Two different reports on the unrest in Oromia region that started in November, 2015 have been released in a matter of days. The Ethiopian Human Rights Commission report was presented to the House of People’s Representatives on June 10, 2015. A Human Rights Watch report then followed with its release on June 15, 2015.
The latest Human Rights Watch (HRW) report on Ethiopia once again bashed the country‘s human rights record. Released under the title “Such a brutal crackdown: Killings and arrests in response to Ethiopia’s Oromo protests,” the report has implicated the Ethiopian security forces as the sole culprits for the lives lost during the unrest.
The very first paragraph of the report points out: “state security forces in Ethiopia have used excessive and lethal force against largely peaceful protests that have swept through Oromia, the country’s largest region, since November 2015. Over 400 people are estimated to have been killed, thousands injured, tens of thousands arrested, and hundreds, likely more, have been victims of enforced disappearances.”
By using the expression ‘largely peaceful,’ the report intentionally avoids the violent nature of the protests that claimed the lives of numerous people, destroyed businesses and public offices. Although not explicitly put in the report, the expression is an admission of the presence of some level of violent protests. Such evasions of a certain section of the truth hurt the credibility of the report by implying that it set out to absolve one side of its crimes while demonizing another.
In contrast, the Human Rights Commission report as explained by Communications Director, Berhanu Abadi, states that the demonstrations were peaceful in the beginning as the people used their constitutional rights to express their frustration at the lack of good governance. The report indicates that there were no forceful measures used by the security forces at this stage. It then goes on to mention that the banned Oromo Liberation Front (OLF) and other opposition political parties operating in the region hijacked the popular demand for good governance to their own interests. Violent protests that saw the burning of hotels and other businesses along with public offices soon followed with their levels steadily soaring to target certain individuals.
Analyzing the grave security problems forthcoming from such violent turns in the demonstrations, explained Berhanu Abadi, the security forces intervened to keep things calm. The communications director went on to say that the investigation has found out this point to be where lethal power became applicable. The conflict that ensued between protesters and the security forces, Berhanu cited the report as saying, claimed lives on both sides.
Accordingly, the report states that a total of 173 people died including 14 members of the security forces and another 14 public administrators. 261 people were wounded severely including 110 members of the security forces and 13 officials of the regional administration. The report also indicates that 695 people have been lightly wounded with members of the security forces making up 416 of them along with 105 officials of the regional administration. The report further points out that 42 people have lost their lives as a result of the clash that followed the incitement of violence against each other by anti-peace elements.
The Commission’s report thus concluded that the use of lethal weapons by protestors and the ensuing total chaos prompted the security forces to use proportionate power. It also called for the culprits, regardless of their affiliation, to be held accountable. Whether they belong to governmental security forces, opposition parties or act individually, the report recommends that they face justice.
The findings by the Human Rights Watch are, on the other hand, quite different from those of the Commission. HRW’s reports indicate that when the protests started in November 2015, protesters initially focused their concerns on the federal government’s approach to development, particularly the proposed expansion of the capital’s municipal boundary through the Addis Ababa Integrated Development Master Plan (“the Master Plan”). The report stated that protesters feared that the Master Plan would further displace Oromo farmers, many of whom have been displaced for development projects over the past decade. It also went on to say that such developments have benefitted a small elite while having a negative impact on local farmers and communities.
The last paragraph shows that the two reports mutually agree on the popular demands for good governance and the peaceful nature of the demonstrations at the start. The difference is on how the protests got so deadly. Accordingly, the HRW report noted:
As the protests continued, the government in mid-January 2016 made a rare concession and announced the cancellation of the Master Plan. But by then protester grievances had widened due to the brutality of the government response, particularly the high death toll and mass arrests. Farmers and other community members joined the protesting students, raising broader economic, political and cultural grievances shared by many in the ethnic Oromo community.
Another major difference between the two reports is that HRW’s singles out security forces to be investigated and held accountable while the Human Rights Commission report calls for the investigation of all parties regardless of affiliation. The report states:
The Ethiopian government should drop charges and release all those who have been arbitrarily detained and should support a credible, independent and transparent investigation into the use of excessive force by its security forces. It should discipline or prosecute as appropriate those responsible and provide victims of abuses with adequate compensation.
Another section of the report states: “Discipline or prosecute as appropriate all members of the security forces, regardless of rank or position, responsible for using excessive force against protesters.”
By solely blaming the security forces and calling for dropped charges and mass releases of suspects, the HRW report unlike that of the Human Rights Commission’s aims to serve a group at the expense of another.