The following is a statement of the Human Rights League of the Horn of Africa (HRLHA).
Breaking the Silence: the Hard Truth about the Oromo Protests in Ethiopia
HRLHA Appeal and Request for Immediate Action
January 3, 2016
The U.S. Department of State Secretary
His Excellency Mr. John Kerry
The UK Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs
The Rt Hon Philip Hammond MP
Minister of Foreign Affairs (Canada)
His Excellency Stéphane Dion
Minister for Foreign Affairs (Sweden)
Her Excellency Margot Wallström
Minister of Foreign Affairs (Norway)
His Excellency Børge Brende
First of all, using this opportunity, let me introduce to you the Human Rights League of the Horn of Africa (HRLHA):
The Human Rights League of the Horn of Africa (HRLHA) was originally founded in Ethiopia in 1996 by the name “Human Rights League (HRL);” it was silenced at the outset by the country’s authoritarian regime. It was then re-launched from the Diaspora in 2007 by exiled founders and members of HRL. It was then re-named the Human Rights League of the Horn of Africa (HRLHA), and registered as a non-profit and non-political organization in Ontario, Canada, on the 14th of June 2007. HRLHA aims to defend fundamental human rights, including freedoms of thought, expression and assembly or organization. It also works to raise the awareness of individuals regarding their own basic human rights and those of others. It insists on the observances of international and regional treaties, protocols, covenants, instruments, agreements, etc. on human rights as well as due processes of related laws. It promotes the growth and development of free and vigorous civil societies.
The Oromo Protests: Ethiopia at the Cross Road
When the current government of Ethiopia seized power by toppling the military dictatorship of Mengistu Haile-Mariam in 1991, Ethiopia and all friends of Ethiopia hoped for democracy and equality in the country. In the Transitional Charter Period of Ethiopia of 1991, federalism was introduced – the idea of “self-determination for the nationalities”1 Part One Article 2 (c) – devolving political, administrative and economic power to ethnically-defined regional states.
The 1995 Constitution2 assured that both the federal and the regional governments had their own legislative, judicial and executive powers and the right to levy taxes and allocate budgets. The federal government, with a bicameral parliament and a constitutional president, was assigned the responsibility for national defense, foreign relations, and for setting national standards for major policies. Regional governments, governed by the state president/chief executive and the state council and the Woreda (district) councils, were empowered to establish their own administrations and formulate and execute economic, social and political strategies and plans.
However, all these promises were dashed, and remain on paper only, used for political consumption by the federal authorities. As a result, all Regional States, including the Oromia Regional State, fell under the indirect administration of the Federal Government. Political power and economic resources, including Oromo land, were controlled by the Federal Government of Ethiopia – and cheaply leased to foreign investors with terms lasting a period of 50-99 years3. Land leases were undertaken without consultation and compensation for the landowners. Millions of Oromos lost their livelihoods and became landless. They are now homeless and beggars.
The Cause of the Recent Oromo Protests
The Oromia Regional State is Ethiopia’s largest and most populous federal state with around one-third of the nation’s over 92 million people4.
The Ethiopian Federal Government illegally sells Oromo land, including urban land in the city of Addis Ababa, which is the center of the Oromia Regional State. The suburban areas around the city of Addis Ababa are being sold to investors and the rest has been given to government officials. The government has then expanded its activity towards the small towns around the capital city; it has planned to integrate the surrounding 36 small towns of Oromia into the capital city in order to sell them. From inside the capital city alone, over 300,000 citizens were evicted and their land was given to the government officials and cadres for free. The new plan, “Addis Ababa Integrated Master Plan,” is aimed at evicting around two million farmers from and around the 36 towns. This Master Plan was first confronted by OPDO, the Oromo wing of the ruling political party, in April 2014 and then spread to all corners of the Oromia Regional State; over 79 Oromos, mostly students, were murdered and over 30,000 were detained by the Federal Government’s special force known as “Agazi”. Peaceful protesters against the Master Plan have been murdered or treated inhumanely and silenced. The Federal Government of Ethiopia reactivated the Integration Master Plan of Addis Ababa implementation in November 2015 without making any improvement and vowed to take serious actions against any person or organization opposed to the implementation. This reckless move of the Ethiopian Government reignited the anger of the Oromo people and brought them to the streets to peacefully protest against the Master Plan.
The government’s special force (“Agazi”) again took brutal actions and more than 100 Oromos were killed in coldblooded – including children, teachers, men and women from 7 to 80 years of ages5; thousands were wounded, and around 40,000 detained.
Key International Actors
Donor governments and Western government agencies, such as the European Union, the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF), have continued their policy of engagement with the government of Ethiopia. Donors have failed to publicly confront the government over its poor human rights record and to press it to respect and protect everyone’s rights.
The Human Rights League of the Horn of Africa and other international human rights organizations, such as Amnesty International6, Human Rights Watch7, the UN Human Rights Council Branch UPR8 and others, have repeatedly reported on the poor human rights record of the Government of Ethiopia and the gross human rights violations of the Ethiopian Government against its citizens.
As the main part of its activities, the HRLHA has released reports of several human rights infringements in Ethiopia in general, and in Oromia Regional State in particular, in the past several years.
The HRLHA reported in its recent release that the Oromia Regional State has fallen under the military9 control (state of emergency) since December 15, 2015. The head of the country, Prime Minister Haile-Mariam Dessalegn, has come out on state television and vowed to mercilessly crush peaceful protesters. As per his order, hundreds of Oromo children were murdered and thousands were detained. The HRLHA considers the Prime Minister’s declaration to be genocidal against the Oromo peaceful demonstrators. From the day of his speech, the special force (“Agazi”) has engaged in indiscriminate killings and any Oromo found outdoors faces its brutal actions. Presently, all Oromos are essentially under house arrest without adequate food and water and in poor sanitation. This kind of inhuman treatment is purely government killing, a “democide”10.
HRLHA is deeply concerned that if the international community fails to respond to the killings presently taking place in the Oromia Regional State as soon as possible, this could lead to a genocide comparable to those in Rwanda (1994), in Yugoslavia (1998) and in Darfur/Sudan (2003).
Therefore, the HRLHA respectfully demands that your government break its silence about the hard truth and requests your government:
1. To use its influence to put pressure on the Ethiopian government to respect international human rights, its own promised obligations and as well domestic and international laws, and refrain from its ethnic cleansing and respect the fundamental rights of the Oromo people;
2. To intervene to stop the killings in Oromia using the mandate of the three pillars of the responsibility to protect, as stipulated in the Outcome Document of the 2005 United Nations World Summit (A/RES/60/1, para. 138-140) and formulated in the Secretary-General’s 2009 Report (A/63/677) on implementing the responsibility to protect:11
A. The State carries the primary responsibility for protecting populations from genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity and ethnic cleansing, and their incitement;
B. The international community has a responsibility to encourage and assist States in fulfilling this responsibility;
C. The international community has a responsibility to use appropriate diplomatic, humanitarian and other means to protect populations from these crimes. If a State is manifestly failing to protect its populations, the international community must be prepared to take collective action to protect populations, in accordance with the Charter of the United Nations.
1. UN Secretary-General
His Excellency Mr. Ban Ki-Moon
2. The UN Human Rights Commissioner
Mr. Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein
3. African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights
(1) Transitional Period of Ethiopia: http://www.constitutionnet.org/files/ethiopia_transitional_period_charter_of_ethiopia_1991-1995.pdf
(2) Constitution of the Federal Republic of Ethiopia: http://www.wipo.int/edocs/lexdocs/laws/en/et/et007en.pdf
(3) Oakland Institute: http://www.oaklandinstitute.org/green-rush
(5) Oromia Regional State Under Siege: http://www.humanrightsleague.org/?p=15667
(6) ‘Because I am Oromo’ – Sweeping repression in the Oromia region of Ethiopia (Amnesty International): https://www.amnesty.org/download/Documents/4000/afr250062014en.pdf
(7) Dispatches: Yet Again, a Bloody Crackdown on Protesters in Ethiopia: https://www.hrw.org/news/2015/12/05/dispatches-yet-again-bloody-crackdown-protesters-ethiopia
(8) UN Human Rights, Office of the High Commissioner: http://www.ohchr.org/en/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=15074&LangID=E
(9) Oromia Regional State Under Siege: http://www.humanrightsleague.org/?p=15667
(11) Office of the Special Advisor on the Prevention of Genocide: http://www.un.org/en/preventgenocide/adviser/responsibility.shtml