By Keffyalew Gebremedhin The Ethiopia Observatory (TEO)
The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) has today reacted to the Ireecha Massacre in a press briefing, reflecting the concerns of the United Nations about the situation in Ethiopia.
In that regard, while the statement acknowledges “many people died after falling into ditches or into the Arsede lake”, key in the statement is that it accepts the security forces are the causes of the deaths. It underlines that with a sentence indicating the celebrants were “apparently fleeing security forces following a protest at a religious festival in the town of Bishoftu.”
In the views of the United Nations, the the response to the tragedy is “fuelled in part by a lack of trust in the authorities’ account of events as well as wildly differing information about the death toll and the conduct of security forces.”
In the circumstances, as to future measures, the OHCHR observed:
“There is clearly a need for an independent investigation into what exactly transpired last Sunday, and to ensure accountability for this and several other incidents since last November involving protests that have ended violently.”
“We call on the protestors to exercise restraint and to renounce the use of violence. Security forces must conduct themselves in line with international human rights laws and standards,” the statement urged.
The statement is also critical of the TPLF clamp down throughout the country on internet, aiming to block communications and the use of the social media. The OHCHR statement notes:
“Instead of cutting off access to mobile data services in parts of the country, including in Addis Ababa, we urge the Government to take concrete measures to address the increasing tensions, in particular by allowing independent observers to access the Oromia and Amhara regions to speak to all sides and assess the facts.”
The press statement recalled that High Commissioner Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein had in August this year requested access to the two regions to enable OHCHR to provide assistance in line with Ethiopia’s human rights obligations. It then added: “We again appeal to the Government to grant us access.
Further, the high commissioner’s office also expressed its concern about the detention of two bloggers Seyoum Teshoume and Natnael Feleke, the latter from the blogging collective Zone 9, who were arrested this week.
The cause for the arrest of these two individuals is troubling. In a measure that confirms that Ethiopia under the TPLF is a police state through and through, the two were arrested, “for loudly discussing the responsibility of the Government for the deaths at last Sunday’s Irrecha festival in Oromia”, according to the United Nations statement.
The high commissioner’s office has also stated its continuing concern about the situation in Ethiopia in general. It recalled Friday the worrying reports of continuing mass arrests in the Oromia and Amhara regions.
The statement concluded by underlining its appeal for the Government to release all those detained for exercising their rights to free expression and opinion. It reminded the regime that silencing criticism would only deepen tensions.
On September 13, 2016, opening the 33rd session of the Human Rights Council, High Commissioner Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussei expressed the concerns of the United Nations in Ethiopia for the past one year. He told the Council:
“we are deeply concerned about repeated allegations of excessive and lethal use of force against protestors, enforced disappearances, and mass detentions, including of children, as well as by worrying restrictions on civil society, the media and opposition. I have requested my Office be given access in order for it to conduct a human rights assessment, particularly to the Oromia and Amhara regions. In response, the Government has claimed the recent violence was inspired by outlaw and terrorist groups, and argued it will conduct its own national investigation into the killings of protestors. I welcome a national effort, but believe the Government should also consider the need for an independent, impartial and international effort to affirm or revise the allegations.
The Editor of The Ethiopia Observatory (TEO) addressed a letter to the high commissioner on October 4, 2016 urging concerted United Nations and international action to save Ethiopia from a disaster before the country, for the consequences of which the oppression and state violence by the TPLF must be held entirely responsible.