By Prof. Alemayehu G. Mariam
Author’s Note: On October 2, 2016, troops loyal to the Tigrean Peoples’ Liberation Front (T-TPLF) opened fire indiscriminately on crowds attending one of the most important cultural and spiritual events in Ethiopia, the Irreecha (Thanksgiving) Festival in the town of Bishoftu, some 45 miles southeast of the capital Addis Ababa. An estimated 500 plus people were killed and twice that number severely injured during the event.
The following analysis challenges the official T-TPLF version of events leading up to and triggering the so-called stampede at the Irreecha Festival.
The discussion below also presents a preliminary forensic analysis which contradicts the cynically concocted official story line that at the end of the day, the victims have no one to blame but themselves for the deaths and injuries they sustained. If they had stayed home, none of it would have occurred.
The analysis further lays the groundwork for a crimes against humanity investigation into the actions and omissions of all persons involved in Irreecha Festival Massacres.
The analysis below is longer than my usual long tracts, but I believe the information and evidence discussed herein are of significant public importance and service.
Over the past several days, the T-TPLF disinformation machine has been in high gear trying to convince the world (since no one in Ethiopia will pay any attention to the pathological lies of the T-TPLF) that the October 2, 2016 Bishoftou Irrecha (Thanksgiving Day) Massacre is the result of a “stampede” that occurred when the crowd attending the Festival was somehow suddenly struck by inexplicable mass hysteria. The official T-TPLF explanation stripped off all the lies and subterfuges is simply that crowd-madness induced a “stampede” at the Festival. Their troops did not fire a single shot at the event. They did not engage in the use of deadly or excessive force of any kind.
The puppet T-TPLF prime minister (PPM) (more accurately crime minister) Hailemariam Desalegn gave a statement shortly after news of what happened at the Irreecha Festival was broadcast internationally. The PPM, for all intents and purposes, argued that the victims engaged in the stampede voluntarily (without any external cause such as gunfire by T-TPLF troops or other threats or actions) and therefore the deaths should be regarded as mass suicide by stampede. According to the PPM, the victims solely bear full responsibility for their own deaths and no one else.
It is noteworthy that in all the years of Irreecha Festivals with hundreds of thousands of people in attendance, there has not been a single documented death from violence or other causes. What extraordinary event occurred at the 2016 Irreecha Festival to cause the deaths of over 500 persons?! The PPM did not address this question.
As I argue below, the Irreecha Festival “stampede” was not the type of ordinary stampede which occurs from unexpected crowd dynamics. It has all the finger-, foot- and hoof-prints of a “buffalo jump” (an ancient Native American practice discussed below) planned and executed by the T-TPLF leadership.
My information reveals that after a panicked and hurried meeting of the T-TPLF state-within-the state over the Irreecha Massacre, a plan was devised to bombard the foreign news media and direct T-TPLF state-owned media to propagate several lines of disinformation regarding the Irreecha Festival Massacre: 1) The deaths were the result of a “stampede”. 2) The “stampede” was triggered by “evil forces”. 3) T-TPLF forces did not fire a single shot nor killed any person at the Festival. 4) T-TPLF “security forces” used “only tear gas, rubber bullets and batons”. 5) T-TPLF “security forces” should be commended for their conduct and heroic efforts.
Sure enough, the BBC, the New York Times, Bloomberg News, Reuters, Agence France-Presse, the Italian news agency ANSA, ArabNews and dozens of other international media outlets bought the T-TPLF disinformation hook, line and sinker. The international media was parroting the T-TPLF line about the 52 people who died in a “stampede”, and not a single word about the T-TPLF Irreecha Massacre on October 2, 2016.
The New York Times headlined its October 3, 2016 story, “Day After 55 Dead in Stampede, Ethiopia Unrest Continues”.
In a 532-word story, the New York Times used the word “stampede” 8 times. Out of 16 paragraphs in the story, including 4 paragraphs with single sentences, the dominant theme of 8 paragraphs was “stampede”. Not a single word about a massacre!
This is the type of T-TPLF disinformation I was calling attention to over the past month.
The T-TPLF disinformation campaign is in full swing to discredit the current massive and nationwide uprising and now to absolve T-TPLF leaders from legal, political and moral responsibility for their role in the Irreecha Festival Massacres. .
I call on all Ethiopians, particularly those in the Diaspora, to challenge every major Western media that knowingly or unknowingly propagates T-TPLF disinformation on the ongoing massacres in Ethiopia, particularly the Irreecha Festival Massacre.
Spin doctoring a massacre as a stampede
Sitting in front of a whitewashed background in what appeared to be ad-libbed remarks, (I did not say PPM Hailemariam whitewashed the Irreecha Massacre), PPM Hailemariam Desalegn tried his best to spin the Irreecha Massacre into a blame the victims game.
In his remarks, the PPM
Shed crocodile tears for the “52” (not the several hundred) T-TPLF massacre victims ;
condescendingly patronized and paternalized the Oromo people for their day of celebration and the international importance of Irreecha;
implicitly berated the victims for not standing up and taking it like a man or a woman. If the victims would have simply stood in one place and took a beating from T-TPLF police batons, toughed it out and sucked up the tear gas thrown at them with a stiff upper chin and absorbed all of the rubber bullets coming their way, they might have been alive today;
laid the blame for the deaths and injuries literally at the very (running) feet of the massacre victims. The PPM’s attitude was that if the victims did not behave like stampeding cattle fleeing a cackle of hyenas, they would all be alive today. (But as a grieving mother told reporters, she literally said she felt like she was fleeing a cackle of T-TPLF hyenas!)
blamed the victims for allowing “evil elements” (not “terrorists”?) to take over the Irreecha Festival and wreak havoc;
demanded the victims’ families and friends and all Ethiopians line up with the T-TPLF and face off the “evil elements” who created the disorder; and
to add insult to injury, he suggested victims’ survivors should thank and kiss the hands (more accurately the trigger fingers) of the T-TPLF security officers who tear-gassed them, beat the crap out of them and shot them to death.
Here is how the PPM shed crocodile tears for the Bishoftou Irreecha Festival Massacre victims:
As is well known, today, the people of Oromiya and their supporters observe the annual celebration of Irreecha where they offer thanksgiving to their Creator. This is a day that is given great honor by the Oromo people to thank God, wish for peace, and stability and wish for good things. For this celebration, hundreds of thousands of Oromos and their supporters set out during the night to go to the place of the celebration. As usual, the Oromo people set out during the night to go to Bishoftu area (45 km south of the capital) to Hora.
Oromo leaders have been preparing to lead this celebration for weeks. What makes this celebration different is that this celebration is not only for our country, but also one for which there had been a lot of preparation to make it an international celebration by getting UNESCO to recognize it.
As Oromo leaders were preparing to lead the celebration, evil forces had pre-positioned themselves (to do evil deeds) and exerted great effort to undermine the celebration and make it chaotic and disorderly. As a result of the disorder that was created, a stampede broke out and because the area has cliffs some 52 citizens have lost their lives. About the same number of people have suffered injuries. This is a sad and tragic situation.
In my name and in the name of EFDRE (T-TPLF regime), I have been deeply saddened. I extend my condolences to the (victim’s) friends and families and the whole Ethiopian people. This a situation that should have never manifested itself. The (fact that) evil forces have subverted this honored Oromo celebration and tradition into chaos and disorder is sad. Therefore, I call upon the Oromo people and the Ethiopian people to stand with the government (T-TPLF) and condemn and bitterly oppose such evil acts.
The government (T-PLF) will bring to justice such evil doers and hold them accountable. In this effort, the whole people must stand with the government (T-TPLF). In this situation where only evil doers were involved, our security forces made great effort to ensure security; no gunfire was heard and the government took great care [to prevent harm] of the situation. I want to thank the security forces who protected the people in the name of the EFDRE (T-TPLF), those security officers who spent great effort.
The government (T-TPLF) will strongly continue with the new changes it has started, its development (plans), democracy building and peaceful journey. Our journey of change just began; it has not ended. Therefore, I take this opportunity to call upon the whole Oromo people and the people of our country to join us in the current change mobilization we have started. The government (T-TPLF) without slipping back will continue the new changes for development and peace, seek proper means and strongly pursue [these goals], I assure you. Thank you.
What happened on October 2, 2016 in Bishoftu?: The evidence so far
As PPM Hailemariam thanked the T-TPLF soldiers who fired into the Irreecha Festival crowd, he said “no gun fire was heard and the government took great care of the situation [to prevent use of deadly force]” and that “52 people lost their lives.” The PPM’s office has provided no updates on fatalities and injuries since his initial public statement. As far as the PPM is concerned, only 52 people have died at the Festival.
The PPM’s statement is contradicted by numerous eyewitness testimonies including accredited reporters who were present at the event and observed the crowd and the T-TPLF soldiers.
On October 3, 2016, Freedom House issued a statement on the Irreecha Massacres:
The deaths in Bishoftu occurred because security forces fired tear gas and live ammunition at a crowd of over a million people celebrating a religious occasion. The government of Ethiopia should allow a truly independent body to investigate the tragedy at Bishoftu as well as security forces’ well-documented record of using excessive force against peaceful gatherings. (Emphasis added.)
In a VOA- Amharic Service program interview on October 3, 2016, several accredited reporters who were present at the Irreecha Festival confirmed that heavily armed T-TPLF soldiers (not the unarmed local police forming a cordon in front of the crowd) who had taken tactical positions behind the VIP grandstand hidden from direct view of the crowd, suddenly opened live fire on the unarmed and peacefully protesting crowd after the official program could not proceed due to crowd demands.
Andualem Sisay, a reporter for the Kenya National Media Group, told VOA that for a prolonged period of time the gathered crowd was peacefully singing traditional songs and engaged in festivities without incident. He said the official program for the elders could not start as planned and the crowd became agitated and began chanting anti-T-TPLF slogans. The crowd continued to shout out, “Enough of woyane!” and similar statements. Andualem reported hearing the sound of gunfire after the crowd openly, vocally and overwhelmingly showed its opposition to the T-TPLF by chanting critical slogans.
Other eyewitnesses who were present at the Festival explained that the crowd became agitated because of concerns that the T-TPLF was going to use the grandstand to parade its lackeys and hired hands to speak to the crowd and hijack the Irreecha religious event for its own political advantage. There is evidence to suggest that prior to the Irreecha event the T-TPLF was repeatedly warned by certain community leaders not to politicize the celebrations for political purposes, a warning ignored by T-TPLF leaders. Some informants reported that the crowd did not want to hear any type of political speech in light of recent T-TPLF massacres over which the community was grieving. But it was clear the T-TPLF had planned to hijack the event. They had imported truckloads of hired hands and cadres from different areas to beef up their cheering section in the crowd.
Yohannes Amberber, another reporter who was present at the encampment of the T-TPLF soldiers told VOA that he was instructed by T-TPLF soldiers leave the grandstand area immediately as it became clear that the official program could not proceed and the crowd was becoming more vocal in its opposition to the T-TPLF. Yohannes indicated that a group of T-TPLF soldiers opened fire on the crowd without provocation.
Preliminary forensic analysis of a number of different cell phone and home video recordings of the event posted online supports the reporters’ and eyewitness’ accounts.
One relatively high-quality video clip shows Irreecha celebrations beginning peacefully and with an overwhelming sense ofjoy and anticipation. Men, women, elders and children were in the street having a great time. Men on colorfully decorated horses are seen riding to the celebration venue singing and chanting. A marching band spiced up the parade. Elders on foot followed in festive mood. Children in traditional attire lined up the streets. Groups of young men and women sang and did traditional dance. Women in traditional dress are seen singing and dancing. Celebrants of all ages are seen walking carrying traditional clumps of grass.
Other video clips showed a large crowd of young people standing in an open area waiting to listen to speeches from the grandstand. Elders (Abagedas), community leaders and other officials are seen sitting in festive mood in the grandstand. The video also shows the crowd getting increasingly animated, raising arms and shouting behind the police cordon. Few individuals crossed the police lines carrying banners or to communicate with those sitting in the grandstand. A couple of young men emerged from the crowd line and got on the VIP stage carrying a banner promoting Oromo culture and identity.
One video clip showed a military helicopter suddenly appearing just above the treetops in what appears to be an effort to buzz the crowd. The overflight seemed to inflame the crowd which started to point at the helicopter displaying angry gestures. The video also showed the military helicopter returning at least once more and buzzing the crowd in what appears to be a show of force. The crowd instantly goes into a frenzy raising arms and crossing wrists (the symbolic sign of protest against T-TPLF rule in Ethiopia) swaying left to right.
Another video clip shows a few elders addressing the crowd on the grandstand. A few young people are seen crossing the police cordon and approaching the grandstand asking to use the microphone. One man gets the microphone. A half dozen or so young men cross the line and join him below the grandstand raising their hands crossed at the wrist. A young man with the microphone begins addressing the crowd from the grandstand. A few seconds later, another young man grabs the microphone and chantsto the crowd, “Down, down woyane!” (T-TPLF) several times. The crowd is ecstatic and shouts back, “Down, down woyane!”
In yet another video clip, local policemen are seen standing in police cordon keeping the crowd to remain in position. But behind the grandstand, there appeared to be elements of at least one battalion of fully armed T-TPLF soldiers in combat camouflage carrying AK 47s and side arms and wearing ammunition vests and strapped at the waist with what appear to be portable munitions with removable trigger pins. The video also shows what appears to be a Soviet-era 7.62 general-purpose PKMN machine gun with an ammo belt wrapped around it.
Mulatu Gemechu, Vice Chairman of the Oromo Federalist Congress (OFC), told Voice of America (VOA) Amharic Service that his organization has verified 678 persons killed in the T-TPLF Bishoftu Massacre. He also said there were 423 persons in critical condition and 870 persons who suffered wounds and injuries of varying severity. He added more bodies are being fished out of the water in the festival area.
Legesse Tadesse, an OFC member and Bishoftou resident, also told VOA that he had personally counted 146 corpses in a local hospital. He also suggested that the government (T-TPLF) was trying to hide dead bodies to reduce the number of killed.
In the face of these facts, PPM Hailemariam tried to absolve his T-TPLF troops of any responsibility for the indiscriminate shootings and put the blame entirely on the victims and others he called “evil doers”.
If there were an independent investigation, there is no question that PPM Hailemariam and his T-TPLF would be found singularly and criminally responsible for their crowd management plan and implementation of that plan.
The Bishoftu Irreecha Festival Massacre is ONLY the latest T-TPLF massacre
Massacres and heavy-handed treatment of unarmed and peaceful protesters has been the stock in trade of the T-TPLF since its bush days in the 1970s. Time and again, T-TPLF forces have systematically and massively used deadly and excessive force to crush opponents and silence dissenting voices.
As my long time readers know, I got involved in human rights advocacy after the 2005 Meles Massacres.
On May 16, 2005, one day after the general election, the late thugmaster of the T-TPLF Meles Zenawi declared a state of emergency, outlawed all public gatherings and placed under his direct personal command and control all police, security and military forces, and even replaced the capital’s city police with “federal” police and special forces. Meles Zenawi’s own Inquiry Commission documented nearly a thousand people killed or severely wounded by gunfire in that massacre.
Watch the Meles Massacres video (in Amharic) HERE.
For a partial list of the names of the Meles Massacres, see my November 2015 commentary“Remembering the Meles Massacres of 2005 in Ethiopia Ten Years After”.
In its June 2016 reportentitled “’Such a Brutal Crackdown’: Killings and Arrests in Response to Ethiopia’s Oromo Protest”, Human Rights Watch stated, “security forces in Ethiopia have used excessive and lethal force against largely peaceful protests that have swept through Oromia, the country’s largest region, since November 2015. Over 400 people are estimated to have been killed, thousands injured, tens of thousands arrested, and hundreds, likely more, have been victims of enforced disappearances.” (Emphasis added.)
In early May 2014, the T-TPLF massacred at least 47 university and high school students in the town of Ambo 80 miles west of the capital Addis Ababa. (The information I have received indicated nearly three times the T-TPLF reported fatalities and hundreds more injured and imprisoned.) The T-TPLF dismissed the Ambo Student Massacre and tried to sweep it under the rug claiming that a “few anti-peace forces incited and coordinated the violence”. (See my May 2014 commentary, “Crimes Against University Students and Humanity”.
In December 2003, the T-TPLF massacred hundreds of Anuak people in Gambella in Western Ethiopia.
A report by the Harvard Law School Human Rights Program on the Anuak Masscre concluded, “From December 2004 to at least January 2006, the ENDF (Ethiopian National Defense Forces) attacked and abused Anuak civilians in Gambella region – wantonly killing, raping, beating, torturing, and harassing civilians.”
Genocide Watch sent a fact-finding team in Gambella and secured authentic documents “proving that the Gambella massacres were planned at the highest levels of the Ethiopian government, and even given the code name “Operation Sunny Mountain,” the title of Genocide Watch’s resulting 1994 report.” (See also my May 2011commentary/interview, “ The Anuak’s Forgotten Genocide.”)
In 2007, the T-TPLF massacred hundreds of people in the Ogaden region of Ethiopia. Human Rights Watch in its June 2008 report entitled “Collective Punishment: War Crimes and Crimes against Humanity in the Ogaden area of Ethiopia’s Somali Region”, documented, “Ethiopian troops have forcibly displaced entire rural communities, ordering villagers to leave their homes within a few days or witness their houses being burnt down and their possessions destroyed and risk death. Over the past year, Human Rights Watch has documented the execution of more than 150 individuals.”
In the past several weeks, scores of people have been massacred by T-TPLF troops in Gonder, Wolkait, Bahr Dar and other locations in Northern Ethiopia.
PPM Hailemariam says all the “52” victims died in a “stampede”, not a single one from a gunshot: But what is a “stampede”?
According to PPM Hailemariam, all “52” victims died in a “stampede” at the Irreecha Festival. Not a single shot was fired into the crowd and the “security” forces should be thanked for “helping to protect” the Irreecha celebrants.
Girma Biru, the T-TPLF ambassador to the U.S. said T-TPLF soldiers acted properly because protesters interrupted the religious festival and “started to snatch away the microphone from the elders and started to destabilize the people around them.” The T-TPLF ambassador added, “I don’t think the government has overreacted, rather, the government was very tolerant,” According to the T-TPLF ambassador, the entire blame should be laid on the protesters who “destabilized” the crowd triggering a “stampede”. T-TPLF soldiers had absolutely nothing to do with anything that happened at the Irreecha Festival event.
But what exactly is a “stampede”?
A stampede is a phenomenon that can occur in a crowd of humans or herd of animals. A stampede is an uncontrolled and impulsive running triggered by a realization or perception of imminent threat, danger or inexplicable extraordinary occurrence. Stampede behavior is often observed among zebra, elephants and wildebeests. Thunderclaps, lightning strike, unnatural loud noises or the appearance of predators could trigger a stampede among animals.
In human crowds, gunfire, sudden disasters, random violent attacks and even concerted police action against a crowd could result in a stampede. There have been numerous instances of deadly stampedes in sports games, at political rallies and religious events worldwide. There have been stampedes even at department stores in America on Black Friday, the beginning of the traditional holiday shopping season.
Deaths in stampedes usually occur not from trampling but from “compressive asphyxiation”. Victims are pushed (squeezed) tightly against each other while standing up, unable to move forward, backward or even breathe. The force of a moving crowd increases enormously as people in the back surge forward blindly and in panic creating more pressure and clogging exits.
In large public events or situations where large numbers of people assemble, the first thing event organizers and government officials think about and plan for is crowd safety management and stampede prevention. Often simple techniques of traffic control, barrier set up, establishment of multiple exits, etc. serve to prevent and mitigate stampedes and allow safe crowd dispersal.
I have had opportunity to study T-TPLF crowd control (what they call “riot control”) practices over the past several years.
My conclusions on T-TPLF crowd control techniques are: 1) T-TPLF leaders believe public gatherings that they did not organize or approve are riots or riots in the making. 2) T-TPLF leaders believe all protests and demonstrations, including peaceful and unarmed ones, pose an existential threat to the T-TPLF and must be dealt with deadly force. 3) T-TPLF leaders believe that the best way to control a crowd is through the use of massive deadly force to strike fear in the hearts of protesters and demonstrators.
My theory of the Bishoftou Irreecha Festival “stampede”: How the T-TPLF trapped and herded the Irreecha Festival crowd into a “buffalo jump”
I do not believe the Bishoftou Irreecha Festival “stampede” was random or in any way unexpected.
I believe what T-TPLF PPM describes as a “stampede” is the equivalent of the ancient practice of “buffalo jump” organized by certain Native American groups in North America.
In the past, certain Native American tribes would carefully plan and organize to lure herds of buffalo or reindeer to the precipice of a cliff. They would set up the right situation for the cliff “jump” by slowly driving the herd along a narrow route in the direction of a cliff and carefully herding them into a narrow pathway while closing all exits so that the buffalo have no option to return back. At that point, they would make frightening noises and create distractions to alarm and cause panic in the buffalo herd triggering a stampede which results in the buffalo herd jumping over the cliff to their deaths.
I see a lot of parallels between the “buffalo jump” of history and what the T-TPLF did at the Irreecha Festival to the crowd. I believe the “stampede” in the Irreecha Festival was pre-planned by T-TPLF leaders; and in the alternative, resulted from inexcusable acts of gross criminal negligence by T-TPLF leaders.
Here is my theory of the case for intentional and planned criminal acts and/or gross criminal negligence in the Irreecha Festival Massacres
PPM Hailemariam’s claim is that the stampede was triggered when some “evil doers” hijacked the Festival and transformed it into chaos and disorder resulting in a stampede. He said, “As Oromo leaders were preparing with to lead the celebration, evil forces had taken preplanned positions and exerted great effort to undermine the celebration and make it chaotic and disorderly. As a result of the disorder that was created, a stampede broke out and because the area has cliffs some 52 citizens have lost their lives.”
By the way, this is not the first time the PPM and his T-TPLF have claimed that large numbers of people have died from “stampedes”.
In September 2016, the BBC reported that “A[n] [Ethiopian] government statement says 21 died of suffocation after a stampede [at Qilinto prison] while two others were killed as they tried to escape.”
Qilinto prison has a population of 3,000 persons who are held for three years or more as they await trial. Oromos constitute the largest percentage of the Qilinto prison population.
Is “stampede” the newest T-TPLF massacre strategy in Oromiya and elsehwre?
How many more massacres by stampedes should we expect?
The PPM’s statement belies the manifest facts in the eyewitnesses testimonies and video recordings.
The 2016 T-TPLF Irreecha Festival Massacre cannot be understood as an isolated incident. Indeed, it is not possible to understand and fully appreciate the Ireecha Festival “stampede” (massacre) without examining the long and outrageous record of T-TPLF mishandling of prior “riot” situations and peaceful protests and demonstrations.
I have had opportunity to study numerous T-TPLF’s massacres and “riot” control actions since 2005.
The incontrovertible fact is that the T-TPLF has always responded to protests and demonstrations and unruly crowd behavior using deadly or excessive force.
In the aftermath of the Meles Massacres in 2005, the generic T-TPLF explanation was that they did not have riot and crowd control equipment and their soldiers and security personnel did not have proper training in crowd control and use of deadly or excessive force. Meles in fact claimed that there reason so many people died in the post-election “disturbances” (as he called it) was because his police and security forces did not have modern crowd control techniques and equipment.
In 2008, Meles Zenawi commissioned a secret study by retired British Colonel Michael Dewars.
Col. Dewars was instructed to “complete an initial assessment” and “make recommendations designed to create a modern security force that will function effectively by using strategies designed to pre-empt civil unrest which threatens the security of the State of Ethiopia and its People,… and on the equipping and training of such a Security force.”
I discussed the Dewars study extensively in my October 2008 commentary, “Quiet Riot in Ethiopia”.
One of the significant findings of the Dewars’ report was that in 2008 the “Riot Control Police” had “perfectly acceptable set of personal equipment” which includes “helmet, including neck protection, and visor, boots, protective leggings, baton, and shield” and that “the basic equipment they now have is perfectly adequate and should remain so for some years.” But he expressed concern that the Riot Police have very little to do with their time and that “most of their time is spent waiting for riots to happen.”
I was particularly disturbed by Col. Dewars’ approach to “riot control” based on outmoded “police vs. rioters” mentality. I felt that his approach in the Ethiopian context could encourage the Riot Police to resort to military means of riot suppression and beating or shooting “rioters” as an act of first resort, rather than using modern psychological methods of crowd control and management techniques. Of course, Col. Dewars’ was making recommendations based on his field experience in riot control and his several tours of duty in Northern Ireland and sectarian violence in the 1970s.
In my commentary, I made a prediction:
If the regime is indeed interested in preventing the recurrence of the “mistakes” of 2005, one would reasonably expect them to look for experts in more modern approaches to dealing with popular protests. As demonstrated in 2005, the Riot Police in Ethiopia are second to none in treating riots as “urban combat.”
The T-TPLF soldiers dealt with the Irreecha Festival as an “urban combat” situation and treated the civilian population as enemy combatants, NOT as crowd control and management situation for festive going citizens. Though the PPM says some “evil doers” triggered the stampede, there is no question, based on his prior reactions to popular protests and demonstrations, that he and his T-TPLF regarded all of the Irreecha Festival attendees as enemy combatants engaged in low- intensity warfare, insurrection and rebellion.
The T-TPLF has always believed that the use of massive and overwhelming force to crush their opponents, be they political parties, social groups, ethnic groups, protesters, demonstrators or even individuals, is the optimum suppression strategy. Their fundamental philosophy in the use of force and violence, a lesson they learned from their bush days, is to defeat their opponents not only by using massive violence and deadly force but also by showing the rest of the population how brutal, beastly and ruthless they can be in visiting death and destruction at the snap of the finger. They have always regarded and treated unarmed demonstrators and protesters not as disaffected citizens but as enemy combatants who must be crushed with deadly force. Their core strategy in dealing with opposition groups or crowds is shock and awe to inspire absolute fear in the hearts and minds of the people. They aim to use overwhelming military power and engage in spectacular display of force to paralyze their opponents’ perception of the T-TPLF and destroy the people’s will to resist and fight back.
In light of the foregoing two points, I believe the T-TPLF intentionally or in gross criminal negligence set up the Irreecha Festival “stampede” as a modern equivalent of the historic Native American “buffalo jump”.
The preliminaryevidence shows:
During the entire period until the “stampede” occurred, the crowd was in a festive mood. The mood of the crowd changed into anger and defiance when the T-TPLF military helicopter buzzed the crowd twice. The crowd is seen in an uproar at the sight of the chopper, with nearly everyone shaking their fists at it. The available video clips show the crowd instantly transforming from festive mood to fear, concern and outrage at the sight of the helicopter. It is reasonable to assume that the crowd felt they could be under helicopter assault given the particular flight pattern of the helicopter directly overhead, which mimicked the circling pattern of a helicopter gunship preparing to strike.
A helicopter swooping low, making passes and buzzing the crowd at just above tree top levels could easily create a sense of agitation, turmoil and commotion in any excited crowd. Anyone who has watched nature films made in Africa knows the special capacity of helicopters buzzing over a herd of elephants, zebras, wildebeest and other animals invariably creating stampedes. There have been numerous instances in which police helicopters buzzing a crowd and police on horseback have resulted in stampedes in various parts of the world.
The T-TPLF may have ordered the helicopter buzzes for dramatic effect and as a show of force, but it is manifest in the videos that the crowd was clearly menaced by the appearance of the helicopter. The crowd saw imminent attack, not a military demonstration of force.
PPT Hailemariam admitted in his statement that the T-TPLF soldiers used only tear gas canisters to disperse the crowd. He did not admit they used rubber bullets. His minions have admitted that rubber bullets were indeed used.
According to some eyewitness descriptions, at least some of the “tear gas” canisters that were hurled by T-TPLF soldiers at the crowd performed more like stun grenades. Several eyewitness descriptions of the objects thrown to disperse the crowd suggest some of them might have been stun grenades, a type of explosive used to temporarily disorient the targets stuns people with its sound and flash. The stun grenade description of eyewitnesses is consistent with the crowd behavior observed at least in particular segments of video recordings. A forensic examination of one photograph of a purported unexploded canister from the Irreecha scene suggests the high likelihood that T-TPLF soldiers used stun grenades, not only tear gas canisters.
There is video and photographic evidence that T-TPLF soldiers at the scene were heavily armed and had in their possession what appears to be a Soviet-era 7.62 general-purpose PKMN machine gun with live ammo belt wrapped around it along with an armored personnel carrier with a .50 caliber machine gun mounted and manned by a T-TPLF soldier whose face is completely wrapped in red fabric with fingers on the trigger and muzzle pointing at the crowd. Nothing could be more threatening to a crowd.
A preliminary analysis of audio tracks extracted from video clips depicting the crowd in helter-skelter as shots are being fired suggests the acoustic signature of an AK 47 being fired rather than the sound created by non-lethal guns firing rubber projectiles.
A forensic investigative effort was made to extract audio of impulsive sounds (e.g. gunfire or other explosion) from one video clip from the Irreecha event to determine whether the impulsive sounds originated from an identifiable firearm, other devices that mimic firearms or non-lethal guns firing rubber projectiles. It is forensically possible to distinguish and correctly classify impulsive sounds that are made by gunfire or other devices under certain circumstances. Our efforts were not successful because the ambient noise and acoustic surroundings created by the crowd noise absorbed, reflected and diffracted the acoustic signal of the impulsive sound (e.g. gunfire noise) recorded in the video. It proved extremely difficult to digitally isolate only the impulsive sounds (shock wave signature) from a possible firearm or other impulsive sound creating devices from the acoustic surroundings created by the crowd.
However, using less hi-tech methods, we reached a conclusion by the preponderance of the evidence that the impulsive sound (explosive noise) identified at 11 points in the above-referenced video were highly consistent with AK-47 acoustic signatures and inconsistent with impulsive sounds generated by non-lethal guns firing rubber projectiles.
The available video clips also show that initially the crowd broke into pandemonium (became noisy, disorderly and confused) and transformed into a stampede immediately after hearing the sound of gunshots; and we concluded that some or most members of the crowd recognized and associated those sounds with the impulsive sounds of live AK 47 rounds. It is unlikely that the crowd broke into a stampede simply because it heard impulsive sounds that are completely strange to it. Many in the crowd knew the sound of a firing AK-47, a weapon commonly available in the countryside.
The T-TPLF knew or should have known of the virtual certainty of a stampede at the Irreecha Festival for several reasons: 1) The T-TPLF leaders know beyond a shadow of doubt that opposition to their rule in Oromiya, as in other part of the country, is deep, intense, fierce and profound. 2) The T-TPLF expected a high likelihood of disruption in the crowd as their intelligence services have indicated. It also does not take a rocket scientist to assume that out of a crowd of 2 million plus, a few individuals could engage in unruly behavior which could trigger adverse crowd reaction under certain circumstances. 3) The T-TPLF knew or should have known that any provocation of the crowd by their soldiers could result in massive counter-reaction. In fact, they were warned on numerous occasions to prevent such an occurrence.
The T-TPLF knew the potentially dangerous terrain in the festival area, including the presence of cliffs and deep waters. The T-TPLF has overseen Ireecha Festivals in prior years and have intimate knowledge of the topography and terrain of the Festival area. They knew the locations of potential dangers and could have taken preventive measures to mitigate injuries and deaths by keeping people away from those areas including the cliff the PPM talked about. It is also noteworthy that in September 2012, the T-TPLF attacked the Ireecha festival and arrested an estimated 150-200 persons. In 2013, they arrested a similar number. No documented deaths had occurred at an Irreecha festival previously.
Eyewitness accounts from multiple and unrelated sources indicated that there were no designated pathways regulating crowd traffic; that the crowd had few exit options and the closest available was to move away from the T-TPLF soldiers into a narrow pathway in the direction of the cliff the PPM talked about. Why didn’t the T-TPLF soldiers back down as the crowd headed in the direction of the narrow, no-exit path to the cliff area and let the people escape?
Given the fact that the Irreecha Festival occurs in a dedicated location and a specific time, the PPM and his T-TPLF had ample opportunity to meticulously lay out an adaptive plan for crowd control and prevent not only stampedes but also other disturbances in the crowd. It is also important to note that in previous years, the PPM and the T-TPLF have conducted crowd control and actually arrested hundreds of people without shooting into the crowd. Given the current political tensions, it is unclear why heightened planning was not in place.
When the people broke into a stampede, they were in fear running for their lives anticipating heavily armed troops ready to shoot them from the air and ground. They could not run backwards because they would be running right smack into the faces of the trigger happy T-TPLF soldiers. The T-TPLF soldiers pursued them just like the “buffalo hunters” pursued the buffaloes over the cliff to their death. The T-TPLF soldiers fired at the desperate crowd, closed all exits and drove them straight over the cliff to their deaths.
Despite these clear facts, the T-TPLF wants the world to believe that his regime was completely clueless about a potential stampede and could not be reasonably expected to know about the risks of a stampede.
The T-TPLF through intentional and/or negligent actions and omissions failed to make adequate plans; and by failing to plan, they in fact planned to fail. They created the perfect storm, or more accurately the “perfect stampede.”
Preliminary questions for PPM Hailemariam and T-TPLF leaders who authorized the use of live fire on the Irreecha crowd
As is always the case, PPM Hailemariam and the T-TPLF will throw the soldiers and field commanders who did their bidding under the bus.
They will claim (though the PPM has said no shots were fired by T-TPLF forces), as they have on numerous prior occasions, that it is the commanders on the scene who gave the orders against policy to absolve themselves of legal responsibility and political accountability.
In August 2016, T-TPLF spokesman Getachew Reda commenting on T-TPLF police violence said that it “was not systemic” and that use of deadly force “are cases of off-grid police officers who sometimes take the law into their own hands.” He promised, “security forces who have committed abuses or bear any responsibility for the killing of innocent protesters will be punished.”
The T-TPLF has had a list of 237 police officers directly involved in the Meles Massacres in 2005. What has it done to bring those criminals to justice. Nothing! (See my October 2008 commentary “Quiet Riot in Ethiopia!”)
In their recent explanations of the “disturbances” (uprisings) in the country, the PPM and his T-TPLF argued that the people were reacting to local leaders who are incompetent, indifferent and insensitive to the peoples’ questions. In their silly mantra, their policies are sound and good, the problem is in the implementation.
PPM Hailemariam and his T-TPLF leadership have the option of answering the following questions now or later. But they will answer them. That is for sure!
Why was it necessary to send to the Irreecha event T-TPLF soldiers who were armed as though they were preparing for war than crowd control? The T-TPLF soldiers carried assault rifles, at least one PKMN machine guns and operated an armored personnel carrier with a .50 caliber machine gun mounted, manned and trained on the crowd? Did the PPM and his bosses expect to wage war on the crowd? Was there a single person at the Irreecha event carrying a firearm threatening event attendees or T-TPLF soldiers?
There are numerous video recordings, eyewitness testimonies from Festival goers statements from professional and accredited reporters that T-TPLF soldiers used live rounds on the crowd indiscriminately. Should this body of evidence be disregarded for in favor of a self-serving statement made by the PPM that not a single shot was fired by T-TPLF troops? What was the use of deadly force policy or order given to the T-TPLF soldiers at the Irrecha event? Was opening fire indiscriminately on the unarmed crowd authorized by the policy under any circumstances?
The crowd was managed by the local police force members who were unarmed and communicated peacefully with the crowd for several hours without incident. Why did T-TPLF soldiers override the local police and decide to use deadly force against the crowd? Were T-TPLF soldiers given special orders or instructions to override the local police and use deadly force?
When PPM Hailemariam and his T-TPLF authorized helicopter flights over the crowd, did they assess the potential adverse consequences of such buzzing on the crowd below? If they did not, why not?
PPM Hailemariam and his T-TPLF were aware that over 2 million people would attend the Irrecha Festival. What crowd management plan(s) did they have in place to ensure crowd safety and prevention of stampede given the well known topography and landscape of the area where the crowd was assembled? Did they even consider the possibility of a pandemonium or stampede in a crowd estimated to exceed 2 million people?
What were the plans for crowd dispersal in the event of necessity and the use of deadly force for crowd dispersal purposes?
What specific plans were in place to disperse the Irreecha Festival crowd in case of an emergency or crowd misbehavior?
The video recordings and eyewitness testimony show that the T-TPLF soldiers did not issue dispersal orders before they opened fire. The T-TPLF troops did not use the PA system at the grandstand or deploy portable megaphones to urge the crowd to disperse? Why didn’t T-TPLF commanders make efforts to direct the crowd to disperse before opening fire?
Did PPM Hailemariam and his T-TPLF consider that the massive deployment of tear gas (and quite likely stun grenades) and rubber bullets could trigger a stampede because of the psychological effect of these devices to confuse, disorient, daze and bewilder the crowd?
The video recordings and diverse eyewitness testimony shows the crowd in general and even the so-called “protesters” were peaceful, unarmed and engaged in no action that could reasonably be interpreted by T-TPLF soldiers as threatening. Not a single incident of violence or altercation is seen. Why did the T-TPLF indiscriminately fire on the crowd?
The T-TPLF line is that the T-TPLF soldiers tried to disperse the crowd because the scheduled program could not proceed as planned because of “disruptions”. Was this eventuality anticipated by the PPM and his T-TPLF? If anticipated, what was the crowd management plan?
The video recordings and diverse eyewitness testimonies show that the T-TPLF soldiers fired on the crowd at the narrowest point in the area where it is clear a stampede could occur. At that point, like the historical “buffalo jump”, the crowd had no option to back out but only proceed forward. Why did the T-TPLF soldiers open fire and launch tear gas canisters at the most vulnerable point where the crowd was assembled?
PPM Hailemariam said, “As a result of the disorder that was created, a stampede broke out and because the area has cliffs.” Knowing that the area had potentially hazardous cliffs, what plans and orders were given to the T-TPLF soldiers to control the crowd in the event of an emergency? If the PPM knew the area had cliffs, it means legally he had a duty to make sure to eliminate foreseeable and avoidable dangers. He had a duty to make sure the hazard presented by the cliff is mitigated by erecting proper barriers or implementing other measures of crowd traffic control. Failure to mitigate a foreseeable danger which could result in enormous costs in life is tantamount to gross criminal negligence.
If there were a full investigation and beyond, I expect PPM’s is likely defense is likely to that his regime is not responsible and argue that there was lack of effective communications between policy makers and those in the field; there was inadequate internal deliberation among field officers; and 3) there was a lack of real-time information and the poor information sharing between filed commanders and regime policy makers. But in the end, they will throw the soldiers and commanders under the bus to escape legal, political and moral responsibility.
The case for crimes against humanity resulting from gross criminal negligence committed in wanton disregard for human life could be sustained if the alleged act(s) or omission(s) were committed as part of a plan or policy or as part of extensive crimes and whether the act(s) or omission(s) resulted death, severe pain or injury or severe suffering, among other things.
The T-TPLF’s Culture of Impunity
The Irreecha Massacres of 2016 will not be the last to occur.
It is guaranteed that the T-TPLF will commit more and more heinous massacres in the days weeks and months to come.
The reason for the endless recurrence of T-TPLF massacres is a pervasive culture of impunity and arrogance by T-TPLF leaders.
After the T-TPLF committed massacres and genocide in Gambella, the Ogaden, post-2005 elections, in Ambo, Gonder, Bahr Dar and so many places, nothing happened.
In September 2016, dozens of prisoners were reported killed in a “stampede” in a fire at the Quilinto prison where several thousand prisoners are currently held. The Qilinto fire is the third such prison fire in the past couple of years.
No T-TPLF leader or official has ever been held accountable for the use of deadly force on civilians.
The PPM and his T-TPLF regime have repeatedly dismissed, minimized, diminished and ignored demands for investigations and prosecutions of all persons involved in committing crimes against humanity.
In August 2016, Zeid Raad Al Hussein, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, demanded an independent investigation into the use of excessive force across the Oromia and Amhara regions. He underscored the need for accountability. The T-TPLF has thumbed its nose on the U.N. request claiming the U.N. should mind its own business . T-TPLF spokesman Getachew Reda and only the “government of Ethiopia was responsible for the safety of its own people.” Refused previous independent investigations
The mantra of the PPM and the T-TPLF has been all opposition activity in Ethiopia is the handiwork of Eritrea, Egypt, Diaspora groups, NGOs and international human rights organizations.
The T-TPLF says only have the duty to protect the Ethiopian people. The fact is that the only protection the Ethiopian people need is protection only from the T-TPLF.
In the Irreecha Festival Massacres, the buck stops with PPM Hailemariam and his T-TPLF regime, not field commanders and troops.
PPM Hailemariam made a deal with the Devil and made his bed. Now he must lie in it with his brethren.
I want to express my deepest condolences to all of my brothers and sisters who suffered so much through the loss of their loved ones at the hands of the T-TPLF. I pray all the victims rest in peace.
But I want everyone to know that Irreecha Day for all Ethiopains is just rising over the horizon. The day when all Oromos, Amharas, Tigres, Gurages, Afaris, Anuaks, Ogadenis… Christians, Muslims… and so many others will hold hands and make offers of Thanskgiving to the Almighty is rising over the horizon!
The day when we will gather and shout to the Heaven that “We are free at last, thank God Almighty we are free at last from T-TPLF rule!” is at hand.
Post Script: “A Government of Hyenas”
I urge my readers who understand Amharic to listen to a 6 minute analysis of a mother who participated in the the Irreecha Festival and witnessed T-TPLF cruelty and brutality (begin at minute 13:00-18:47). In my view, there is no one who can match the depth of her analysis of T-TPLF cruelty, barbarism, inhumanity, savagery. She said, “I don’t call this (T-TPLF) a government. It revolts me to call this a government. I consider this (the government) to be a hyena. But even a hyena counts the hours (to do his thing). After 12 [6 p.m.] in the evening [in the dark], the (hyena) knows it is his time. After 12 [6 a.m.] in the morning, he knows it is the time for humans. All use the time in their own way. This kind of administration, when they even call it a ‘government’, it revolts me very much to say with my tongue this is a government…”
When all fails to organize the People, conditions will. Marcus Garvey
DOWN, DOWN, WOYANE!