- Partial view of the conference
The denial of justice, absence of fair treatment and equality among the various nations and nationalities in Ethiopia have been the major themes and focuses of presentations and discussions at the 28th OSA Annual Conference held from August 2nd to 3rd at Howard University in Washington D.C. in USA.
Denial of justice, racial discriminations, lack of equal access to resources and, above all, violations of fundamental human and democratic rights under both past and present regimes were explored and presented by different panelists as the major obstacles of peace and stability as well as the resultant absence of growth and development. The Human Rights League of the Horn of Africa was represented at the conference by Mr. Tesfaye Deressa, who did a presentation on the ever intensifying crackdowns and persecutions against innocent citizens and their negative socio-economic consequences on both the present generation and the generations to come – as they target the relatively educated and the youth, which are the most productive segments of the society.
The 28th OSA annual conference, which was described as the biggest ever conference convened by the Association, attracted scholars and scientists of various disciplines, leaders of traditional governances such as the Gada Democratic System, human rights activists, environmentalists, journalists, writers, political leaders and many others from back home in Ethiopia and different parts of the world in Diaspora.
While kidnappings and/or extra-judicial arrests and detentions have continued particularly around academic institutions in different parts of the regional state of Oromia in Ethiopia, disturbing and worrisome reports are coming out of detention centres where the Oromo students arrested in the past two weeks are being held.
- Tortured Oromo Youth (Source: Facebook)
According to HRLHA, URJII’s closest partner in the advocacy of human rights, there have been cases of tortures of varying levels as well as detainees being taken away in the middle of the night to unknown destinations for unknown reasons. Fifty (50) detainees, including thirteen females, were taken away at one time alone; and their whereabouts were not known. In relation to tortures, the reports indicate that some of the detainees are isolated from others and held in separate rooms handcuffed and legs tied together with their hands on the their backs. There were ten students subjected to this particular situation, among whom were Std. Tesfaye Tuffa (male) and Std. Bontu Hailu (female). Although not confirmed at this point, there were also eight students who were screened out in order to be transferred to a detention or investigation office at the federal level; and these include:
1. Chalaa Fekaduu Gashe (high school student),
2. Chalaa Fekaduu (high school student),
3. Nimoonaa Kebede (Wollega University 5th year law student),
4. Moi Bon Misganuu (Wollega University, student),
5. Abdii Gaddisaa (high school student),
6. Abel Dagim (high school student),
7. Qalbessa Getachew (high school student),
8. Mulgeta Gemechu (high school student),
- The Agazi Special Squad in Oromo Neighbourhood Threatening People
In the meantime, reports indicate that kidnappings and/or extra-judicial arrests and detentions have continued in different parts of the regional state of Oromia, particularly in Hararge/Haromay, West Showa, and West Wollega, all in relation to the protests that have been going on in the Regional State of Oromia in opposition to the newly introduced master plan to expand the Capital City of Addis Ababa/Finfinne in all directions by displacing the local Oromo residents. The following are among the hundreds of the most recent cases of kidnappings, arrests and detentions:
1) Edosa Namara Deressa – Wollega University (Civil Engineering)
2) Walabuma Dabale -Adama University, West Showa,
3) Ebisa Dale -Adama University
4) Ganamo Kurke -Adama University
5) Liban Taressa – Adama University
6) Adam Godana -Adama University
7) Bodana (last name not obtained) – Adama University
The Human Rights League of the Horn of Africa (HRLHA) has expressed its deep concern regarding the life-threatening situations in the detention centres where those young Oromos were held, and the safety and wellbeing of those who were taken to unknown destinations. HRLHA has called upon the Ethiopian Government to abide by all international instruments that it has signed, and refrain from subjecting the young detainees to such harsh situations. It has also called upon all local, regional, and international human rights, humanitarian, and diplomatic agencies to put pressure on the Ethiopian Government so that it unconditionally releases the Oromo students who were detained in the past two and three weeks simply because the attempted to exercise some of their fundamental rights in a peaceful and absolutely non-violent manner.
- Six/Seven armed men against two unarmed youth
Humni diinaa biyya keenya humnaan qabattee jirtu, kunoo haala kanaan, gara-jabina daangaa hin qabneen, amma nyaattee-dhugdu ol-fuutee ijoollee keenyatti buufatti. Innumtuu tokko yookaan lama miti; shan, jahaa fi torbaa taatee.
The brutal attempts of crackdown against Oromo protesters by the Agazi Special Squad continuing unabated in different parts of the regional state of Oromia, reports coming from Ambo in central Oromia indicate that the town and its surrounding has come under virtual seizure by the Agazi Federal Armed Force, daily movements and activities becoming almost impossible.
According to a report by HRLHA (URJII’s close partner in advocating and defending human rights), the Agazi Special Squad has been deployed in Ambo Town and its surrounding in much larger number than before and engaged in indiscriminately kidnapping the local people from along the streets and throwing them into detention centres in the area. There are also reports of widespread rapes being committed against female detainees.
Although the protests against the plan to annex some central small towns of Oromia into the Capital Addis Ababa/Finfinne have been involving Oromos from all walks of life, age and gender, the prime targets have been the youth, university, college, and high school students in particular. Since the protest started in different parts of the regional state of Oromia two weeks ago, more than 50,000 (fifty thousand) Oromos have been arrested and detained from Ambo, Gudar, Tikur Inchini, Ginda-Barat, Gedo, and Bakko-Tibe towns in West Showa Zone of Central Oromia alone. Apart from along the streets in cities and towns, especially students are being picked up even from dormitories and classrooms on universities and college campuses. Reports add that there have been around twenty (20) extra-judicial killings so far that have resulted from brutal actions against unarmed and peaceful protesters by armed forces.
Ever since the violence against Oromo protesters started two weeks ago, and following the release of its first urgent action over the incidents, the Human Rights League of the Horn of Africa (HRLHA) has been monitoring the situation through its correspondents in the region; and has been able to obtain some of the names of the Oromos (students and others) who have so far been killed, kidnapped or arrested, and detained or disappeared. There are also cases of beatings and wounds or injuries inflicted on some of the protesters by the heavy-handed federal armed force. The lists of the Oromo victims are available on: www.humanrightsleague.com.
In the meantime, in an effort to show supports and solidarity, Oromos in Diaspora have been holding demonstrations in different countries and cities in Europe and North America condemning the brutalities of the TPLF/EPRDF Government against peaceful Oromo protesters. Inserted are some pictures depicting part of a demonstration held in Toronto, Canada on the 9th of May, 2014; and the following are links at which some related video clips could be watched:
Usual as it has been in the past twenty or so years, four Oromo refugees have been arrested or kidnapped in Nairobi, Kenya on the first of this month of February, 2014, and taken to an unknown destination. Below is an URGENT ACTION issued by the HRLHA regarding the current situation around the lives and whereabouts of the four Oromos who have been taken away by Kenyan Security agents:
The Human Rights League of the Horn of Africa (HRLHA) expresses its deep concern regarding the safety of four Oromo refugees from Ethiopia who were arbitrarily arrested by Kenyan anti-terrorist squad from Isili area in Nairobi on different dates of operations and taken to unknown destinations.
According to information obtained through HRLHA correspondent in Nairobi, Mr. Tumsa Roba Katiso, (UNHCR attestation File#: NETH033036/1) was arrested by members of Kenyan anti-terrorist squad, who arrived at the scene in two vehicles, on February 1, 2014 at around 10:00 AM from 2nd Street in the Isili locality in Nairobi on his way home from shopping. The other three refugees, Mr. Chala Abdalla, Mr. Namme Abdalla, and the third person whose name is not known yet were picked up from their home which is located in the same Isli area in Nairobi, Kenya on February 3, 2014 by members of the same anti-terrorist squad of Kenyan. The whereabouts of those Ethiopian-Oromo refugees is unknown until the time of compilation of this urgent action.
The HRLHA is highly suspicious that those Ethiopian-Oromo refugees might have been deported to Ethiopia. And, in case those Ethiopian-Oromo refugees have been deported, the Ethiopian Government has a well-documented record of gross and flagrant violations of human rights, including the torturing of its own citizens who were involuntarily returned to the country. The government of Ethiopia routinely imprisons such persons and sentences them to up to life in prison, and often impose death penalty. There have been credible reports of physical and psychological abuses committed against individuals in Ethiopian official prisons and other unofficial or secret detention centres. Under Article 33 (1) of the Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees (189 U.N.T.S. 150), to which Kenya is a party, “[n]o contracting state shall expel or forcibly return a refugee in any manner whatsoever to the frontiers of territories where his life or freedom would be threatened on account of his . . . political opinion.” This obligation, which is also a principle of customary international law, applies to both asylum seekers and refugees, as affirmed by UNHCR’s Executive Committee and the United Nations General Assembly. By deporting the four refugees and others, the Kenyan Government will be breaching its obligations under international treaties as well as customary law.
- Under the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (1465 U.N.T.S. 185) to which Kenya acceded in 1997, Kenya has an obligation not to return a person to a place where they face torture or ill-treatment. Article 3 of the Convention against Torture provides:
No state party shall expel, return (“refouler”) or extradite a person to another state where there are substantial grounds to believe that they would be in danger of being subjected to torture.
2. For the purpose of determining whether there are such grounds, the competent authorities shall take into account all relevant considerations including, where applicable, the existence in the state concerned of a consistent pattern of gross, flagrant or mass violations of human rights. We strongly urge the government of Kenya to respect the international treaties and obligations it has signed
The Kenyan Government is well known for handing over refugees to the Ethiopian Government by violating the above mentioned international obligations. It is very disheartening to recall that Engneer Tesfahun Chemeda, who died on August 24, 2013 in Ethiopia’s grand jail of Kaliti due to torture that was inflicted on him in that jail, was handed over to the Ethiopian Government Security Agents in 2007 by the Kenyan Government.
Tesfahun Chemeda was arrested by the Kenyan anti-terrorist forces, along with his close friend called Mesfin Abebe, in 2007 in Nairobi, Kenya, where both were living as refugees since 2005; and later deported to Ethiopia. The Ethiopian Government detained them in an underground jail in a military camp for over one year, during which time they were subjected to severe torture and other types of inhuman treatments until when they were taken to court and changed with terrorism offences in December 2008. They were eventually sentenced to life imprisonment in March 2010. (Mesfin’s death sentence was later commuted.)
The Human Rights League of the Horn of Africa (HRLHA) is highly concerned about the safety and security of the above listed refugees who were recently arrested by the Kenyan anti-terrorist forces; and for those who are still living in Kenya. It urges the government of Kenya to respect the international treaties and obligations, and unconditionally release the arrested refugees, and refrain from handing over to the government of Ethiopia where they would definitely face torture and maximum punishments. It also urges all human rights agencies (local, regional and international) to join the HRLHA and condemn these illegal and inhuman acts of the Kenyan Government against defenseless refugees. HRLHA requests the governments of the Western countries as well as international organizations to interfere in this matter so that the safety and security of the arrested refugees and those refugees currently staying in Kenya could be ensured.
- The march to the river for cleansing
Oromos in the GTA (Greater Toronto Area) and other cities in Ontario and other parts of Canada warmly celebrated this year’s Irrecha Holiday yesterday, August 31, 2013 in the suburb of Whitby, a typical countryside environment that closely resembled that of Oromia. The 2013 Irrecha of Toronto has also attracted some Oromos from cities like Washington D.C and New York, from across the border in USA. There were also visitors from Germany.
As usual, this year’s Irrecha celebration in Toronto included ceremonies such as dhibaayyuu or sacrifice, cleansing or cuphaa, hulluuqqoo and darraa-gubaa or firework. Irrechaa, which is often described by anthropologists as “The Channel to God”, in all its senses is equivalent of what the Westerners call and celebrate as “Thanks Giving”. Particularly the “Dhibayyuu” part of the Irrecha ceremony is the part that signifies the saying “Thank you” to God aspect of the Holiday. Oromos of all religions, ages and gender join each other in celebrating Irrecha. Some video clips on this year’s Irrecha in GTA could be watched at: http://youtu.be/s1h7SqVOiE0, http://youtu.be/Dhu4cOxYKRA, http://youtu.be/_Q98Xw-SrDo
- The components of "dhibaayyuu": cuukkoo, buna-qalaa and itittuu/aannan
- Firewood displayed for sale at a rural marketplace in countryside Ethiopia
A year after the death of former Ethiopian leader Meles Zenawi, hopes for change in the African country remain bleak, including for local aid groups struggling to cope with a wide range of restrictions over their work. The Ethiopian government passed in 2009 a law that restricted NGO fundraising activities and operations, and imposed stricter requirements for registration, like asking charities and civil society organizations to secure a letter of recommendation from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
Four years later and with the dictator out of the picture, the law remains a burden to aid groups, whose numbers have decreased since. Prior to 2009, there were reportedly some 3,822 registered civil society organizations in Ethiopia, but today there are no more than 1,500, according to a local aid official. In fact, the official told Devex the situation for NGOs has “worsened” under the current regime.
A year later, sources inside the country note the government of current Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn has failed to make it easier for these organizations to do their job. “The majority of Ethiopian local NGOs are in depression” due to limited funds and registration difficulties, noted the official. Many groups depend heavily on a small pool of foreign donors. And the Charities and Societies Agency, created in 2009 to regulate CSO activities, implements according to this source “double standards” during registration, being more welcoming to NGOs that support the ruling party. “Some optimists hoped that with new leadership the Ethiopian government would change track and carry out human rights reforms, including amending the abusive CSO and anti-terrorism laws,” Laetitia Bader, a researcher at Human Rights Watch, told Devex. “Disappointingly, instead we see much the same patterns on the human rights front — including large scale arrests of peaceful protestors and prosecution of dissenting voices.”
But what seemed to particularly upset the local official is that donors do not seem to be helping to ease these restrictions on CSOs. For instance, the official finds British support to build the capacity of the CSA as helping the government weaken the CSO sector: “DFID [is] repeatedly helping the Agency while civil society [is] in crisis.” The U.K. Department for International Development has a program whose aims include improving the dialogue between the government and civil society sector, and bridging the gap between the two. The program began in 2010, a year after the NGO law was passed, and eventually included capacity building for CSA to meet the program’s objective.
But an annual review of the program concluded in November 2012 noted: “CSO perception of a conducive political and legal environment is not improving; the Agency database is neither publicly accessible nor currently up to date; federal-regional cooperation is not moving forward (to our knowledge); Agency understanding of the civil society sector is not improving (partly due to high staff turnover); and the guidelines and regulations have only received a very minor amendment due to pressure from CSOs and DPs.”
This is not the first time that DfID has been subject to criticism over its work in Ethiopia. The agency made headlines last year following its alleged plans to use part of its foreign aid budget for Ethiopia to train a police force accused of committing human rights abuses. DfID has dismissed the issue. Bader said: “We are concerned about any approach to the CSO law that is based on negotiating individual exemptions or waivers. This just allows the government to cherry-pick agencies, which completely undermines freedom of association. The law violates Ethiopia’s constitution and international human rights standards and needs to be amended; without fundamental changes it will be impossible to achieve a significant improvement in the working environment for NGOs.” Michael Shiferaw, communications officer for the Civil Society Support Program, which is managed by the British Council in Ethiopia and is also receiving some criticism, noted they are aware of these concerns, sometimes perhaps due to some misunderstanding or miscommunication. “We try to bridge the gap between what the agency does and what CSOs in general are doing by finding a common ground,” he told Devex. These realities are not helping address the country’s multiple problems, such as unemployment, high cost of living and corruption.
While the current regime may be trying to reach that by trying to improve infrastructure, many see this dream as far-fetched. “It looks like an illusion … still we are in agrarian society and majority of rural areas are food insecure … When [I] go to rural Ethiopia, I consider myself as if we are living in inhuman way of life,” explained the official. “For example, I was born from farmers family [and they are still] depending on me. I monthly send [them money]. If I keep quit even for one month, they can’t exist.”
Source: International Development News, www.devex.com
- Engineer Tesfahun Chemeda
Engineer Tesfahun Chemeda, a political prisoner and prisoner of conscience, has died in Ethiopia’s infamous jail of Kaliti. According to a report by the human rights agency Human Rights League of the Horn of Africa (HRLHA), Engineer Tesfahun Chemeda, an Oromo national who had been in prison since April, 2007, died on 24th of August, 2013 in Kaliti Penitentiary due to severe and repeated tortures inflicted on him at different detention centers during his imprisonment in the past six years. HRLHA has also reported that denial of medical treatments has highly contributed to Engineer Chamada’s death. Engineer Tasfahun Chemeda was one of the 15 Oromo nationals who were sentenced to life in prison in 2010 by the Ethiopian court simply for holding a political belief different from that of the ruling EPRDF/TPLF party and the government of Ethiopia.
Engeener Tesfahun Chemeda, was handed over to Ethiopian security agents by the Kenyan authorities in April 2007 from Nairobi, Kenya where he was living as a refugee after being granted the (refugee) status from UNHCR. He fled his homeland to escape persecution by the Government of Ethiopia. Although it falls on deaf ears in most cases, such are the reasons why human rights organizations like HRLHA strongly oppose to deportations of refugees back to their countries of origin particularly when their cases involve political issues.
HRLHA in its report has strongly condemned the inhuman treatments and atrocious torture that the Ethiopian Government is inflicting against its own citizens and holds the Government accountable systematically subjecting Engineer Tesfahun Chemeda to death through persistent torture and denial of medical treatment while in prison “… in violation of the 1984 Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment which Ethiopia has signed and ratified in 1994”.
According to HRLHA, by handing over Engineer Tesfahun Chemeda and other Oromo refugees back to the Ethiopian Government, the Kenya Government is breaching its obligations under international treaties as well as customary laws, and therefore shares accountability in the death of Engineer Chemeda.
The Human Rights League of the Horn of Africa has called up on the Ethiopian authorities to immediately conduct an independent investigation into the death of Engineer Tesfahun Chamada, including the roles torture and denial of medical treatment have played in his death, and disclose the findings to the public. It has also demand that those who were found responsible be brought to justice.
URJII publishers would like to extend their condolences to the families and friends of Engineer Tefahun Chemeda while they are mourning his loss as a result of injustice.
- Part of the scene during the Kofele crackdown
According to reports by some media and human rights groups, twenty seven innocent civilians including five children have been killed, hundreds have been injured and hospitalized, and thousands of others have been taken into custody in two separate incidents in the first week of this month/August. The casualties were all the results of the heavy-handedness of the armed security forces against peaceful protestors who attempted to exercises some of their fundamental rights that are provided for in the country’s constitution and international human rights instruments.
In a clash between armed security forces and Muslim protestors that happened on the 3rd of August, 2013 in the Kofele locality of Arsi Zone in Central Oromia, twenty five civilians, four of whom were children, were shot dead while hundreds of others were injured and taken to hospitals in Asela and Shashamane towns. In another incident on the 8th of August, 2013 (which was the Ed-Al-Fitir Holiday) in the Capital Addis Ababa/Finfinne, an expecting women and a six-year old boy were beaten to death by the police at two different locations while thousands were reportedly taken to different concentration camps around the City after being detained for hours at the national stadium where they were gathered early in the morning for Id-Al-Fitir mass prayer that marked the end of the fasting month of Ramadan. The arrests include two journalists – Mr. Darsemo Sori and Mr. Kalid Mohammed – who have been working for a radio station known as “Radio Bilal”.
Both the media and the human rights groups, Human Rights League of the Horn of Africa (HRLHA) in particular have reported that similar protests by Muslim communities and clashes with security forces as well as the resultant arrests during this past week in particular have been in different parts of the country. These include Waldiya and Desse towns in Wollo Zone, Northern Ethiopia, the Afar Zone, and Waliso town in Showa Zone, in Illubabor Zone in Western Ethiopia.
Although similar protests have been taking place at different times in the past two years by Muslim worshipers in opposition to the government’s interference in the election of their representatives in the Council of Islamic Affairs and the imprisonment of some of the leaders of the Council, this is the first time that the country witnessed such brutal killings by the armed forces. And this has clearly demonstrated the Ethiopian Government’s violent reaction, despite the constitutional provisions, against peaceful demonstrators not only to extra judicially punish its citizens who attempted to exercise their fundamental rights but also to intimidate others into silence.
Reports by the Oakland Institute in USA have shown how Western development assistance is supporting forced evictions and massive violations of human rights in Ethiopia. Below is the details of the reports:
The Ethiopian government’s controversial “villagization” resettlement program to clear vast areas for large-scale land investments is funded largely by international development organizations. The first report, Development Aid to Ethiopia, establishes direct links between development aid–an average $3.5 billion a year, equivalent to 50 to 60% of Ethiopia’s national budget–and industrial projects that violate the human rights of people in the way of their implementation.
The report also shows how indirect support in the form of funding for infrastructure, such as dams for irrigation and electricity for planned plantations, plays a role in repressing local communities by making the projects viable.
Ethiopia is one of the largest recipients of US development aid in Africa, receiving an average of $800 million annually–even though the US State Department is well aware of widespread repression and civil rights violations. A strategically located military partner seen as a leader in the “African Renaissance,” Ethiopia is gently described as having a “democratic deficit” by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID).
Yet this phrase does not begin to describe or justify the kind of routine violence and coercion taking place on the ground and documented in the Oakland Institute’s new report, Ignoring Abuse in Ethiopia: DFID and USAID in the Lower Omo Valley.
The massive resettlement of 260,000 people of many different ethnic groups in the Lower Omo Valley has been fraught with controversy and has set off an alarm among international human rights groups. Information around forced evictions, beatings, killings, rapes, imprisonment, intimidation and political coercion, has been shared, and these tactics have been documented as tools used in the resettlement process.
In response to allegations, DFID and USAID launched a joint investigation in January of 2012. After completing their visit, they came to the puzzling conclusion that allegations of human rights abuses were “unsubstantiated.” The contents of this new report, which include first-person accounts via transcripts of interviews that took place during the aid investigations last year, overwhelmingly contradict that finding and question the integrity of the inquiry.
The interviews paint a very different story from what DFID and USAID reportedly saw and witnessed, and for the first time are made available to the public here.
“[The soldiers] went all over the place, and they took the wives of the Bodi and raped them, raped them, raped them, raped them. Then they came and they raped our wives, here,” said one Mursi man interviewed during the investigation. Another man added: “the Ethiopian government is saying they are going to collect us all and put us in a resettlement site in the forest. We are going to have to stay there. What are the cattle going to eat there? They are our cattle, which we live from. They are our ancestor’s cattle, which we live from. If we stay out there in the forest, what are they going to eat?”
It is worrisome that aid agencies rubber stamp development projects that are violating human rights. Worse, they have chosen to ignore the results of their own investigations.
“Bottom line, our research shows unequivocally that current violent and controversial forced resettlement programs of mostly minority groups in Ethiopia have US and UK aid fingerprints all over them,” said Anuradha Mittal, Executive Director of the Oakland Institute. “It’s up to the officials involved to swiftly reexamine their role and determine how to better monitor funding if they are indeed not in favor of violence and repression as suitable relocation techniques for the development industry,” she continued.
The Oakland Institute is an independent policy think tank working to increase public participation and promote fair debate on critical social, economic, and environmental issues. Starting 2011, the Institute has unveiled land investment deals in Africa that reveal a disturbing pattern of a lack of transparency, fairness, and accountability. The dynamic relationship between research, advocacy, and international media coverage has resulted in a string of successes and organizing in the US and abroad.