By Dr. Darara T. Gubo
Ethiopia has been in the news due to heinous crimes committed by the country’s security forces. Highly trained snipers have killed and maimed thousands of civilians, including women and children. The victims are often targeted for peacefully protesting oppressive rules and practices of the country’s tyrant officials. The epicenter of the resistance is mainly in the Oromia and Amhara regions, home to the majority of the country’s population.
The protest movement forced the government to appoint Dr. Abiy Ahmed as the country’s Prime Minister. Dr. Ahmed’s appointment has slowed the momentum of the popular uprising. In his speech to parliament, the Prime Minister acknowledged the mistakes committed by his party and promised a change.
Besides facing protest inside the country, the Ethiopian government has also come under increasing pressure from the international community to respect human rights.
In a move applauded by human rights activists, the United States Congress adopted House Resolution 128. The following are some of the measures that the resolution requires Ethiopia to take: 1) end the use of excessive force by security forces 2) investigate the killings and excessive use of force that took place as a result of protests in the Oromia and Amhara regions and 3)hold accountable those responsible for killing, torturing, and detaining innocent civilians who exercised their constitutional rights.
I hope the Ethiopian government will take the resolution to heart and take steps to rectify wrongs done in the past twenty-seven years. The relative calm in the country may not last long unless the government makes serious reforms recommended by the resolution and promised by the Prime Minister in his speech.
The coming days and months will tell if the government has the political will to implement the watershed reforms demanded by the resolution. To move forward as a stable nation, Ethiopia must confront the entrenched culture of impunity. Government officials have been killing and mistreating citizens without facing consequences. There is no guarantee that large scale killings will not be repeated by the same perpetrators of past killings unless the government becomes serious about bringing the killers to justice. Trigger happy hands drenched with the innocent blood of our fellow citizens must not be allowed to shoot anyone else.
For me, victimization at the hands of Ethiopian security forces is personal. There were constant protests against the government when I was a university student in early 2000’s. I was briefly expelled from the university and narrowly dodged bullets when I and others were shot at. The most shocking personal loss was the killing of my friend.
Alemayehu Garba was a student and a great human being. I have sweet memories of Alemayehu singing Christian hymns in our native Oromo language. Alemayehu used crutches due to his disability. He was arrested for his activism and brutally murdered in his prison cell. The Ethiopian officials falsely claimed that Alemayehu was killed because he tried to escape from prison. To this day, I don’t know of anyone who has faced justice for murdering my friend. I demand justice for Alemayehu. Thousands, and perhaps millions, of Ethiopians need justice for their friends and loved ones.
The Prime Minister of Ethiopia asked for forgiveness for the killings. It is a great and a welcome gesture. But, how can saying “sorry” heal the families of those murdered, unless it is backed by justice? The government should not be allowed to gloss over this critical issue. If the government admits its guilt, by asking for forgiveness, then why shouldn’t it take the next logical step and start holding the killers accountable? We will be doomed as a nation if we do not insist on justice being served.
Moving forward as a nation requires us to have forums to express our sorrow. To be healed, we must open wounds of injustice and cleanse the infection of bitterness by honestly expressing our feelings. We must be able to confront the perpetrators of heinous crimes in our country. Justice must be served. Perpetrators must answer for their crimes. If we can’t do that, we fail to create a sustainable future for ourselves and the generations to come. We will stagger from one crisis to another unless we boldly take steps towards ending impunity.
Darara Timotewos Gubo (LL.B., LL.M., S.J.D.) is a human rights activist based in Atlanta, GA, and is the author of Blasphemy and Defamation of Religions in a Polarized World: How Religious Fundamentalism Is Challenging Fundamental Human Rights (Lexington Books, December 16, 2014).
He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org