Amnesty International accused the Ethiopian security forces of continuing to commit grave human rights violations, including extrajudicial executions and torture, since Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed took office in 2018.
In its report published on Friday, the rights group documented the arbitrary detentions of thousands of people and the forcible evictions of families from their homes during security operations in response to attacks by armed groups and inter-communal violence.
Federal authorities have not responded to the report, which focuses on the period between January and December 2019 in the regions of Amhara and Oromia.
Abiy has introduced a series of sweeping reforms, including granting amnesty to thousands of political prisoners and repealing draconian laws, since coming to power in April 2018.
The initiation of broad domestic changes – along with efforts to end hostilities with neighbouring Eritrea, a longtime foe – has won Abiy international praise and secured him the Nobel Peace Prize last year.
“Given the gravity and the duration [of the period in which abuses were reported]I cannot believe top officials are not aware of what was happening,” the report’s author, FissehaTekle, told the Guardian. “And if they are not then it is a dereliction of duty.”
In Oromia, security forces are waging a counter-insurgency campaign against rebels from the Oromo Liberation Army (OLA), an armed guerrilla movement demanding more autonomy for Oromos, which returned from exile in 2018 after Abiy removed it from Ethiopia’s list of terrorist organisations.
But the OLA has since returned to armed conflict, and accuses the government of failing to deliver its promises of more democracy and self-rule for Oromos.
Security forces are estimated to have detained more than 10,000 men and women suspected of supporting or working for the OLA, among other abuses documented by the organisation.
Many were detained for several months without being charged, in violation of both national and international human rights laws, under conditions which at times amounted to torture, the report found.
Detainees were made to undergo two months of “training” in subjects such as constitutionalism, the rule of law and the history of the Oromo people’s struggle.
In Amhara, according to the report, regional police, militia and local vigilante groups engaged in targeted attacks on ethnic Qemant, a minority group demanding more autonomy, in inter-communal violence which resulted in at least 130 deaths last year.
In January 2019, at least 58 people were reportedly killed in less than 24 hours and buried in mass graves.
Nobody has yet been held accountable for the atrocity.
Amnesty said it had sought responses to its findings from nine government offices including the defence ministry and the attorney-general’s office but had only received a response from Amhara’s regional security bureau, which denied that state security forces had been involved in any atrocities.
In February last year the former head of the Ethiopian army said it had embarked on “deep institutional reform” as part of the democratic changes sweeping the nation.
The head of the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission, Daniel Bekele, told the Guardian: “While the Amnesty findings and ongoing reports of killings and arrests in parts of Oromia region should be taken seriously and fully investigated, it is also important to understand the complex nature of the security operations where armed groups are seriously destabilising the affected areas.”
The prime minister’s office said it would put the Guardian’s request for official comment to the peace ministry, which did not respond in time for publication. (Source: The Guardian)