(Nairobi, February 22, 2016) – Ethiopian security forces are violently suppressing the largely peaceful protests in the Oromia region that began in November 2015, Human Rights Watch said today. Almost daily accounts of killings and arbitrary arrests have been reported to Human Rights Watch since 2016 began.
Security forces, including military personnel, have fatally shot scores of demonstrators. Thousands of people have been arrested and remain in detention without charge. While the frequency of protests appears to have decreased in the last few weeks, the crackdown continues.
“Flooding Oromia with federal security forces shows the authorities’ broad disregard for peaceful protest by students, farmers and other dissenters,” said Leslie Lefkow, deputy Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “The government needs to rein in the security forces, free anyone being held wrongfully, and hold accountable soldiers and police who used excessive force.”
The Ethiopian government has said that the situation in Oromia is largely under control following the government’s retraction on January 12 of the proposed “Addis Ababa Integrated Development Master Plan.” The controversial proposal to expand the municipal boundaries of the capital, Addis Ababa, into farmland in Oromia sparked the initial demonstrations.
The plan’s cancellation did not halt the protests however, and the crackdown continued throughout Oromia. In late January 2016, Human Rights Watch interviewed approximately 60 protesters and other witnesses from various parts of the Oromia region in December and January who described human rights violations during the protests, some since mid-January. They said that security forces have shot randomly into crowds, summarily killed people during arrests, carried out mass roundups, and tortured detainees.
While there have been some reports of violence during the protests, including the destruction of some foreign-owned farms and looting of some government buildings, most of the protests since November have been peaceful. On February 12, federal security forces fired on a bus after a wedding, killing four people, provoking further protests. A February 15 clash between federal security forces and armed men believed to be local police or militias, resulted in the deaths of seven security officers, according to the government.
On January 10, security forces threw a grenade at students at Jimma University in western Oromia, injuring dozens, eyewitnesses reported. Multiple witnesses told Human Rights Watch that security forces stormed dormitories at Jimma University on January 10 and 11, with mass arrests and beatings of Oromo students.
Security forces have arrested students, teachers, government officials, businesspeople, opposition politicians, healthcare workers, and people who provide assistance or shelter to fleeing students.