Since November 12, 2015, protesters across Ethiopia’s Oromia region have been risking their lives and liberty in the face of a brutal—and sometimes lethal–response from security forces. Soldiers and police have used deadly force and killed several hundred peaceful protesters. We understand that thousands of people have been detained in official and secret detention facilities. While there have been some incidents of violent clashes and some members of the security forces have also been killed, the vast majority of the protests have been peaceful.
The protests were triggered by the so-called Addis Ababa Master Plan, which envisioned expansion of Addis Ababa’s municipal boundary 20-fold. Protesters raised concerns that ethnic Oromos living in the area of that boundary expansion would be displaced from their farms. Ethnic Oromos, who make up approximately 35 percent of Ethiopia’s population, have long felt politically marginalized and culturally discriminated against by successive governments.
The government’s cancellation of the master plan in January came weeks too late for many protesters, who have seen too many killed and arbitrarily arrested. Over the four months of the protests, Human Rights Watch has documented security forces firing into crowds of protesters with little or no warning, the arrests of students as young as 8, and the torture of protesters in detention. Security forces have also arrested teachers, artists, political opposition leaders, and other influential Oromos who they believe are mobilizing protesters.
Since 2009, the Ethiopian government has systematically restricted independent media and civil society groups, both domestic and international. As a result, there has been limited reporting on the crackdown and inadequate international attention to this ongoing crisis. These restrictions make it difficult to verify the death toll and scale of the crackdown. It is clear, however, that the crackdown is putting Ethiopia on a very dangerous trajectory that could endanger its long term stability and progress.
Human Rights Watch urges the Council to raise concerns over the serious abuses taking place in Oromia. The Council should call on the Ethiopian government to cease using excessive force against protesters and release everyone arbitrarily detained. The Council should also support an independent investigation into the killings and other abuses. Any investigation should include sufficient levels of international involvement to ensure it is independent, credible, and impartial. Thank you.
“Ethiopia is currently contending with one of the most serious climatic shocks in recorded history with 10 million people facing lost harvests and livestock as well as severe water shortages and health risks,” said Ahunna Eziakonwa-Onuchie, UN Humanitarian Coordinator for Ethiopia.
Humanitarian needs in Ethiopia have reportedly tripled since the beginning of 2015 as the drought has led to successive crop failures and widespread livestock deaths. The drought is tied to one of the strongest El Niño events on record.
The drought response is not just about saving lives but also about protecting development gains which the Government and its development partners have worked tirelessly to build up over decades, the UN Humanitarian Coordinator added.
Out of the $1.4 billion appeal, the Ethiopian Government and the international community have contributed more than $758, according to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.
“We need to rally urgently to protect the development gains of Ethiopia over the past decade and ensure the country remains on its remarkable development trajectory,” said Ms. Eziakonwa- Onuchie.
“Urgent and substantial investment in the humanitarian crisis response this year is the only way to ensure this and we must act now
Who are the Oromo people?
The Oromo people are Ethiopia’s largest ethnic group and their population amounts to more than 25 million (around 35% of Ethiopia’s total population).
Oromo people speak Afaan Oromoo, as well as Amharic, Tigrinya, Gurange and Omotic languages. They are mainly Christian and Muslim, while only 3% still follow the traditional religion based on the worshipping of the god, Waaq.
In 1973, Ethiopian Oromo created the Oromo Liberation Front (OLF), which stemmed from the discontent over a perceived marginalisation by the government and to fight the hegemony of the Amhara people, another large ethnic group in Ethiopia.
OLF – still active today – also calls for the self-determination of the Oromo people. It has been deemed as a terror organisation that carried out violent acts against people in Ethiopia, Somalia and Kenya. The group has always denied such allegations, claiming its mission is to terminate “a century of oppression” against the Oromos.
Protests in Oromia began in November 2015 against a government draft plan to expand the boundaries of the capital Addis Ababa. Demonstrators, mainly from the Oromo ethnic group, argued the so-called “Addis Ababa master plan” would lead to forced evictions of Oromo farmers from their lands and would undermine the survival of the Oromo culture and language.The government scrapped the master planfollowing increasing agitation which activists claimed led to the death of some 400 people, at least 200 according to a report by Human Rights Watch (HRW), released on 21 February.
The government denied the allegations of violence and claimed the death toll was much lower, but did not give a specific figure.
Berhane explained Ethiopian authorities conducted an assessment on the unrest and admitted they took slow steps in addressing people’s legitimate grievances. “Had these demands been addressed quickly and effectively, dissident groups would not have been able to infiltrate peaceful protesters and instigate violence,” he said.
“The government does not want to see any of its people die, even the death of one person is one is one too many. What the country needs first and foremost is peace. Inciting violence, creating division, coming up with horrific stories and posting those stories on social media does not help in any way.”
Earlier in March, Prime Minster Hailemariam Desalegn apologised for the deaths and destruction for which he blamed “anti-peace forces” that infiltrated demonstrations.
Self-rule already in place
Berhane claimed that people are ruling themselves in Oromia, where the official language is Oromo, people have their own regional parliament and run their own budget. “Political problems in Oromia and indeed in any other part of Ethiopia have been for the most part resolved. If there are any that are not resolved, the Constitution provides the mechanism for resolving them so there is no need for violent conflicts,” he said.
However, Oromo activists who spoke to IBTimes UK denied Oromo people have self-rule in the region, claiming that Oromia’s ruling party, Oromo Peoples’ Democratic Organization (OPDO), is an organisation of “ex-war captives” created by the Tigrayan People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), a political party in Ethiopia’s Tigray region.
Activists also denied violent people infiltrated protests, and alleged the government is cracking down on peaceful and unarmed demonstrators, including pregnant women and children. They also claimed the government declared martial law in Oromia, which they say is now divided into eight military divisions controlled by “ethnic Tigrean generals”.
“It is because of the absence of self-rule that you see millions of farmers evicted and their land given to ruling party officials or foreign companies. The regime downplays the scale of questions raised as well as the scale of the lethal forces used,” Habtamu Dugo, an exiled Oromo journalist and US-based professor, said.
“Oromo are not able to elect their leaders in a free and fair election and the ruling party serves the interests of few ruling elites from the Tigray region. Although Afan Oromo is recognized on paper as a regional official language, people are demanding it to be made into one of the federal languages, since it is the most widely spoken language in Ethiopia.”
Dugo, also a member of the Board of Directors of the Oromo Studies Association, added that should alleged killings by security forces continue, Oromo people might start calling for secession, a right guaranteed by the Ethiopian constitution.
An Oromia-based activist who spoke to IBTimes UK on conditions of anoymity, denied the government of Oromia rules on its own budget. The source said: “While Oromia contributes 60% of Ethiopia’s GDP, OPDO has to accept 70% of its recurrent and capital budget from the TPLF-dominated federal governement.”
The source also alleged at least 40,000 Oromo people are currently imprisoned and many of them”had to suffer severe tortu