Since PM Abiy Ahmed (PhD) took power in Ethiopia, news of conflict and civilian atrocities have proliferated. Although it blames different groups for the atrocities committed, it is undeniable that the government has not carried out its basic responsibility of protecting citizens. Many blame the government’s sluggish responses in averting such tragedies and demand the government take all necessary measures.
Even during the early days when the PM enjoyed the support of a larger number of people, there were repeated criticisms that his government was rather too soft on security matters. The PM responded back then by stating that ‘the bad smell’ is expected as ‘the house has just been opened after being left closed for a long time.’ With over two years gone since those days, the complaints have risen to allegations of genocide in different parts of the country. However, the response from the government is still criticized as lackluster. Its response is usually that it is trying its maximum best to restore peace and security and is fighting political groups that have a hidden agenda.
As the killings, displacement of people and destruction of property exacerbated, people went skeptical of the government’s ability to eliminate those forces behind the atrocities. As clearly shown in the demonstrations held a fortnight ago across numerous towns in the Amhara region, people have recently gone further to suspect that the government might be involved in these attacks against civilians.
As the attacks grew in number and the atrocities committed, the government attributed them to the forces of the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) and OLF-Shene. These groups have been accused of training and financing other groups on top of the attacks and destabilizing acts they have been committing.
Members of Parliament called on the government to designate the groups as terrorist organizations, especially following the attack of ethnic Amharas in Oromia region Guliso Woreda, Gawwa Qanqa kebele, a couple of days before the war in Tigray started, and demanded a lasting solution from the government. On that particular parliamentary session, emotional MPs asked the PM why the government failed to designate the two as terrorist groups.
Despite heavy criticism by MPs and opposition parties, the atrocities have since intensified. Fast forward to around a week ago, the Council of Ministers (CoM) in a meeting held on the eve of the Ethiopian Easter, passed a resolution to designate TPLF and Shene as terrorist organizations. The Council stated that TPLF and Shene have been relentlessly carrying out terrorist attacks on innocent civilians and public property.
According to the Council, following the ill-intention and futile attempts of the two terrorist groups, the lives of innocent civilians have been lost, many have been wounded, a huge sum of property has been destroyed, and a number of citizens have been displaced. Moreover, the council noted, these and other organizations have eroded the trust between the public and the government.
The council also underlined that these destructive attempts have drawn back on the government’s pursuit of prosperity, diverting its sole focus towards security concerns. It said that the rationale behind all these destructive measures is to attain a hidden political objective and meet a partisan mission via attacking innocent citizens and damaging infrastructure by assigning a number of infiltrators and anti-peace elements.
Hence, the CoM said that the resolution was presented based on Article 18 and 19 of Proclamation 1176/2012, which deals with the Prevention and Suppression of Terrorism Crimes. According to the draft resolution by the Council, a decision was has been passed against organizations and individuals who do have association or share ideological views, disseminate mission or practical deed or other related aspects as per Article 23 of the 1176/2012 Proclamation. After deliberating over the issue, the Council referred the resolution to the House of Peoples’ Representatives (HPR) for approval.
Once the decision taken by the Council circulated in the media, the issue quickly became a major talking point among citizens. However, despite discussions over the possible implications and repercussions of the designation, one question that was repeatedly asked was “who is Shene?” and what made it different from the OLF-Shene that we’ve heard all along? To this effect, many eagerly awaited the regular session of the Parliament to commence. On Thursday, May 6, 2021, the HPR held its 13th regular session.
Apart from endorsing the resolution passed by the CoM late last week with a nearly unanimous vote only blurred by one abstaining, the Attorney General (AG) Gediyon Timthios (PhD) also addressed concerns.
During the session, Gedion thoroughly briefed MPs presenting documents with regard to the two organizations. He said, since the reform came about, some members of the TPLF stood against it and tried to recapture power forcefully. To do so, he explained, the TPLF organized Special Forces and a level one militia, which incorporates members below the age of 40. Moreover, he pointed out, the TPLF also supported the Afar Revolutionary Democratic Unity Front a.k.a. ARDUF. The document further described the moves of the TPLF in destabilizing the Amhara region by supporting the Qimant identity committee and the TPLF attack on the Northern Command of the Ethiopian National Defense Forces (ENDF) in the pretext of a preemptive self-defense.
While describing who ‘Shene’ were, the document went as far back as the establishment of the Oromo Liberation Front (OLF) in the 70s, narrating the struggles of the OLF until 1991, when it was ousted from the transitional government and continued its armed struggle.
After the leadership of the OLF came back home, the description narrated, the military wing of the Front continued its armed struggle and that group was called OLF-Shene. The group broke away from the OLF last year and came to call itself the Oromo Liberation Army; however, it is still widely called OLF-Shene. That group has been fighting government forces in different parts of Oromia, mainly in Western Oromia. The group denied claims of killings and instead pointed its finger at the government.
The AG, who briefed journalists after the parliamentary session, said: “Randomly known as Shene but also calling itself OLA is an organization that stages different attacks in Western Oromia and other regions. We don’t have any reason to endorse the name it uses to glorify itself. We also think doing so is inappropriate.” He added: “This group has neither a legal personality nor a certificate from the authoritative body of the government (NEBE).”
Regarding the repercussion of the designation, Wondwossen Demissie (PhD) a lecturer at Addis Ababa University College of Law and Governance Studies told The Reporter that “in so far as the designation is evidence based and procedural, in theory it is expected to enhance the government’s capacity to control terrorist organizations and prevent perpetration of terrorist acts. This is so for two reasons. First, the proscription process makes those who are already members/leaders of these groups consider resigning from their roles before the proscription is finalized. Second, by proscribing the groups, the law makes it a criminal act to provide any kind of assistance or association with these groups. Thus, the designation has the potential to make people think twice before associating with these groups.”
Following the designation, some MPs and the public have shared similar concerns about the issue of human rights, and said that this should not be used as a pretext to attack innocent civilians and violate their human rights.
As the latest report by the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission (EHRC) indicates, there are numerous prisoners in different prison facilities in Oromia region arrested under the name “current situation.” Such moves might exacerbate the situation and lead to further prosecution and arrest of innocent civilians and other political players in the region.
Responding to the concerns, the AG reiterated that the implementation will be conducted in-line with the fundamental rights of citizens, and in doing so will work with EHRC and the security apparatus closely.
Abiy Ahmed’s (PhD) government scrapped the terrorist list it inherited from the TPLF led EPRDF government after it came to power. The Oromo Liberation Front (OLF) and the Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF) were among the groups designated as terrorists in the former list. The reformist government did not have a terrorist list until now but that has changed with TPLF and Shene bearing that reference.