Human rights

Ethiopia, state of emergency: the repression of the Oromo people in broad daylight

The Ethiopian government has declared a six-month state of emergency enacting restricted access to social media following the wave of protests repressed with violence in the Oromia region. Human Rights organizations claim at least 500 people have been killed, along with arbitrary arrests and detention of journalists, bloggers, protestors and human rights defenders of the Oromo and the Amhara people: although they represent the majority they have been victims of abuse and discrimination for years. Yet Western governments pretend not to see, owing to clear geo-strategic interests in the Horn of Africa

Human rights violations in Ethiopia are being exposed. The government has declared a six-month state of emergency along with restricted access to social media following the wave of protests, repressed with violence, in the Oromia region. Journalists, bloggers, protestors and human right defenders of the Oromo people have been arbitrarily arrested and detained. Some fear the outbreak of a civil war. Yet western governments are silent and pretend not to see the increasing instability in the Country for evident geo-strategic interests in the Horn of Africa. As a matter of fact the Ethiopian government is considered one of the most reliable African partners owing to economic, security and migrant flow agreements: the visit to Africa of German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who met with Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn and leaders of opposition parties in Addis Ababa to discuss Ethiopian politics and migration, ended yesterday. Last week Ethiopian president Mulatu Teshome made a state visit to Italy where he met with the President, the Prime Minister and members of the Senate, despite the indignation of the Ethiopian community in Italy, approximately 8000 people, who past September staged a protest against persecutions in Oromia, a part of the Country with the richest natural resources, witnessing land-grab attempts. The latest serious episode occurred October 2. Reportedly, tens of people died during a religious festival in the city of Bishoftu, a few kilometres south of the capital, after police fired tear gas and rubber bullets. Many were crushed to death by the crowd in the attempt to escape. In reality, protests broke out a year ago, and in many cases they have been violently repressed. Human rights organizations claim that at least 500 have been killed to date. A few days ago a group of seven UN experts called for an international investigation to shed light on the situation.

ethiopia0616_oromia_map-01hrwThe context. Protests of the Oromo and Amhara ethnic groups, which together make up about two-thirds of the 100 million population (the Tigray people, represented by the party in power for 25 years – the Tigray’s People Liberation Front – account for 6% of the overall population; the Oromo people, 24%), broke out in November 2015, resisting the government development project to take the land of farmers in the Oromia region with the aim to extend the territory of Addis Ababa. The project was subsequently abandoned, but their property is always at risk of land grabbing also by foreign companies. Protests stem from the common discontent of the two ethnic groups that feel oppressed by the Tigray elite group, experiencing marginalization at social and political level. Conversely, those in power depict the Oromo as a secessionist group that threaten the unity and sovereignty of the Country, while the Amhara are portrayed as a fanatic, violent ethnicity. A few days ago government spokesperson Getachew Reda blamed “foreign enemies” (Eritrea and Egypt, but the Egyptian government denies all accusations) of being “directly involved in arming, financing and training these elements.”

Human Rights organizations reports. In their reports, Amnesty International and Human rights watch long denounced excessive use of force against peaceful demonstrators, arrests of journalists and members of opposition parties, torture in custody, extra-judicial killings of opposition leaders, limitations on freedom of expression, even against the media. The latest arrest involved blogger and University Professor Seyoum Teshome, jailed on October 1st for his remarks on the gesture of Ethiopian marathoner Feyisa Lilesa at the Rio Olympics, in a New York Times article. Lilesa crossed his arms in a sign of solidarity with the Oromo people at the finish line and then asked for asylum in the United States. According to Human rights watch “many of those killed have been students, including children under 18”, primary and secondary school students, “teachers, musicians, opposition politicians.” An unknown number “remain in detention without charge and without access to legal counsel or family members.” Witnesses described “a brutal crackdown”, and an unprecedented wave of violence by the police. Past September a group of NGOs based in the United States wrote a letter to the UN Human Rights Council on the escalating violence in the region of Oromia and Amhara, calling for an impartial, transparent, independent investigation. But Ethiopia has refused entry to all UN special rapporteurs since 2007.

Possibilities of an agreement on repatriations with Ethiopia? This is the situation against a background of total indifference on the part of the governments of Western countries. Especially because Ethiopia, which already gave hospitality to 800,000 refugees on its territory, could come in handy in external border strategies to stop the flow of migrants to Europe. Last week, during a conference organized by CISL in Rome, the Minister for Foreign Affairs Paolo Gentiloni conveyed – between the lines – the intention of making agreements with Ethiopia to “repatriate those who have no right to asylum.” These so-called “Memorandum of understanding”, involving agreements between police forces, are being closely followed by organizations for the protection of migrants in the framework of the Asylum Committee after the dramatic episode of past August 24 that saw the massive repatriation of 48 Sudanese nationals, constituting a violation of the “non refoulement” principle, enshrined in international law – that people should not be returned to a country where their lives or liberty are at risk. “The agreement with Ethiopia is becoming a concrete possibility – said Oliviero Forti, in charge of Migration for Caritas Italy – But the details of such an agreement need to be verified in order to avoid the mistakes made with the Sudanese migrants. For example, it’s important to understand whether the agreement involves Third Country nationals arriving in Ethiopia before landing in Italy; whether those sent back to Ethiopia belong to the persecuted Oromo ethnic group or whether they are illegal Ethiopian migrants. It’s a very delicate issue that needs to be examined through a selection based on the actual risks run at individual level, in the full respect of human rights and ensuring that everyone is granted the possibility of filing a request of asylum.”