Ethiopian security forces accused of grave human rights abuses

A rights group has accused 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 on Friday, Amnesty International documented the arbitrary detentions of thousands of people and the forcible evictions of dozens of families from their homes, some of which were set alight, during security operations in response to attacks by armed groups and inter-communal violence in parts of the Amhara and Oromia regions.

The report covers the period between December 2018 and December 2019.

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.

But Abiy’s tenure has also been plagued by ethnic conflict, with hundreds of thousands of people being internally displaced amid a worsening security situation.

“The violations depicted in the report are telling of unfinished business of reform in Ethiopia including impunity for past human rights violations,” Deprose Muchena, Amnesty’s regional director for Southern Africa and East Africa, told Al Jazeera.

The Ethiopian government did not immediately respond to Amnesty’s report. Al Jazeera contacted the Ethiopian Attorney General and Ministry of Peace for comment but did not receive a response at the time of publication. Amnesty also said government offices did not respond to its report.

Under Abiy’s reformist drive, the government in 2018 lifted a ban on several political parties, some of which had been designated “terrorist” groups. The move paved the way for the leaders of the banned groups to return to the ethnically diverse country, and allowed the opposition parties to participate in long-awaited elections initially scheduled for August 2020 but now postponed due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Amnesty said the opening up of the political space has coincided with politicians stirring up ethnic and religious animosities in their efforts to mobilise support, sparking inter-communal violence and armed attacks in several of the country’s regional states.

In response, the federal government set up security command posts to coordinate the operations of the military, police and local militia.

Amnesty’s report (PDF) documents a series of alleged abuses in Oromia, where security forces are waging a campaign against the Oromo Liberation Army (OLA). The group is the breakaway armed wing of the Oromo Liberation Front (OLF), an opposition party that pursued military struggle before its return to Ethiopia to pursue a peaceful agenda in 2018. 

Amnesty said it had collected evidence that at least 10,000 people suspected of supporting or working for the OLA were detained by security forces in rounds of mass detention that began in January 2019. 


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