Ethiopia needs speedy deployment of independent observers to investigate killings, says UN human rights

(RFI)— The UN human rights office is awaiting the response of the Ethiopian government on the deployment of international observers to regions where residents and opposition officials say security forces killed some 90 people. Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, UN Commissioner for Human Rights, wants to investigate allegations of excessive use of force in the Oromiya and Amhara regions.

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“International observers would be able to go in and independently assess the situation and establish the facts,” Ravina Shamdasani, a spokesperson for the UN human rights office, told RFI on Thursday. “There’s such wildly different estimates of the death toll, of how many people have been arrested. The government is coming up with much lower figures than others,” she added.

Protests were sparked in the Oromiya region earlier this year over a proposal by the government to extend the boundaries of the capital Addis Ababa, a plan that was later abandoned by the authorities.

Last weekend protesters chanted anti-government slogans and some demanded the release of jailed opposition politicians. The demonstration prompted a deadly response by Ethiopian security forces who used live ammunition, according to rights group Amnesty International, saying that 67 people were killed in Oromiya and 30 in Amhara.

“Information has been very difficult to gather given that social media has been blocked, there have been restrictions on internet services,” said Shamdasani, speaking from Geneva. “It’s also a very challenging working environment for local civil society organisations.”

It would not take a “huge” team, according to Shamdasani, outlining the need to speak to witnesses, visit hospitals and interview security forces to build a picture of what happened through credible and cross-verified testimony.

She said that deployment could happen very quickly and observers could be drawn from the UN or civil society organisations, “people not aligned with either side”.

The government described the protests as illegal and instigated by “anti-peace groups”, according to the state-run Ethiopian News Agency. It said the authorities had vowed to bring to justice the ring leaders who organised the protests.

Some activists are sceptical as to whether the government will accept the deployment of such an observer team and if it was given the green light, whether it would be allowed to operate without being restricted by the government.

“They would lay restrictions on the way these investigators move from place to place and the capacity for those experts to investigate violations [of human rights],” Befekadu, a member of the Zone Nine blogging collective, told RFI.

“In Ethiopia, almost every political structure is controlled by the government – the media, civil society – so investigating experts wouldn’t have the chance to do independent research,” he said by telephone.

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