29 May 2020
The Amnesty International’s Report on Ethiopia titled ‘Beyond law enforcement: human rights violation by Ethiopian security forces in Amhara and Oromia Regional States is an extensive document alleging human right violation by the Ethiopian security forces in two districts in the Oromia National Region State (ONRS) and two districts in the Amhara National Regional State (ANRS) in 2019.
We are grateful to see Amnesty’s recognition of the efforts by the Government of Ethiopia (GOE) since 2018 and we reaffirm our resolve to further strengthen our democratic institutions.
While the reform process has at times experienced bumps, the Government of Ethiopia has proven that it remains committed to build a consolidated democracy. For the GOE the loss of a single life is one too many. And if there are, as the report alleges, incidents where violations of rights took place, the GOE will conduct an independent investigation, which the report also recommends, at the appropriate time.
We note that the report in general is a one-sided snapshot security analysis that fails to appropriately capture the broader political trajectory and security developments in Ethiopia since the commencement of the reform. For instance, it deliberately ignored the extensive and successful peace-making efforts in the districts indicated. The peace-making efforts were overwhelmingly supported by the communities and were conducted by the consortium of regional and federal actors in collaboration with local religious and traditional leaders as well as civil society.
The GOE’s data, which is also complimented by the several independent agencies, indicates a strong support to the Ethiopian National Defense Force, the Federal Police and other security agencies to ensure law and order in the locations indicated by the report. In addition, the report sidelined the GOE’s preferred mode of engagement to address any security impediments, i.e.through peaceful means that respects the culture of the communities in dispute.
The security forces in collaboration with development and humanitarian agencies repatriated a large number of internally displaced people (IDPs) in a very short period of time. The repatriation has been conducted in a manner that respected the dignity of our citizens and in accordance with global human right concerns that highlighted safe and voluntary return.
Apparently, communal issues across different parts of the country, including in the areas where the report is focused, have been largely resolved. And as the report also indicates, the political space is wide and open. The security problems identified are more of banditry than communal. In today’s Ethiopia, every region and every citizen maintain the right to actively engage in the political affairs of the country at regional and federal levels.
Be that as it may, there are major improvements in the area of security in the two regions at large. Beside being geographically expansive, the two regions were the areas where the reform processes were ignited. And comparatively speaking, Ethiopia’s reform and transition to democracy is much more composed, less bloody and purposefully participatory.
Currently, Ethiopia is fighting the spread of the Covid-19 pandemic and the GOE has focused on forging a national unity of purpose across different sectors and declared a State of Emergency to save lives. We believe, in its rush to collect temporary propaganda gains, it was reckless and unprincipled for the report to deliberately leave out the grave dangers posed by the spread and impact of COVID-19 during the current government response.
Responses to specific questions – to the Guardian – are provided below.
Security forces deployed in the two Guji zones in Oromia carried out extrajudicial executions, arbitrary arrest and detention, torture and other forms of ill-treatment, forced evictions, and destruction of property. In particular, it has a list of “39 people who had been extrajudicially executed” in Goro Dola District of East Guji Zone and Dugda Dawa District of West Guji Zone since January 2019. It also claims that “at least 10,000 people were detained in Tolay in rounds of mass detention that started in January 2019 and continued to September 2019.”
The Federal Government and Oromia Regional State’s law enforcement have been conducting security operations before the Covid-19 pandemic that was aimed at stabilizing the zones and returning peaceful life to residents in the area. The zones had seen illegal arms trafficking, displacement of communities, banditry, multiple attacks on members of the police and armed forces and distraction of lives and property. The communities asked, several times, for the regional and government to intervene and restore law and order. Accordingly, security operations were conducted and due caution was employed to minimize harm to innocent civilians. A semblance of stability has returned to the area as a result of the operations and the government credits the success of the engagement to a significant scope of coordination and cooperation with the local community.
Government security operations have, however, stopped to allow for a full-fledged public health response to Covid-19 in the last three months except for regular law enforcement activities in the area to discharge its constitutional duty to protect citizens from violence and unlawful acts within the mandates of the state of emergency. And it strongly rejects malicious claims of extra judicial killings, evictions and destruction of property in the area and believes these lies are purposefully disseminated by forces that seek to actively undermine initiatives of dialogue, peace and stability in the area. The Government also takes allegations of misconduct by members of the armed forces seriously and regularly launches internal investigations; and where it finds evidence of wrongdoing, it takes appropriate legal and administrative measures and puts in place protocols to minimize the chances of similar misconducts from happening again. Allegations of mass detentions of people in Tolay are also categorically false and spread by entities who are attempting to sow instability in the region and the country. Our focus has, and remains to be, a unified response to contain the spread of Covid-19 in Guji and provide available resources to health centers.
Amnesty International has observed a surge in unlawful restrictions and violations by security forces targeting journalists critical of the Government, and members and leaders of opposition political parties since June 2019.
The Federal Government believes its track record of handling dissent and criticism and political mobilization by opposition parties speaks for itself. Opposition parties continue to freely speak and consolidate their base and journalists are currently exercising their rights to consistently and fiercely criticize the government. We believe this is a significant departure from past practices and the federal government is committed to keeping the political space inclusive for all voices. But the government also recalls the appeal by the public to take concrete measures against hate speech, abuse of freedom of expression and the numerous offenses that violate the ethical, cultural and legal norms of Ethiopians. While it continues to encourage the exercise of constitutional rights to the expression of opinion, the government reaffirms its commitment to take appropriate and firm measures against hate speech, the dissemination of fake news and other violations of the country’s laws.
In Amhara Regional State, Amnesty discovered evidence that the Regional special police units and local administration militia were complicit in inter-communal violence between the Amhara and Qimant ethnic communities in West and Central Gondar.
The security environment in west and central Gondar has shown considerable improvements in the last three months and communal clashes have stopped. Investigations by the regional authorities into the clashes including establishing accountability are ongoing and will be made available when they are completed. The engagements by joint regional and federal forces have been effective in creating a political space for the communities to discuss and resolve differences. Inter-communal dialogues have been held to consolidate gains from the stability and once the Covid-19 pandemic is over, the federal government will continue encouraging and supporting the dialogues. We would like to highlight that community led peace initiatives have registered strong success to prevent violence and widen the political space across the region. Currently, regional security personnel are focused on preventing the further spread of the pandemic and supporting health authorities as required.
Amnesty International says that it sought responses from the Ministry of Peace, Ministry of Defence, Federal Attorney General, Federal Police Commission, Oromia Regional Security and Administration Affairs Bureau, Oromia Police Commission, Amhara Security Bureau and Amhara Police Commission – to comment on the findings of the research at various stages but its requests through email, letters, phone calls, and face-to-face meetings went unanswered. Why is this?
The Federal Government strives to put in place a comprehensive response mechanism to requests for information. While many requests for information are responded to, some are not timely processed; particularly as all our resources are focused on battling the Covid-19 pandemic. Noting the critical character of the questions in this context, a whole of government response was deemed appropriate but coordination mechanisms have been regrettably inadequate to timely respond to the questions.
In addition, I would like to know if the federal government has any plans to address or correct patterns of abuse carried out by its security forces in this transitional period.
We strongly believe a presumptive approach that has already appropriated guilt to the governments’ handling of security during the transition is very unhelpful to understand the security context of the country. The government would like to reaffirm its commitment to working towards preventing peace and security violations in the country and will take corrective measures to maintain the discipline and ethical standards of members across federal and regional law enforcement.
The Government has been undergoing through significant transformation, virtually in the social, economic and political arena. The most important factor in the process has been the commitment of the leadership expand the political space and deepening the democratization of the state.
Among many of the significant openings, freeing of thousands of political prisoners and welcoming of all opposition groups that were considered as terrorist would shake the statuesque in many ways. Meanwhile, political sobriety would take time and conflict of interests would occur in the process. What the government has extensively been doing – in addition to bold reforms – is facilitating platforms for different political groups to discuss and debate sensibly. Many received the invitation with open arms.
Furthermore, the commitment of the government goes beyond Ethiopia. The peace deal with Eritrea opens door to sustain peace in the Horn, which is considered as one of the most conflict-prone regions of the world. Ethiopia’s initiative to re-build the strained relationship between Djibouti and Eritrea, Eritrea and Sudan, Eritrea and Somalia as well as the peace deal process in Sudan has brought hope to the Horn of Africa.