A group of United Nations human rights experts has called on the Ethiopian authorities to end the ongoing crackdown on peaceful protests against potential land seizures in Oromo by the country’s security forces, who have reportedly killed more than 140 demonstrators and arrested scores more in the past nine weeks.
“The sheer number of people killed and arrested suggests that the Government of Ethiopia views the citizens as a hindrance, rather than a partner,” the independent experts said, while also expressing deep concern about allegations of enforced disappearances of several protesters.
The current wave of protests began in mid-November, in opposition to the Government’s ‘Addis Ababa Integrated Development Master Plan’ to expand the capital’s municipal boundary. The ‘Master Plan’ could reportedly lead to mass evictions and the seizure of agricultural land in the Oromia region, as well as extensive deforestation.
While the Ethiopian government announced on Jan. 12 that it has suspended the implementation of the development plan, the UN experts expressed concern about continuous reports of killings, mass arrests, excessive use of force and other abuses by security forces.
“The Government’s decision is a positive development, but it cannot be seen as a sincere commitment until the security forces stop their crackdown on peaceful protests,” they said. “The role of security forces should be to protect demonstrators and to facilitate peaceful assemblies, not suppress them.”
Ethiopia has for years been criticized for its perceived authoritarian style of governance, but its regional role in efforts to battle extremism in the Horn of Africa and the government’s antipoverty measures coupled with impressive economic growth, has made the world slightly indulgent. In December, Amnesty International alleged that Ethiopian authorities labelled protesters ‘terrorists’ in an attempt to violently suppress protests.
While the government has admitted there were arrests and deaths, it has not shown real commitment to stopping the carnage.
“Accountability does not erase past abuses, but it is an important step towards rebuilding trust between people and their government,” the human rights experts stressed. “Impunity, on the other hand, only perpetuates distrust, violence and more oppression.”
“We call on the Government to immediately release protesters who seem to have been arrested for exercising their rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and expression, to reveal the whereabouts of those reportedly disappeared and to carry out an independent, transparent investigation into the security forces’ response to the protests,” the experts said.