Amnesty International’s Report: Beyond Law Enforcement: Human rights violations by Ethiopian security forces in Amhara & Oromia Regions

29 May

Posted by The Ethiopia Observatory (TEO)

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

The political reforms introduced in Ethiopia by the government in 2018 presented the country with an opportunity to break with its abysmal human rights record marred by extrajudicial killings, torture and other ill-treatment and enforced disappearance among other serious human rights violations.

Notable among the reforms was the release of thousands of political prisoners, allowing the return of opposition politicians from exile and registration of their political parties in the country, and the repeal of repressive laws such as The Charities and Societies Proclamation and the Anti-terrorism Proclamation that had been used by past governments since 2009 to paralyze local media, civil society and opposition political parties.

While initial first steps have been taken towards improving the human rights environment in the country, a persistence of old-style patterns of violence perpetrated by the security forces threatens to derail sustained long-term gains.

Amnesty International conducted research into the Inter-communal violence that took place in the Amhara and Oromia regions of the country in 2019 and found that members of the Ethiopian Defence forces, regional police special force, local administration officials and allied militia armed youth and vigilante groups carried out serious human rights violations in parts of Oromia and Amhara regions in the zones of East Guji and West Guji in Oromia, Regional State and the West Gondar and Central Gondar zones of Amhara Regional State.

Researchers found that security forces deployed in the two Guji zones in Oromia carried out extrajudicial executions, arbitrary arrest and detention, torture and other forms of ill-treatment, forced evictions, and destruction of property. In Amhara region, they discovered evidence that the Regional special police units and local administration militia were complicit in inter-communal violence between the Amhara and Qimant ethnic communities in West and Central Gondar.

ARMED VIOLENCE

The period after the government of Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed instituted human rights reforms was interspersed with political and ethnic tensions that prompted military insurgencies and inter-communal violence in Amhara, Oromia, Harar, Dire Dawa, Benishangul, and the Southern Nations Nationalities and Peoples (SNNP) regions. An armed group that calls itself Oromo Liberation Army (OLA) staged armed attacks in Western and Southern parts of Oromia. OLA is a breakaway armed group from the military wing of Oromo Liberation Front (OLF) – a foreign based opposition political party that pursued military struggle before its return to the country to pursue peaceful political agenda in September 2018.

In response to the armed violence, the government in January 2019 launched a law-enforcement offensive against the OLA by establishing command posts – which routinely coordinate the operations of regional and federal security forces. The government also used command posts to address the inter-communal conflicts in Amhara, Harar, and the SNNP regions.

Amnesty International researchers spoke to more than 80 individuals in the capital Addis Ababa, and in Gondar, Aykel, Ayimba, Weleqa, and Hawassa, mainly victims and/or direct witnesses to human rights violations. Twenty-one of the interviewees were women. The witnesses included farmers/pastoralists, business owners, students, civil servants, opposition politicians, and teachers. Amnesty International researchers also interviewed the Head of Ethiopian Red Cross Society branch office in Gondar town and the head of the Peace and Security Department of Central Gondar Zone. Researchers analysed various documents, news reports, photographs of victims and satellite images.

Amnesty International sought responses from the Ministry of Peace, Ministry of Defence, Federal Attorney General, Federal Police Commission, Oromia Regional Security and Administration Affairs Bureau, Oromia Police Commission, Amhara Security Bureau and Amhara Police Commission – to comment on the findings of the research at various stages but its requests through email, letters, phone calls, and face to face Only the Amhara Region Security Bureau replied to the request for comment and provided responses. We thank the Amhara Region Security Bureau for its response.

 

EXTRAJUDICIAL KILLINGS

Our research found evidence that at least 39 people had been extrajudicially executed in Goro Dola District of East Guji Zone and Dugda Dawa District of West Guji Zone in Oromia since January 2019. Four of the victims of the extrajudicial killings in Goro Dola District were closely related to each other. Their family members were also targeted for repeated arbitrary arrest and detention. Four victims of extrajudicial killing by the EDF in Goro Dola – Abdullahi Golu Halalkie, Bodisha Chuluqe, Qanqe Utura, and Dedecha Mi’esa Halalkie – were closely related to each other. Abdullahi, Dedecha, and Utura – were found dead the next morning after the EDF soldiers removed them from their detention cell in the night.

ARBITRARY ARRESTS

The command post in the two Guji zones conducted multiple arbitrary arrests and detention of people suspected of supporting OLA and OLF. While some were subjected to repeated arrests, thousands of people underwent protracted detention in local police stations in West and East Guji zones. The command posts transported thousands of detainees from all over Oromia to Tolay Military Training Camp, where the detainees were forced to undergo compulsory training on rule of law, constitutionalism, and the history of the Oromo struggle. Beside the training, the detainees were required to make incriminating statements during group sessions. Those who refused to confess wrongdoing were transferred to Sanqale Oromia Police College, where at least 2,000 detainees were held for months. Detention conditions at Sanqale were particularly punitive due to shortage of food and lack of beddings, as well as use of torture and other illtreatment. Detainees were locked up all day apart from allowed period of ten minutes in the mornings and evenings.

 

FORCED EVICTIONS

People from semi-pastoralist communities in the rural localities of Goro Dola District were forcibly evicted as part of the law enforcement strategy by the command post. The forced eviction and resettlement of the semipastoralist communities disrupted their traditional way of life and negatively affected their livelihoods. This was in addition to the destruction and burning of homes, farms and businesses of people suspected to be supporters and members of the OLA in the two Guji zones by the Ethiopian Defence Forces (EDF), Oromia Police and local administration officials and militia.

 

INTER-COMMUNAL VIOLENCE

In the Amhara Region, at least 150 people were killed in inter-communal conflict in January 2019. In one attack on an ethnic Qimant neighbourhood in Metema – a border town in West Gondar Zone – at least 58 ethnic Qimant people were killed within 24 hours on 10-11 January 2019. Among those killed on 11 January were three siblings – Seyoum Tadege, Melkamu Tedege, and Eyayu Tedege – and their cousin Muluken Abebe. The local militia and administration officials conducted the attack on the Qimant residents of the neighbourhood together with an Amhara youth vigilante group, commonly known as Fanno – using with guns, grenades, stones, and fire. The EDF soldiers stationed in the town did not taken any action to prevent the violence despite repeated calls for help, ostensibly because they did not have orders to intervene.

The inter-communal violence also affected the neighbouring districts of Chilga, Quara, and Gondar city and its surrounding towns, in which hundreds were killed and thousands displaced form each community. In Azezo, a town north of Gondar City, the Fanno vigilante group on 29 September 2019 killed and burnt four members of the same family, including a child, in a retaliatory attack for killing an Amhara youth in Chilga District – an area dominated by ethnic Qimant.

The following days saw the spread of the attacks to other ethnic Qimant residents in the area which later spread to Gondar City. According to data from the government Security Department of Central Gondar Zone, at least 46 people were killed in the inter-communal attacks that began in late September and continued to mid-October 2019. The security forces, mainly regional police and the local militia, were unwilling to control the violence in and around Gondar City, while the Fanno vigilante group was going home to home attacking Qimant residents.

The attacks and counterattacks led to internal displacement of thousands of ethnic Amhara and Qimant people to Gondar City, Weleqa, Chilga, and Ayimba. Internally Displaced People (IDPs) face several human rights violations including denial of humanitarian aid to compel them to return to localities from which they are displaced, forced return, and lack of basic services (education, health and adequate shelter). A single mother who fled from Quara District in January 2019 told Amnesty International that her children would skip school to do menial jobs for other families in return for leftover food.

 

POLITICAL TENSIONS

The political atmosphere and the resulting skirmishes and inter-communal violence was tense as a planned general election slated for August 2020 approached – before it was suspended indefinitely in an announcement on 31 March by the National Electoral Board of Ethiopia due to the threat of COVID-19. This announcement cancelling the elections heightened political tensions in the country as uncertainty over the date of the next election and the end of the mandates of the current regional and federal legislatures and executive in October 2020 fuelled disagreements among political parties on strategies to avoid a potential constitutional crisis.

 

RECOMMENDATIONS

In view of the above, Amnesty International recommends that the Ethiopian government take special measures to ensure that security forces stop committing human rights violations. We call on the government to immediately order the security forces to stop carrying out extrajudicial executions, arbitrary arrests and detention, forced evictions and destruction of property belonging to people suspected of supporting opposition political parties or armed groups. The government must also end the culture of impunity by Ethiopian security forces by demobilising the units that were complicit in inter-communal violence and human rights violations. Further we call on the government to conduct independent, impartial, thorough, and credible, investigations into human rights violations committed by these units. Where there is sufficient evidence, the authorities must ensure the prosecution of those reasonably suspected of committing crimes under international law and other serious human rights violations.

 

/Amnesty International

29 May 2020

 

 

One Response to “Amnesty International’s Report: Beyond Law Enforcement: Human rights violations by Ethiopian security forces in Amhara & Oromia Regions”

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  1. A step backward in Ethiopia | World Policing - June 1, 2020

    […] political and ethnic tension in several regions threatens continued progress, according to this report. Starting in 2019, security forces, including special police units, are accused of failing to […]

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