2016 was a disastrous year for Human Rights in Ethiopia. We came today to express our deep concerns about the 1) Ethiopian government’s disregard for the respect of human rights and 2) the breakdown of order in the country. Democracy is completely disabled in Ethiopia. The H. Res. 128 focuses on the lack of democratic protections in Ethiopia right now and offers some ways to address the situation.
House Resolution 128 is very strong. It uses US government pressure on Ethiopia to loosen the government’s crackdown on dissent and to allow space for development and for democratic institutions to operate in the country with safeguards. If Ethiopia continues to attack and abuse her citizens, the region could rapidly descend into instability which would endanger our national security interests in the Horn of Africa.
· Violence as Response to Peaceful Dissent:
- We are extremely alarmed and disturbed by the violent and inhumane crackdown of the Ethiopian government on largely peaceful protesters in the Oromia and Amhara regions. In November of 2015, demonstrations against large scale land confiscation from farmers broke out in the Oromia and later in the Amhara regions. According to the latest Human Watch Right Report and the most recent State Department Report on Ethiopia, Ethiopian security forces used excessive force against protesters, killing hundreds probably over 1000 people if could get in to count.
- Also, tens of thousands of others have either disappeared or have been detained without due process in huge centers where people are tortured, die from disease and hunger.
· Arbitrary Detentions: Peaceful protesters and political opposition party members continue to be arrested arbitrarily, and when charged, they are often denied a fair trial. Prisoners are frequently tortured and subject to inhumane treatment. There have been reports of severe beatings, hangings, genital mutilation, electric shock, and rape. This abuse is exacted in known detention centers like Maekelawi and Kilinto, but also torture also take place in secret detention centers located around the country. On September 3, 2016, there was a prison fire in the Qilinto prison which was likely started by government agents. Many persons were killed by gunfire and as many as 23 prisoners perished in the fire.
· The Dangers of Land-leasing as a Development Strategy: Ethiopia’s land-leasing development strategy is destructive and leads to forced eviction of farmers and migration of minorities from the Afar, Benishangul-Gumuz, Gambella, the Southern Nations, Nationalities, and Peoples’, Oromia, and Somali regions. More people-centered development strategies would ease protests and reduce instability.
· Restrictions on the Press and Privacy Violations: Freedom of speech and the press are subject to a blackout in Ethiopia. In October of 2016, the government issued a six-month State of Emergency stating that any form of communication that could incite unrest was prohibited. A person can be arrested for making the Oromo protest gesture of raising cross fists, like Feyisa Lilesa used at the Rio Olympics. The State of Emergency banned listening to OMN or ESAT, popular Oromo and Amhara diaspora- based news programs. Ethiopian authorities regularly take people’s mobile phones and computers to look at texts, telephone calls, emails websites visited and songs downloaded. They accost people on buses, at airports and on the street demanding that people hand over mobile phones and computers looking for banned media content. If found, people can be harassed, beaten or detained. There are few independent media outlets left in the country. Reporters and media professionals have been detained or forced to flee if they criticize the Ethiopian government.
· August Grand Rally and Ireecha Massacre:
- On August 6 and 7, 2016 security forces killed approximately 100 persons who attended simultaneous demonstrations in major cities and towns across the Oromia and Amhara regions.
- On October 2, 2016 during the Oromo Irreecha sacred thanksgiving festival in Bishoftu, Ethiopian security forces agitated a large crowd by shooting in the air and releasing tear gas which led to a stampede and the death of large numbers of people. The government admitted 52 dead, observers reported several hundred. The UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) called for an investigation of these horrific deaths and observers.
· Interstate Violence: Armed Somali special forces called the Liyu police have been crossing into bordering Oromia towns and conducting raids; displacing local residents and thus far killing many people according to locals’ report. Ethiopian government’s enabling of the Liyu forces in their aggression against its own citizens adds to tension between the Oromo people and the Tigrean-dominated federal government and threatens regional stability.