“We call upon the Prime Minister to publicly order the security forces to immediately stop the use of extrajudicial executions”
This week, Amnesty International released a damning report on the status of human rights in Ethiopia. It highlights some of the positive reforms that have taken place in the last few years, but also focuses on the “horrendous human rights violations in inter-communal clashes and armed skirmishes”. Here, Samuel Getachew of The Reporter reflects with Amnesty International’s researcher for Ethiopia, Fisseha Tekle, as he reflects on issues of human rights, some of the noted problems in Oromia, as well as Amhara regional States and some of the recommendations of one of the most prominent institutions of human rights in the world. Excerpts
The Reporter: There is a report coming from Amnesty International on human rights violations in parts of Ethiopia, titled ‘Beyond law enforcement: human rights violations by Ethiopian security forces in Amhara and Oromia”. Tell me about that?
Fisseha Tekle: This report by Amnesty International documented human rights violations committed by the Ethiopian security forces in East Guji Zone and West Guji Zone of Oromia Regional State and in West and Central Gondar Zones of Amhara Regional State. The report focused on human rights violations that took place between December 2018 and December 2019. We found that the security forces committed serious human rights violations which may even amount to crimes against humanity.
The violations include extra-judicial executions, torture and other forms of ill-treatment, arbitrary arrest and detention of people, often entire families, and forced evictions that have putting families’ and communities’ livelihoods at risk. All these violations against people’s rights are because local administration and security forces suspected people of supporting opposition parties as if that is a crime.
At least 140 people killed, and thousands displaced in security operations in Amhara and Oromia. Among these, the security forces extra-judicially executed suspected supporters of OLA, in West and East Guji zones of Oromia.
How about in the Amhara region?
In Metema town in Western Gondar Zone, at least 58 ethnic Qimant were killed in an attack that targeted the Qimant dominated neighborhood in the town. The local security officials were involved in the attack and the EDF unit in the nearby military camp did nothing to stop the violence that lasted close to 24 hours. The victims were buried at Metema Tekle-Haimanot Church on January 12, 2019.
The intercommunal violence in Gondar and surrounding areas that started at the end of September 2019 and continued to the middle of October, killed at least 44 people. While the EDF soldiers were slow to intervene and stop the violence, local security officials were part of the violence that targeted the ethnic Qimant residents.
Reprisal attacks targeting ethnic Amhara living in Qimant dominated areas also resulted in the death of one person and the displacement of hundreds of households.
In Goro-Dola District, EDF soldiers killed 4 detainees, all of whom were relatives.
In West and East Guji Zones, the security forces arbitrarily arrested and detained more than ten thousand people, in local police stations and in unofficial places of detention. Detention conditions were dire; over-crowded prisons lacking necessities such as food and beddings. In Sanqale Police Training College, where at least 2000 were detained, the police were providing 3 bread buns per day per person – one for each meal.
At Tolay military camp, at least 10,000 people collected from all over Oromia were forced to undertake rehabilitation training for months, without access to their family or lawyer. Open rejection of the contents of the training or refusal to confess wrongdoing results in denial of certificate of attendance and transfer to Sanqale, where the conditions were punitive, and torture of detainees were common.
How about other finding of the report?
The report also found multiple cases of torture and other forms of ill-treatment in places of detentions such as Sanqale, Harqelo police station (Goro-Dola District, East Guji Zone) and Finchawa police station (Dugda-Dawa District, West Guji Zone) among others. One victim of told Amnesty International that he is still suffering health complications due to the torture at Sanqale police college.
The security forces evicted at least 300 semi-pastoralist households from rural villages of Goro-Dola and resettled them near a small town called Giddola. The forcefully resettled families were not allowed to return or move beyond their new designated areas. The movement restriction has affected their pastoralist lifestyle, which involves seasonal movement in search of grazing for their cattle. The forced eviction took place without any prior notice and consultation with the community.
The report also documented cases of rape and sexual violence by members of security forces. In one case, two security officials of Duqisa Megada kebele in Dugda-Dawa District West Guji Zone repeatedly raped a woman after arresting her on suspicion of supporting OLA.
The government must demobilize security units that were directly involved in communal violence and conduct independent, impartial, thorough and credible investigations into human rights violations committed by the forces, and where there is sufficient evidence ensure the prosecution of those reasonably suspected of committing crimes under international law and other serious human rights violations.
In the report, it is highlighted how some positive steps have been taken through the new reforms of Ethiopia, but also the challenges of “old-style patterns of violence perpetrated by the security forces”. Tell me about that?
What we found was that on the one hand the country has made progress towards creating an environment conducive for all people to enjoy their human rights. On the other hand, the reforms seem to have missed the security forces, who are still operating as if they are back in darks ages of repression. They continue to ignore the law and commit crimes and human rights violations and abuses with impunity. What they are doing today in the name of law enforcement is in reality blatant breaking of the law. In general, the prevailing culture of impunity for past human rights violations by security forces continues to spur the human rights violations Amnesty International has identified in the report. Unfortunately, there are no consequences for their illegal behavior. They are not being held to account.
We call upon the Prime Minister to publicly order the security forces to immediately stop the use of extrajudicial executions, mass arrests and detention, forced evictions, and destruction of property during the law enforcement operations.
What are some of the positive reforms that were highlighted in the report?
Since 2018, Amnesty International has observed the marked progress in media freedom and access to information. New media houses have emerged, and the media are now covering critical political and human rights content that were off-limits before 2018. The government also lifted the ban on websites and blogs previously inaccessible in Ethiopia.
A legal advisory council was also established in June 2018 to reform the repressive laws that enabled arbitrary detention and conviction of opposition political party leaders and individuals critical of the government. The Advisory Council repealed the Charities and Societies Proclamation to replace it with Civil Society Proclamation which became effective on 12 March 2019. The new Proclamation lifted many of the restrictions to (civic liberties) in the Charities and Societies Proclamation, including the arbitrary restriction on use of foreign funds for promotion and protection of human rights. The Advisory Council also drafted the Prevention and Suppression of Terrorism Crimes Proclamation to replace the Anti-Terrorism Proclamation that had been in place since 2009. The House of People’s Representatives passed the new draft into law in January 2020. Among others, the new law does not allow extended pretrial detention up to 120 days, unlike the previous one.
As part of the reform, the government also removed some of the bottlenecks that had prevented the participation of opposition political parties in previous elections. On 5 July 2018, the parliament scrapped the ban on Oromo Liberation Front (OLF), Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF), and Ginbot-7; exiled political parties that were proscribed from operating in the country after having been designated terrorist organizations by parliament in 2010. These reforms facilitated the return of foreign-based political parties and their leaders to Ethiopia, which have since established offices, and started operating in the country.
How has the working relationship of the civil society changed in the nation since the era of Abiy Ahmed began?
The reforms in Ethiopia have opened the space for promoting and monitoring human rights in the country. The adoption of the Civil Society Proclamation has been key in widening the space for human rights organizations to operate in the country. Amnesty International has observed that many local human rights organizations are emerging after the passage of the law. Foreign-based and international human rights organizations now also have better access to the country.
What are some of the recommendations of AI to the Ethiopian government?
Amnesty International has a set of recommendations for Ethiopian authorities and the Prime Minister to rectify the human rights violations the report has identified. We are asking the Prime Minister to publicly order the security forces to immediately stop the use of extrajudicial executions, mass arrests and detention, forced evictions, and destruction of property during the law enforcement operations. Moreover, the Prime Minister should initiate the establishment of an effective, credible, civilian and independent security sector supervision organ that also has oversight on the law enforcement operations of the EDF.
The Ministry of Peace, Ministry of Defence and the Office of the Attorney General shall also investigate and prosecute leaders and members of vigilante groups responsible for unlawful killings, bodily injuries, and displacement of people. They shall conduct independent, impartial, investigations into killings and kidnappings committed by OLA; and allegations of rape and sexual violence in East Guji and West Guji Zones of Oromia by security forces deployed under the command post.
In addition, the ministries shall demobilize units of security forces that were directly involved in human rights violations and in inter-communal violence. That should be followed by independent, impartial, thorough, effective and credible investigations into human rights violations committed by these units, and where there is sufficient evidence, ensure prosecution of those reasonably suspected of committing crimes under international law and other serious human rights violations.