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Crimes against humanity committed in the wake of Hachalu’s death, Commission says

Crimes against humanity committed in the wake of Hachalu’s death, Commission says

123 people killed, 500 sustained injuries

The Ethiopian Human Rights Commission said it discovered crimes were committed against humanity by individuals and groups who “directly participated” in the violence that swept through Oromia region following the assassination of Oromo musical idol –Hachalu Hundessa.

The Commission released a 59 page report on January 1, 2021, entitled ‘It Did Not Feel Like We Had A Government: Violence And Human Rights Violations Following Musician Hachalu Hundessa’s Assassination - Investigation Report.

Killings, physical and psychological attacks, property destruction and civilians’ displacement, denial of health services and the security measures taken by law enforcement bodies were among the human rights violations committed following the killing of the artist.

“People died in gruesome killings, others suffered physical and mental injuries, property destruction as well as displacement and harassment,” the Commission said in the report.

The report covered around 40 towns where the major violence and conflicts occurred immediately after the announcement of Hachalu’s assassination.

The Commission gathered information and collected the accounts of witnesses over the course of several days, as part of its investigation into human rights abuses committed between June 29 and July 2, 2020 in all localities of Oromia.

The security crisis led to the deaths of 123 people, physical injuries to at least 500 people, the displacement of thousands, and the looting and destruction of private and public property, according to the report.

35 of the 123 victims who lost their lives and 306 of those injured, the report indicates, were killed or injured by individuals and groups participating in the unrest.

The report stated that attackers moving in groups used axes, knives, machetes, sticks and other weapons to kill and injure civilians in gruesome ways that involved beheadings and torture.

“The findings show that the attacks meet the elements of a crime against humanity with large number of people, organized in groups, having selected their victims on the basis of their ethnicity or religion, when conducting a widespread and systematic attack in several different areas over the three days,” the commission said.

In addition, the report reads, government security forces also killed at least 76 individuals and injured 190 more while 12 people died as a result of a bomb explosion, fire or similar disasters during the security crisis.  

“While it is understandable that security forces had the challenging task of restoring order in the face of widespread violence, the proportionality of the force employed in some contexts is highly questionable,” the Commission said.

According to the Commission, in some instances, security forces employed disproportionate force in their attempt to restore order amidst widespread violence and as a result, passersby, bystanders, young people, elderly people stepping into mediate, and even police officers have lost their lives from gunshot wounds despite having no participation in the unrest.

The EHRC found that in the localities where the devastation was massive, local authorities and security forces did not respond to victims’ repeated calls for help, being told instead, “Higher-ups did not give an order to intervene; we are not here to protect private property; we are here to provide security to government development institutions, banks and religious institutions.”

Survivors and witnesses also recounted how police stood watching as the attacks took place. “It did not feel like we had a government!” the report said quoting an unnamed victim.

Apart from the investigation’s findings, the commission requested the Federal and Regional government authorities to start the process of investigating and bringing perpetrators to justice based on the Commission’s findings of crimes against humanity.

Recognizing that an atrocity crime can occur in Oromia or in other regions in the country, the Commission further underscored, it is imperative to design and set up a comprehensive atrocity crimes prevention mechanism.

EHRC’s Chief Commissioner, Daniel Bekele (PhD), said “Given the repeated pattern of atrocity crimes in the country, Ethiopia needs to design and implement a comprehensive national strategy for the prevention of atrocity crimes which aims to address the root causes of the problem.”

Similarly, the report demands further step from both federal and regional Attorney General Offices to identify and hold accountable the perpetrators of the human rights violations in accordance with international human rights law.

The commission also extended its call to the House of People’s Representatives (HPR) and Caffee Oromia, urging them to monitor the implementation of the recommendations put forth by the investigation.

It requested legislators, both at the federal and regional levels, to monitor federal and regional security officers carry out their duties in a manner that respects human rights.

Finally, EHRC urged the setup of a national rehabilitation and compensation fund that would allow for a harmonized and sufficient compensation for victims of human rights violations, as per international human rights standards.

Crimes against humanity are certain acts that are purposely committed as part of a widespread or systematic attack, directed against any civilians, in time of war or peace.