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News: Rights body ‘gravely concerned’ after Ethiopia lawmakers extend emergency rule in crisis-hit Amhara state

Speaker of Parliament TAgesse Chafo (right) with Minister of Justice Gedion Timothewos (PhD) during the session to extend Amhara state emergency rule. Photo: HoPR

Addis Abeba – Ethiopian Human Rights Commission (EHRC) said it was “gravely concerned” after the extension by lawmakers today of a state of emergency in the crisis-hit Amhara regional state.

Lawmakers approved the extension by four more months of a state of emergency in Amhara region at a special parliamentary session convened today as Ethiopia’s second largest region continues to grapple with a region-wide militarized conflict involving federal and regional state forces on the one hand and the Fano militia on the other.

Chief Commissioner of EHRC, Daniel Bekele, posted a statement on X (formerly X) expressing the Commission’s grave concerns “about extension of emergency powers & implications on human rights, [including] the conflict casualties, humanitarian crisis & prolonged pre-trial detentions.”

The Commissioner cautioned that lawmakers and the government “should duly consider necessity, legality [and] proportionality”, of the state of emergency.

In mid-August last year, EHRC has reported about several identity-based arrests of the Amhara people and said it has been denied access to monitor the conditions of detainees since the State of Emergency was declared two weeks prior to the report.

It also expressed its concerns about air strikes and shellings in various areas, including Debre Birhan, Finote Selam, and Burie, resulting in civilian casualties and damage to residential areas and public spaces. In Bahir Dar, civilians have been killed on the streets or outside their homes, and some individuals have been specifically targeted for searches, beatings, and killings. Gonder has also witnessed civilian casualties and property damage, with reports of extrajudicial killings by security forces in Shewa Robit. However, the Commission said further investigation and verification of these reports are necessary, the Commission’s report said.

Lawmakers said today that the extension of the state of emergency aims to maintain “peace and security of the people” amidst the ongoing region-wide militarized conflict, and claimed the decision to extend the emergency decree followed a “comprehensive deliberation” after the bill to extend the state of emergency was presented to them by Minister of Justice Gedion Timothewos (PhD).

The region’s state of emergency is led by a general command post tasked to execute prohibitive details included in the emergency bill and is led by Temesgen Tiruneh, Director General of National Intelligence and Security Service (NISS), who was himself the former president of the Amhara region, and was recently appointed to hold second vice presidency office of the ruling Prosperity Party.

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Background

The declaration of the State of Emergency in 03 August 2023 was preceded by a series of instability in the regional state that began with mass protests in several major cities against the federal government’s decision to reorganize regional special forces into regular police and the national army.

The protests have quickly deteriorated to widespread clashes and instability and the subsequent assassination on 27 April of the Head of the ruling Prosperity Party in the region, Girma Yeshitila.

On 28 April, the Ethiopian Joint Security and Intelligence Task Force announced that it started “taking decisive measures” against “extremist forces” that it accused of “trying to take control of regional state power by destroying the constitutional order in the Amhara regional state.”

The Amhara regional state has since been the epicenter of the latest militarized conflict involving government forces armed groups that swept large parts of the regional state.

Although major urban centers within the Amhara region have since appear to be reverting to a relative state of stability, recent accounts indicate the emergence of fresh conflicts in numerous cities and towns across the region, leading to casualties, injuries, and the devastation of public infrastructure. AS

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