Nearly 700 have died in Ethiopian protests

Ethiopia | Advocates say the government has failed to address people’s grievances
by Onize Ohikere
Posted 4/19/17, 11:45 am

Ethiopia’s Human Rights Commission on Tuesday said antigovernment protests across the country, which resulted in violence and an ongoing government-imposed state of emergency, left at least 669 people dead.

In its report to the House of Representatives, the government-affiliated human rights commission said opposition groups spearheaded the rallies illegally and social media helped instigate the violence. The report said security forces used proportionate force in responding to the violence but called for the prosecution of some officials who abused their powers.

Awol Allo, a human rights fellow at the London School of Economics and Political Science, called the report a “gross underestimation” of the unrest. Allo said the government’s refusal to allow independent investigators signaled it probably had something to hide.

“Violence might work for a short period of time,” he said, “but people would find a way to continue to ask those questions.”

Demonstrations demanding more political freedom began in the country’s Oromia region in November 2015. The unrest escalated and became more violent last year after protesters began to damage property. An October stampede triggered by clashes between security officials and protesters killed more than 52 people. Ethiopia’s government in October declared a six-month state of emergency and extended it by another four months in March. The human rights report said 495 of the casualties happened in the restive Oromia region.

“Deep-rooted problems of good governance [and] failure to implement the special interests of Oromia in Addis Ababa as per stated in the constitution and the Addis Ababa master plan were the main causes for unrest in Oromia regional state,” said Addisu Gebregziabher, the commission’s leader.

Ethiopia’s government has faced accusations of suppressing dissent in the country. Since the unrest, security forces arrested more than 25,000 people suspected of protesting. The government also turned down the option of sending in international independent investigators after the United Nations and European Union suggested it.

In testimony before the U.S. House Foreign Affairs Committee last month, Human Rights Watch said Ethiopia no longer had any avenues left for people to express dissent or question the government. The advocacy group said the crisis could persist and called on the United States to speak out strongly against the abuses.

“While the state of emergency has halted, both the destruction of properties and the protests’ underlying grievances remain,” said Felix Horne, a senior Ethiopia researcher, “No one should deny there are serious risks that more unrest could occur.”

Onize Ohikere

Onize is WORLD's Africa reporter. She is a World Journalism Institute graduate and earned a journalism degree from Minnesota State University-Moorhead. Onize resides in Abuja, Nigeria. Follow her on Twitter @onize_ohiks.

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  • Isaac Barr
    Posted: Wed, 04/19/2017 12:33 pm

    I believe there is a typo in the last quotation.

  • Web Editor
    Posted: Wed, 04/19/2017 02:05 pm

    Thank you. We've corrected it.