Human Rights Watch concluded on Thursday after a painstaking investigation that Amanuel Wondimu Kebede, a 17-year-old boy, was “publicly executed” in “broad day light” by Ethiopian troops in the Oromia region last month, and that the killing “underscores the lack of accountability for security force abuses in the country.”
“The Ethiopian authorities’ summary execution of a teenage boy shows astounding disregard for human life,” said Laetitia Bader, Horn of Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “The callous way that security forces and local officials filmed and then publicized this horrific event demonstrates that these authorities believe they can act above the law without fear of consequences.”
Amanuel was executed on May 11 this year after he was apprehended and beat by government forces in Dembi Dollo, a town in the Kellem Wellega zone of western Oromia.
A video posted on social media by the town’s administration shows security forces taunting a bloodied Amanuel with a handgun tied around his neck before he was executed.
In the ensuing weeks, the authorities intimidated and arbitrarily arrested other Dembi Dollo residents, including Amanuel’s family members.
Western Oromia has been the site of a three-year-long conflict between federal and regional government forces and the Oromo Liberation Army (OLA), an armed group that broke from the political opposition party, the Oromo Liberation Front (OLF), in 2019. A federal command post in western Oromia coordinates federal and regional security forces in the area, including Ethiopian Defense Forces, Oromia special police, Oromia regular police forces, and administrative militia forces.
On May 1, Ethiopia’s parliament proscribed “Shene” – a government term for the OLA – as a terrorist organization.
Human Rights Watch said it interviewed 11 Dembi Dollo residents and reviewed several videos and photographs posted on social media, media articles, and statements by government officials relating to Amanuel’s killing, and concluded that he was executed by government forces.
The human rights organization said since Amanuel’s killing, government authorities have “intimidated and harassed Dembi Dollo residents, including Amanuel’s family members and friends.”
For instance, Oromia security forces arrested over a dozen people, including Amanuel’s father, who were gathered at the family home mourning Amanuel’s death, while other residents were warned not to visit the house anymore.
And while while many of those arrested have since been released, Amanuel’s father remains in detention.
“The case of Amanuel and his family is not unique,” Human Rights Watch quoted one resident as saying. “We are getting used to these killings.”
Human rights groups and the media have reported numerous abuses by government security forces, including extrajudicial killings, summary executions of detainees, arbitrary arrests, and repeated communications’ shutdowns in western Oromia.
International human rights and humanitarian law prohibits summary, extrajudicial, or arbitrary executions, and torture and other ill-treatment of people in custody.
Ethiopia is a party to international and regional treaties, including the Convention on the Rights of the Child, the Geneva Conventions, and the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child, that contain special protections for children.
The government’s continued failure to properly investigate security force abuses or hold those responsible to account in Oromia and elsewhere in Ethiopia has helped perpetuate a climate that facilitates such crimes, Human Rights Watch said.
“Ethiopian authorities have shown nothing but contempt in the face of alleged atrocities instead of investigating these abhorrent acts,” added Bader, Horn of Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “The authorities should demonstrate they are serious about ending the abuses that have wreaked havoc on Oromia residents like Amanuel, and ensure that all those responsible, whatever their rank, face justice.”
Oromia is not the only region where abuses are taking place in Ethiopia. On Wednesday, the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) Administrator Samantha Power announced that the United States will be providing more than $181 million to deliver life-saving food, agricultural supplies, safe drinking water, shelter, health care, and essential services to protect the most vulnerable in Ethiopia’s Tigray region, where a worsening humanitarian catastrophe threatens millions of civilians.
“This urgently needed humanitarian aid will address life-threatening hunger and acute malnutrition by providing nearly 100,000 metric tons of food—enough to feed three million people for nearly two months—as well as seeds, tools, and fertilizers for farmers to replant crops intentionally destroyed by armed actors,” USAID said in a statement. “In addition, USAID will help protect the most vulnerable with safe spaces and psychosocial support for women and girls, case management for survivors of gender-based violence, training for social workers and community case workers, and programs to reunite children separated from their families.”
The United States is the world’s largest donor of humanitarian assistance for the Tigray response, contributing nearly $487 million since the crisis began.
USAID said the already dire situation in Tigray is deteriorating at alarming speed, and as a result of the conflict, nearly 90 percent of Tigray’s population —as many as 5.2 million people—need urgent assistance.
“USAID experts report that food scarcity in Tigray may already rise to the level of famine, threatening the lives of hundreds of thousands of people. Communities are starving, and the number of malnourished children is increasing each week. These conditions will continue to worsen without vast improvements in humanitarian access, an immediate ceasefire, and an end to the systematic atrocities being committed against civilian populations by armed actors,” the agency said.
The announcement comes the same day the U.S. Mission to the United Nations and the U.S. Agency for International Development announced that the United States and European Union will hold a high-level meeting Thursday to discuss the deteriorating humanitarian situation in Ethiopia’s Tigray region.
“U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) Administrator Samantha Power is co-hosting an event with the European Union focused on the humanitarian catastrophe in Ethiopia’s Tigray region, and the need for a strong international response to meet urgent humanitarian needs and prevent further atrocities, including widespread sexual and gender-based violence,” USAID said in a statement.
Approximately 5.2 million out of 6 million people —or some 90% of the population in Tigray—are in need of assistance because of the ongoing conflict and efforts by armed actors to delay and prevent food and other critical supplies from reaching vulnerable populations.
“Despite continuous calls for immediate and unfettered humanitarian access the delivery of assistance remains restricted, and violence against civilians as wells as destruction of hospitals, schools and religious buildings continues,” said a release from the European Union.
The United States and European Union have been vocal in condemning reported human rights violations in Tigray and calling for a cessation of hostilities and complete withdrawal of Eritrean forces from Ethiopia in order to provide humanitarian assistance to the region.
However, the international community seems to be growing increasingly impatient as the governments of Ethiopia and Eritrea have not been cooperative with humanitarian efforts.
According to the United Nations World Food Program, over 90 percent of people in Tigray are in need of emergency food aid and there is a looming risk of famine of dramatic proportions.
Thursday’s publicly broadcasted roundtable meeting will feature prominent American diplomats including the United States representative to the UN, USAID Administrator, and Special Envoy for the Horn of Africa. The meeting will also welcome the EU Commissioners for both Crisis Management and International Partnerships as well as the Secretary General of the Norwegian Refugee Council.