Extrajudicial Killings of Innocent Civilians in Oromia, Ethiopia | November 2020 Report

Extrajudicial Killings of Innocent Civilians in Oromia, Ethiopia | November 2020 Report

(ollaa)—Ethiopian government security forces continue to commit grave human rights violations, with numerous extrajudicial executions, arbitrary arrests and detentions documented over the past month in the Oromia region. In November alone, more than 70 civilians were gunned down by security forces. These killings all occurred in violation of Ethiopia’s own justice system as well as its obligations under international human rights law. Individuals were shot on the street, in their homes, or taken out of prison and executed. Many of the bodies were then dumped and left to scavengers, denying their families a proper burial.

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It is important to note that the cases reported here include only those deaths that we were able to validate and support, suggesting that the real number could be much higher.

In May, a report released by Amnesty International found that serious human rights violations were committed by Ethiopian security forces between December 2018 and December 2019, including extrajudicial killings and the arbitrary arrest and detention of thousands of people suspected of supporting the Oromo Liberation Front (OLF) and other opposition groups. Amnesty International’s Director for East and Southern Africa, Deprose Mucheria called upon the government for action:

The authorities must immediately stop these horrific killings. They must also ensure that those responsible for these callous and brutal acts face justice.

Despite this, the situation has continued to worsen.

Many have lost hope after the early promise of political reforms brought in by the Abiy Ahmed Government in 2018. Prime Minister Ahmed initially brought in a suite of reforms that aimed to reinforce civil and political liberties, including the release of hundreds of political prisoners and admitting the use of torture by government security forces. Many of the Oromo people, who – despite making up the largest ethnic group in Ethiopia – have long faced oppression and political marginalization by successive central governments, saw this as a turning point for the region. Yet, despite this, research conducted independently by OLLAA, Amnesty International, and Human Rights Watch have all revealed that mass killings and arbitrary detention by security forces have not stopped, and instead risk reaching unprecedented levels in the Oromia region.

The assassination of popular Oromo musician and human rights activist, Hachalu Hundessa, in June, provided a critical moment in an already volatile climate in the region. Mass protests erupted in the days following his death, resulting in a violent clash that left more than 178 people dead and over 7000 people arrested for violence and property damage (Reuters, August 13, 2020). Since then, government forces have continued to use the protests as justification for an increasingly heavy clampdown on human rights. This is despite clear evidence, as per the Amnesty International report and our own data, that extrajudicial killings, imprisonment without trial, and the general revocation of civil and political rights were common well before the June protests.

In the months since, the number of mass killings and arbitrary arrests have continued to grow, with those suspected of links to opposition parties, such as the Oromo Liberation Front (OLF), targeted by security forces. This is in direct breach of the Ethiopian Constitution, which explicitly enshrines the right to “equal and effective protection of the law without discrimination on the grounds of… political or other opinion” (Articles 25 and 26). An investigation by Human Rights Watch into the government response to the assassination of Hachalu Hundessa, found that “detentions and investigations have been marred by serious due process violations” (August 15, 2020), with many being held without charge and detained in undisclosed locations.

In addition to government critics from across the political spectrum, including members of powerful opposition groups in the region, such as the Oromo Federalist Congress (OFC), many journalists from various media outlets have also been detained. This presents serious concern for the right to freedom of expression and freedom of the press, as do the widespread internet blackouts that were imposed following the June protests. The research conducted by OLLAA in the Oromia region seeks to address this information gap, ensuring that these human rights abuses do not pass unnoticed by the international community.

Our data shows that among the murdered civilians were teachers and economists, respected members of the community, young and old. In one case, armed forces opened fire on a bus full of travelling civilians, killing four. Some were targeted while simply walking on the street with friends.

The Constitution of Ethiopia, which represents the highest law in the nation, sets out the rights of its citizens clearly. Yet, these cases documented here reveal a blatant violation of all but two of the articles set out in Part One: Human Rights (Articles 14 to 28) of Chapter Three: Fundamental Rights and Freedoms of the Constitution. These range from breaches of the Rights to Life, the Security of Person and Liberty, to Prohibition against Inhuman Treatment, the Right of Persons Accused and Crimes Against Humanity.

The Ethiopian government is also in direct contravention of its responsibilities under international law – Ethiopia is a signatory of numerous international human rights treaties, including the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights as well as the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CAT).

These deaths represent not only a breach of law on regional, federal and international levels, but a serious moral failing on behalf of a government which has the core mandate to protect its citizens.

We call upon Abiy Ahmed and his government to end these illegal actions and to move towards a permanent and lasting peace in the region. Furthermore, we call on the international community to hold Abiy and his government accountable for their continued breach of international law.

Figure 2. Killings over time

Figure 3:  All Incidents documented over the month of November 2020.