Concerns about Reporting on the Aftermath of the September 15, 2018 Rally in Meskel Square Ethiopia

 

September 19, 2018

OAA condemns the recent spate of violence that has swept across Ethiopia. We decried the wholesale killings carried out by TPLF security forces against peaceful protesters these past two years and we decry these recent occurrences as well. Accounts that attribute the pattern of fatalities, across the country, to Oromo youth run the risk of contributing to an orchestrated campaign set to diminish Oromo participation in discussions about the future of Ethiopia. If recent reports and accusations are not treated extremely cautiously, these matters can become part of what is becoming a concerted effort to shift the political conversation in a direction that unjustly maligns an entire national group.

On September 15, 2018 a massive rally was held in Addis Ababa’s Meskel Square to welcome leaders of the once-banned Oromo Liberation Front. Unfortunately, media coverage of events surrounding this event intentionally or inadvertently have disparaged the participants who gathered peacefully to celebrate. Our concern is not simply with the specifics cited in these reports, but with the glaring omissions and the overall framing regarding conflicts in Ethiopia. These accounts ignore contributions that Oromo youth have made in bringing about current reforms. Oromo youth (known as “qeerroo”) endured the brunt of the sacrifices undertaken to bring about political reform in Ethiopia. Their persistent, peaceful, and coordinated efforts benefited all groups in the country. It is imperative that their voice be included in any discussion about the future of Ethiopia.

Instead, however, a disturbing trend has emerged that seeks to alienate the qeerroo from inclusion. As of late, when reports on disturbances or violent incidents occur in Ethiopia, many of these accounts attempt to link them to Oromo youth, often suggesting that they are either an undisciplined force (“mob,” or “rebels without a cause”) or inherently violent and problematic. These mischaracterizations ignore issues of scale and context and are not substantiated by evidence. In fact, the opposite is actually true. This kind of negative portrayal has a long history within Ethiopian politics and has been used to justify the exclusion of the Oromo people from equal political participation. Inaccurately framing the Oromo as the chief perpetrators of ethnic violence in the country dismisses the history of abuse against the Oromo that human rights organizations have documented for many years.

Many reports about the rally and the events leading up to it failed to adequately capture the complexity of what was taking place on the ground or its significance for all players within Ethiopian politics. Ethiopian news outlets raised alarms concerning the rally’s show of Oromo unity contributing to a hostile environment in the days leading up to the event. Oromo youth travelling to Addis Ababa were blocked from entering the city for hours by as yet unidentified antagonists. They were told to go back to Oromia and that they were not welcome in Addis Ababa. Many Oromos were beaten, harassed and two Oromo youths were killed while attempting to hoist the OLF flag the day before the gathering. Rocks were thrown at one of the few Afaan Oromo schools in Addis Ababa, The Tadesse Birru School, and the Oromia International Bank also sustained damage. The Oromia Cultural Center, located at the center of Meskel Square had to be protected by police against vandalism. Mainstream outlets failed to include these occurrences in reports about the rally and its aftermath.

In spite of violence targeting Oromo en route to the event, the rally itself proceeded and ended peacefully. According to the Police Commissioner, approximately 4 million people attended the event at Meskel Square. However, while the celebration was still underway at the event venue, provocateurs went around the city and surrounding towns, such as Burayu, looting property, harassing and attacking residents. The perpetrators suspiciously declared that they were “qeerroo”. Given decades of political repression and state violence, Ethiopia’s social fabric is extremely fragile. It is inflammatory to frame what is happening as “Oromos” vs “others”. Most of the 2.5 million people displaced across Ethiopia since 2017 have been persons of Oromo ethnicity. For months, organized groups have been attacking Oromo, Somali, Gedeo and other peoples leading to massive displacements. The events in Addis Ababa should be seen in the context of these coordinated attacks.

The political scene in Ethiopia right now is full of disgruntled political groups vying for power. These groups have been trying to utilize fear to create narratives to support their rise on the political scene. Instilling distrust of Oromo youth is a convenient device to achieve that purpose. We urge impartial observers and reporters to avoid playing into this narrative. Some recent accounts have fallen prey to this snare. We believe reporting, especially during this period, should ensure sufficient vetting of facts and make overt attempts to present a balanced perspective in order to contribute to the peaceful coexistence of different groups in Ethiopia at a time when the country is trying to direct itself towards democracy and inclusive governance.

Oromo Advocacy Groups Facilitate US Congressional Delegation Town Hall Meeting with Oromos in Addis Ababa

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On August 23, 2018, a group of nearly 40 Oromo citizens of Ethiopia met with members of a US Congressional Delegation and the US Ambassador to Ethiopia in a town hall format at the Sheraton Hotel.  Invited guests included activists, political figures, scholars, entrepreneurs and humanitarians – including many Qeerroo participants that had taken part in the #OromoProtests resistance movement.   Chairman Chris Smith (R-NJ), Ranking Member Karen Bass (D-CA) of the US House Subcommittee on Africa and Ambassador Michael Raynor engaged with Ethiopia-based Oromo community leaders inviting them to raise issues relevant to US – Ethiopia relations.  The event was hosted by the American Embassy and facilitated by US-based Oromo diaspora advocacy groups COHRD and OAA.

This meeting was groundbreaking in that it was the first of its kind where diaspora groups connected members of Oromo civil society, in Ethiopia, with American officials to talk about the role of the Oromo in Ethiopia’s future.  Oromo participants emphasized the role the Oromo protest movement played in bringing about regime change through nonviolence. Lemi Tilahun, of the Oromo Advocacy Alliance and one of the meeting’s conveners, repeatedly stressed the need to recognize the role the country’s youth, particularly the Oromo youth, played in bringing all of Ethiopia closer to democratization than the country has been in two generations. He drew attention to the urgency of providing opportunity to youth across the country as a road to prosperity.

The discussion revealed that much work lies ahead to put Ethiopia on a track toward democracy.  All participants called for a creative and sustained US-Ethiopia partnership. Stating that Oromia can no longer be sidelined, the participants raised the urgency of bringing to justice those agents of the state who participated in killings, torture and violence against peaceful protesters.  Also high on the agenda was the massive humanitarian crisis of food, shelter, medical care and insecurity for two million internally displaced persons, resettlement of the displaced back to the homes and lands from which they were evicted, the challenge of reintroducing formerly incarcerated persons, more equitable pathways toward land distribution, US assistance with strengthening civil society in preparation for the nation’s upcoming elections.

Both US officials and Oromos from Ethiopia expressed appreciation for the unique role the diaspora advocacy groups played in facilitating the open, candid and productive exchange in such a format.

 

Oromo Advocacy Alliance Statement on PM Abiy Ahmed’s Visit to the U.S.

Ethiopia’s new Prime Minister, Abiy Ahmed has been widely received at home and abroad as a reformist. Indeed, within a short period of time, PM Abiy has initiated some notable changes. Significant among them is releasing political prisoners, ending the state of emergency, removing some political parties from designation as terrorists, paving the way for exiled political organizations to return home, and, most recently, brokering a rapprochement with Eritrea. These accomplishments have brought PM Abiy both support and goodwill internationally and have created a wave of optimism at home and abroad.

While the changes introduced thus far are welcome, several major challenges remain unaddressed.  How his government handles them will determine the trajectory the country will take. The PM represents the EPRDF, a party which has overseen an era of severe repression: curtailing of freedoms, jailing and torture of opponents, use of excessive force leading to killings and maiming of citizens, massive displacements and widespread crackdown on dissent.  The EPRDF presided over the closure of democratic space as it set aside key provisions of the constitution and established itself as a defacto one-party state. Though PM Abiy has made eloquent public statements in support of more democratic judicial, media, electoral and human rights reforms, it is yet to be seen how much the political culture and practices institutionalized over the last several decades by the EPRDF will change.

A central issue in Ethiopian politics remains how the diverse interests, visions and narratives held by constituencies in the country can be articulated and negotiated democratically. Ethiopia is currently caught between two traditions–one of a powerful centralized and unitarian state on the one hand and on the other, a nascent multinational federalism experiment which for the last two decades has struggled to be fully realized. Questions remain about PM Abiy’s vision for the future of federalism in Ethiopia. Will PM Abiy continue to build on the legacy of the unitarian traditional view that former leaders of Ethiopia have held or will he usher Ethiopia into an era of a truly multinational federation with more regional autonomy and build mechanisms for peaceful coexistence among the various regions?

We have yet to see how PM Abiy will address the demands of several groups; the Oromo demands regarding Addis Ababa and making Afaan Oromo a federal working language, the question of Welkait, the demands of the Sidama, Somali, Wolaita, Konso and other groups for more regional autonomy. It is not entirely clear where the PM stands on these issues. A great challenge for the PM remains how to respond to the demands raised by the historically oppressed groups in the country while also attending to the interests of historically dominant elites. Understandably, laying out a clear vision, policy and a narrative that resonates with all of Ethiopia’s people takes time and effort. Nonetheless, it is an unavoidable task as the future of Ethiopia’s diverse people depends on it.

At the end of July, PM Abiy is visiting the U.S. and will be speaking to diaspora communities in DC, California and Minnesota. We have used the opportunity of his visit and his stated interest to engage the diaspora to put forth a number of questions and concerns that we believe must be addressed by the PM in order to maintain and then to build on the support and goodwill he currently enjoys. Ultimately, what determines the success of Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s government will be how well it manages to respond to the demands that rocked the country and his party, bringing him to power.

Below are some of the questions we raise:

Over the last decade, Ethiopia’s civil society has been crippled and virtually silenced by the passage in 2009 of measures such as the Charities and Societies Act and the Anti-Terrorism Proclamation among others. What actions will the government take to remove this problematic legislation?

According to national and international election observation reports, a significant hurdle towards free, fair and periodic elections in the last two decades has been the absence of an impartial national Electoral Board. Does the government have plans in the immediate future to establish an Electoral Board that is autonomous and has the technical and administrative capacity to oversee elections at the local and federal level? What are the processes that are currently being implemented (or will be) to ensure free and fair national elections in 2020? What is the timetable for improving the Electoral Board? Will the local elections now scheduled for 2019 take place?

What is the PM’s vision for the future of federalism in Ethiopia and how does it differ in practice from the way it has been practiced over the last two decades? What are his plans to address the demands of the Sidama, Somali, Konso, Wolaita and other communities for more regional autonomy?

In the past, majority of the cultures of Ethiopia’s peoples has not been given the space and priority to flourish in urban centers. What steps will PM Abiy’s government take to create truly multinational urban cultural spaces that reflect the plurality and diversity of Ethiopia’s people?

What is being done to attend to the massive displacement of persons throughout Ethiopia, particularly along the boundaries between Oromia and Somali Regional States, Guji and Gedeo, and in Benishangul-Gumuz, Afar Regional State?  Does the government have any plans for relocating the displaced to their homes?

What is being done about the violence affecting communities alongside Somali-Oromia border? The number of displaced from this conflict alone exceeds one million people and continues to grow.  This crisis is bigger in scale than the displacement of Rohingha at the border of Burma yet the federal government hasn’t raised a cry of alarm asking for international help to meet this serious humanitarian crisis.  What is being done to address this conflict that has been going on over a year?

Reports of outbreaks of violence throughout the country continue to be alarming with little credible information about the reasons for violence and who is behind it. What is the government doing to investigate and stop the killings that started in Oromia and are now happening all over Ethiopia? What steps will the PM take to address and halt these atrocities?

The PM has called for “reconciliation” and “forgiveness” on a number of occasions without providing a lot of clarity about what that means. What does “reconciliation” mean for those how have been harmed by the State and whose lives have been destroyed? Who is reconciling to what? What does he say to the people in Ethiopia who have lost their loved ones, who are victims of torture, imprisoned without cause and lost years of their lives and have suffered other forms of State sponsored violence? There has yet to be any recognition or apology from the State.   Will there be a concrete plan for bringing justice to the aggrieved including public recognition of injustice and other attempts to redress them?

 

What is being done to establish strong and consistent mechanisms for accountability of officials responsible for gross human rights violations? What forms of accountability will be brought to bear for those who perpetrated massive human rights violations in the previous four years?  

Several issues that were key to the demands of the protesters in Oromia remain unaddressed. Examples include the special interest of Oromia in Addis Ababa, the demands to make Afaan Oromo the working language of Ethiopia and the displacement of farmers from their livelihoods. What is the government doing to address these demands? What will the PM do to ensure further displacement of Oromo farmers around the capital city does not occur?

What is the government’s plan to address other demands of the youth, namely access to opportunities, inclusion in specific measures to provide jobs and build prosperity at the local level, participation in local and national government, high standards of education, and increased access to the internet?

In the past, the Ethiopian government has sought to engage the Diaspora in the development of the country. However, some areas have received more investment than others. What steps will the government take to provide opportunities for Diaspora investment in all regions of the country?

The diaspora’s access to family and friends in Ethiopia has been heavily limited by Ethiopian government restrictions on communications systems.  Do you plan to lift such restrictions? In what ways do you plan to improve the communications infrastructure of the country? Are you prepared to include non-state providers for communication systems and servers?

What measures will be taken to protect the environmental pollution introduced by international companies who have little oversight?  How will the government address the high rate of birth defects in areas where major factories are located?

 

Does the government have any plans to expand or encourage the introduction of health care services into areas that are drastically underserved?  Are there any specific plans to engage well-trained diaspora medical personnel in meeting that challenge?

 

Oromo Advocacy Alliance’s Statement on the Passage of House Resolution 128

On Passing H Res 128
April 10, 2018 in the US House of Representatives chamber was a historic moment and a significant victory for constituents and advocates of House Resolution 128 on Ethiopia. It was a battle to the end. A flurry of letters and appeals sent at the last minute from a handful of opponents – to try to pull the resolution from the calendar and then to persuade Members to vote against it – turned out to be high-profile bluster. In the end, when it really counted, not one single person showed up on the House floor to speak in opposition. Consequently, the measure did not receive any “no” votes. The presiding officer declared that in the opinion of the Chair, the resolution passed with a 2/3rds majority. So, the US House of Representatives is on the record calling for “respecting human rights and encouraging inclusive governance in Ethiopia” and endorsing actions that demand reform. We are very pleased with this outcome.

On the Coalition that Worked for Passage
It was a long time coming, but the process of getting to this point has already harvested rewards. A coalition of human rights organizations, diaspora-based constituent groups and community stakeholders has been created by working together persistently for over two years to see this resolution – and its predecessor resolution – pass in the House. The United States Congress is on record criticizing the Ethiopian government and calling for reforms. Constituents’ efforts have been rewarded with winning over such champions as Representatives Chris Smith of New Jersey, Mike Coffman of Colorado and Keith Ellison of Minnesota, along with many others who have become aware of conditions in Ethiopia and have pushed against formidable resistance to ensure passage of this resolution.

On Honoring the Protesters in the Face of Strong Opposition
The impetus for the surge of political engagement among diaspora groups in the US was grounded in support for the protesters who peacefully and sacrificially resisted oppressive conditions in the country. This long overdue condemnation and set of recommendations by the United States government comes three-years after protests erupted in the Oromia region. The Ethiopian government responded to peaceful demonstrations with unprecedented brutality, killing well over a thousand people, detaining tens of thousands and displacing nearly a million Oromos from eastern Oromia. Since, the Ethiopian government has to date refused to allow independent investigations into the protests and the state response to them, the magnitude of the violence in Oromia remains underreported or fully understood. While brutally stifling peaceful dissent at home, the Ethiopian government enlisted the help of a lobbying firm, SGR, known for expertise in rehabilitating the image of authoritarian regimes, to stop the progress of the resolution.

What About the Senate Resolution?
The Senate version of the resolution is blocked by a “hold” by one Senator. But that does not need pass for the H Res 128 provision to have their effect. The work that the diaspora groups have done in coalition provides awareness, momentum and considerable support for “binding” legislation (a bill), to pass in the Congress. For such a bill to become law, the Senate must be on board. At that time, the work we have all done in the Senate to get 26 co-sponsors, will result in support for a bill next year. One Senator cannot block a bill. We have made important headway by having the conversations in both House and Senate. This House vote sets the stage for new direction for the US with regard to the once-untouchable Ethiopian government. Ethiopia should not have treated this legislative battle as a zero-sum game (i.e., “If you win anything, I lose everything”). It is not too late for the Ethiopian government to introduce real reforms.

Moving Forward
A resolution is technically “non-binding.” However, it is a moral statement whose value is to influence the direction of US policy with regard to Ethiopia. Even though it has no “teeth,” it has several specific action items that can move forward through different US and UN agencies. And it puts the US Congress on record for expressing dissatisfaction with Ethiopia’s current policies. It gives a green light for US agencies to take the recommended actions, such as activating US Treasury provisions for the Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act to come into play, seizing the US assets of Ethiopian billionaires and placing other restrictions on known human rights violators in Ethiopia. There is no way to “force” these actions. But if the actions are not taken, the Congress has the option of passing binding legislation to enforce what are now merely “resolved” clauses. With such strong support for the resolution (final count was 114 co-sponsors plus original sponsors) passing a bill would now be a much easier next step. The Ethiopian government should take note.

Lifting the State of Emergency, releasing remaining political prisoners, allowing the UN Special Rapporteur unfettered access to investigate abuses, loosening of democratic space and other reforms is a better option for Ethiopia right now. The pressure on the Ethiopian government to reform and stop its abusive practices should continue until significant reforms are instituted in the country. Passage of H Res 128 demonstrates the power of collaborative work among Diaspora constituents and human rights groups. Similar cooperation and collaboration is needed to continue to press the United States to hold its ally, the Ethiopian government, accountable in accordance with its own values. It is the only way that the stability of the country and the entire region can be ensured.

 

 

How to Participate in H.Res. 128 Vote on April 10

• 9:00 AM – Last push for votes!

Call your representative’s office. In order to obtain their contact info, see the link below:
https://callyourrep.co/
– Call their office and ask them to VOTE FOR HOUSE RESOLUTION 128.

Press Conference
• Time: 3:30pm
• Location: Capitol House Triangle.

It is an outdoor location on the House of Representatives side of the Capitol’s East Front. It is across the street from the 27 Independence Ave SE, Washington, DC front entrance to the Cannon House Office Building on a grassy triangle with a concrete surface for witnesses to stand.
• Rep Chris Smith (R-NJ) sponsor of the resolution, and Rep Mike Coffman (R-CO) will speak about the resolution and take questions from the press. They will acknowledge the work of the Diaspora and human rights groups.
• People are urged to attend this event to show support for this legislation especially among the Diaspora groups from Ethiopia

Debate and Floor Vote on House Resolution 128
• 4:30 PM: Gallery closes to the Public at 4:30. It may be crowded. Get there early. To enter the gallery of the House Chamber where the business of the House is conducted, a pass is required. You can stop by your Congressperson’s office in the morning to get tickets and to pick them up that day. Visitors must be in the Gallery by 4:30. There are security checks, so allow plenty of time. No one is admitted to the Gallery after 4:30 except if escorted by a Representative, or persons authorized by them.

• 5:00 PM Debate will take place sometime between 5:00 and 6:30 PM. People who want to be present for the voting can go to the Gallery. A Gallery pass is required. You can obtain it directly from your Congressperson. Call ahead

6:30 PM VOTE – Voting will take place in the House of Representatives Chamber. Visitors can witness from the gallery which is a kind of balcony where public can watch its government at work

• After voting is over, there may be a short Celebratory Press Conference where Representatives may take a victory lap. Here media can address the Congresspeople and participatory groups outside of the Capitol.

Debriefing Session
• A debriefing will take place at the Oromo Community Organization House of Washington D.C. 6212 3rd Street, NW, Washington, DC 20011.

 

 

Democracy, Human Rights and Diaspora Groups Urge Congress to Pass H. Res. 128 on Ethiopia April 10, 2018

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Ethiopia is at a crossroads. On Monday, April 2, a new Prime Minister, selected from within the ruling coalition, delivered a speech about planned reforms while the country was under another State of Emergency. At such a juncture, amid mounting pressures, the role of the US, Ethiopia’s longstanding international ally to encourage critically-needed reforms and human rights protections, should not be underestimated in urging the country toward a new era of stability.

The undersigned human rights and diaspora groups fully support the passage of House Resolution 128 for the positive contribution it can make toward respecting basic human rights and encouraging inclusive governance in Ethiopia. The resolution has strong bipartisan support and more than 100 co-sponsors. In addition, H. Res. 128 has significant grassroots support among constituents across the US who have ties to Ethiopia. It calls on the government of Ethiopia to open up civic space, ensure accountability for human rights abuses and promote inclusive governance.

For the past three years, Ethiopia has faced largely peaceful and sustained protests in the Oromia and Amhara regions of the country. These protests were led by youth seeking opportunity, political reform and more participatory development strategies. The government responded with excessive force. More than a thousand protesters have been killed by Ethiopian security forces, a greater number injured, tens of thousands imprisoned and many tortured for expressing grievances. Over a million, mostly from Oromia, were uprooted due to government-instigated conflict in the Eastern part of the country.

However, a combination of forces has accumulated in support of the protesters – diaspora groups and international human rights organizations helped publicize the protest movement in Ethiopia and the government’s violent response; the US Congress rallied behind H.Res. 128; international news outlets gave frequent coverage of the protests. At the dawn of this new year, the EPRDF coalition announced reforms and some changes began to occur. Close to 7000 political prisoners were released in January and February of 2018, Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn stepped down within days, and Dr. Abiy Ahmed, a man with ties to the region most impacted by the protests, was put forward by the coalition as Ethiopia’s newest prime minister.

In light of these beginnings, now more than ever, it is imperative that the United States Congress take a stand that reiterates the need for Ethiopia to take further steps in a democratic direction by passing H.Res. 128. Ethiopia’s previous transfers of power indicate that leadership change is often followed by unfulfilled promises, a culling of opponents and power consolidation. If Prime Minister Abiy is truly committed to breaking that pattern, this resolution will encourage Ethiopia to lift the State of Emergency, ensuring freedoms of expression and assembly and opening up democratic space, all prerequisites for political and economic reform.

1) H. Res. 128 is a signal of support for the youth in the country who have organized to peacefully demand justice and democracy and have paid a terrible price in terms of loss of life, injury and arbitrary detention. Accountability for the human rights violations that have occurred over the last 3 years will be an essential step towards genuine reconciliation and is a key demand from the protesters.

2) H.Res. 128 contains clauses that could strengthen the hand of the Prime Minister vis-a-vis less responsive segments within the EPRDF party coalition structure, requiring negotiation with the forces that control the country’s security apparatus, intelligence and the economic sectors.

3) H. Res. 128 contains clauses that call on the State Department and USAID to develop a comprehensive strategy to support improved democracy and governance in Ethiopia.

4) H. Res. 128 contains clauses that call on the Secretary of State and Secretary of Treasury to apply appropriate sanctions on individuals and organizations responsible for gross human rights.

We support passage of H.Res. 128 as a means to send a strong, unambiguous signal that the United States Congress requires concrete reforms. Such reforms are needed to create a path toward improved respect and protection of human and civil rights, political stability and sustainable regional security.

We urge members of the House to pass the resolution.

Amhara Association of America
Coalition of Oromos for Human Rights and Democracy
Ethiopian Advocacy Network
Ethiopian Human Rights Project
Human Rights Watch
Oromo Advocacy Alliance

 

Statement on April 2018 Vote on House Resolution 128

Statement: A Push for Co-Sponsors

Join in celebrating the newly-found power of constituents in diaspora communities from Ethiopia! Together these diaspora groups and their human rights allies have kept H Res 128 alive, despite active Ethiopian government opposition.  

Now we are delighted to learn that this resolution has been placed back on the House Calendar, scheduled for a vote sometime between April 9-16, 2018.  On March 21, 2018 Representative Mike Coffman of Colorado announced this good news. This is a major achievement for the Ethiopian people, particularly for the Oromo, who led the way with peaceful protests and who have persisted since November 2015 in the face of brutal repression. Oromo were joined by Amhara in July 2016 and then by Ethiopians at large who also suffer under the current regime and are yearning for change.  Together, advocacy, diaspora and human rights groups concerned with Ethiopia have worked tirelessly to push for the adoption of this resolution.

We all appreciate the support of Congressional representatives Rep Chris Smith (@RepChrisSmith), Rep Karen Bass (@RepKarenBass), Rep Mike Coffman (@RepMikeCoffman), Rep Keith Ellison (@RepKeithEllison), Rep Eliot Engel (@RepEliotEngel), Rep Ed Royce (@RepEdRoyce) and now, House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (@GOPLeader).  There are a record number of sponsors for a foreign affairs resolution — 98 US Congressional Representatives who co-sponsor this Resolution “Supporting respect for human rights and encouraging inclusive governance in Ethiopia.”

As we celebrate this milestone, there are two major hurdles 1) getting the current resolution passed without further amendment (2/3rds majority), and 2) working for implementation.  The Ethiopian government has pushed back successfully against this resolution in the past. In July their diplomats and lobbyists succeeded in amending the text of the resolution to insert several phrases of praise for the Ethiopian government.  The resolution unanimously passed the House Foreign Affairs Committee, and was scheduled to be voted on October 2, 2017. At end of September it was pulled from the calendar due to intense campaigning by Ethiopian diplomats with the help of the lobbying firm SGR.

Now more than ever, we must make our voice heard. The people of Ethiopia, who are sacrificing with their lives to see change in their country, deserve to hear support from the United States Congress. The Ethiopian regime is sending a clear message that it does not intend to reform, but rather it intends to cling to power through violent repression, even at the expense of the stability of the country and the region. The people of Ethiopia are demanding justice, basic freedoms of assembly and expression.  They want democracy. Passing House Resolution 128 sends a clear positive message to the youth in Ethiopia. It lets them know that their demands for democracy are heeded in the US. To allow further delay or to defeat the resolution is to strengthen the hand of the current regime. What signal will the United States Congress send?

Now is a critical time to call, write and visit the offices of your Representatives.  

  • If they have already co-sponsored, let them know that a vote is pending, update them about the situation in the country, and encourage them to inform their colleagues in state delegations or on shared Committees to vote for this measure.  Tell them that it has unprecedented grassroots support for a foreign affairs resolution. Congress needs to be on the right side of history on this vote!
  • If your Representative has not yet cosponsored, urge them to put their names on the list of supporters for House Resolution 128 by contacting Piero Tozzi in Rep Chris Smith’s office (piero.tozzi@mail.house.gov)  Urge them to vote favorably on this very important resolution. To find your Representative go to https://callyourrep.co/.

You can find tools for advocacy on our website (https://oromoadvocacy.org/) for example, sample letters and telephone scripts that you can use and modify to contact your Representative.  We have also included a sample letter below for your convenience.

Best of luck in securing your Congressperson’s co-sponsorship!

Oromo Advocacy Alliance

_______________________________________________________________________

Sample Letter for Congresspersons regarding House Resolution 128:

Dear Representative _________________,

I am writing to ask you to co-sponsor House Resolution 128 on “Supporting respect for human rights and encouraging inclusive governance in Ethiopia.  House Majority Leader has agreed to put it on the calendar for a vote between April 9 and 16, 2018. I urge you to support this excellent legislation by becoming a co-sponsor.  There is unprecedented grassroots support from diaspora constituents with ties to Ethiopia. There are currently 98 co-sponsors!

Ethiopia is in a state of crisis. Nationwide protests, resisting the loss of human rights, closing of democratic space and imprisonment of political opponents and community leaders, have persisted for 3 years. Activists and international human rights groups have documented deaths of thousands of peaceful protesters, killed by security forces.  Tens of thousands of protesters demanding justice have been imprisoned since the protests began. Recently 6,000 were released, welcome news but a fraction of those held without charge.

The scale of this crisis is staggering.  The government attacks it citizens, regarding them as enemies.

  • Far more than 1,000 young people have been shot and killed during peaceful demonstrations in the last two years.
  • Peoples all over the country have been dispossessed of their lands without recourse — in Oromia, Amhara, Gambella, Southern Nations, Nationalities and People Region and Somali Region.
  • Over a million people have been displaced from the Oromia region of Ethiopia since early 2017, instigated by a government-supported police force in the Somali region.
  • Since a State of Emergency was imposed in mid-February 2018, 60 unarmed persons have been killed while participating in peaceful demonstrations.  
  • On March 10, 2018, the government carried out the latest unprovoked attack from a military Command Post established under the State of Emergency.  Unsuspecting civilians in the border town of Moyale were killed. Nine civilians were killed on the roadside and in coffee shops running from sudden gunfire and 12 were injured by heavily-armed Ethiopian security forces.
  • As a result of this attack, at least 10, 000 Oromos have fled to neighbouring Kenya in under a week, creating a humanitarian nightmare.  
  • Inexplicable carnage has become commonplace in Ethiopia since the declaration of the second State of Emergency mid-February, 2018.
  • In addition, Ethiopia remains one of the top jailers of journalists and continues to censor the media.
  • EthioTelecom, the state-owned monopoly supplier of Internet services has imposed a blackout of all services to most of Oromia.

The Ethiopian government has a clear and consistent pattern of failing to respond to the legitimate demands of its people. It clings to power through brutally suppressing both majority and minority populations, placing the stability of the country and the entire region at risk. In the midst of these atrocities, the US has been silent.  Ethiopia has been emboldened by the lack of meaningful action from one of it’s most influential and powerful allies.

The House Resolution effectively addresses the crisis and offers hope to those in Ethiopia who yearn for justice and have held peaceful and disciplined protests.   The United States must send a clear signal to the people of Ethiopia that they are heard and their nonviolent calls for change have been heard. This measure also signals to the government that it must take steps toward real reforms to maintain its support from the US and keep the country from descending into further chaos.

House Resolution 128 is the right first step in sending these signals.  Read it here: https://www.congress.gov/bill/115th-congress/house-resolution/128/text.

I urge you to cosponsor House Resolution 128.

Sincerely yours,

A Pattern of Displacement and Disruption in Oromia and Ethiopia Reaches the Border Town of Moyale

Statement by Oromo Advocacy Alliance

A Pattern of Displacement and Disruption in Oromia and Ethiopia Reaches the Border Town of Moyale

Violence Against Civilians Intensifies in 2018

The Moyale Incident

 On March 10, an outbreak of gunfire aimed at unarmed civilians rocked a peaceful border town of Moyale located between Ethiopia and Kenya.  The unprovoked attacks were carried out by Ethiopian security forces deployed from a military Command Post established under the declared State of Emergency.  This assault caused a massive flow of residents, primarily Oromos, escaping into Kenya to seek safety.  Inexplicable carnage has become commonplace in Ethiopia. Since the declaration of a second State of Emergency in mid-February a steady drumbeat of reports of killings emerges on a daily basis.

 In this latest episode of assault on citizens, the heavily-armed Ethiopia security forces shot and killed 9 and injured 12 civilians in Moyale. This was an unprovoked attack. Most of the victims were young men in their teens and early 20s who were shot from the back around shoulders and above, at close range according to witnesses. They were pulled over on their motorbikes, chased into restaurants, and shot in cold blood on the public streets.  Over 10,000 people have fled from Moyale to neighboring Kenya to escape the chaos. The number of those fearing for their lives is growing.  People are terrified. Kenyan Red Cross reports most of those are women and children. The government claims this incident resulted from a “mistaken intelligence report.”  When the head of the Oromia Justice Bureau, Taaye Dendea, cast doubt on that claim, asserting that this was not a “mistake,” he was arrested by the Command Post.

This kind of punitive attack on the Oromo people in that southern border region is hardly new. Felix Horne, Horn of Africa Researcher for Human Rights Watch says “collective punishment of Borana civilians by EDF [Ethiopian Defense Forces] because of alleged OLF support is something HRW documents far too often around Moyale. EDF punishes civilians on both side of the Kenya-Ethiopia border”.

Ongoing Displacement: Over One Million Dispossessed and Moved in Eastern Ethiopia

 Over the past year, the UN reports that 857,000 Oromos were uprooted from their homes in the border between Oromia and Somali regions in Ethiopia.  Violent conflict in the formerly peaceful area was instigated by federal government-supported forces.  Hundreds of thousands of persons were stripped of all possessions – lands, herds, businesses, housing structures and household effects – and forced into military trucks to be removed from their homes and transported into OromiaThese who were displaced in 2017 joined others who had been forced from the border regions in 2016 to form an internally displaced population of over a million persons.  The world has not given attention to the Oromo plight, though the number affected is twice the size of the similarly-maligned Rohingya population forced from Myanmar in 2017. The suffering of the 500,00 Rohingya occurred under the watchful eye of international media throughout 2017.  By contrast, the plight of the Oromo in Eastern Ethiopia unfolded in the media black hole created by the authorities, effectively hiding one of the world’s largest humanitarian crises.

 The declaration of the second State of Emergency by the Ethiopian government on February 16, followed the sudden resignation of PM Hailemariam Dessalegn on the day before.  Since that time, abuses by the Ethiopian government have continued resulting a steady drumbeat of reports of killings coming on a daily basis from across the country, particularly from Oromia.

 What Can Be Done?

 US support for Ethiopia has been a mainstay in keeping the current ruling party afloat.  Ethiopia received over 820 million dollars in aid from the US in 2017, in addition to other forms of assistance.  Nevertheless, a strongly-worded statement by the US Embassy condemning the State of Emergency has failed to deter the Ethiopian government from extended the activities of this Command Posts. The humanitarian and political crisis in Ethiopia is deepening.

Ethiopia clearly needs a stronger signal from the US and other allies to reverse course.

US policy should include the following:

·      Both Houses of Congress should immediately pass existing resolutions (H Res 128 and S Res 168) calling for respect for human rights and inclusive governance in Ethiopia through a set of strong action items,

·      Examine the withholding of massive appropriations under the Leahy Law which denies aid to perpetrators of human rights violations,

·      Adopt Executive measures which apply meaningful pressure on the Ethiopian government to cease violent and deadly assaults on civilians, reverse the State of Emergency and launch negotiation with opposition parties to meet the demands of the people.

 There should be no mistake that the US is currently complicit in the killing of innocent civilians in Ethiopia and both the misery and movement of the Oromo and other peoples from the country by failing to take meaningful action. Continued United States assistance empowers this regime to assault and dispossess civilians with impunity.  The US failure to seek accountability for financial and logistical aid has played a role in Ethiopia’s descent into chaos.

Regional stability, which impact US interests, is at stake.