Urgent appeal to stop human rights violations in Oromia/Ethiopia

To: The United Nations Security Council
Office of the Ombudsperson
Room DC2 2206
United Nations
New York, NY 10017
United States of America
Tel: +1 212 963 2671
E-mail: ombudsperson@un.org

We, the undersigned Oromo community associations and members of civil society residing in Scandinavia, write this urgent appeal to you to bring to your attention the gross human right violations that are taking place in the Oromia region in Ethiopia and to request your office to help stop the developing tragedy.

Following years of sustained protest led by the Oromo youth movement (Qeerroo), the dictatorial regime that has ruled Ethiopia for the last 29 years appointed Abiy Ahmed Ali as a new prime minster in 2018 ostensibly to lead the country through a democratic transition. Up on taking power the new prime minster made lofty promises including respect for human rights, opening of the political space, release of political prisoners, and holding a free and fair election. Both the Ethiopian people and the wider international community hoped that this might be a historic moment for Ethiopia to turn a page on it’s one and a half century old dictatorial rule, which subjected the majority of its people to untold suffering, subjugation, exploitation, and marginalization. The Oromo people, which sacrificed thousands of their men and women in their struggle for freedom and democracy, took the prime minster at his words and threw their support behind him. The Oromo Liberation Front (OLF), which has led the Oromo struggle for over 40 years agreed to abandon armed struggle and returned home to pursue a peaceful political struggle.

However, to a great disappointment of the Ethiopian people in general and the Oromo people in particular, the prime minister’s promises turned out to be hollow. Just a couple of months after his government released some political prisoners, it started filling the prisons with Oromo youth (the Qeerroo) in what appeared to be a revenge for challenging the regime’s nearly three decades old rule. Thousands of Oromo youth and suspected members and supporters of opposition parties have been arbitrarily arrested and kept in prison for varying lengths of time without due process of law. The government reneged on the agreement it reached with the OLF regarding the integration of Oromo Liberation Army (OLA) fighters into Oromia region’s police force and declared war on OLA. The government then demanded total surrender of OLA without any precondition even though it agreed in Asmara that the Oromo Liberation army will be received as liberators and participate in the future security of the Ethiopian State. The government also hindered the efforts made by Oromo elders and the OLF to resolve this issue. As a result, some units of the Oromo Liberation Army splintered from the OLF and decided to continue the struggle until a formal peace accord is reached in accordance with international law and practice for ending belligerency. The government used this as a pretext and put several zones of the Oromia region including Wallaga, Gujii and Borana zones under a military rule known as command post illegally (without the parliament declaring state of emergency). The illegal command post was later extended to other regions such as the Southern Nations and Nationalities region. For the last one and a half years, people living in those regions that were put under the military rule were subjected to gross human right abuses by the Ethiopian army.

The brutality with which the Ethiopian army under the command of Abiy Ahmed Ali perpetrates human right abuses is unprecedented. The social media is full of harrowing stories of death, torture and destruction in Oromia, particularly in Wallaga, Gujii, and Borana zones. These stories have been corroborated by witnesses who managed to escape the region. The army is killing and maiming unarmed civilians in broad daylight with absolute impunity. Since the beginning of this year, Abiy’s government cut off telephone, internet, and power supply lines from those regions and intensified its genocidal war against the Oromo people. At this time when the whole world is fighting the corona virus pandemic and information has become so important, many regions in Oromia are under information blackout imposed by Abiy’s government. This is extremely worrying as the people in thes regions can’t get the necessary information about the pandemic. Emboldened by his surprise win of Nobel Peace Prize for what appears to be a tactical overture for peace with neighboring Eritrea, the prime minster has unleashed his army and security forces on people he suspects are supporters of the opposition, under the pretext of maintaining law and order, apparently hoping the international community will look away. It is difficult to list all the atrocities being committed by the Ethiopian army, but the following are the major ones:

  1. Arbitrary killings and summary execution. The army is killing civilians on daily bases in those regions under the state of emergency. An unknown but large number of people are believed to have been killed. In Wallaga alone, over 200 people are reported to have been killed since the beginning of the year. This includes 59 farmers who were summarily executed in a single day in Muggi district while working their field. Several young males were taken from their homes and were executed in front of their families. To create even more agony for the survivors, the army prevented burial of the dead, and allowed their body to be eaten by hyenas.
  2. Burning and destruction of properties. The army has been burning houses, sometimes with their occupants, and crops in several places in Wallaga, Gujii, and Borana. It has also set forests on fire using helicopter gunships and has used yet unidentified poison which sickened the local population and has led to death of domestic and wild animals. This appears to be a concerted effort to starve the people to death by destroying their means of subsistence.
  3. Rape. The Ethiopian Army has been using rape as a weapon of war. There are heart-breaking stories of mothers who were raped side by side with their young daughters and wives raped in front of their husbands.
  4. Beatings, torture and imprisonment. The army beats, tortures and imprisons peaceful civilians on daily basis in those areas under its rule.

While the list above gives an overview of what is going on in those areas under the military rule, the government has also been committing human right abuses in other regions including the killing of 12 Oromo university students in Amhara region which forced 35000 university students to quit their studies, summary dismissal of Oromo students from several universities in Oromia, firing of Oromos from their jobs, imprisonment of leaders, members and supporters of OLF and other Oromo opposition political parties. The government is also trying to foment conflict between the Oromo and Amhara nations using fake news such as the recent concocted kidnapping of Amhara students in Oromia.

The situation in Ethiopia in general, and the Oromia region in particular, is becoming untenable. The Ethiopian army is following a scorched-earth policy and conducting genocidal war on Oromo and other peoples in Ethiopia. A tragedy that has the potential to create Rwanda-like genocide and that could destabilize the whole Horn of Africa is in the making. While one would expect the government to take responsibility to preserve peace, we observe that the Ethiopian government itself has become a destabilizing force and a threat to a peaceful population. We, therefore, appeal to you to put pressure on Abiy’s government to:

  1. Stop killing, maiming and imprisonment of innocent civilians immediately.
  2. Restore telephone and internet connections and allow people to get the information they need particularly regarding the corona virus pandemic.
  3. Allow an independent international investigation into human rights abuses that are being committed in Oromia and other regions of Ethiopia.
  4. Lift the illegal state of emergency, restore civilian rule and resolve political disagreements through peaceful means.
  5. Bring perpetrators of human rights violations to justice.
  6. Release the imprisoned leaders of OLF including Abdi Regassa, Aman File, Gadaa Gabbisa, Kayo Fufa, Yassoo Kabbaba and others.
  7. Stop imprisonment and harassment of members and supporters of opposition parties and make conditions favorable to hold free and fair election.
  8. Readmit Oromo university students who were dismissed and facilitate for Oromo students who fled universities in Amhara region to be admitted to universities in Oromia.

Respectfully yours,

Signatories:

  • Oromia support group in Scandinavia, Norway
  • Oromo Community in Haugesund, Norway
  • Oromo Community in South Rogaland, Norway
  • Oromo Association in Bergen and Surrounding (OABS), Norway
  • Oromo Relief and advocacy in Norway
  • The OLF Support group in Norway
  • Oromo Human Rights Support Group in Trøndelag, Norway

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