Human Rights Crises in Ethiopia:- Current and Past Incidents (By B. Hurisso )


History tells us Ethiopia faced several incidents where the human rights violations causes imprisonments, dislocations and death of several hundred/thousands of people. However, Ethiopia is one of many countries in Africa who signed a UN human rights convention and included these rights in the country’s constitutions since 1955 (three constitutions in three governments). Though there have been laws in place in the country, the plain truth on the ground is no willingness of autocratic governments that respect and implement those laws concerning human rights protection. The judiciary bodies in the country have been serving as instruments for the governments to crash human rights instead of enforcing the laws in the constitution. At the time of Emperor Hailesilasie, the 1973-74 famine which claimed 300,000 lives of Ethiopians (1974 UN FAO report) in Northern Ethiopia, particularly known as “Wollo draught”. This problem was not handled properly or not exposed to the international aid communities and made no effort to address the crises within the country as well. This situation angered the people and ignited massive movement of various people in the country that lead to the downfall of the former Ethiopian royals. After the downfall of Emperor Hailesilasie, the military groups formed a government and replaced the monarch and gradually started to crack down the political groups that had alternative ideas and solutions to the country. The military government, “Dergue” led by Mengistu Hailemariam, started brutally killing thousands of young Ethiopians under the campaign, “Red Terror or Keyi shibire”. According to the article published by USBCIS in December 1999, Dergue brutally murdered an estimated 10, 000 innocent civilians in Addis Ababa alone in 1977 and comparable numbers in other provinces were also killed in 1977 and 1978 as part of Red Terror campaign. Several ten thousands of people were imprisoned and tortured in conditions where no lights and air. The dictator Mengistu regime stayed in power for 17 years by killing his own people mercilessly. However, Mengistu still enjoys life in exile in Zimbabewe getting protection by another dictator Rober Mugabe ignoring the repeated request for extraditing Mengistu to Ethiopia to face justice.

In 1991/92 when Woyane/EPRDF (Ethiopian People Revolutionary Democratic Front) came into power led by Meles Zenawi, they condemned the brutal acts of Mengistu’s regime and promised to Ethiopian people they bring Dergue’s leaders to justice. In their early years in government, Woyane disseminated the propaganda showing the brutal killing of people during Dergue regime under Red Terror campaign. However, as Woyane/EPRDF stayed longer in government (currently 26 years), the party started to become dictator and crushed peaceful protests using military power. To mention few as examples, in May 2002 the Sidama civilians protested peacefully against the decision of state government to move the Hawassa city administration from Sidama zone to the Southern Ethiopia State government. In response to this, the government used regional special police force & national military force to crack down the protesters and killed more than 63 civilians and detained over 100 people. Among those who were killed and seriously injured (became permanently disabled) were young students ranging from junior high school (ages 12-13) to University level. The EPRDF officials who mainly ordered these killings were Hailemariam Desalegn (former Southern Ethiopia State Governor/President or currently Ethiopian Prime Minister), Melesse Marimo (former State deputy governor and Ethiopian Ambassador for South Africa). Despite the human rights violations they conducted in regional government level, these top officials were further promoted to highest most government positions in the Federal government to equip them to kill more and more innocent Ethiopians. In Gambella region, a government forces joined a civilian mob of Anuak communities and murdered 424 civilians in December 2003 (Human Rights Watch 2006). This report also included the inhuman act of security forces murdered over 80 people and detained about 4000 protesters in Addis Ababa when protest broke out as the result of public anger on election polls cheating by the ruling party, EPRDF during May 2005 election. Later, the leaked report from an Inquiry Commission set by the government revealed that 193 protesters were murdered and 763 were wounded in connection to protests due to election cheating on June and November 2005 in Addis Ababa alone. The chairman of inquiry commission, Judge Firewu Samuel and other members of the commission was fled out of the country due to their resistance to the government’s effort to manipulate the findings of the inquiry commission. There were several human rights crises occurred in other regions such as Ogaden, Bench Maji, Oromia and Amhara in different occasions by the same dictator officials of EPRDF.

Recently, in the last one year the country has been in turmoil in which the public anger has increased in Oromia and Amhara region due to the Woyane/EPRDF officials to engage in land grabbing of farmers who reside in Oromia region, vicinity to the capital Addis Ababa. The angry people on these decisions and humiliating speech made by arrogant cadres like Abay Tsehaye went to streets and protested against Woyane government in entire Oromia region. Other protests also broke out in Amhara region, condemning the government for brutal killings of hundreds of people in Oromia and also a devise role Woyane playing in Wolkayit Amhara community. In similar manner protestes in southern Ethiopia region (Konso Woreda) was broke out due to the denial of the Konso people to get amalgamated with other districts to set up Segen zonal administration without the consent of people. The government used military forces and killed dozens of innocent people and burned over 1500 thatched houses in villages in Konso Woreda. Similar protests spread throughout Ethiopia in few months and the economic and social activities in the country were shut down for several days and months. These protests clearly showed that the major ethnic groups in Ethiopia, Oromo and Amhara, are united though the efforts of Woyane to create conflicts and hatred between these two influential nations of the country. The unity of both nations might bring the end to the divisive and corrupt era of Woyane/EPRDF. Since November 2015, the Ethiopian people particularly the youth have been revolting against the government, because young people have lost trust and hope in this government. As the result in major parts of the country the youth went to streets and made peaceful protests, but the response from the government side was killing young students by shooting live bullets directly on crowd of protesters using cruel Agazi division military force, a Woyane special force known for its indiscriminate killing of Ethiopians. According to the reports from human rights activist organizations (Amnesty International report 2016/2017), Woyane used excessive military power to crackdown protesters and killed over 800 people in Oromo and Amhara regions since the protest begun in November 2015. The EPRDF’s National Human Rights Commission presented an oral report to Ethiopian Parliament (symbolic body without any power) and admitted that 669 people were killed including 63 security forces. The commission’s report also concluded that the security forces didn’t use excessive force compared to the damage caused by violent protesters in which many do not share this conclusion and question the integrity and level of independency of the commission itself. Woyane/EPRDF government well known to pretend the international community by establishing so called institutions such as National Human Rights Commission, and Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission. For example, Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission were used by EPRDF government to punish its own members at top positions when they disagree in some political issues with their own party.

 Thousands of protesters, human right activists, journalists and political party leaders were arrested and tortured since state of emergency declared in October 2016 for six months and then renewed in March 2017 for further four months. Several Ethiopians and International human rights defenders recognized that human rights crisis have been worsen more and more as the security forces are given mandate to conduct massive arrests where prisons in the entire country were completely filled by people. Since the protest broke out in October 2015, the country faced sever economic challenges as some businesses and companies properties were destroyed by violent protesters by associating those businesses/individual owners with the EPRDF party owned business agencies such as Guna, Ambassel, Dinsho, Wondo, etc. In first instance, it is not acceptable that a political party engaged in doing a business, “what an autocratic/odd government is this?”. Anyway in any measure, it is not acceptable to destroy any business/industrial settings established by anybody as these are ultimately contribute the country’s economic growth.

In this article, an author attempts to show the human rights crises during two different Ethiopian governments. The Dergue regime replaced the Emperor’s era, came into power and from its beginning started killing its own members and then massacred 60 top Emperor’s officials without any judicial trial. These regime continued to conduct massive massacre of young Ethiopian’s under “Red terror” campaign to wipe out the Ethiopian elites who came up with alternative political ideas to solve the country’s problems. The human crises occurred in Dergue’s regimes was the worst in the country’s history and the current EPRDF government started legal trial to bring the Dergue officials to justice for their killings, detentions and tortures of several thousands of Ethiopians. Those found guilty were sentenced with various penalties including death in absentia to Dergue leader Mengistu Hailemariam. Most Dergue officials faced legal punishment following the rule of court and this is an important step forward taken by the EPRDF government at the start of its government role in Ethiopia. However, after short while EPRDF government officials started abusing human rights and ignoring the law of the country. As indicated in this article EPRDF officials at various level ordered killings, detentions and tortures of thousands of civilians and they violated the constitution they established. The EPRDF top officials who planned, ordered and implemented the human rights abuses are impunity from accountability by the party and enjoy the promotion from lower to higher government position as far as they remain loyal to Woyane agenda of divisive and damaging politics. The judiciary branches of Ethiopian government have been well structured from district first level courts to Federal Supreme court. However, the lower level courts at district and zonal administrations have been staffed with judges who were political cadres/affiliates of EPRDF who were appointed for this role just by taking either short term legal training courses or completed law degree from Ethiopian Civil Service College (now upgraded to University and lead by brother of PM Hailemariam Desalegn). The Ethiopian Civil Service University mainly established to train and staff government departments/organizations by professionally trained recruits/former cadres of Woyane/EPRDF. Consequently, those who  have been working as judges in Ethiopian court system have not served for justice instead they have been serving the EPRDF party as they were affiliates of the party or influenced by those in government positions. In Ethiopia the police, security forces and judicial courts are not independent, instead they suffered intense interference of EPRDF government and they have been serving the interest of the government. It is impossible to expect human rights violators, who hold top positions in EPRDF’s government, face justice within current judiciary and government system. Ethiopian people do believe that EPRDF government officials have been repeating what happened previously during Dergue regime. The people are tired of the lies and pretext of this government which stayed in power for quarter of a century with its cruel dictatorship governance. However, Ethiopians still hope that EPRDF would come to conclusion to resign from government as it failed to maintain peace and stop human violation and bring the violators to justice. This is one way the human rights crises could come to an end if Ethiopians take important step to carefully establish a better political, government and judiciary structures.

The international human right activist organizations have been closely following the human rights crises occurred in Ethiopia. Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have been actively exposing the actions of brutal EPRDF/Woyane regime by condemning and reporting their human rights abuses on civilian Ethiopians. Other human rights organizations who stand together with Ethiopian people are Associations for Human Rights in Ethiopia, CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation, Civil Rights Defenders, DefendDefenders, International Federation for Human Rights, Foundation for Human Rights Initiative, Freedom House, Front Line Defenders, Global Center for the Responsibility to Protect, International Service for Human Rights, Reporters Without Borders, and World Organization Against Torture (OMCT). These organizations wrote a joint letter dated on September 8, 2016 to UN Human Rights Council. Consequently, UN Human Rights Commissioner travelled to Ethiopia on May 2017 and held meetings with EPRDF officials and requested the government to allow independent investigation of human rights abuses took place in the country by his expert team from UN Human Rights Commission. However, the government has not responded to this call and showed willingness to open its doors for the independent investigation. Moreover, the European Union has been closely following the human rights crises in Ethiopia and putting significant pressure on EPRDF government to stop using excessive military forces to crack down peaceful protesters. Similar effort has to be done by USA and Canadian governments to bring peace, justice and good governance in Ethiopia. The active involvement and close follow up of the international community with regard to human rights handling in Ethiopia could result in bringing the human rights abuses to an end.

Lastly, not the least the Ethiopian opposition parties, civic societies at home, and Ethiopian diaspora should work hand in hand and conduct a peaceful struggle to stop the human rights crises in Ethiopia and bring the EPRDF officials, who ordered and implemented the killings and tortures of thousands of innocent Ethiopians, to justice.