AfricaLaw & Justice

News: Rights Commission declares measures against protesters in Oromia “proportional”, admits excessive force used against Qimant people

Kalkidan Yibeltal

The Ethiopian Human Rights Commission, (EHRC), a government body which was investigating killings, maiming, arrests and forced disappearances of protesters in Oromia regional state following a five month region wide civil resistance, declared that security measures taken against protesters were “proportional.”

Contrary to its report on Oromia, however, the commission admitted disproportional “excessive forces” were taken against the Qimant people in North Gondar zone of the Amhara regional state.

In a report it presented to the national parliament yesterday, the commission put the number of deaths in Oromia at 173 including 28 security personnel and government officials. However, the number is a lot less than the numbers local and international human rights activists have reported in the midst of the protest, which broke out on Nov. 12, 2015.

Activists of #OromoProtests, as it became known as, say they have documented the death of more than 400 civilians, forced disappearances of hundreds and the detentions of thousands of protesters during the five month intensive civil resistance against the government. The protest, the fiercest of its kind since the coming into power of the incumbent in 1991, engulfed almost the entire Oromia, the largest regional state in Ethiopia, and involved huge numbers of the population in the region – from school children to elderly farmers.

In addition to the number of death, the commission also declared measures taken by the government’s security forces to control the protests as “proportional.”

In a press conference this morning at the Hilton hotel, Dr. Addisu G/Egziaber, EHRC commissioner, rejected claims that the report lacked impartiality and credibility. Asked if the controversial presence of the federal army, federal police forces and intelligence aggravated the situation, he responded “if they hadn’t intervened, things would have been a lot worse.”

Birhanu Abadi, head of public relations at the commission, on his part said that, “in our investigation we found out that the measures taken by the security forces were appropriate and proportional and without it things might have completely gotten out of control and the calamities would have been even more atrocious.”

The commissioner further said that the report identified the root causes of the protests as legitimate public grievances due to lack of good governance. But Birhanu asserted that “although the questions raised were legitimate and constitutional, they were hijacked by groups with anti-peace elements.”

It is not clear if the report, which was not given to the media this morning, included details about forced disappearances and the incarcerations of thousands of protesters into temporary detention facilities. Asked by the media this morning, neither the commissioner, nor the PR head gave any detail.

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However, it is known that other than those who have been detained without due legal process, prosecutors have charged several dozens of individuals, including leading opposition members, university students, teachers and civil servants with the country’s infamous Anti-Terrorism Proclamation (ATP).

Protests first flared up in April-May 2014 by Oromo university students who protested against the making of a new Master Plan for Addis Abeba and its environs, which is believed to cause the displacements of thousands of Oromo farmers from their lands and which many legal experts say was prepared in clear violation of the country’s constitution.

It is also not clear if the report included other forms of measures taken by the government against protesters such as the dismissal from several universities of countless numbers of Oromo students who are accused of instigating violence.

Excessive force  

On the other hand the commission admitted that security forces in Northern Gondar zone of the Amhara regional state have used “excessive forces” following a protest by the Qimant people related to their question of identity.

The report said that more than 95 civilians as well as members of the security were killed during a protest  that flared up in Nov. 2015.

In the face of lack of adequate information (and will) by the media, little is said about the Qimant case. However, the Ethiopian News Agency reported in January that “the conflict that arose between Amhara and Qimant community in north Gondar zone, Amhara Regional State… resulted from delay in border demarcation [and] the identity question of the Qimant people.

“The constitution is well equipped to entertain identity questions like the ones raised by the Qimant so the riots were regrettable”, said Addisu.

Even though the commission claims its investigation of both protests was done in “free, impartial and professionally disciplined” manner, many activists and political commentators are rebuffing it as biased and politically motivated.

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