(A4O, 1 November 2014) A new report released on Tuesday by an international human rights group said Ethiopia has “ruthlessly targeted” the Oromo people, the country’s its largest ethnic group.
Amnesty International said thousands of Oromo people had been systematically subjected to unlawful killings, torture and enforced disappearance.
“Because I am Oromo” – Sweeping repression in the Oromia region of Ethiopia exposes how Oromos have been regularly subjected to arbitrary arrest, prolonged detention without charge, enforced disappearance, repeated torture and unlawful state killings as part of the government’s incessant attempts to crush dissent.
The report said at least 5,000 Oromos had been arrested between 2011 and 2014 for their “actual or suspected peaceful opposition to the government”.
“The Ethiopian government’s relentless crackdown on real or imagined dissent among the Oromo is sweeping in its scale and often shocking in its brutality,” said Amnesty International researcher Claire Beston.
Amnesty said that the majority of the Oromo people were targeted over their alleged support to the Oromo Liberation Front (OLF), a group that is fighting for the self-determination of the Oromo people.
The report was compiled based on testimonies from 200 exiled Oromo people, including former detainees.
Amnesty International’s report documents regular use of torture against actual or suspected Oromo dissenters in police stations, prisons, military camps and in their own homes.
A teacher told how he had been stabbed in the eye with a bayonet during torture in detention because he refused to teach propaganda about the ruling party to his students.
A young girl said she had hot coals poured on her stomach while she was detained in a military camp because her father was suspected of supporting the OLF.
A student was tied in contorted positions and suspended from the wall by one wrist because a business plan he prepared for a university competition was deemed to be underpinned by political motivations.
Former detainees repeatedly told of methods of torture including beatings, electric shocks, mock execution, burning with heated metal or molten plastic and rape, including gang rape.
Although the majority of former detainees interviewed said they never went to court, many alleged they were tortured to extract a confession.
“We interviewed former detainees with missing fingers, ears and teeth, damaged eyes and scars on every part of their body due to beating, burning and stabbing – all of which they said were the result of torture,” said Claire Beston.
Detainees are subject to miserable conditions, including severe overcrowding, underground cells, being made to sleep on the ground and minimal food. Many are never permitted to leave their cells, except for interrogation and, in some cases, aside from once or twice a day to use the toilet. Some said their hands or legs were bound in chains for months at a time.
As Ethiopia heads towards general elections in 2015, it is likely that the government’s efforts to suppress dissent, including through the use of arbitrary arrest and detention and other violations, will continue unabated and may even increase.
“The Ethiopian government must end the shameful targeting of thousands of Oromos based only on their actual or suspected political opinion. It must cease its use of detention without charge, torture and ill-treatment, incommunicado detention, enforced disappearance and unlawful killings to muzzle actual or suspected dissent,” said Claire Beston.
Interviewees repeatedly told Amnesty International that there was no point trying to complain or seek justice in cases of enforced disappearance, torture, possible killings or other violations. Some were arrested when they did ask about a relative’s fate or whereabouts.
Amnesty International believes there is an urgent need for intervention by regional and international human rights bodies to conduct independent investigations into these allegations of human rights violations in Oromia.
Former detainees told Amnesty that methods of torture included “beatings, electric shocks, mock execution, burning with heated metal or molten plastic and rape, including gang rape”.
BBC interviewing torture survivor and Dr Awol K on Amnesty report.
The Oromo account for nearly 45% of the country’s 94 million population.