The government of Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed Ali of Ethiopia has made little progress in investigating the deadly October 2019 violence and in acting to prevent further security force abuses and inter-communal violence in Oromia, Human Rights Watch said in a statement received by TODAY NEWS AFRICA in Washington D.C. on Wednesday.
Human Rights Watch said six months after the killings, victims and their families from two towns in the Oromia region still seek justice for abuses committed by security forces and violent mobs.
“The Ethiopian authorities can’t brush the killing and maiming of scores of people, the destruction of homes and businesses, and attacks on hospitals under the carpet,” said Laetitia Bader, Horn of Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “To ensure that upcoming elections can be held safely and securely, the government needs to accelerate its investigations into the October violence and bring those responsible for abuses to justice.”
Protests erupted in Ethiopia’s capital, Addis Ababa, on October 23, 2019, following social media posts by prominent activist Jawar Mohammed accusing the authorities of threatening his security, a claim the police denied.
The protests, which spread to about a dozen towns across the Oromia and Harari regions and to the city of Dire Dawa, devolved in several places into unrest and communal violence.
The government claimed that 86 people died during the protests and clashes across Oromia and surrounding areas, including 10 deaths that were the result of “confrontations” with the security forces.
However, Human Rights Watch said after it interviewed 24 people about the violence, including 19 victims, witnesses, medical officials, and relatives of victims in Dodola in the West Arsi zone and Ambo in the West Shewa zone of the Oromia region, as well as 5 journalists, academics, and human rights experts, it found that in Ambo for instance, Oromia police forces fired tear gas and live ammunition against initially peaceful, then stone-throwing, demonstrators.
Medical workers and witnesses said that on October 23 and 24, at least 6 protesters died from gunshot wounds, while at least 37 others were injured. In a written response to questions from Human Rights Watch, the federal attorney general’s office said that security officers also sustained casualties during the Ambo protests.
The interviews were conducted by phone in Afan Oromo, Amharic, and English between October 2019 and March 2020.
Human Rights Watch said it also analyzed satellite imagery, which corroborated witness accounts of attacks on homes and businesses in Dodola where at least 10 people were killed and 60 others injured among the town’s various ethnic communities after protests devolved into communal violence on October 23 and 24.
The human rights organization said “violent mobs attacked protesters and residents, looted property, and burned shops and businesses, forcing thousands to seek shelter in churches. Mobs also beat to death several patients and their relatives in Dodola General Hospital.“
In a statement on Wednesday, Human Rights Watch said “Ethiopian authorities should ensure that allegations of abuses, notably excessive use of force by security forces, and attacks by individuals implicated in mob violence are impartially investigated and appropriately prosecuted according to international fair trial standards.”
It said investigations should include the role of security force commanders and any failure to prevent or stop abuses by security force personnel and to protect against mob attacks.
The government should ensure that victims and their families of security force abuses receive prompt and fair compensation and should consider establishing a compensation program for victims of communal violence.
“The Ethiopian government’s insufficient response to the violence only adds to the suffering of the people whose loved ones died and others who lost everything,” said Laetitia Bader, Horn of Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “Increasing trust in the security and judicial apparatus will be key to preventing a combustible situation before general elections are held.”