Ethiopia: Rape, extrajudicial executions, homes set alight in security operations in Amhara and Oromia

Ethiopian security forces committed horrendous human rights violations including burning homes to the ground, extrajudicial executions, rape, arbitrary arrests and detentions, sometimes of entire families, in response to attacks by armed groups and inter-communal violence in Amhara and Oromia, Amnesty International said on Friday.

In a new report, Beyond law enforcement: human rights violations by Ethiopian security forces in Amhara and Oromia, Amnesty International documents how security forces committed grave violations between December 2018 and December 2019 despite reforms which led to the release of thousands of detainees, expansion of the civic and political space and repeal of draconian laws, such as the Anti-Terrorism Proclamation, which were previously used to repress human rights.

“The Ethiopian authorities have made notable progress in changing the country’s bleak human rights record. However, it is unacceptable that the security forces should be allowed to carry on committing human rights violations with impunity,” said Deprose Muchena, Amnesty International’s Director for East and Southern Africa. 

“With elections on the horizon, these violations and abuses could escalate out of control unless the government takes urgent measures to ensure security forces act within the law and remain impartial in undertaking their duties.”

In 2018, Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s government lifted a ban on opposition parties, some of which had been designated terrorist organisations and forced into exile, allowing them to take part in elections initially scheduled for August 2020 but postponed due to COVID-19.

In trying to mobilize support, politicians have however been stirring up ethnic and religious animosities, sparking inter-communal violence and armed attacks in five of the country’s nine regional states; Amhara, Benishangul-Gumuz, Harari, Oromia and the Southern Nations, Nationalities and Peoples Region (SNNPR), and in the Dire Dawa administrative state.

In response, the government set up security Command Posts in 2018 to coordinate the operations of the Ethiopian Defense Forces (EDF), federal police, regular and special (Liyu) police units in regions, and local administration security officers called kebele militia.  

According to AI, tensions have been high in Amhara after the Qimant, a minority group, voted for their own autonomous administrative unit in September 2017, resulting in clashes between the Amhara and Qimant communities. Amnesty International’s report reveals that the Liyu police, local administration militia and two Amhara youth vigilante groups joined forces to attack members of the Qimant community in January 2019, and again in September-October 2019, leaving at least 100 people dead and hundreds displaced. Qimant homes and property were also destroyed.

From 10-11 January 2019, the security forces and vigilante groups attacked a Qimant settlement in Metema with grenades and guns and set homes on fire. Fifty-eight people were killed within 24 hours as soldiers in a nearby camp failed to respond to cries for help. Flyers and leaflets telling Qimant civil servants to leave the area had been circulating since September 2018, but the authorities took no action.

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