After a weekend of violent protests in Ethiopia, in which nearly 100 protesters were reportedly killed, the international community is calling on the government to allow independent observers to investigate the incident.
The demonstrations, which took part in multiple states throughout the country, protested infringement on land rights, illegal detention of dissidents and ethnic disenfranchisement. Amnesty reported that 97 people had been killed during the protest, saying, “Ethiopian security forces fired live bullets at peaceful protesters across Oromia region and in parts of Amhara over the weekend.” They’ve also reported the arrest and disappearance of several demonstrators.
Zeid Raad Al Hussein, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights stated that, “The use of live ammunition against protesters in Oromia and Amhara of course would be a very serious concern for us.” He went on to say that they haven’t seen any “genuine attempt’ by the Ethiopian government to probe the killings or hold those responsible accountable.
Officials in Ethiopia have rejected the UN’s request for international observers. A spokesperson with the government told Al Jazeera that they were launching their own investigation into the use of excessive force, and blamed elements outside Ethiopia for stoking violence. It’s been widely reported that on state run media, the demonstrations have been portrayed as acts of ethnic terrorism and separatism.
Protests in Oromia State have been going on since November of last year. This is when the government announced a plan to expand Ethiopia’s capital, Addis Ababa, into Oromia’s farming lands. During that time, human rights groups say around 400 were killed in violent protests. While the government pulled the plug on expansion, the continued detention of protesters and dissidents has kept tensions high.
In Amhara, in the north of the country, demonstrations centered around the arrest of a government opposition figure and what is seen as an ethnic monopoly on power within the country.
Michelle Kagari, Amnesty International’s Deputy Regional Director in East Africa, the Horn and the Great Lakes, says the response of security forces isn’t surprising. “Ethiopian forces have systematically used excessive force in their mistaken attempts to silence dissenting voices,” she said. Kagari went on to call for investigations into these shootings, saying that, “These crimes must be promptly, impartially and effectively investigated and all those suspected of criminal responsibility must be brought to justice in fair trials before ordinary civilian courts.”
Amnesty has also denounced the arrests of bloggers, human rights activists, journalists and opposition members under Ethiopia’s anti-terrorism law.
Human Rights Watch says the ability for people to access information inside the country is also dwindling. That’s because the government has clamped down on social media sites, such as Facebook, which they say is used to organize illegal protests.
According to a HRW report:
In March, the government began restricting access to social media sites in the region, apparently because Facebook and other social media platforms have been key avenues for the dissemination of information. The government has also jammed diaspora-run television stations, such as the US-based Oromia Media Network (OMN), and destroyed private satellite dishes at homes and businesses.
The Ethiopian government is seen as a key ally by the west, and a strategic partner in the fight against Al Shabaab in neighboring Somalia. Some say this has led to blind praise from the west, including Obama’s comments in July 2015 that those in power were “democratically elected.”
Some political opposition members worry that with these powerful partnerships, change is unlikely to come to Ethiopia anytime soon.
Photo Credit: Ethio Norway TV and Radio ETNK/Wikimedia