Oduu Haaraya
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Timeline: Human Rights Situation in Ethiopia


Sparked by the Ethiopian Government’s plan to incorporate parts of the Oromia region surrounding Addis Ababa to the capital municipality in 2014, the Oromo people, the largest Ethiopian ethnicity, have used the latest round of protests that started in November 2015 to make their more basic grievances of lacking political participation and persecution on grounds of ethnicity heard. In all cases, the Government met their people’s expression of discontent with excessive and often lethal force, leaving more than a thousand Oromo dead within less than a year.

The Ogaden Somali ethnic group and other minorities, such as the Benishangul and Amhara, have during the same timeframe also experienced continued Government suppression. Local and federal police and militia have been indiscriminately killing civilians and pillaging whole communities where people refused to make way for government-backed investment projects.

The international community, after initially only reluctantly addressing the severe human rights violations, have in October 2016 found clear words condemning the Ethiopian Government’s abuses of their citizens’ basic freedoms.

October 16: The Ethiopian Government imposes a whole host of measures within the scope of the one-week old state of emergency impinging severely on the population’s civil liberties. Those measures include a 6pm to 6am curfew; the right to stop and search suspects; to search private residences without prior court order and forbidding diplomats to travel further than a 40 km radius around the capital. Opposition organizations regarded as “terrorist groups” by the regime have, moreover, been put under a total media blackout, prohibiting them to release any statements as well as banning anyone from establishing contact with them.

October 14: EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs, Federica Mogherini, speaks in a telephone call to Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn. In the conversation, she expresses the EU’s worries about the recently imposed state of emergency. The High Representative highlights the slippery slope that a state of emergency brings about for the compliance with civil liberties and urges the Prime Minister to comply with human rights standards as provided for by the Ethiopian constitution.

October 12: The European Parliament’s Subcommittee on Human Rights and the EP Committee on Development jointly hold a hearing addressing the deteriorating human rights situation in Ethiopia. During the meeting, Members of the European Parliament, human rights experts and representatives of the Ethiopian Government had a chance to express their concerns and points of view. Although several MEPs call for the EU to review its strategic partnership with Addis Ababa, denouncing its appalling human rights record, the EU Commission and its External Action Service insist on a dialogue and collaboration with the incumbent government. Ms Barbara Lochbihler MEP extended the debate to the precarious situation of the Ogaden people, who have been subjected to the same kind of rights abuses as the Oromo over the past years. Ms Linda McAvan MEP and Chair of the EP Committee on Development, in turn, adds that the EU would need a reliable and stable partner in the region who respects the rights of political minorities.

October 10: UN human rights experts call for an independent investigation of the ongoing government-directed violence in Ethiopia. The experts would like to see an international commission of inquiry established in order to bring to justice those responsible for the severe human rights violations. While still persistently under-reporting the number of people fallen victim to government-sponsored killing squads, the Special Rapporteur on freedom of peaceful assembly and of association as well as the Working Group on enforced or involuntary disappearances and on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions do strongly condemn the Ethiopian Government’s violent reaction to peaceful demonstrations. The human rights experts, further, highlight a few choice words on the current Ethiopian anti-terrorism legislation, which they describe as conducive to acts leading to extrajudicial executions.

October 8: The Ethiopian Government declares a six-month state of emergency for Oromia. In response to ongoing protests after the Irrecha massacre, the Prime Minister decries the peaceful Oromo protests as a danger to the Ethiopian people and institutes the state of emergency.

October 6: The Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF) send their condolences to the families of the Irrecha massacre victims. The ONLF call the Tigrean Peoples Liberation Front (TPLF) Government’s horrific disregard for human rights crimes against humanity and demand the government to put an end to the impunity under which their killing squads keep murdering unarmed civilians. Furthermore, the ONLF  states that they regard the Oromo’s and all other oppressed Ethiopian people’s struggle for justice in the face of the TPLF-sponsored violation of their basic dignity as their own.

October 5: The Peoples Alliance for Freedom and Democracy (PAFD), while condemning the regime’s increasing paranoia, extends an invitation for collaboration with other civil society organizations. In a statement on the 2 October Irrecha mass killing, the PAFD invites all civil society groups, NGOs or opposition parties working for the respect of human rights to collaborate and join forces with them to put a stop to the government’s harassment of its people and to find a way for all Ethiopians to live together in peace. This is proposed to be achieved by a concerted effort to draw up a transitional mechanism for a peaceful shift in power towards an inclusive government for all people of Ethiopia.

October 5: The EU External Action Service fails to adequately condemn the 2 October Oromo mass killing. Disappointingly, they fail to mention the perpetrators of the horrific events, which is the Agazi killing squad, as well as the Ethiopian people’s most immediate needs, which are to live freely in a democratic country and to have a say in the matters affecting their regions and communities.

October 2: The Irrecha Festival Massacre. At the Oromo Festival of thanksgiving, the government-sponsored Agazi killing squad fires rubber bullets and live ammunition into a large crowd of Oromos, who were also protesting the government’s exploitation of their sacred festival for their own political agenda,causing the death of at least 600 peaceful demonstrators. The deployment of armoured vehicles and a combat helicopter, moreover, triggered a stampede on top of the already appalling tragedy.

September 20: The European Union’s Annual Report on Human Rights and Democracy in the World 2015 shines a light on the precarious human rights situation in Oromia. The Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organization (UNPO) welcomes the clear stand the EU is taking on the protection of human rights but remarks the scarcity of reliable sources on Oromia used in the report.

Mid-September: 300 Benishangul were arrested during land rights protests. The locals of the town of Gizan in Benishangul-Gumuz refused to leave their land after it had been sold for gold prospecting to government and army officials from Tigray; over a dozen of them are claimed to have died in detention.

September 6: The European Commission assures in an emailed statement that no money from its Emergency Trust Fund is being channelled through the Ethiopian Government or any of its agencies.

August 23: The crowdfunding campaign instituted by Abdi Fite, Lalisaa Hikaa and Solomon Ungashe on the day after Feyisa Lilesa’s silver medal success to support his claim of asylum surpassed $100,000 in just two days.

August 21: The Oromo athlete Feyisa Lilesa finishes second in Rio’s Olympic marathon event and signals his support for Oromo protests while crossing the finish line. The Olympic athlete crosses his arms with his fists closed over his head as a sign of protest against the Ethiopian Government’s treatment of his people. Despite government statements calling him an Ethiopian hero, Lilesa fears to be killed if he were to return home.

August 16: The Ethiopian Government dismisses the OHCHR’s plea for an independent investigation of the latest violent crackdowns on peaceful Oromo and Amhara protesters. In his statement the government spokesperson appears unwilling to allow any opposition to the regime’s policies to be voiced at all.

August 10: The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) urges the Ethiopian Government to grant access to independent investigators to all conflict zones. The OHCHR demands that human rights experts be allowed to transparently assess the most recent state-sponsored violations of the freedom to peaceful assembly that have verberated especially the Oromo region since late 2015, so far, culminating in the 6-7 August indiscriminate killing of one hundred unarmed protesters.

August 6 and 7: Approximately 100 people have been killed when security forces used excessive force against Oromo and Amhara protesters. All across Oromia and in several parts of Amhara people went out on the streets to demand political reform, respect for the rule of law and an end to the persecution of people with dissenting opinions from that of the government.

July 21: Two Oromo die in a self-immolation in front of the UNHCR’s offices in Cairo. The two asylum seekers set themselves ablaze over desperate frustration with the UN officials’ slow processing and frequent rejection of Oromo’s claims for asylum, which currently leaves over 10,000 Oromo asylum seekers in limbo in Egypt alone.

June 28: Julie Ward MEP and the Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organization (UNPO) enable the newly founded Peoples Alliance for Freedom and Democracy (PAFD) to present themselves at the European Parliament. During a roundtable discussion, the PAFD explained their agenda, which covers topics such as the potential for peaceful dialogue and cooperation between all oppressed ethnic groups.

UNPO General Secretary Marino Busdachin, further, stresses the importance to ensure that EU development funds reach the affected people and are not being embezzled by Government officials. Ms  Ward and her colleague Ana Gomes MEP agree that the EU could do more to raise awareness for the deplorable human rights conditions that Ethiopian minorities are facing; the European Parliament’s resolution of January 2016 condemning the crackdown on peaceful Oromo protests had been an urgently needed first step in the right direction, but only unwavering support for a coalition of local stakeholders could bring sustainable prosperity to Ethiopia.

June 22 and 23: Two side-events to the XXXII Regular Session of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva deal with the relationship of business ventures and human rights in Ogaden and the repeated violent suppression of peaceful Oromo protests since November 2015. The Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organization (UNPO), in cooperation with the Nonviolent Radical Party (PRNTT), the Human Rights League of the Horn of Africa and the Ogaden People’s Rights Organization organized both events, which were directed at an audience of human rights defenders, diplomats, politicians, journalists and academics from all over the world.

The June 22 event culminated in the premiere of Mr Graham Peebles’ investigative documentary entitled: “Ogaden: Ethiopia’s Hidden Shame”, portraying the Ethiopian security forces’ reckless methods of torture, rape and other excessive forms of violence as described by victims now staying at Dadaab Refugee Camp in Kenya. The second side-event on June 23 saw the presentation of the latest Human Rights Watch report on the situation of Oromo in Ethiopia, published on June 16 (see below), and an in-depth analysis of the background to the Oromo protests expounded by Mr Garoma Wakessa, Director of the Human Rights League of the Horn of Africa. Both side-events achieved the aim of convincingly disenchanting the West’s view of Ethiopia as a role model for a well-developing African democracy or as an anchor of stability for the region.

June 16: The Senior Human Rights Watch Researcher on the Horn of Africa, Felix Horne, publishes his latest report on the Ethiopian Government’s human rights record. The report is entitled “‘Such a Brutal Crackdown’: Killings and Arrests in Response to Ethiopia’s Oromo Protests” and gives a detailed account of the excessive force used by government-backed militias in extrajudicial killings, arbitrary arrests and maltreatment in detention. It is comprised of 125 eyewitness testimonies and victims’ accounts gathered between the start of the Oromo protests in November 2015 and May 2016; it finds severe violations of the freedoms of expression, peaceful assembly and access to information.

June 15: The founder of the Semayawi Party, Samuel Aweke, is found dead after openly criticizing the government. He reportedly received ominous threats from security officials following the publication of a critical article on the behaviour of Ethiopian security forces during the 2016 national elections. Since his murder, an alleged perpetrator has been convicted of the crime, notwithstanding trial observers calling the proceedings a sham.

June 5: 51 unarmed civilians have been killed in an indiscriminate Ethiopian army attack in Ogaden. After murdering scores of inhabitants of the village of Jama’ Dubad near Gashamo in the Ogaden region, the army forces kidnapped a dozen community elders and burnt the village to the ground, making sure to completely destroy the villagers’ livelihoods in the process.

May 3: A delegation from the Ogaden People’s Rights Organization raises awareness at meetings with UN officials for the most recent Ethiopian State-sponsored human rights violations. The visit to the Palais des Nations in Geneva has been facilitated by UNPO and is designed to increase pressure on the Ethiopian Government to grant unlimited access to humanitarian agencies to the country and to allow for an independent investigation of the ongoing severe human rights violations, as previous appeals by the international community have gone unheeded.

May 2: The White House forcefully condemns the indictment of Oromo opposition politician Bekele Gerba. The Obama administration calls on the Ethiopian Government to cease using its anti-terrorism legislation to prosecute journalists, politicians and human rights defenders.

April 26: 22 dissidents appear in front of the Ethiopian Federal High Court. After being held incommunicado, without access to legal counsel and under deplorable hygienic conditions for four days, the 22 human rights activists and opposition politicians charged on April 22 under the Anti-Terrorism Proclamation (see below) have been presented to their judges. Four of the prisoners of conscience – including the Oromo Federalist Congress’s First General Secretary, Bekele Gerba – had, additionally, been placed under dark solitary confinement after refusing to take ominous pills administered to them by prison authorities.

April 22: 22 civil society activists and opposition politicians have been arrested and charged under the Anti-Terrorism Proclamation. They are being accused of inciting violence and being members of the outlawed Oromo Liberation Front; among the detained is the globally respected Oromo Federalist Congress politician Bekele Gerba, who had just been released from prison earlier in 2016.

March 27: Almost 300 Oromo asylum seekers gather in protest in front of the UNHCR building in Cairo. The protesters are trying to raise awareness for the long wait for their applications to be processed and for the high number of rejected claims for asylum.

March 21 to 25: The Peoples Alliance for Freedom and Democracy (PAFD) holds its first general congress. The Alliance, which is made up of five organizations representing five different oppressed Ethiopian peoples – among them the Oromo Liberation Front and the Ogaden National Liberation Front – besides organizational issues, addressed the state of the member organizations’ collective struggle against the oppressive regime and invited all Ethiopian ethnicities to join their cause.

March 15: The Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organization (UNPO) is worried about the Ogaden people’s right to self-determination in the face of an Ethiopia-China gas deal. For the implementation of the recently agreed natural gas deal, UNPO calls, particularly, on the European Parliament to make sure that the local Ogaden population will be involved in the decision making process connected to all environmental and land rights side effects that are to be expected.

March 10: The Peoples Alliance for Freedom and Democracy (PAFD) releases a statement expressing its concern about a multi-billion dollar natural gas project. The business venture between the Ethiopian and Djibouti Governments and a Chinese investor is designed to exploit Ogaden’s natural gas resources. Judging from earlier experiences – particularly forced displacements of whole communities without adequate compensation, extrajudicial killings and forced disappearances – the PAFD fears that the people of Ogaden will come out at the short end of the deal.

March 3: Two foreign journalists and their interpreter have been arbitrarily detained for 24 hours. A government spokesperson claimed the two journalists, who had reported on the most recent Oromo protests, were in violation of their press accreditation – in other words, reporting on events they were not supposed to report on. Their translator was detained, according to the spokesperson, because of his affiliation with an opposition group.

Early March: Facebook Messenger, Twitter and WhatsApp are being blocked in Oromia and other regions of Ethiopia. The social media sites have remained inaccessible for months to come. The government-enforced social media blackout, enabled by Ethio Telecom, who is the only telecommunications provider in Ethiopia, has been denied to be intentional by the government and has not been commented on by Ethio Telecom. The ban on social media does, however, match known patterns of practices by the Ethiopian regime to undermine the free flow of information on people trying to make their grievances heard.

February 26: The Ethiopian Government de facto declares martial law over Oromia. By removing all civil administrators of Oromia from office and replacing them with members of the federal intelligence and military officers, the government de facto declares martial law over the Ethiopian heartland.

February: Ethiopian forces carry out a gruesome mass killing of 300 villagers in Ogaden. The whole community of Labarbar village near Shilaabo in Ogaden is reported to have been completely destroyed by the Ethiopian army, supported by the infamous Liyu Police militia, apparently due to its vicinity to the Jeexdin (Calub) natural gas field.

January 29: Seven inmates have been tortured for hours at an Addis Ababa prison. Overnight, seven inmates at Kalitti prison in Addis Ababa have been severely beaten by prison officials, reportedly receiving broken limbs, cuts and open wounds, leaving their naked bodies smeared in blood. They were, subsequently, subjected to an unknown period of dark solitary confinement. One prisoner, who was separated from the others and whose injuries are reported to have been exceptionally severe, is feared dead.

January 27: More than 50 Anuak civilians have been indiscriminately shot dead by regional security forces and local militia in villages all over the Gambella region in what has been described as an “ethnic cleansing” campaign by the Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organization (UNPO). The premeditated raids appear to be in connection with government-suspicions against members of the Anuak ethnicity of affiliations with the Gambella Peoples’ Liberation Movement, a founding member of the Peoples Alliance for Freedom and Democracy (PAFD).

January 27: 20 Oromo protesters have been injured in a demonstration. Security forces hit protesters with batons and iron rods to the head and legs in a police operation to crackdown on a peaceful demonstration in Addis Ababa.

January 21: The European Parliament (EP) issues a resolution on the situation in Ethiopia. The EP calls for an independent investigation of the latest crackdowns on peaceful Oromo protesters by government-sponsored militias. At the same time, the Parliamentarians do not neglect to appropriately mention the deplorable human rights conditions from which the Ogaden people keep suffering; the resolution outspokenly criticises the government-imposed ban on media coverage and any kind of impartial investigation of the war crimes and serious human rights violations committed by the Ethiopian army and government paramilitary forces in Ogaden. The European institution, further, pledges to keep a close eye on the use of funds from European development assistance, making sure that none of it trickles off to the central government to be used to prolong the suppression of its own people. The Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organization (UNPO) welcomes the resolution as a necessary step towards human rights protection and democracy in Ethiopia.

January 21: UN human rights experts are welcome  the abandonment of the “Addis Ababa Master Plan”. UN experts on communicative freedoms and on enforced disappearances express their satisfaction with the abandonment of the “Master Plan”, but urge the Ethiopian Government to also put an end to the violent suppression of peaceful protests.

January 17-20: Despite the cancellation of the “Master Plan”, at least 12 protesters are killed during several peaceful demonstrations all over Oromia.

January 14: Oromo protest in front of the European Parliament. Oromo communities from Belgium, the Netherlands and Germany raise awareness in Brussels for the Ethiopian Government’s repeated brutal crackdowns on peaceful Oromo demonstrations. The protesters also demand that the EU cut all development assistance from which the Ethiopian Government would benefit until a peaceful solution to the current human rights crisis has been found. The Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organization (UNPO) fully supports the Oromo’s demand to have the Ethiopian Government held responsible for the crimes they committed.

January 12: The Ethiopian Government calls off its “Master Plan”. After the violent deaths of more than 140 Oromo protesters since November 2015, the Ethiopian Government finally halts its “Addis Ababa Integrated Master Plan”. The decision was reached after three days of talks between government officials and representatives from local Oromo communities. Oromo activists, however, regard the government’s concessions as “too little too late”, as the grievances voiced by the demonstrators have long since exceeded this single concern and spread to more fundamental demands of good governance, political participation and the end of ethnically motivated persecution of Oromos and many other Ethiopian peoples.

December: The number of deaths related to the use of excessive force by security forces during the crackdown of peaceful protests keeps increasing. Until the end of December, well-known patterns of excessive force used by federal police or the ruthless Liyu security forces – all controlled by the central Tigrean-dominated Government – have been reported by Human Rights Watch in 62 separate incidents all over Oromia, leading to 27 confirmed deaths of protesters and arrests of pupils as young as 8, while local human rights organizations claim hundreds more (at least 143) have fallen victim to the Ethiopian security forces’ unyielding violence.

Last Week of November: Four Oromo students die at a protest rally at Haramaya University in Oromia. The Ethiopian Government’s federal police, known as “Agazi”, opened fire on peaceful demonstrators at Haramaya University in Dire Dawa, a town located in eastern Oromia. The students – like many Oromo these days – were protesting the “Addis Ababa Master Plan”, which embodies for them the ruling Tigrean elite’s disregard for Oromo farmers’ land rights and stands emblematically for the Government’s persecutory policies directed against most Ethiopian peoples, including the Oromo and Ogaden.

Mid-November (starting on November 12): Oromo protests against the so-called “Addis Ababa Integrated Master Plan” keep intensifying.

Oromia sees increasing protest against the “Addis Ababa Master Plan”, which has been designed to accommodate the concerns of the growing Ethiopian capital city by integrating large swathes of the surrounding Oromia region into the city, in the process dispossessing countless Oromo farmers’ agricultural land. The Oromo make up the largest ethnic group of Ethiopia and account for around 35% of its total population, inhabiting the heartland of the country all around the capital city. The first demonstrations against the “Master Plan” had already occurred in April 2014, when its implementation began, and during which security forces (or “Liyu” police) already killed several dozen protesters.

During the first protests of November 2016, which were mostly organized by university and school students as well as those farmers directly affected by the plan, the police used teargas when the demonstrators refused to disperse and arrested many participants of the peaceful assembly. In ensuing protests the federal police (or “Agazi” – an infamous government-sponsored killing squad) did not stop at firing tear gas at the protesters but, after firing warning shots into the air, started shooting indiscriminately into the crowd, killing scores of unarmed demonstrators.

October 23:

After a two-day meeting in Oslo, Norway, the Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF), the Oromo Liberation Front (OLF), the Benishangul People’s Liberation Movement (BPLM), the Gambella People’s Liberation Movement (GPLM) and the Sidama National Liberation Front (SNLF) found a political alliance, named Peoples Alliance for Freedom and Democracy (PAFD), which is designed to unite the peaceful efforts of the participating ethnicities in working together towards ending the persistent and severe human rights violations committed by successive central Ethiopian Governments.

The Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organization (UNPO) calls the establishment of the PAFD “a milestone for the struggle for human rights and democracy in Ethiopia”; the equal footing on which the different ethnic organizations have met is regarded as the best hope for an all-inclusive process of national reconciliation.

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