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News: Security crisis in Gambella region severely impacts human rights, needs urgent attention – EHRC

Addis Abeba – The Ethiopian Human Rights Commission (EHRC) draws attention to the security crisis in Gambella region saying that the situation has severe consequences on human rights and that it needs urgent attention.

The commission said in a statement on Sunday that the deteriorating security situation following recent armed attacks by ethnic militias in different parts of the region, particularly Itang special woreda, Gambella woreda, Gog woreda and Gambella city have caused residents significant harm and human rights violations.

A dispute between a few people in Itang Special Woreda in May has quickly escalated into Ethnic based tension, the statement noted as the underlying cause for the current situation, adding that people were killed, injured and displaced following the attacks and that properties were also damaged. Preventing further deterioration of the situation “needs urgent attention and concerted action of authorities”, the commission emphasized.

The commission also expressed concern over human rights implications of the indefinite curfew that the regional cabinet enacted last week to respond to the crisis and advised caution during its implementation.

Background

In May, nine people were killed and 17 others suffered major and light injuries in Itang special district and the capital Gambella city. In a subsequent statement the regional president Umod Ujulu confirmed the killing saying that the the people were killed after a dispute between individuals residing in the Pingwa and Ler kebeles of Itang Special Woreda escalated into communal violence.

He said back then that the violence has been brought under control by the coordinated efforts of the regional and federal security forces, and that the plot by what he called “elements” existing in the public who try to separate the people who have lived in solidarity and brotherhood for centuries was foiled. Regardless, the incident reportedly mounted tension between the two dominant ethnic groups in the region, the Agnwa and Nuer.

On 13 July, three individuals were killed and 23 injured in a violent attack on two public buses near Gambella city, Addis Standard reported speaking to two local sources. The buses were enroute from Wentawo district of Nuer zone to Gambela city and were ambushed in Ochom, just 10km outside of the Gambella City. The sources claimed that the victims were from the Neur community whereas the attackers were alleged to ethnic Agnwa militias.

Five days later, on 18 July, another deadly attack on Nuer village in the city of Gambella resulted in at least 31 fatalities and 20 injuries, according to a source who spoke with Addis Standard. The source, who is close to the matter, said 19 people from the village and 12 from the attackers, who are alleged to be ethnic Angwa militias from Abol district, were killed during the attack, adding that among the dead is Kwang Nial Poh, a respected member of the psychology department at Gambella University.

Residents who spoke with Addis Standard said public offices and business activities were impacted as the region grapples with the fallouts and growing tension between the Nuer and Agnwa ethnic groups, particularly in Gambella city and Itang Special Woreda.

Subsequently, on 19 July, the Gambella regional cabinet, in an emergency meeting enacted an indefinite curfew, prohibiting all movement between 1:00AM and 12:00PM, except for designated security personnel. Furthermore, it has forbidden carrying weapons, with the exception of the aforementioned security forces, and decreed that all government employees and service providers will recommence regular work schedules from the following day. 

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Ugato Ading, head of the regional communication bureau, said in a presser, on 20 July that human lives were lost and properties have been damaged in the wake of the recent violence in the region. He said “ethno-nationalism and tribalism are threatening the region”, vowing that any individuals or parties including government officials contributing to the disruption of peace in the region will be held accountable. AS

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