Monthly Archives: August 2016

Press briefing notes on Ethiopia and Thailand

Spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights: Ravina Shamdasani

Ravina-Shamdasani

Location: Geneva

Date:  19 August 2016                         

(1) Ethiopia

Given the extremely alarming reports that emerged earlier this month about serious human rights violations in the Oromia and Amhara regions of Ethiopia, the High Commissioner reached out to the Ethiopian Government, seeking access for independent observers to the country to assess the human rights situation. We have now received a reply from the Government, indicating that they will launch an independent investigation into the events.

We welcome the decision to launch an independent investigation, and we urge the Government to ensure that the investigation has a mandate to cover allegations of human rights violations since the unrest in Oromia began in November 2015, that it is indeed independent, transparent, thorough and effective, with a view to establishing whether the use of excessive force occurred and with a view to bringing to justice the perpetrators of any human rights violations.

We stand ready to assist in ensuring that the investigation is undertaken in line with international human rights standards. We also reiterate our request for access to the affected areas, as the situation on the ground makes it very challenging for independent civil society actors to operate, particularly given the tense situation in parts of the Oromia and Amhara regions, where a large security presence has reportedly been deployed, and there are reports of ongoing arbitrary arrests, intimidation and harassment of people in the regions.

We call on the Government to ensure that the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and expression are protected and that those detained for exercising these rights are promptly released. Protests must be handled by security forces with full respect for international human rights laws and standards on the use of force.

We also call on the Government to work towards opening up the political and democratic space. This should include a comprehensive reform of the security sector, as well as legislative and institutional reforms.

(2) Thailand

We are very concerned about the continued, mounting constraints on the democratic space in Thailand, and call for a prompt return to civilian rule. Following the military coup in May 2014, severe restrictions on freedoms of expression and opinion and assembly have been in place through the use of criminal and military laws and orders. Leading up to this month’s Constitutional Referendum, these measures actually increased. Overall, at least 1,300 people have been summoned, arrested or charged, and 1,629 civilians have been tried before the military courts.

Since June, at least 115 people have been arrested or charged under military orders, criminal codes and the Constitution Referendum Act for expressing their opinion on the draft constitution or reporting human rights violations, including torture. Twelve individuals arrested in Chiang Mai Province in late July and a student activist who was arrested on 6 August remain in detention. The remaining have been released, but remain under investigation or have been charged.

We urge Thailand to immediately drop all charges against political activists and human rights defenders, and to release those jailed for voicing dissent on the draft charter in the run-up to the referendum. We also call on the authorities to suspend the use of military courts and military orders in cases involving civilians. These measures are now urgently needed as Thailand moves towards an election in 2017 aimed at restoring democracy, as proposed in the military government’s roadmap.

The election next year represents an opportunity for Thailand to meet the commitment it made at the UN Human Rights Council during its Universal Periodic Review in May 2016 to fully respect the freedom of expression, and therefore guarantee a more inclusive and participatory process that involves all political parties, civil society and the media in an open and non-threatening environment.

ENDS

For more information and media requests, please contact Ravina Shamdasani (+41 22 917 9169 / rshamdasani@ohchr.org) or Cécile Pouilly (+41 22 917 9310 / cpouilly@ohchr.org)

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Reiterating the Oromo political Questions and Ultimate objectives of the Oromo struggle

The OLF press release

Today, the Oromo people is more aware and struggles for its rights more than any time in the history of the Liberation movement. This bitter and widespread struggle has shaken the TPLF regime from its base. The OLF – Qeerroo members have made huge sacrifices to arrive at this promising stage of the Oromo liberation movement.
The efforts to coordinate few “known” individual elites and Oromo organisations advocating for mere political reforms, making allies and re-allying will never be a solution for a century and half long political crises in Ethiopia but put the east Africa in another political crises. The OLF believe that this idea of coordinating from foreign is repeating the 1991 political game played on Oromo struggle. The Oromo political and economic rights can never be solved by external body and by those individuals who want to fulfill their power ambitions.
The Oromo problem is a fundamental political, economic and social issue that the Oromo people have realized decades ago and sacrificed their lives, properties and livelihood. Nobody can deny that the Oromo people shall gain its self- determination right not by external forces but by its united voice and coordinated struggle under the vanguard the OLF- Qeerroo movement.

Source: Reiterating the Oromo political Questions and Ultimate objectives of the Oromo struggle

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.