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Commission names responsible parties for deadly violence

Commission names responsible parties for deadly violence

  • Excessive force kills 131 civilians as death toll reaches 669
  • Irrecha festival should have been cancelled
  • Report finds ethnic-based attacks

The Ethiopian Human Rights Commission (EHRC), which has been investigating widespread protests and response to them by security forces in Oromia and Amhara regional states, has found regional and federal government security forces responsible for poor performance in responding to the crisis, which resulting in unnecessary killing of protestors. The commission also investigated the causes, impacts and security measures which had been taken to control the deadly violence in Gedeo zone of southern Ethiopia.

Presenting the findings of the commission on Tuesday before the House of People’s Representatives (HPR), the commissioner of EHRC, Adissu Gebregziabher (PhD), said that investigations, conducted in Oromia, Amhara as well as the Gedeo zone, focused on the causes and the scale of violence as well as the security forces’ handling of protestors particularly from July 2016 to early October 2017, when the state of emergency decree was issued.

The investigation was carried out in 15 zones and 91 woredas of Oromia, in 5 zones and 55 woredas of the Amhara Regional State as well as in 6 woredas of the Southern Nations, Nationalities and Peoples Regional State, according to the commissioner.

In his report, the commissioner noted that a total of 669 people were killed in all the three regions, including 131 killed by law enforcement through either excessive or unnecessary use of force. The commissioner further said that even though the protest they were taking part was illegal, security forces should have considered other options of controlling them than firing on unarmed civilians.

Similarly, around 918 people were injured in the three regions, of which 123 injuries were caused by unnecessary and disproportionate use of force.

During the investigation period, the commission had talked to victims and their families, elders, representatives of youth, security forces, individual and group witnesses as well as prisoners. It also read various documents as sources of evidence, he said.

According to the investigation’s findings, of the total 669 killed during the violence in the three regional states, 606 were civilians while 63 were members of the security forces.

Apart from causalities and property damages, some 8,450 people were displaced in Gedeo while ethnic-based attacks were also reported in Amhara where ethnic Tigrayan residents were forced to flee from Gondar and other parts of the Amhara region.  Similar attacks in Oromia targeted properties and businesses run by Amharas, Tigrayans and those from other ethnic background, the report stated.

In Oromia, the investigation revealed that around 495 people lost their lives (462 civilians and 33 security officers), including 56 pilgrims who were killed in the stampede during Irrecha (Oromo Thanksgiving celebration) on October 2, 2016 in Bishoftu town, located some 47 km south-east of Addis Ababa.

Meanwhile, the report noted that in Amhara, a total of 140 people died, of which 110 were civilians, while the remaining 30 were members of the security forces.

Similarly, the report also revealed that some 34 people, including two women, were killed and 78 injured during a two-day violence in six woredas of Gedeo zone. It also said that during violence in Dilla and its environs, 1098 businesses owned by non-Gedeons -- mainly by Amharas, Silties, Oromos, Guraghes, Wolaytas, Gammos, Gujis, Tigrayans, Sidamas and Argobas -- were attacked. Some 8,450 residents were displaced including Gedeons who had refused to take part in the attack on minorities.

Addisu told MPs that serious human rights violations had occurred, and implicated security forces in using unnecessary and disproportionate force in some parts of Oromia and Amhara regions.

Among notable instances of excessive use of force in Oromia was the case of 14 inmates who were killed by police in Adamy Tullu while they were trying to escape. The report noted that the prisoners were killed unlawfully, and the security forces could have handled the situation without firing and/or they would have been at least able to minimize the death toll. Another alarming incident mentioned in the report was the case of 38 unarmed people killed unlawfully by security forces in East Wollega, West Wollega and Qelem zones. The death toll in Oromia, according to the report, stood at 131.

Similarly, the report listed places where excessive and unnecessary force was employed in the Amhara region, viz., Dembia, Zegena, Debark, Wogera, Debre Tabor, Simada, Ebinat, Wereta and Dangila -- claiming 23 lives and resulting in 51 injuries.

Among lives claimed by excessive use of force, particularly in the two largest regional states, were found to be high-school students, girls aged 9 to 16, women, the elderly, including a 68-year-old man, the report identified.

In the case of Amhara, the death toll could have been much lower had security personnel used such non-lethal methods of crowd control as tear gas, rubber bullets and water cannon, according to the report.

The report listed land rights, corruption, unemployment and bad governance as causes for the widespread protest.

The report also blamed the Blue Party and the Oromo Federalist Congress as well as diaspora-based Oromo Media Network and the Ethiopian Satellite Television (ESAT) channel for inciting the violence in August and October 2016, when hundreds were reportedly killed.

The report praised security forces for showing restraint during the traditional celebration of Irrecha on October 2 last year when dozens died following a stampede.

However, it recommended prosecution of some police officers for their actions the following day, when they are believed to have shot dead dozens.

Adissu said that several truck-loads of troublemakers had entered Bishoftu town on the eve of Irrecha, yet the city administration failed to take appropriate measures that would have avoided or, at least, minimized the ensuing death toll. He also called on the Oromia government to make sure that responsible officials were made answerable for the loss of life.

He even told the house, “Sensing the chaos that was evident on the eve of the festival, officials should have cancelled the Irrecha celebration”. However, his remark about canceling the celebration altogether was not well received by some MPs who questioned the wisdom and feasibility of canceling the most-sacred celebration of the Oromo community.

The house convened again on Thursday to listen to a resolution presented by the Legal, Justice and Administrative Affairs Standing Committee regarding the commission’s report. The committee fully endorsed the commission’s findings as well as recommendations. It also called for the rehabilitation of those displaced as a result of the ethnic-based violence.