Ethiopia’s Dangerous Human Rights Crisis
An Appeal for Support
August 2, 2016
Ethiopia is going through one of the most troublesome but least reported popular uprisings in the world. BBC reported that the July 30, 2016 massive demonstration “in Gondar, a city in Amhara region, is a rare example of an anti-government demonstration in the country. It was organized on social media.” Despite insinuations by the Ethiopian government that the peaceful protest involving more than 100,000 people was instigated by “Eritrea, terrorist groups and bandits,” there isn’t a shred of evidence to confirm this allegation. Two weeks earlier, the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), a minority ethnic groups from Tigray that wields overwhelming power in Ethiopia sent a special armed hit squad to arrest members of a committee known as the Wolkait Amhara Identity Committee. Members were designated by the local population to negotiate land and ethnic identity rights with the federal government in line with the constitution. The land has been annexed by the TPLF and incorporated into its home base, Tigray. The Committee has been negotiating and demanding the reinstatement of annexed lands into the Amhara region for more than a year. This is the source of the current crisis.
Instead of respecting the legitimate demands of the population, the TPLF decided to abduct all committee members in the wee hours of the night and take them to Tigray where they would have been tortured and ultimately killed. Resistance ensued. Fire was exchanged and there were some causalities, including the child of Colonel Demeke Zewdu, a member of the Committee. The morning after the incident the people of Gondar came out in droves in support of Colonel Demeke and his colleagues. As the BBC put it, “The demonstration comes two weeks after another protest in the city in which 15 people died, including members of the security forces and civilians.” The incident could have been resolved through negotiation and the settlement of the dispute in accordance with the Constitution.
This regional issue has been scaled up dramatically and the demand for justice, fairness, the rule of law is spreading like wild fire. As Bloomberg news put it accurately on August 1, “Observers say that Ethiopia’s governing coalition is dominated by the party from the small Tigray region (TPLF), and some see the protests as a way of criticizing the country’s government.” From November last year, wide-spread protests, security led killings, maiming, imprisonment of thousands and disappearances have been taking place in Oromia.
The Amhara and Oromo population constitute more than 61 percent of Ethiopia’s 101 million people; while the Tigrean population is 6 percent. Both Amhara and Oromo are marginalized and excluded from policy and decision-making positions. Close to 97 percent of the top level officers in the security and defense establishment are Tigrean. The composition high officials of the diplomatic and other key institutions is similar. A bulk of the modern economy is owned by the TPLF, its endowments and loyal Tigreans.
Further, the Muslim population feels suppressed and persecuted. According to Bloomberg, “People on Sunday were also calling for the release of a group of 18 Muslims who were imprisoned last year under controversial anti-terror legislation.” The draconian Anti-Terrorism law is used to accuse, jail and torture any dissenter of any religious or ethnic group.
In the case of the Gondar demonstration, the TPLF propagated the incredible and untrue story that the Amhara population of the region was anti-Tigrean and that Tigreans faced the prospect of being killed and their properties destroyed. The Amhara and Tigrean people have lived side by side for thousands of years. They are intermarried. They belong to the same Ethiopian Orthodox Christian faith. They share lands, churches, cultures, history and civilization. There is not an iota of evidence to suggest that Tigreans are targeted. The Amhara population of Gondar makes a clear distinction between the punitive TPLF and the Tigrean people. Despite this reality on the ground, the TPLF spreads untrue, hateful and war mongering rumors in order to galvanize the support of the Tigrean population against the rest of Ethiopia.
On August 1, 2016, a declaration by the TPLF core group based in Tigray presented the following four demands and guide to the Federal government in Addis Ababa controlled and managed by the TPLF:
- “Amhara activists and nationalists in Gondar supported and encouraged by the government of Eritrea have embarked upon an anti-Tigrean campaign of ethnic cleansing of Tigreans. Our regional administration has agreed with the federal government to take immediate action against the Amhara.”
- “Members of the Wolkait Committee are in jail in Tigray awaiting trial for terrorism and intent to overthrow the government. The regional and federal officials agree that these criminals must be held accountable and must be punished.” They declared that Colonel Demeke will be charged for terrorism and forcibly sent to the higher court in Addis Ababa for trial.”
- “The Tigray police commissioner has conducted due diligence of potential unrest in Wolkait, Tegede, Telemt, Jansha, all occupied lands that belong to the Amhara population and region, to protect and defend by force of arms the Tigrean settlers and their properties in the area.”
- “Amhara protestors replaced the current TPLF flag with the Ethiopian national flag, a crime against the state, government and constitution. This anti-TPLF protest should therefore be persecuted; and Tigreans must hold a regional protest against the Amhara led demonstration in Gondar.”
In short, the TPLF is calling for revenge against the peace loving population of Gondar and the rest of the Amhara region who demand justice, equal treatment under the law and constitutional democracy.
We are deeply horrified and alarmed by this development. We are deeply concerned that the TPLF will massacre innocent people in a pattern similar to massacres in Gambella, the Omo Valley, Gondar, Oromia, Afar, the Ogaden and Addis Ababa.
We urge you to do all in your power to persuade President Obama to intervene before it is too late.