Urgent Open Letter to The Ethiopian Government, the WHO and International Community
The Ethiopian Government should be part of the World Community in Fighting Against COVID-19 and Respecting Human Rights of the Citizens
Monday, April 06, 2020
We, Oromo Civic, Professional, and Faith-based organizations in Diaspora write this letter out of grave concern that COVID-19 might cause preventable loss of lives in Oromia and the whole of Ethiopia upon all political prisoners, temporarily displaced persons such as refugee and homeless peoples who are extremely vulnerable because of their unhealthy living conditions. We are also concerned by the damages that could be done by the movement of the military personnel and the continued deployment of the illegal command posts in several Oromia regions during this period of fast-spreading COVID-19 pandemic. At this critical global health emergency, deployment of the military should be to contain the COVID-19, not to harass, kill, displace and plunder the citizens.
COVID-19 is unprecedented pandemic, and it exerts multifaceted threats. We have no cure or vaccination for this highly contagious disease. The only tool we have is prevention and mitigation. Prevention strategies are complex, and they take place at different levels and require coordinated efforts. This necessitates the government and the public to go extra miles. The WHO recommended prevention strategies are social distancing and personal hygiene. Social distancing means being two meters apart from each other, avoiding public meetings, and restricting travels. But the Ethiopian prisons are overcrowded with political prisoners and luck clean water. These conditions put the prisoners and the general public in unnecessary public health risks.
Moreover, the ruling Prosperity Party of Prime Minister Abiy is continuously holding public meetings and forcing people to attend in Oromia Regional State, in packed halls with thousands of people for political orientation. This is neglecting or prudently violating the global health guideline- one of which is social distancing. Such action is deliberately or negligently exposing the people to the deadly virus. This tantamount to genocide.
Ethiopia also has historical practices where the movement of soldiers unwittingly led to the spread of infectious diseases from one place to another and transmitted disease-causing agents. At this time, the Ethiopian army is deployed to several regions and is serving in the command posts.
For over a year, Western and Southern Oromia zones are under illegal command posts or martial law. The soldiers of the command posts are engaged in killings, imprisoning, and harassing civilians. In those regions, farming, businesses, schooling, and other activities are either entirely stopped or significantly disrupted, and the condition has subjected the people to live in poverty and malnutrition.
Poverty and food insecurity also make people vulnerable to infections. Hence, the illegal command post has created unhealthy social conditions and generated unnecessary risks to the transmission of COVID-19. From the zones ruled by the martial law and others, people who feared the atrocities of the Ethiopian security forces are massively fleeing from their homes to major cities. Many of them are now in cities and live in overcrowded housing or homeless. In the last twenty years in Finfinne/Addis Ababa area, the Oromo people have been evicted massively from their homes with little or no compensation, and many of them are now homeless.
Resulted from the Ethiopian government’s divide and rule policies, over two million Oromos have been evicted from their homes. Most of them live in overcrowded housing, and others are homeless. Homelessness and overcrowded housing are major risk factors for COVID-19. The Ethiopian public health action plans to contain the COVID-19 needs to include housing the homeless people and respecting human rights principles.
The widespread human rights violations are causing people to flee from their homes and displacing them locally and making them international refugees. The movement of the armed forces and the displacement of civilian populations are creating fertile grounds for the transmission of COVID-19 and putting the local and global communities at risk.
Breaking the chain of transmission of infections is possible only if we effectively communicate the risk of transmissions and preventive strategies. The significance of effective communication during emergency and epidemics are well known, and the WHO gives specific guidelines. During an emergency, the information should be delivered by the most trusted institution. Mixing politics and public health is counterproductive. However, in Ethiopia, politicians are mixing their party’s political agendas with health information. Some of the Ethiopian government political figures on their Facebook pages describe their political opponents as “the Coronavirus”. The political figures who openly use detestable languages also deliberately misinforms the public. Mixing politics and health education compounded with inaccurate messaging repeal those who do not adhere to party politics and make health education ineffective. At this critical juncture mixing politics and health education and giving misinformation is counterproductive. Health education should have primacy over political indoctrination.
COVID-19 does not discriminate between the supporters of different political parties, languages, religions, and ethnic-national-race groups. In such understanding, the United Nations (UN) Secretary-General António Guterres called for an immediate ceasefire among all parties involved in armed conflict. We know that human rights violations, war, and armed conflict have exposed our people to famine and HIV/AIDS. We urge the Ethiopian government to settle the political differences with the Oromo Liberation Army (OLA) peacefully and focus on the common enemy-the the disease-causing agent. Evidence-based public health policy directions in prevention and mitigating COVID-19 suggest the need for coordinated and multilateral efforts. Highly credible sources suggest that holding back this deadly virus is on the hand of the public, and everyone need to play their parts. This necessitates the need to build the social, economic, political, and cultural capacities of a group of people and individuals. Developing these capacities requires advancing individuals and group rights and communities’ capacity to prevent and mitigate the problem.
We, therefore, urge the Ethiopian government to respect human rights principles, release political prisoners, remove the command posts and protect vulnerable population groups such refugees, those internally displaced, and homeless individuals from the spread of COVID-19. We call upon the Ethiopian government to immediately take the following critical public health measures:
- Release all political prisoners.
- Make prison cells are consistent with the WHO recommended social distancing principles.
- Lift the martial law in the Oromia Regional State because it hinders people from leading a healthy life and playing their role to contain and mitigate the impacts of COVID-19.
- Stop all forms of human rights violations because it kills the aspiration of people to understand and solve problems.
- Stop displacing people locally or making them international refugees,
- Stop armed conflict and settle political differences with the OLA by a peaceful means.
- Overcrowded housing and homelessness are the manifestations of the ill-planned policy, and the government needs to strive to correct those wrongs.
- Stop holding public political meetings, because most of them do not fulfill the principle of social spacing
- Stop harassing and threatening independent mass media, including Oromia Media Network and Oromia News Network and let information to freely flow in Oromia.
Oromia Global Forum: A consortium of Oromo Civic, Professional and Faith-Based Organizations
Bilal Oromo Dawa Center
Canaan Oromo Evangelical Church
Charismatic International Fellowship Church
Global Gumii Oromia
Global Oromo Advocacy Group
Global Waaqeffannaa Council
Horn of Africa Genocide Watch
Human Rights League of the Horn of Africa
International Oromo Women’s Organization
International Qeerroo Support Group
Mana Kiristaanaa Fayyisaa Addunyaa
Oromo Christ Evangelical Lutheran Church
Oromo Communities’ Association of North America
Oromo Evangelical Lutheran Church of Washington DC Metropolitan Area
Oromo Evangelical Lutheran Mission Society
Oromo Human Rights and Relief Organization
Oromo Legacy, Leadership and Advocacy Association
Oromo Lutheran Church of Baltimore
Oromo Parliamentarians Council
Oromo Studies Association
Oromia Support Group
Tawfiq Islamic Center
Union of Oromo Communities in Canada
United Oromo Evangelical Church
Washington DC Metropolitan Oromo SDA Church
Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus,
Director of World Health Organization (WHO)
Avenue Appia 20 1211, Geneva
World Health Organization – Regional Office for Africa
Cité du Djoué, P.O.Box 06 Brazzaville Republic of Congo
Telephone: +(47 241) 39402 Fax: +(47 241) 39503
Email: firstname.lastname@example.org CC: email@example.com
The US Department of State (USA)
Minister of Foreign Affairs (Canada)
Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (UK) Minister for
Foreign Affairs (Sweden)
Minister of Foreign Affairs (Norway)
Ministry for Europe and Foreign Affairs (France)
Federal Foreign Office (Germany)
HUMAN RIGHTS GROUPS
UN Human Rights Council
Africa Union (AU)
African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights Council of Europe,
UN Office of the Commissioner for Human Rights
Human Rights Watch
MEDIA AND NEWS GROUPS
Oromia News Network
Oromia Media Network
Hegeree News Network
Radio Sagalee Walabummaa Oromiyaa
VOA Afaan Oromoo Program
BBC Afaan Oromo Program
The Washington Post
New York Times