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Ethiopia failing on human rights

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Ethiopia’s rulers have redoubled a repressive policy that is failing. Instead of looking for ways to alleviate the pent-up frustrations of the ethnic Oromo and Amhara populations that spilt out in demonstrations over the past 11 months, a six-month state of emergency has been announced, allowing the deployment of troops and bans on protests.

The latest confrontation was tragic and emblematic of the Government’s wrong-headed use of force. On October 2, in Bishoftu, a town 25 miles southeast of Addis Ababa, an enormous crowd gathered to celebrate Irreecha, the festival that marks the end of the rainy season and onset of the harvest.

Since last November, protests have been rising among Ethiopia’s approximately 40 million ethnic Oromos, fuelled by anger over plans for reallocating their land, political disenfranchisement and detention of opposition activists. Antigovernment chants began at the festival and security forces responded with teargas. In previous protests, teargas has foreshadowed live ammunition. When the teargas in Bishoftu was followed by the sound of gunshots, panic ensued. Many people were killed when they fell into deep trenches and drowned or were trampled.

According to Human Rights Watch, Ethiopian forces have killed more than 500 people during protests in the past year.

In announcing the state of emergency, Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn blamed “anti-peace forces” and “foreign enemies”, whom he claimed are trying to destabilise Ethiopia.

But Ethiopia’s human rights abuses and political repression must be addressed frontally by the United States and Europe, no longer shunted to the back burner because of co-operation fighting terrorism.