400 people from Australian Oromo communities Victoria, NSW, QLD, TAS, SA and WA will be gathering at Parliament Drive in Canberra on Monday 2nd June at 10am.

For more information Australia’s Oromo people rally in Canberra, Australia

Waaqeffannaa Association Condemns Human Rights Violations in Oromia

(Melbourne, Victoria, 27 May 2014) – The Waaqeffannaa Association in Victoria Australia (WAVA), a non-profit religious organization incorporated under the Associations Incorporation Reform Act 2012 in Victoria, condemns the killing, torturing, and arresting of students in Oromia. As religious organisation, we affirm that life is sacred.

The situation in Oromia has been very disconcerting. The vast ongoing human rights violation by the government has urged the Waaqeffannaa Association in Victoria Australia (WAVA) to speak and condemn the ongoing onslaught on peaceful Oromo protestors. The level of instability in Oromia has never been more apparent than ever before.

Here is the press Release Waaqeffannaa Association Condemns Human Rights Violations in Oromia 25-05-2014

Ambo Protests: A Personal Account

Large truck overturned during protest

This account of events in the Oromia town of Ambo–events which began exactly one month ago, on April 25–was originally posted on the blog Jen & Josh in Ethiopia: A Chronicle of Our Peace Corps Experience.

Barricade on main road in Ambo

Disclaimer:  We are no longer Peace Corps Volunteers, and the following is a personal story, not a news report, and does not reflect the views of the U.S. Government, the Peace Corps, the Ethiopian Government, or the people of Ambo.

Friday, April 25th, the protests began in Ambo. We heard the sounds of a big crowd gathering at the university, walking east, yelling and chanting. The single paved road in town was barricaded, and traffic was diverted around the outskirts of town.

“What is going on?” we asked a group of high school boys.

“Oh, the students are angry. They have some problem,” they responded.

We called some friends at the university, who were able to explain further. Apparently, there are expansion plans for Addis Ababa, which would displace poor Oromo farmers and considerably shrink the size of the Oromia region. Justifiably, many Oromo people were upset. The Ethiopian Constitution guarantees the right to freedom of speech, press, and assembly, so demonstrations started across Oromia, mainly in towns with universities. Some of the protests turned violent.

Saturday, Sunday, and Monday were quiet, somewhat normal days in the town of Ambo. However, in other parts of Ethiopia, journalists and bloggers were arrested and thrown in jail.

Main road in Ambo, cars were burned in the streets

Tuesday morning, the protests resumed. Friends in town called us to warn us not to go into work and not to leave our compound. Apparently there were protests at the preparatory school and the federal police were in town. We stayed home all day, listening to the sounds of the protests, denying to ourselves that the ‘pop, pop, pop’ we heard in the afternoon was gunfire. That night, the government-run news station reported that there was a misunderstanding between Oromo university students and the government. Other online reports said that the protestors were defending the Oromo’s right to their land.

Wednesday morning, the protests resumed, and our friends emphasized NOT to leave the house and NOT to answer our front gate. This time, we heard sirens. Ambo only has one ambulance – no police cars or fire trucks – and it wasn’t the normal noise. Again, we heard the ‘pop, pop, pop,’ every few minutes. We poked our heads out of the compound gate and talked to our neighbor, who confirmed that they were, in fact, gun shots. Neighbors said the federal police had already shot and killed demonstrators who were participating in the protest. As we were finishing our conversation, a group of at least 30 adults ran past, glancing nervously behind themselves as they ran.

Maalif fiigtu? (Why are you running?)” I shouted.

Poliisii as dhufu! (The police are coming here!)” a man responded, ducking behind a corner.

An hour later, we headed to the nearest store to stock up on phone cards so we could put minutes on our cell phones and data on our internet device. The storekeeper is a tough older lady who doesn’t tolerate any nonsense.

“Maal taate? (What happened?)” we asked.

She paused, looking down at her hands, her eyes welling with tears.

“Hara’aa….sirrii miti, (Today… not right)” she said, fighting back tears.

Ironically, as we sat at home, listening to gunshots all day long, John Kerry was visiting Ethiopia, a mere 2 hours away in Addis Ababa, to encourage democratic development.

One of several vehicles burned during the protestsAround 3pm, while the sounds of the protests were far on the east side of town, we heard gunshots so close to our house that we both ducked reflexively. An hour later, we talked to a young man who said, numbly, “I carried their bodies from their compound to the clinic.” Our two young neighbors – university students – had been hunted down by the federal police and killed in their home while the protest was on the opposite side of town.

Other friends told us other violent stories of what was going on in town, including an incident at a bank. Apparently, students attempted to enter the bank, and one was shot by the police. Not being armed with weapons, protesters retaliated against the shooter by hanging him.

Another friend told us about 2 students who were shot and killed by the federal police in front of a primary school…again, far away from the protest.

Wednesday night, we slept fitfully, listening to the sounds of the federal police coming around our neighborhood. They were yelling over a bullhorn in Amharic, which we didn’t understand, but was later translated for us: “Stay inside your compound tonight and tomorrow.”

A restaurant/gym damaged during protestThursday, the bus station was closed and there weren’t any cars on the roads. That morning, a Peace Corps driver finally came to get us, looking terrified as he pulled up quickly to our house. We had to stop at the police station to get permission to leave town. While waiting at the station, we saw at least 50 people brought into the station at gunpoint, some from the backs of military trucks and many from a bus. Inside the police compound, there were hundreds of demonstrators overflowing the capacity of the prison, many of them visibly beaten and injured. After the U.S. Embassy requested our release, we headed out of town. The entire east side of town, starting from the bus station, was damaged. A bank, hotel, café, and many cars were damaged or burned. Our driver swerved to avoid the charred remains of vehicles sitting in the middle of the street.

We couldn’t help but shed tears at the sight of our beloved, damaged town.



To read more from the authors, visit their blog, Jen & Josh in Ethiopia: A Chronicle of Our Peace Corps Experience.

The History of Finfinne 

By Mekuria Bulcha

“Greater Addis Ababa” in the Making: Stop them or Keep Quiet and Perish

“The limits of tyrants are prescribed by the endurance of those whom they oppress.”

My intention with this paper is not to write the history of Addis Ababa or Finfinnee but to comment the appeal made by the Macha Tulama Association to the international community to stop the Ethiopian government’s plan to uproot Oromos from Finfinnee. The three episodes I have described below, is not only the story of Finfinnee but a piece of Oromo history. For Oromo uprooting to end the we have to stop lamenting about what “their enemies did to us” and start to fight back harder than ever before. Not to fight back resolutely when attacked invites the enemy to keep attacking their victims with increasing impunity and contempt. This is what is happening in Finfinnee today. And appeals to the international community is not going to protect us from those who are not tired dispossessing and humiliating us. It will only add to our humiliation. It is said that self-preservation is nature’s first law. This has been translated also as “the survival of the fittest”. I mean we should make real sacrifices to stop this outrageous violation of our human rights or keep quiet and disappear as a people.

Fredrick Douglas, the famous anti-slavery African American said in a speech he delivered in 1857 that “those who profess to favor freedom, and yet depreciate agitation, are men who want crops without plowing up the ground. They want rain without thunder and lightning. They want the ocean without the awful roar of its waters. This struggle may a moral one; or it may be a physical one; or it may be both moral and physical; but it must be a struggle. Power concedes nothing without demand. It never did, and it never will. Find out just what people will submit to, and you have found out the exact amount of injustice and wrong which will be imposed upon them; and these will continue till they are resisted with either words or blows, or with both. The limits of tyrants are prescribed by the endurance of those whom they oppress.”

Fredrick Douglas’s words have a lot of relevance for our situation; and is applicable to our present concern. Most of us are talking about freedom all the time but are doing practically nothing to make it a reality. We are “men who want crops without plowing the ground.”

Episode I: Finfinnee or Finfinni in 1843

As many of us know, the Amharic speaking community of Menz started to expand from its mountain nests in the early eighteenth century to become the kingdom of Shawa at the time of Sahle Selassie who ruled it from 1813 to 1847. In 1843, Sahle Sellasie went on one of the predatory raids he used to conduct twice or three times against the Abichu, Galan, Sululta etc Oromo bordering on kingdom of Shawa. Major W. C. Harris who was sent on a diplomatic mission to Shawa leading a British delegation and followed Sahle Sellasie on many of his raiding expeditions against the Oromo during the 18 months he stayed in the country and reported what he witnessed as follows in his three volumes long book The Highlands of Aethiopia (1844). The following is an extract from Vol. II, Chapter XXIII. What Harris says in the following quotations was also corroborated by L. Krapf and Isenberg in their reports about the visit they made to Shawa during the same period.

The Raiding and Looting Expedition

“Hundreds of cattle grazed in tempting herds over the flowery meads [meadows]. Unconscious of danger, the unarmed husbandman [herdsman] pursued his peaceful occupation in the field; his wife and children carolled blithely over their ordinary household avocations; and the ascending sun shone bright on smiling valleys, which, long before his going down, were left tenanted [occupied] only by the wolf and the vulture.”

“Preceded by the holy ark of St. Michael, … the King … led the van, closely attended by the father confessor, with whom having briefly conferred, he turned towards the expectant army, and pronounced the ominous words which were the well-known signal for carrying fire and sword through the land – “May the God who is the God of my forefathers, strengthen and absolve!”

“Rolling on like the waves of the mighty waves of the ocean, down poured the Amhara host among the rich glades and rural hamlets, at the heels of the flying inhabitants – tramping under foot the fields of the ripening corn, in parts half reaped, and sweeping before them the vast herds cattle which grazed untended in every direction. When far beyond the range of vision, their destructive progress was still marked by the red flames that burst forth in turn from the thatched roofs of each village; and the havoc committed many miles to the right by the division of Abagaz Maretch, who was advancing parallel to the main body, and had been reinforced by the detachment under Ayto Shishigo, became equally manifest in numerous columns of white smoke, towering upwards to the azure firmament [sky] in rapid succession.”

[THEY DESCEND ON FINFINNE] “…the eye of the despot [Sahle Sellasie] gleamed bright with inward satisfaction, whilst watching through a telescope [one of the gifts from the British delegation] the progress of the flanking detachments, as they poured impetuously down the steep side of the mountain, and swept across the level plain … A rapid detour thence to the westward in an hour disclosed the beautifully secluded valley of Finfinni, which, in addition to … high cultivation, and snug hamlets, boasted a large share of natural beauty. Meadows of the richest green turf, sparkling clear rivulets leaping down in sequestered cascades, with shady groves of the most magnificent juniper lining the slopes, and waving their moss-grown branches above cheerful groups of circular wigwams, surrounded by implements of agriculture, proclaimed a district which had long escaped the hand of wrath. This had been selected as the spot for the royal plunder and spoliation, and the troops, animated by the presence of the monarch, now performed their bloody work with a sharp and unsparing knife-firing village after village until the air was dark with their smoke mingled with the dust raised by the impetuous rush of man and horse.”

“The luckless inhabitants, taken quite by surprise, had barely time to abandon their property, and fly [flee]for their lives to the fastness of Entotto … The spear of the warrior searched every bush for the hunted foe. Women and girls were torn from their hiding to be hurried into helpless captivity [to be used or sold as slaves]. Old men and young were indiscriminately slain and mutilated among the fields and groves; flocks and herds were driven off in triumph, and house after house was sacked and consigned to the flames. … Whole groups and families were surrounded and speared within the walled courted yards, which were stewed with the bodies of the slain. [Those] who betook themselves to the open plain were pursued and hunted down like wild beasts; children of three and four years of age, who had been placed in the trees [by their parents] with the hope that they might escape observation, were included in the inexorable massacre, and pitilessly shot among the branches. In the course of two hours the division left the desolated valley laden with spoil, and carrying with them numbers of wailing females and mutilated orphan children [this was what happened also to Balcha Safo when he was captured by Menelik], together with the barbarous trophies that had been stripped from the mangled bodies of their murdered victims.”

“The hoarse scream of the vulture as she wheeled in funeral circles over this appalling scene of carnage and devastation, mingled with the crackling of falling roofs and rafters from the consuming [burning] houses, alone disturbed the grave-like silence of the dreary and devoted spot, so lately resounding to the fiendish shouts and war whoops of the excited warriors, and to the unpitied groans of their helpless captives. …, gloomy columns of smoke rising thick and dense to the darkened heavens, for miles in every direction, proclaimed that this recently so flourishing and beautiful location had in a few brief hours been utterly ruined, pillaged, and despoiled, as far as the means of ruthless and savage man could effect its destruction.”

After looting and destroying Finfinnee the Amhara forces march to Yakka (today prt of Finfinnee) to take its inhabitants by surprise. Harris writes, “… the Abyssinian system of warfare consists in surprise, murder, and butchery, not in battle or fair conflict. The King continued to advance rapidly …” [Since the Oromo defeated him many times Sahle Sellasie did not want to engage them in open battle]. Harris continues and says,

“Emerging from the forests which extended two miles beyond the Finfinni defile, the scattered forces began to rendezvous around the state umbrellas, now unfurled, to which they were directed by the incessant beating of kettle-drums. Whilst the work of destruction still continued to rage on all sides, herd after herd of lowing beeves [cattle) pouring towards the royal standard, and each new foraging [raiding]party brought with it fresh groups of captive women and girls, and the barbarous tokens of their prowess [dismembered men’s organs]. … The slaughter had been immense. Every desolated court-yard was crowded with the bodies of the slain – childhood and decrepit age fared alike; murderers, unconscious of the disgrace attaching to unmanly deeds, unblushingly heralded their shame, and detailing their deeds of cruelty, basked in the smiles of their savage and approving monarch … ”

“After a brief halt, the march was resumed through the country of the Ekka Galla, which was clean swept with the besom [broom] of destruction. … During the fourteen hours passed in the saddle, above fifty miles of country had been passed over; and the weary forces finally halted in Ekka valley …. Horses and mules were now turned loose among the standing beans, and several thousand head of cattle tired to death with the distance they had been driven from their … pastures, were, with infinite difficulty collected in a hollow … and the King … took his position for the night. …”

During the night, “Loud whoops and yells, arising from every quarter of the wide valley, mingled with the incessant lowing kine [cattle], the bleating of sheep, the thrill neighing of the war-steed, and the occasional wailing of some captive maid, subjected to the brutality of her unfeeling possessor [raping her of course]. Groups of grim warriors, their hands embrued in the innocent blood of infancy, and their stern features lighted by the fitful flame, chuckling over the barbarous spoils they had won, vaunted their inhuman exploits, as they feasted greedily on raw and reeking carcasses [raw meat]. Spears and bucklers gleamed brightly around hundreds of bale-fires, composed of rafters stripped from the surrounding houses; and the whole distant landscape, red from the lurid glare reflected by scores of crackling [burning] hamlets” [groups of extended family homes].

[Note: Just try to contrast the voice coming from Oromo degradation and destruction and Amhara victory and joy: the sounds made by thousands of agitated Oromo livestock, the screams of female captives being raped, most of them young virgin girls, the burning of Oromo homes and countryside, mingled with the boastful fukara and qararto of the Amhara forces. This happened not only in Finfinne and commited only by Sahle Sellasie but in thousands of places for many years after him in Oromoland]. Harris notes here that Sahle Sellasie who became king 40 years ago had already carried out 84 similar raids against his Oromo neighbours in every direction.


[Note: On this occasion Sahle Selassie released the captured Oromo women and children because the Harris and Dr Johann Krapf, the German missionary who was in Shawa at that time, begged him to free them. However it did take Sahle to go back on his words and plunder and kill the Oromo of Ekka (today’s Yekka) and Finfinne again]

[Unexpected second raiding attack on Finfinne after a short time]

Harris wrote down the following:

“The survivors of Ekka an Finfinni tribes, believing the fatal storm to be expended [passed], had already returned with the residue of their flocks and herds, and were actively engaged in restoring their dilapidated [destroyed] habitations, when the Amhara hordes again burst over their valley, slew six hundred souls, and captured all the remaining cattle, thus completing the chastisement of these .. clans who, notwithstanding the generous restoration of their enslaved families, had failed to make submission.”

Episode II: Amhara Occupation of Finfinnee in the mid 1880s

Sahle Selassie died in 1847, four few years after the above events took place, and was followed by his son Haile Melekot. H. Melekot continued with the predatory raids against the Oromo; but did not live long. He died in 1885. Ten years later, his son, Menelik, became the king of Shawa. Sahle Sellasie could repeatedly raid but not able to occupy or stay on Oromo territory. Though armed with firearms, his forces were not capable to defend themselves against the famous Oromo cavalry. But Menelik was able to do what Sahle Sellasie couldn’t. He was not only able to raid the Oromo but also occupy Oromo territory permanently. He was assisted by the modern weapons he could amass in exchange for booties he collected in his numerous raids against the Oromo (see Mekuria Bulcha. The Making of the Oromo Diaspora, Kirk House Publishers, Minneapolis, 2002 for details).

As he started expansion into Oromo territory, Menelik first built his capital on the Entotto ranges overlooking the Finfinee the magnificent plains and valleys in 1881. Entotto was chosen as a strategic site defensible against the surrounding Oromo who were not yet subjugated. By mid 1880s the subjugation of the Oromo in this area was completed (with the active participation of traitors such as Gobana) and Menelik was able to descended from Entotto and build his capital on the undulating plains of Finfinnee. Tens of thousands of Oromos were uprooted as Menelik granted their land to the nobility and their soldiers and as the city expanded over the years. Many of the uprooted moved south and some went west. The loss of Finfinne was documented in an Oromo poem “No More Standing on Entotto” by an anonymous author just after occupation. Here are some of the lines:

No more standing on Entoto
to look down on the gren pastures below; …
No more gathering on Daalatti
were the Gullallee Gada used to meet; ….
No more taking young calves
to graze on our ancestors, grounds …
The year the enemy came
and our cattle were taken;
Since Meshesha* came
our land and freedom are lost.

(note: Meshesha was one of Menelik’s lieutenants)

The poem laments the destruction of the social institution (Gada), the economic production and the natural environment of Finfinnee by the occupiers. The conquerors want also to change the identity of the place: they “Christened” it Addis Ababa and built a city using Oromo sweat and blood. And from Addis Ababa, the rest of Oromoland and the Empire was controlled, oppressed and exploited for about 100 years.

Episode III: The EPRDF Enters

In 1991 it became the turn of the Tigrean elites, who come from Maqale and Adwa, located between 800 and 1000 km away in the North, to decide whether the Oromo should live or not live in Finfinnee. The Tigrean regime has already uprooted Oromo intellectuals from Finfinnee and has succeeded in silencing Oromo voice in the city and country. They have imprisoned and/or sent into exile Oromo journalists, writers and artists; they have closed down Oromo newspapers and cultural clubs. They terrorise Oromo businessmen and destroy their businesses. Thus the ethnic cleansing which the Macha Tulama Association fears will happen along with the planned removal of Oromo public institution from Finfinnee is already underway. The Oromo should understand that this process which the Meles regime has set in motion has strong Amhara support and is going to have far-reaching consequences on the Oromo. The uprooting of the Oromo will not be limited to Finfinne. Addis Ababa is going to expand towards Bishfotu in the South, Sabata and beyond in Southwest, Sandafa and Shano in Northeast and Holota and even to Ambo in the West. The scenario is that the regime will work actively to discourage Oromo presence in the region. Eventually it will call the region “Greater Addis Ababa” and declare it a federal, Amharic-speaking territory. The Oromo will be restricted to the rural backyards where they will easily be controlled. I am not telling you a fiction; this is an ongoing process. But it is not too late to stop it.

How and Who is Going to Stop it?

We Oromos should make it absolutely clear to those who will drive us out homeland that they are engaged in a dangerous enterprise that can backfire. They should know that the Oromo have nothing against those who respect their human rights and will live with them in peace, but will not accept uprooting and humiliation anymore. This cannot be done by paper work or appeals to the international community alone. The Oromo should engage in a real struggle to attract international sympathy. Here real struggle means concrete action on the spot.

What is concrete action? My answer is organised demonstration; organised protest. In Finfinne! Not in Washington, London or Melbourne, at least before this happens in Finfinnee itself. It is futile and even ridiculous to make appeals abroad until and unless such a demonstration takes place in Finfinnee. The population of Finfinnee is estimated at two and half million of which 18 to 20 percent are Oromos. This means there are between 400,000 and 500,000 Oromos in the city who can carry out such a protest. It will be ridiculous if such a large population will bow to humiliation by the EPRDF. The leaders of Macha Tulama Association should think seriously about this. They have a historical responsibility in the absence of other genuine Oromo organisations in the city at this moment. Furthermore, there are several million Oromos physically not far away from Finfinnee who could be recruited for demonstration. Inhabitants of other Oromo cities and towns can stage demonstrations in solidarity with those in Finfinnee. The other oppressed peoples of the south should be approached for their co-operation. We in the diaspora must give our support without reservation. Not only words but material support.

We Oromos should stop being terrorised into submission. Every available means should be used to stop the EPRDF plan to evacuate Oromo institutions from Finfinne. As Fredrick Douglas said, “the limits of tyrants are prescribed by the endurance of those whom they oppress.” It is time for us to learn from the anti-apartheid struggle, the Intifada of the Palestinian children, and the Civil Rights Movement of the African Americans. I will repeat Fredrick Douglas’s words once again: we should use both words and blows’ to get rid of the injustice being committed against them. Concerning Finfinnee our demands should include the following:
1. Change the name of the area and city back to its Oromo original. Drop the colonial name. Finfinnee shall remain an Oromo capital.
2. Build parks and monuments in commemoration of the thousands of men, women and children who were massacred or taken prisoners and enslaved by Sahle Sellasie and Menelik.
3. Build Oromo institutions and revive the Oromo language and culture. It is ridiculous that about half a million Oromos living in the city are not able to use their language as they wish. It was with Addis Ababa as a centre that the Amhara rulers suppressed and tried to destroy our heritage. Our heritage will flourish in and radiate from Finfinnee. 



Worldwide protests ongoing in support of Ethiopia's Oromo people

(Photo Credit: Rachael Bongiorno)

In Ethiopia, student-led protests related to a land dispute in the Oromia Region state are in their fourth week. The ethnic Tigrayan-­led Ethiopian government has violently cracked down on peaceful protests, killing dozens of ethnic Oromo students and injuring or imprisoning hundreds more. The unrest prompted an unprecedented response from the Oromo diaspora and human rights organizations around the world.

Demonstrators have rallied in cities in Australia, the U.S, Europe, Egypt, Uganda and Israel, calling for their respective governments to condemn the violence and raising awareness about the human rights situation for the Oromos in Ethiopia. Rachael Bongiorno reports from one such rally in Melbourne, Australia.

On a crisp Friday morning, a sea of green, red and yellow Oromo flags lines the streets of Melbourne. The city’s Oromo community is demonstrating to draw attention to human rights abuses facing Oromos back in Ethiopia. The protesters halt trams and cars, chanting and handing out fresh roses with tags quoting Martin Luther King JR’s famous words “injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”

The Oromo people are the largest indigenous ethnic Ethiopia but they’ve historically been marginalized and suffered discrimination by successive Ethiopian governments. Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International have long documented widespread discrimination, violence, and arbitrary arrests against the Oromo people. One young girl, who asks not to be identified, explains why she’s come out to protest.

“I feel like I’m standing in solidarity with the Oromo people in Melbourne and many other cities around the world,” she says, adding “We want to tell the word that people are being killed for peacefully protesting for their constitutional rights, being killed for speaking up and standing for their rights.”

The Oromo students in Ethiopia are calling for full implementation of the country’s constitution, which includes un human rights principles as well as provisions for self-determination. These guarantees extend to both Oromia state and the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa. But while the capital is located in the state, it falls under the central government’s administration. And the government wants to expand its boundaries into Oromo lands.

Soreti Kadir is one the organizer’s of the on-going world-wide protests. She says, “We’re here today because the Ethiopian government has announced this plan that it’s going to be displacing up to 2 million Oromo people.” Kadir continues, “This means not only do the identities of these towns that are no longer going to exist because they will be dissolved which are predominantly Oromo. But Oromo people and farmers become displaced and don’t have a way to actually earn a proper income.”

The government’s planned expansion of Addis Ababa – known as the Master Plan – is just one of many such plans that have affected the Oromo region and forced the indigenous people from their lands. Under the Abyssinian colonial rule during the 20th Century, the Oromo language was banned and the Amharic culture was imposed. The ban was only lifted in 1991, as Toltu Tuffa explains. “This is not the first Master Plan, there have been a number of other ones, and this is the 10th installment of the master plan.”

“Even though there is recognition of Oromo provinces and regions, the fact that these areas will be transitioned away under the federal district of the Ethiopian government is essentially another form of re-colonisation,” says Tuffa, explaining the implications for language, culture, lifestyle and economic and social well being.”

According to the Minnesota Oromo Association, the Oromo diaspora has mobilized like never before. In a country where press freedom is in decline, social media has been a major tool to get information out. For 19-year-old organizer and blogger Soreti Kadir, the recent arrests of 3 journalists and 6  bloggers known as Zone 9 is just more evidence of the Ethiopian government’s suppressing dissent.

“It’s been people who are blogging, people who are using twitter, Instagram, Facebook who have really pioneered this entire movement,” says Kadir. “The Ethiopian bloggers have been arrested because the Ethiopian government’s major tactic in making sure these things don’t spread… is a suppression of freedom of speech.”

The Ethiopian Government argues the Master Plan will be a step forward for the Ethiopian people and the economy and dismisses the recent unrest, saying the protesters are being manipulated by the media inside and outside the country.

One of the largest protests in the diaspora was in Minnesota, which boasts an Oromo population of about 40,000 people.sen Hussien, Executive director of the Minnesota Oromo Association says the Ethiopian government often seeks to discredit protests in this way.

“Every time there is a protest in the country be it in the Oromia region or elsewhere in the country, the government points it’s fingers at external forces,” according to Hussien. He continues, “This has been the tradition of this regime since it came to power. Rather than looking at itself and wondering if its policies have anything to do with why people go on protests.”

Hussien says the situation is getting worse, with more crackdowns on the protests this week. “The last 5 days alone there are reports in one city there were 152 people who were wounded in the city of Najjo and also in Nekemte and another small town in Gori.,” he says, adding “And according to a report I received this morning in the town of Nekemte alone there are 600 students that are detained.”

The Australian Oromo community is planning another protest in Australia’s capital, Canberra when parliament resumes next week.


Oromo and Ogaden Community protest over killings

(A4O, 24 May 2014) The Australian Ogaden and Oromo communities have protested outside the New South Wales Parliament against what they say is systematic human rights violations perpetrated by the Ethiopian Government.

The Community is calling for Australia to stop sending aid to Ethiopia after a land dispute that they say has killed up to one hundred civilians.

Oromia crackdown on student protests taints higher education success

Western backers of the Ethiopian education system should not ignore reports of violent clashes on university campuses
MDG : Ethiopi : Student protest in Ambo

Oromia, East Africa, where at least three dozen people were reportedly shot dead by security forces during student protests

Over the past 15 years, Ethiopia has become home to one of the world’s fastest-growing higher education systems. Increasing the number of graduates in the country is a key component of the government’s industrialisation strategy and part of its ambitious plan to become a middle-income country by 2025. Since the 1990s, when there were just two public universities, almost 30 new institutions have sprung up.

 On the face of it, this is good news for ordinary Ethiopians. But dig a little deeper and tales abound of students required to join one of the three government parties, with reports of restricted curricula, classroom spies and crackdowns on student protests commonplace at universities.

Nowhere has this been more evident than in Ambo in Oromia state. On 25 April, protests against government plans to bring parts the town under the administrative jurisdiction of the capital, Addis Ababa, began at Ambo University. By the following Tuesday, as protests spread to the town and other areas of Oromia, dozens of demonstrators had been killed in clashes with government forces, according to witnesses.

As Ethiopia experiences rapid economic expansion, its government plans to grow the capital out rather than up, and this involves annexing parts of the surrounding Oromia state. An official communique from the government absolved it of all responsibility for the clashes, claiming that just eight people had been killed and alleging that the violence had been coordinated by a few rogue anti-peace forces. The government maintains that it is attempting to extend Addis Ababa’s services to Oromia through its expansion of the city limits.

However, Oromia opposition figures tell a different story. On 2 May, the nationalist organisation the Oromo Liberation Front (OLF) issued a press release that condemned the “barbaric and egregious killing of innocent Oromo university students who have peacefully demanded the regime to halt the displacement of Oromo farmers from their ancestral land, and the inclusion of Oromo cities and surrounding localities under Finfinnee [Addis Ababa] administration under the pretext of development”. The Addis Ababa regime dismisses the OLA as a terrorist organisation.

While news of the killing of unarmed protesters has caused great concern among many Ethiopians, there has been little coverage overseas. The government maintains strict control over the domestic media; indeed, it frequently ranks as one of the world’s chief jailers of journalists, and it is not easy to come by independent reporting of events in the country.

Nevertheless, the government’s communique does run contrary to reports by the few international media that did cover the attacks in Ambo, which placed the blame firmly on government forces.

The BBC reported that a witness in Ambo saw more than 20 bodies on the street, while Voice of America (VOA) reported that at least 17 protesters were killed by “elite security forces” on three campuses in Oromia. Local residents maintain that the figure [of those killed] was much higher.

These reports, while difficult to corroborate, have been backed up by Human Rights Watch, which issued a statement saying that “security forces have responded [to the protests] by shooting at and beating peaceful protesters in Ambo, Nekemte, Jimma, and other towns with unconfirmed reports from witnesses of dozens of casualties”. One university lecturer said he had been “rescued from the live ammunition”, and that it was the “vampires – the so-called federal police” who fired on the crowds.

The Ethiopian government likes to trumpet its higher education system to its western aid backers as a crowning success of its development policy. As billions in foreign aid are spent annually on Ethiopia, the west must be more cognisant of the fact that this money helps reinforce a government which cuts down those who dare to speak out against it.

Inevitably, continued support for such an oppressive regime justifies its brutal silencing of dissent. Yes, the higher education system has grown exponentially over the past 15 years but the oppression and killing of innocent students cannot be considered an achievement. Any system which crushes its brightest should not be considered a success.


Paul O’Keeffe is a doctoral fellow at La Sapienza University of Rome, where he focuses on the higher education system in Ethiopia

The cycle of oppression

By Tsegaye Ararssa


And now, … EPRDF blames the OPDO for the unrest, the massive acts of killing, the mass detention (now in the thousands). And the propaganda machine, elite politicos, elite TPLF apologists, and the Ethio elite in general (even those whom I considered sensible thus far) blame the Oromo people for resisting the master plan; they are presented as being ignorant, uninformed mass that is tossed around by OLF.

And all Oromo parties–OPDO, ONC/OFDM, ODF, are OLF now. (And of course OLF is the ultimate enemy, the embodiment of evil itself, right? Oh yes, they are supported by Eritrea and other ‘historic enemies’ of Ethiopia, too.) Never mind some regret that OLF has such a compelling ‘presence’ in Oromia and even on OPDO.

(I thought OLF is legally a terrorist organization. But it must be a powerfully resilient ghost, then! And the ghost is visible to TPLF and other ultra racist ethio-elite. Could this be the foretaste of the nightmare to come? Have they started to be haunted? Or is it that what we should do whenever the public resistance is against our own personal and group interest, we have to find an OLF ghost to blame.) … Which reminds me that, according to EPRDF’s book, the party/the government never errs.(Never mind their ‘criticism-self-criticism’ rhetoric of the 70s and 80s.) Popular resistance comes from the misinformed public.

It is always the people’s mistake to resist bad policies. If people resist, here is what you do: co-opt some cadres and force them to implement it. If that doesn’t work, force the public into a meeting and tell it to them. If that doesn’t work, imprison/kill those who express disagreement. If not, raid a city, a locality, kill as much and imprison in thousands (tens of thousands!) to create a mass terror. Then, do a media report saying ‘some terrorist/extremist/ narrow nationalist/ and what not’ elements agitated the mass into resistance. Then gather people and demand that they express remorse about the resistance and that they give absolute support to the planned policy.

… The cycle goes on. … Was I surprised? Ehmm, not really. That has always been the case.The people reject them by votes (as in 2005), they respond: oh, the people were mistaken! (Duh, in a democracy [I am assuming too much, I know!]; people’s error is preferred to leaders’!) The Muslims resist the imported religious education, oh the Muslim public is mistaken. People resist dispossession, oh, they are mistaken because they heard some extremist facebookers in the diaspora.

… Welcome to the old world of infallible (vanguard) parties and fallible people. The people has paid the cost of their fallibility (and the parties infallibility) thus far. But there won’t be enough to pay after a while. And the infallible party will soon start to pay for it. And the elite that commit and sponsor the violence may be able to pay their way out of the consequences for a while. Even for them, there will come a time when they won’t have enough to pay. In the mean time, where is the country heading? (Oh, I can’t talk about country. I am an Oromo, remember?)

Diaspora Speaks for Deliberately Silenced Oromos; Government Responds to UN Review


When students in Ethiopia started protesting last month against the Ethiopian Government’s proposal to annex territory from the state of Oromia to facilitate the expansion of the capital city Addis Ababa, diasporans mobilized to show their solidarity. As federal “Agazi” security forces cracked down, opening fire on peaceful protesters, placing students on lock-down in their dormitories, and conducting mass arrests, Oromos around the world staged rallies and hunger strikes to raise international awareness and to call on the governments of the countries where they live to withhold aid and put pressure on the Ethiopian Government to respect human rights.

In the first three posts in this series, I discussed the Oromo diaspora’s mobilization to shed light on the human rights violations on the ground, the sharp criticism the government of Ethiopia faced during the Universal Periodic Review on May 6, and the steps the Oromo diaspora in Minnesota is taking to show solidarity and press for accountability in Ethiopia. This final post tells some of the stories of Oromos in the diaspora who have spoken with friends and family on the ground in Oromia about events over the past three weeks, and also covers the Ethiopian government’s formal response to the UN review and offers some suggestions for next steps.

Not “voiceless,” but deliberately silenced by Ethiopian government
“We need to be a voice for the voiceless” has been a common refrain from the diaspora. But in my view, the students and others who are protesting in Ethiopia are far from voiceless. They have been bravely marching, placing their lives and academic careers on the line, to express their opposition to the government’s “Integrated Development Master Plan for Addis Ababa.” In the words of 2004 Sydney Peace Prize winnerArundhati Roy, “there’s really no such thing as the ‘voiceless.’ There are only the deliberately silenced, or the preferably unheard.”

The government controls the media and telecommunications in Ethiopia, effectively placing a stranglehold on open debate and criticism of the government. Historically, efforts by western media, including CNN, to cover events on the ground in Ethiopia have been stymied. The government’s repression and intimidation also create obstacles for independent journalists trying to cover the story from outside the country. I spoke with one U.S.-based reporter who covers the Horn of Africa, and he explained that when he tried to confirm casualty reports, hospital personnel in Ethiopia refused to speak to him, fearing for their jobs. Oromia Media Network (OMN), a Minnesota-based satellite news network that has been covering the student protests, offering commentary, and dedicating attention to the diaspora response, reported that on May 2, the Ethiopian government blocked access to its website, and on May 13,  began jamming OMN’s satellite transmission. Oromos in Ethiopia have turned to the OMN Facebook page, urging, “Please send us a new frequency.”

The Ethiopian government even attempts to silence social media. One Oromo messaged me on Facebook from an internet cafe in Addis Ababa, but he said that he didn’t feel safe going into too much detail, fearing that the government or people in the cafe were monitoring his communications.

He’s not being paranoid, and the OMN experience is nothing new. The government has used its monopoly control over telecommunications to conduct surveillance of regime opponents, as well as to block websites of opposition groups, media sites, and bloggers. Speaking of bloggers critical of the Ethiopian government, since The Advocates for Human Rights launched this blog series on May 5, I’ve been pleased to see a huge spike in visitors from Ethiopia. We’ve had over 700 views from Ethiopia, and so far there’s no sign that the government is blocking access to The Advocates Post. We’ll keep our fingers crossed.

On May 5, I had a conversation with an Oromo in London who had just spoken with his sister, who the day before had fled to Addis Ababa from Madawalabu University in Bale Robe. She reported that the military had started beating students who were demonstrating at the university. She told her brother that students were unable to get the word out because cell phone and internet service had been turned off. She saw forces kill one student, but feared that there were more casualties. She was able to share the news with her brother only because she had fled 430 kilometers (267 miles) to the capital, where the phones hadn’t been shut off.

New reports that Ethiopian government is inciting inter-ethnic violence
I’ve read reports on social media that the Ethiopian government is provoking inter-ethnic violence by spreading false reports of attacks and planned attacks. With no independent media, it’s safe to conclude that

Flags of the Oromo and Ogaden people were on display at the May 9 rally in St. Paul, Minnesota

any reports on official media outlets in Ethiopia reflect the government’s efforts to shape perceptions of reality. When a vacuum exists where independent media should be, rumors—some likely fed by the government—can create fear and misunderstanding.

Outside Ethiopia, diasporans are actively combating efforts to divide opposition voices along ethnic lines. At the three-day rally at the Minnesota State Capitol in the United States, flags of the Ogaden ethnic group were proudly displayed beside Oromo flags. One of the chants was “Oromo, Ogaden, united, we’ll never be defeated!” And Oromos in the diaspora are urging their compatriots to target their protests at the Ethiopian Government, rather than at members of particular ethnic groups.

Diaspora ties are a lifeline for getting the word out


The Ethiopian government is incapable of eradicating the close ties between the Oromo diaspora and Oromos in Ethiopia, and those ties have become a lifeline to get the word out. Here’s just some of what I’ve heard:

  • One Oromo family living in Minnesota has been sponsoring a student who attends Ambo University, helping his family cover his tuition and fees. On May 1, the Minnesota family received a tragic call. The student had been peacefully protesting with his friends and dormitory roommates when police opened fire, gunning him down. The friends called his family in Oromia to report that he had been killed, and the family called the sponsors in Minnesota to share the sad news. The report from the student’s friends was critical, because the government hadn’t released the young man’s body to his family.
  • Another Oromo had spoken with family members who directly witnessed events in Ambo. They reported seeing at least 30 student protesters killed. They also told of many local, Oromo police officers refusing to participate in the violence, and most of those officers were taken to jail en masse. Another Oromo reported a similar situation for Oromo police officers in the town of Nekemte.
  • I spoke in person with an Oromo who has a personal connection to Ambo University. He requested that I not share the nature of that connection, for fear that it would place people in danger. A few days after the shootings, he heard from friends in Ambo that people had just discovered three bodies of protesters who had been discarded in the woods adjoining the university.
  • I spoke with another Oromo living in the United Kingdom who said he had been following the situation in Oromia closely through social media. He spoke with his family in Bale Robe on May 5, who reported that on May 2, they saw security forces haul away two trucks full of student demonstrators. People in Bale Robe don’t know where the students were taken. And his family also reported that in a village nearby Bale Robe, villagers had risen up because of the crackdown on students, prompting security forces to take over the village on the night of May 1 and beat the villagers. One pupil who fled to Bale Robe had reported what had happened. Another Oromo living in the United States reported that 40 people who were injured at Madawalabu University and in Bale Robe were hospitalized, some in critical condition. He also reported that federal security forces were searching homes in neighboring villages to try to hunt down students who had participated in the protests.
  • A Minnesotan Oromo told me that her cousin, an agriculture student at Alemaya University, reported that he was not allowed to leave the dorm to go back to his family. Oromos in Minnesota heard similar reports from students at Haramaya University, who reported that they were being detained in their dormitory rooms and were not allowed to leave. One Oromo reported that on May 7 police forcibly dispersed a protest by high school students in Haramaya and arrested 15 students.
  • One Oromo in the diaspora has forwarded me a steady stream of graphic photos of victims, along with photos from protests, notices at universities in Oromia cancelling classes, and a document from the mayor of Addis Ababa cancelling a request for a protest. One notice from the administration at Asella medical school called for an emergency meeting to try to prevent a protest planned by students and staff. He reported that the students and staff rejected the call and decided to go ahead with the protest as planned. In Nagelle, he reports, 47 students were arrested after they asked school administrators for permission to stage protests.
  • A college teacher who had previously been jailed for over two years after being swept up in mass arrests reported via email that people in western Oromia had fled to the bush to save their lives. He said that there was a great deal of tension in the capital city as students at Addis Ababa University were gearing up for another round of protests.
  • One Oromo in the diaspora reported that 26 students from Addis Ababa University had been confirmed as arrested, and that hundreds of students were leaving campus because of harassment from security forces.
  • Another person on the ground sent some encouraging words: “I am hearing [about] the protest going on in Minnesota by [the] Oromo diaspora, it is very energizing. Please help and stand by us. Please don’t be silent in this tough time.”
  • One Oromo in the diaspora reported that he had learned from credible sources on the ground that “the crackdown against Oromo students has intensified.” On May 14, three protesters from Wollega University were killed and over 200 wounded by security forces in Nekemte Najjo, in western Oromia. On May 15, 152 protesters were wounded in the western Oromia town of Najjo, and large numbers were injured in the nearby town of Gorii. On May 16, nine students in Adama were expelled for life, and eight more were barred from school for five years. Nine students were detained and their whereabouts was unknown.
  • Another Oromo diasporan reported hearing from friends who had fled their universities but were afraid to go home, fearing that the Agazi forces would arrest and torture them. “We are in the forest with no food, no shelter, only suffering. We can’t imagine going home because if we did, we’d die.”

These communications between people on the ground and the diaspora could come at great risk. “Intercepted emails and phone calls have been submitted as evidence in trials under the country’s flawed anti-terrorism law.” This fear is palpable to diasporans who are receiving the news. One of the Oromo diasporans who contacted me cautioned that if I were to use his real name in this blog post, his family back in Ethiopia would “be in big danger within 24 hours.”

Remote monitoring can help manage the overwhelming flow of information
Despite these risks, there has been a steady flow of photos and videos on social mediashowing protest footage, as well as injured protesters, broken-down dormitory room doors, and even graphic images of people who have been killed. Some individuals in the diaspora and diaspora websites have been compiling this information, and the new#OromoProtests website has emerged as both an information portal and a mobilizing tool for diasporans and allies.

But as the U.S.-based reporter I spoke with observed, there is a lot of information in circulation, but it’s hard to “triangulate” it to verify the journalistic “Five Ws.” Late last week, Ethiopian Satellite Television (ESAT) confirmed diaspora reports that federal security forces killed at least three Wollega University student-protesters and have detained hundreds of students.

The Advocates has received several requests for assistance from the Oromo diaspora about how to keep track of information in a systematic way:

We in the diaspora are so overwhelmed with information about arrests, wounding and deaths coming out of Ethiopia. But we do not seem to have institutions that are tracking, documenting, and sharing this information in an appropriate manner. [Do you have] any suggestions for models or examples we can use to set something up just temporarily until we find some more reliable way of managing information?

Remote monitoring is challenging, but critical when human rights violations occur in places like Ethiopia. Our remote monitoring chapter in Paving Pathways for Justice & Accountability: Human Rights Tools for Diaspora Communities, offers some suggestions and resources. And our chapter on additional monitoring tools identifies other tools, like the Ushahidi open-source software, which was first deployed to map and document user-generated reports of violence after the 2007 elections in Kenya.

Grilling at the UN: The Ethiopian Government responds

The Ethiopian Government's delegation to the Universal Periodic Review on May 6, 2014, chaired by State Minister of Foreign Affairs Berhane Gebre-Christos

My second blog post in this series highlighted the May 6 Universal Periodic Review of Ethiopia at the United Nations. Two days later, the UN issued its report of the UPR working group on Ethiopia, which serves as the Government of Ethiopia’s formal response to the review. In the report, the government identifies recommendations it accepts and others it rejects, as well as a few it wants until September 2014 to think about. Here’s how the Ethiopian Government responded to the recommendations I highlighted in that second post:

Accepted recommendations

  • Violence and mistreatment by security forces
    • Finland: Continue efforts to ensure that clear, independent and effective complaints mechanisms are in place for individuals’ complain[t]s concerning mistreatment by security and law enforcement authorities.
    • Rwanda: Intensify efforts to build the capacity of law enforcement authorities on the basic rights of the citizens.
  • Forcible resettlement of farmers and pastoralists
    • Austria: Equip the national human rights institutions with the necessary resources and capacities to effectively monitor the human rights situation and to independently investigate, provide appeals and redress for alleged human rights violations in relation to the resettlement of communities through the Commune Development Programme.
    • Bolivia: Promote and protect the rights of the peasants and other persons working in rural areas.
    • Rwanda: Strengthen measures taken at national level to ensure food security in the country.
    • Malaysia: Step up efforts to improve health services for all its citizens, especially in the rural areas.
    • Thailand: Consider adopting universal health-care coverage to ensure health-care provision for all, with particular attention given to vulnerable groups and those living in rural areas.
    • Morocco: Intensify its efforts to make segments of the society benefit from equitable economic growth.
  • Ethnic and religious discrimination and persecution
    • Armenia: Further promote tolerance and dialogue between different ethnic and religious groups.
    • The Holy See: Keep encouraging inter-religious and inter-ethnic dialogue so that Ethiopia’s pluralism of traditions and cultures remains an enriching and valued dimension of the country and continue improving the outreach to all ethnic communities to actively participate in the political process so as to strengthen Ethiopia’s democracy and prevent potential conflicts.
    • Bolivia: Continue the actions aimed at the eradication of acts of racism and other forms of discrimination and intolerance.
    • Nicaragua: Increase efforts and adopt all the necessary measures for the fight against discrimination in all its forms, particularly against minorities, among them the most vulnerable children and women.
    • Burundi: Improve the existing activities and mechanisms to strengthen inter-cultural and inter-religious dialogue.
    • Canada: Protect and promote the right of the Ethiopians to practice their religious faith or beliefs, including by enhancing the dialogue between different faith communities to address inter-religious tensions.
    • Sudan: Further intensify efforts to ensure equal access to quality education, and expand primary education to children in their mother tongue.
    • The Maldives: Continue efforts to strengthen quality of education and access to education and make basic education free for all, especially in rural areas.
  • Freedom of expression and association for opposition political parties and human rights defenders

    • Japan: Take steps to guarantee the political rights of its people, the freedom of expression, association and assembly, in particular.
    • Finland: Take further measures to ensure the safety and freedom of action of human rights defenders.
    • Nigeria: Continue to grant all political parties unfettered access to the print and electronic media for fair elections.
    • Switzerland: Ensure that the right to participation of all persons promoting and protecting human rights is guaranteed.
  • Restrictions on civil society, media; anti-terrorism measures
    • Norway: Establish mechanisms for meaningful participation of civil society at the federal and regional level in the process of implementing and monitoring the National Human Rights Action Plan and take concrete measures to ensure that efforts to counter terrorism are carried out in full compliance with the Constitution and international human rights obligations, including respect for fair trial guarantees and freedom of expression.
    • Ireland: Review its legislation to ensure that any limitations on the right to freedom of expression, both online and offline, are in full compliance with Article 19 of the ICCPR in particular by providing for a defence of truth to all defamation cases.
    • South Korea: Take measures to ensure the increased freedom of expression of journalists and media workers.
  • Due process
    • Switzerland: Respect the right to a fair trial, notably by ensuring that legal procedures are respected.
  • Disappearances, torture in detention facilities
    • Bhutan: Further improve the conditions of prisons to make them more conducive to the rehabilitation of inmates as per the comment of the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission.
    • Russia: Improve the prison system and the situation of prisoners based on the 2013 report of the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission on the Situation of Human Rights in the country’s prisons.
    • Kyrgyzstan: Introduce a definition of torture in its Criminal Code that cover all of the elements contained in article 1 of the Convention against Torture.
  • Expand engagement with UN special procedures
    • Spain: Accept the outstanding requests for visits from the special procedures and respond to the communications sent by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights which are awaiting replies.
    • Hungary: Strengthen its cooperation with UN Human Rights mechanisms, including by permitting visits from mandate holders.
    • The Netherlands: Grant full access to Special Rapporteurs and Special Procedures Mandate holders to visit the country, notably the Special Rapporteurs on the Right to Education, the Right to Food and Violence against Women.

Recommendations the government asserts are “already implemented”

  • Namibia: Extend free primary education throughout the country.
  • Canada: Fully protect members of opposition groups, political activists and journalists who are exercising their rights to freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly from arbitrary detention.
  • France: Take the necessary measures in order for the law on media and access to information to comply with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights andprovide the proper framework for appeals within the 2009 anti-terrorist law in order to guarantee the respect for fundamental rights.
  • Denmark: Remove any structural and institutional impediments that hinder the implementation of the Freedom of the Mass Media and Access to Information Proclamation.
  • Slovakia: Repeal provisions of the legislation that can be used to criminalise the right to freedom of expression.
  • Paraguay: Allow independent observers access to places of detention.

Rejected recommendations

  • Violence by security forces, torture and disappearances
    • Costa Rica: Take urgent measures to investigate the numerous reports of torture and extrajudicial executions committed by the Ethiopian National Defence Forces.
    • Tunisia: Authorize the ICRC [International Committee of the Red Cross] to visit all places where persons may be deprived of their liberty.
    • Hungary: Ratify OP-CAT and grant ICRC and other independent observers immediate, full and genuine access to all detention facilities.
    • France: Ratify the Rome Statute establishing the International Criminal Court as well as the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance.
    • Denmark: Sign and ratify the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture.
    • Estonia: Ratify the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.
    • Paraguay: Ratify the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court and the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture.
    • Austria: Improve conditions in detention facilities by training of personnel to investigate and prosecute all alleged cases of torture and to ratify the OP-CAT.
  • Ethnic and other discrimination
    • Namibia: Further enhance the institutional and financial capacities of the Ethiopia Human Rights Commission to effectively carry out its mandate vis-a-vis the affected communities, especially its working relations with the Oromo, Ogaden, Gambella and the Somali Communities.
    • Argentina: Extend measures to combat discrimination to the entire vulnerable population, which is victim of stereotypes and discrimination, particularly discrimination based on sexual orientation, and thus amend the criminalization established in the Criminal Code relating to that sector of the population.
  • Anti-Terrorism Proclamation and Charities and Societies Proclamation
    • United States: Repeal the Charities and Societies Proclamation in order to promote the development of an independent civil society able to operate freely and conduct a full review of the Anti-Terrorism Proclamation, amending the law as necessary to ensure that it strengthens the rule of law and is applied apolitically and in full compliance with Ethiopia’s international human rights obligations.
    • Sweden: Remove vague provisions in the Anti-Terrorism Proclamation that can be used to criminalise the exercise of the right to freedom of expression and association and ensure that criminal prosecutions do not limit the freedom of expression of civil society, opposition politicians and independent media.
    • Norway: Amend the Charities and Societies Proclamation to allow civil society to work on human rights issues, including women’s rights, without restrictions related to the origin of funding.
    • Ireland: Allow civil society organisations to complement Government programmes in preventing violence and harmful practices against women and girls and also amend the Charities and Societies Proclamation to ensure that restrictions on freedom of association are removed, including restrictions on potential sources of funding for civil society.
    • Australia: Amend its Charities and Societies Proclamation to facilitate the effective operation and financing of non-government organizations and narrow the definition of terrorist activity within international practice to exclude journalism.
    • France: Contribute to reinforce the role of civil society and suppress the administrative constraints and financial restrictions imposed by the 2009 law.
    • The Netherlands: Amend and clearly redefine provisions in the Charities and Societies Proclamation and the Anti-Terrorism Proclamation in order to lift restrictions on the rights of freedom of association and freedom of expression.
    • Belgium: Revise the Charities and Societies Proclamation and Anti-Terrorism Proclamation to create a framework conducive to the work of NGOs and other civil society organizations, and ensure the protection of journalists and political opponents from all forms of repression.
    • The Czech Republic: Amend the Charities and Societies Proclamation so that all NGOs can operate freely without restrictions stemming from the structure of their funding.
    • Austria: Ensure that the provisions of the 2009 Charities and Societies Proclamation are in compliance with international human rights standards, including the freedom of expression and assembly; and revise the 2009 Anti-Terrorism proclamation and the 2008 Mass Media Proclamation bring them in line with international human rights standards.
    • Slovenia: Repeal the provisions of the media and anti-terrorism legislation that infringe on the protection accorded to freedom of expression by provisions in Article 29 of its Constitution and on Ethiopia’s human rights obligations.
  • Freedom of expression and association, media freedom
    • Switzerland: Put an end to the harassment of journalists and release those detained without any valid grounds.
    • Hungary: Create a conducive environment for independent civil society to conduct civic and voter education, monitor elections and organise election debates, by lifting all undue restrictions on activities and funding of NGOs.
    • Slovakia: Take necessary measures to ensure respect for the right to freedom of association, including by repealing legislative and administrative restrictions on the activities of NGOs.
    • The Czech Republic: Immediately release all journalists detained for their professional activities, both those arrested recently and those jailed earlier, such as Mr. Nega and Ms. Alemu; amend the Mass Media Proclamation so that the space for free media is widened, and refrain from invoking the Anti-Terrorism Proclamation to stifle independent journalists; and ensure inclusive campaigning before the 2015 elections and grant all political parties equal access to the media.
  • Engagement with UN special procedures
    • United States: Permit the UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and of Association to travel to Ethiopia to advise the Government.
    • Slovenia: Respond favourably to all outstanding requests for a visit by the special procedures and consider issuing a standing invitation to the special procedures, as recommended previously.
    • Montenegro: Strengthen its cooperation with United Nations human rights mechanisms, including by extending a standing invitation to all thematic special procedures.
    • Uruguay: Extend an Open Invitation to all the mechanisms and special procedures of the Human Rights Council.

“Pending” recommendations

  • Australia: Implement fully its 1995 Constitution, including the freedoms of association, expression and assembly for independent political parties, ethnic and religious groups and non-government organizations.
  • Mexico: Monitor the implementation of the anti-terrorism law in order to identify any act of repression which affects freedom of association and expression and possible cases of arbitrary detention. In addition, develop activities necessary to eliminate any excesses by the authorities in its application and eliminate all obstacles to the development of non-governmental organizations, in particular, the financial procedures for those financed with resources from abroad, and promote the participation of civil society in the activities of the State.
  • United Kingdom: Take concrete steps to ensure the 2015 national elections are more representative and participative than those in 2010, especially around freedom of assembly and encouraging debate among political parties and invite the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture and other Cruel, Inhumane or Degrading Treatment or Punishment to visit Ethiopia.
  • Botswana: Ensure the full independence and impartiality of the judiciary, in conformity with international standards.
  • Spain: Issue a permanent open invitation to the special procedures and adopt measures which guarantee the non-occurrence of cases of torture and ill-treatment in places of detention, and among them, establish an independent national preventive mechanism against torture.

You can make a difference
Reports from the diaspora suggest that the situation on the ground in Oromia is going from bad to worse. Students continue their courageous protests, while the Ethiopian Government expands mass arrests and expulsions and reportedly is attempting to incite inter-ethnic conflict. But there are several things the Oromo diaspora and people who want to show solidarity can do to help:

  1. Educate yourself about the Oromo Protests and the history of human rights violations in Ethiopia. The #OromoProtests website has some great infographics. Read the International Oromo Youth Association’s appeal letter. Watch IOYA President Amane Bedaso’s interview on Sahara TV. One Oromo on the ground sent an email pleading for help: “We are between life and death. Please don’t forget us. We are people of this world. Things are going out of control.” You can spread the word, and help get the hashtag #OromoProtests trending on Twitter.
  2. aidIf you live in the United States or another country that provides aid to the Government of Ethiopia, write to your elected representatives to inform them about what’s going on, call on your government to condemn the Ethiopian Government’s response to the student protests, and urge them to withhold funds. The #OromoProtests website has somesample letters, and the Advocacychapter of Paving Pathways has more guidance for effective outreach. If Ethiopia rejected your government’s UPR recommendations, be sure to highlight that fact in your advocacy.
  3. Support efforts to conduct systematic remote monitoring of the situation on the ground in Ethiopia. For starters, offer to assist the International Oromo Youth Association, which has been tracking events closely.
  4. Support diaspora media organizations like the Oromia Media Network that are working to get the word out. As OMN notes, the Ethiopian Government “has shut down all independent newspapers in [the] Oromo language and those tending to address unique concerns of the Oromo people. As a result, despite being the official language of the Oromia region, not a single independent newspaper is published in Afaan Oromo. Neither are there independently run radio or television stations broadcasting in one of Africa’s most widely spoken languages with over 40 million native speakers.” So getting OMN back on the air in Ethiopia is critical.
  5. Take advantage of some of the UPR recommendations the Ethiopian Government accepted:
  6. Lobby your government to press Ethiopia to accept any “pending” UPR recommendations, particularly the United Kingdom’s recommendation to invite the Special Rapporteur on Torture to visit Ethiopia.
  7. Oromos in the diaspora who are in close contact with family members of students who have been killed, injured, arrested, or disappeared can work with them to submit urgent action letters to UN and African Commission special procedures, as a coalition recently did on behalf of bloggers who have been jailed in Ethiopia. Part D of Chapter 11 in Paving Pathways provides more information on using urgent action letters to raise awareness at the United Nations and regional human rights mechanisms when emergency situations arise.

What will you do to make a difference? Please share your suggestions and requests in the comments!

By Amy Bergquist, staff attorney for the International Justice Program of The Advocates for Human Rights.

This post is the fourth in a four-part series about human rights in Ethiopia. Part 1describes the important role the Oromo diaspora is playing in remotely monitoring recent human rights developments in Ethiopia. Part 2 highlights the May 6 Universal Periodic Review of Ethiopia at the United Nations. Part 3 explores the Oromo diaspora’s strategies for showing solidarity with the Oromo students while pushing for human rights and holding perpetrators accountable for the violence against peaceful demonstrators.

More posts in this series:

Oromo Diaspora Mobilizes to Shine Spotlight on Student Protests in Ethiopia

Ethiopian Government Faces Grilling at UN

“Little Oromia” Unites to Advocate for Justice and Human Rights in Ethiopia