Daily Archives: August 9, 2016

Oromo protests: Why US must stop enabling Ethiopia

Awol K. Allo, Special to CNN*

Awol K. Allo is LSE Fellow in Human Rights at the Centre for the Study of Human Rights. He writes on the issues behind several months of protests by Ethiopia’s largest ethnic group, the Oromos. Around 100 people died following clashes with security forces and demonstrators at the weekend, according to Amnesty International.
The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author.

London (CNN)Ethiopia is facing a crisis of unprecedented magnitude, yet its government and Western enablers refuse to acknowledge and recognize the depth of the crisis.

The nationwide protest held on Saturday by the Oromo people, the single largest ethnic group both in Ethiopia and the Horn of Africa, is clear evidence of a crisis that is threatening to degenerate into a full-scale social explosion.
The protests are the most unprecedented and absolutely extraordinary display of defiance by the Oromo people and it is by far the most significant political developments in the country since the death of Prime Minister Meles Zenawi, the strongman who ruled the country for over two decades.
The protests took place in more than 200 towns and villages across Oromia, Ethiopia’s largest region, and were attended by hundreds of thousands of people. According to Oromia media Network, security forces used live bullets against peaceful protestors, killing over 100 protestors.

Annexation

Oromos have been staging protest rallies across the country since April of 2014 against systematic marginalization and persecution of ethnic Oromos. The immediate trigger of the protest was a development plan that sought to expand the territorial limits of Ethiopia’s capital, Addis Ababa, into neighbouring Oromo villages and towns.

Dr. Awol Allo

Oromos saw the proposed master plan as a blueprint for annexation which would further accelerate the eviction of Oromo farmers from their ancestral lands.
When the protest resumed in November of 2015, the government dismissed the protestors as anti-peace elements and accused them of acting in unison with terrorist groups — a common tactic used by the government to crackdown on dissent and opposition.
The government used overwhelming force to crush the protest, killing hundreds of protestors and arresting thousands. In its recent report titled “Such a Brutal Crack Down”, Human Rights Watch criticized the “excessive and lethal force” used by security forces against “largely peaceful protestors” and puts the number of deaths at over 400.
The figure from the activist group is considerably higher.

Historic Injustices

The Oromo make up well over a third of Ethiopia’s 100 million people. Historically, Oromos have been pushed to the margin of the country’s political and social life and rendered unworthy of respect and consideration.
Oromo culture and language have been banned and their identity stigmatized, becoming invisible and unnoticeable within mainstream perspectives.

Ethiopians from Oromo group marching a road after protesters were shot dead by security forces in Wolenkomi, Addis Ababa, December 15, 2015

Oromos saw themselves as parts of no part — those who belong to the country but have no say in it, those who can speak but whose voices are heard as a noise, not a discourse.
When the current government came into power a quarter of a century ago, it pursued a strategy of divide and rule in which the Oromos and Amharas, the two largest ethnic groups in the country, are presented as eternal adversaries.
Oromos are blamed as secessionists to justify the continued monitoring, control, and policing of Oromo intellectuals, politicians, artists and activists.
By depicting Oromo demands for equal representation and autonomy as extremist and exclusionary, it tried to drive a wedge between them and other ethnic groups, particularly the Amharas.
This allowed the ruling Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front and Tigrayan elites to present themselves as the only political movement in the country that could provide the stability and continuity sought by regional and global powers with vested interest in the region.
Although these protests are triggered by more recent events, they are microcosms [of] a more enduring and deeper crisis of political representation and systematic marginalization suffered by the Oromo people.
In its 2015 comprehensive country report titled “Because I am Oromo”, Amnesty International found evidence of systematic and widespread patterns of indiscriminate and disproportionate attack against the Oromo simply because they are Oromos.

US Influence

The United States see the Ethiopian government as a critical partner on the Global War on Terror.
This led administration officials to go out of their way to create fantasy stories which cast Ethiopia as democratic and its leaders as progressive. In 2012, then US Ambassador to the UN, Susan Rice, described Meles Zenawi, the architect of the current system, as “uncommonly wise” and someone “able to see the big picture and the long game, even when others would allow immediate pressures to overwhelm sound judgment.”
In 2015, Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs Wendy Sherman praised Ethiopia as “a democracy that is moving forward in an election that we expect to be free, fair, credible, open and inclusive.” She further added, “”Every time there is an election, it gets better and better.” That election ended with the ruling party winning 100% of the seats in parliament by wiping out the one opposition in the previous parliament.
In 2016, President Obama became the first sitting American president to visit Ethiopia amid widespread opposition by human rights groups. Obama doubled down on previous endorsements by administration officials by describing the government as ‘democratically-elected.”

A police state

However, consistent reports by the US government itself and other human rights organizations depict an image of a police state whose apparatus of surveillance and control permeates the entire society down to household levels.
The US led ‘war on terror’, started by President George Bush, provided the government with a political and legal instrument with which the government justified severe restrictions on freedom of expression, assembly, and association.
The 2009 Anti-Terrorism Proclamation, one of the most draconian pieces of anti-terrorism legislations in the world, enabled the government to stretch its power of prosecution and punishment beyond what is permissible under standard criminal and constitutional law rules.
In recent years, terrorism trials have become the most significant legal instrument frequently used by the authorities to secure and consolidate the prevailing relationship of power between the ruling ethnic Tigrayan elites and other ethnic groups in the country.
Under the pretext of ‘fighting terrorism’, the regime exiled, prosecuted and convicted several opposition leaders, community leaders, journalists, bloggers, and activists; paralyzing criticisms of any type.
In its 2015 report titled Ethiopia’s Anti-Terrorism Law: A Tool to Stifle Dissent, the Oakland Institute details the ways in which Ethiopian authorities systematically appropriate the anti-terrorism law to annihilate dissent and opposition to the policies of the ruling party.

Denial

As of July, the protests have been spreading into the Amhara region, home to the second largest ethnic group in the country.
The Amharas and Oromos, which constitute well over two-third of the country’s population, are seen as ‘historical antagonists’. The ruling party transformed this antagonism between the two ethnic groups into a productive political tool.
According to the governing narrative, Oromos are narrow-minded and exclusionary people who seek to disintegrate Ethiopia into smaller republics while Amharas are chauvinists who seek to restore the old feudal order, leaving the ruling party as the only political force that can rescue Ethiopia from both threats.
These governing narratives are being exposed as the two groups begun to see how these narratives were crafted and are expressing solidarity towards each other as victims of the same system.
The Ethiopian government is in denial and making the same promises of restoring ‘law and order’ through further repression and crackdown.
However, this can only exacerbate the situation and throws the country into chaos in an already volatile region.
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Grand Oromo rally crackdown exposes Ethiopia’s deceptive-democratic process

(Advocacy for Oromia, 9 August 2016)  At least 150 people were killed in Oromia and hundreds more injured when Ethiopian security forces fired live bullets at peaceful protesters across Oromia; over 10,000 people were arrested in Oromia after police cracked down on the grand Oromo rally calling for freedom, justice and equality.

13876155_1667550590234168_1743565534769357291_nReports we are receiving form various direction indicate that more than 150 Oromo protesters have been killed by Ethiopians security and military forces in Oromia following massive anti-government protests over the weekend.

The challenge to receive accurate and timely information is still unresolved as the government entirely shut down internet connections throughout the country.

The regime also determined to continue jamming and blocking any media out let that providing information for the general public.

Reports from Oromia indicate that Oromo Voice Radio (OVR), VOA, Deutsche Welle Amharic service have been jammed since Yesterday, 8 August 2016.

Several tips from individuals indicates death tolls were high in east Hararge, Awaday, West Hararge, Qobbo, Hirna,West Arsi (in Assasa, Adaba, Shashemene and Kofele cities), West Shewa in the city of Waliso, Ambo and Ginchi town, West Wellega, Mendi, Qilxu Karra, and east Wolega, Naqamte in Oromia.

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This is martyred Mammush Birhanu who was killed by Agazi forces in south west Shawa Waliso 6 August 2026.

Accordingly more than 150 individuals identified who were believed to have been shot dead by security forces on Saturday alone.

Hundreds of protesters have also sustained gunshot wounds and denied medical treatment; hundreds detained by security forces while several people have disappeared without a trace.

According to eyewitness accounts, Oromo protesters were beaten with batons and sticks by security forces and then dragged into trucks.

More than 500 people were arrested from Finfinne and taken to unknown concentration camps where family and legal advisers are unable to reach.

Witness from Finfinnee- a city originally belonging to the Oromo, named as Falmata Oromia for the security reasons says Agazi police have quickly, and brutally dispersed protesters on 6 August 2016.

“They brutally beat us for no reason . . . . I was hit about 20 times. They hit me with batons and black plastic sticks and with their hands. Someone slapped me many times on the back of my head. Even now, my left ear hurts. I was hit in the head with a black baton. On 6 August 2016, the Grand Oromo Rally the Agazi police have sealed roads leading up to Mesqel Square where we-(Oromo online activists) called for the grand protests to happen.”

Amnesty International’s Deputy Regional Director for East Africa, the Horn and the Great Lakes, Michelle Kagari, condemned the police response to the protests as disproportionate, arguing that “the security forces’ response was heavy-handed, but unsurprising. Ethiopian forces have systematically used excessive force in their mistaken attempts to silence dissenting voices.”

Th Addis Ababa’s protesters photos and videos seen by Amnesty International show police beating protesters with batons at Meskel Square, the capital’s main public space.

In Oromia and Amhara, hundreds were arrested and are being held at unofficial detention centres, including police and military training bases.

“We are extremely concerned that the use of unofficial detention facilities may expose victims to further human rights violations including torture and other forms of ill-treatment,” said Michelle Kagari.

“All those arrested during the protests must be immediately and unconditionally released as they are unjustly being held for exercising their right to freedom of opinion.”

Unrest flared in Oromia for several months until early this year over plans to allocate farmland surrounding the regional capital for development. Authorities scrapped the scheme in January, but protests flared again over the continued detention of opposition demonstrators.

Oromia: Dozens killed as police use excessive force against peaceful protesters

8 August 2016, 17:57 UTC

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At least 97 people were killed and hundreds more injured when Ethiopian security forces fired live bullets at peaceful protesters across Oromia region and in parts of Amhara over the weekend, according to credible sources who spoke to Amnesty International.

Thousands of protesters turned out in Oromia and Amhara calling for political reform, justice and the rule of law. The worst bloodshed – which may amount to extrajudicial killings – took place in the northern city of Bahir Dar where at least 30 people were killed in one day.

“The security forces’ response was heavy-handed, but unsurprising. Ethiopian forces have systematically used excessive force in their mistaken attempts to silence dissenting voices,” said Michelle Kagari, Amnesty International’s Deputy Regional Director for East Africa, the Horn and the Great Lakes.

“These crimes must be promptly, impartially and effectively investigated and all those suspected of criminal responsibility must be brought to justice in fair trials before ordinary civilian courts without recourse to death penalty.”

Information obtained by Amnesty International shows that police fired live bullets at protesters in Bahir Dar on 7 August, killing at least 30. Live fire was also used in Gondar on 6 August, claiming at least seven lives.

“The security forces’ response was heavy-handed, but unsurprising. Ethiopian forces have systematically used excessive force in their mistaken attempts to silence dissenting voices.”
Michelle Kagari, Amnesty International’s Deputy Regional Director for East Africa, the Horn and the Great Lakes

No deaths were reported from the Addis Ababa protests, but photos and videos seen by Amnesty International show police beating protesters with batons at Meskel Square, the capital’s main public space.

In Oromia and Amhara, hundreds were arrested and are being held at unofficial detention centres, including police and military training bases.

“We are extremely concerned that the use of unofficial detention facilities may expose victims to further human rights violations including torture and other forms of ill-treatment,” said Michelle Kagari.

“All those arrested during the protests must be immediately and unconditionally released as they are unjustly being held for exercising their right to freedom of opinion.”

Background

The protests in Oromia are a continuation of peaceful demonstrations that began in November 2015 against a government masterplan to integrate parts of Oromia into the capital Addis Ababa. Deaths were reported in multiple towns in the region, including Ambo, Adama, Asassa, Aweday, Gimbi, Haromaya, Neqemte, Robe and Shashemene.

The protests in Amhara began on 12 July 2016 when security forces attempted to arrest Colonel Demeka Zewdu, one of the leaders of the Wolqait Identity and Self-Determination Committee, for alleged terrorism offences.

Wolqait is an administrative district in Tigray Region that was part of Amhara Region before the ruling Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) came to power 1991. It has been agitating for reintegration into Amhara for the last 25 years.

This press release if from https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/news/2016/08/ethiopia-dozens-killed-as-police-use-excessive-force-against-peaceful-protesters/