Monday, April 3, 2017

Ethiopia extends emergency as old antagonisms fester

The Ethiopian government has extended a nationwide state of emergency for four months, hailing it as successful in restoring stability after almost a year of popular protests and crackdowns that cost hundreds of lives.
But while parts of Amhara, one of the hotbeds of the recent unrest, may be calm on the surface, IRIN found that major grievances remain unaddressed and discontent appears to be festering: There are even widespread reports that farmers in the northern region are engaged in a new, armed rebellion.
Human rights organisations and others have voiced concern at months of draconian government measures – some 20,000 people have reportedly been detained under the state of emergency, which also led to curfews, bans on public assembly, and media and internet restrictions.
“The regime has imprisoned, tortured and abused 20,000-plus young people and killed hundreds more in order to restore a semblance of order,” said Alemante Selassie, emeritus law professor at the College of William & Mary in the US state of Virginia. “Repression is the least effective means of creating real order in any society where there is a fundamental breach of trust between people and their rulers.”
The government line is far rosier.
“There’s been no negative effects,” Zadig Abrha, Ethiopia’s state minister for government communication affairs, told IRIN shortly before the measures were extended by four months, on 30 March.
“The state of emergency enabled us to focus on repairing the economic situation, compensating investors, and further democratising the nation… [and] allowed us to normalise the situation to how it was before, by enabling us to better coordinate security and increase its effectiveness.”
Clamping down
On 7 August 2016, in the wake of protests in the neighbouring Oromia region, tens of thousands of people gathered in the centre of Bahir Dar, the capital of Amhara. They had come to vent their anger at perceived marginalisation and the annexation of part of their territory by Tigray – the region from which the dominant force in Ethiopia’s ruling coalition is drawn.
Accounts vary as to what prompted security forces to open fire on the demonstration – some say a protestor tried to replace a federal flag outside a government building with its now-banned precursor – but by the end of the day, 27 people were dead.
That toll climbed to 52 by the end of the week. In all, some 227 civilians died during weeks of unrest in the Amhara region, according to the government. Others claim the real figure is much higher.
A six-month state of emergency was declared nationally on 9 October. Military personnel, under the coordination of a new entity known as the “Command Post”, flooded into cities across the country.
“Someone will come and say they are with the Command Post and just tell you to go with them – you have no option but to obey,” explained Dawit, who works in the tourism industry in the Amhara city of Gondar. “No one has any insurance of life.”
James Jeffrey/IRIN

Local people told IRIN that the Command Post also took control of the city’s courts and did away with due process. Everyday life ground to a halt as traders closed shops and businesses in a gesture of passive resistance.
In Bahir Dar and Gondar, both popular historical stop-offs, tourism, an economic mainstay, tanked.
“In 2015, Ethiopia was voted by the likes of The New York Times and National Geographic as one of the best destinations,” said Stefanos, another Gondar resident who works in the tourism sector. “Then this happened and everything collapsed.”
Lingering resentment
Before it was renewed, the state of emergency was modified, officially reinstating the requirement of search warrants and doing away with detention without trial.
Prominent blogger and Ethiopian political analyst Daniel Berhane said the state of emergency extension might maintain calm in Amhara.
It “isn’t just about security,” he said. “There is a political package with it: Since two weeks ago, the government has been conducting meetings across the region at grassroots levels to address people’s economic and administrative grievances, which are what most people are most concerned about.”
But bitterness remains.
“We have no sovereignty. The government took our land,” a bar owner in Gondar who gave his name only as Kidus explained. “That’s why we shouted Amharaneut Akbiru! Respect Amhara-ness!” during the protests, he added.
Others still feel marginalised and are angry at the government’s heavy-handed response.
“If you kill your own people, how are you a soldier? You are a terrorist,” 32-year old Tesfaye, who recently left the Ethiopian army after seven years, a large scar marking his left cheek, told IRIN in Bahir Dar. “I became a soldier to protect my people. This government has forgotten me since I left. I’ve been trying to get a job for five months.”
A tour guide in Gondar, speaking on condition of anonymity, was also critical of the response: “The government has a chance for peace, but they don’t have the mental skills to achieve it. If protests happen again, they will be worse.”
However, some do believe the authorities have to take a tough line.
“This government has kept the country together. If they disappeared, we would be like Somalia,” said Joseph, who is half-Amharan, half-Tigrayan. “All the opposition does is protest, protest. They can’t do anything else.”
Mountain militias
Even as calm has been restored in some areas, a new form of serious opposition to the government has taken shape: Organised militia made up of local Amhara farmers have reportedly been conducting hit-and-run attacks on soldiers in the mountainous countryside.
“The topography around here is tough, but they’ve spent their lives on it and know it,” said Henok, a student nurse who took part in the protests. “They’re like snipers with their guns.”
James Jeffrey/IRIN
Outskirts of the city of Gondar, in the northern Ethiopian Amhara region
“The government controls the urban but not the rural areas,” he said. “[The farmers] are hiding in the landscape and forests. No one knows how many there are,” he said, adding that he’d seen “dozens of soldiers at Gondar’s hospital with bullet and knife wounds.”
Young Gondar men like Henok talk passionately of Colonel Demeke Zewudud, who led Amhara activism for the restoration of [the annexed] Wolkite district until his arrest in 2016, and about Gobe Malke, allegedly a leader of the farmers’ armed struggle until his death in February – reportedly at the hands of a cousin on the government’s payroll.
“The farmers are ready to die,” a priest in Gondar told IRIN on condition of anonymity, stressing that the land is very important to them. “They have never been away from here,” he explained.
Without referring specifically to any organisation of armed farmers, Zadig, the government minister, said the state of emergency had been extended because of “agitators” still at large.
“There are still people who took part in the violence that are not in custody, and agitators and masterminds of the violence who need to be brought before the rule of law,” he said. “And there are arms in circulation that need to be controlled, and some armed groups not apprehended.” 
Terrence Lyons, a professor at The School for Conflict Analysis and Resolution at George Mason University in the United States, said the government must decentralise power to achieve longer-term stability.
“Grievances haven’t been addressed by the state of emergency or by the government’s commitment to tackle corruption and boost service delivery,” Lyons told IRIN. “There needs to be a reconsideration of the relationship between an ethnic federation and a strong centralised developmental state, involving a process that is participatory and transparent – but we aren’t seeing that under the state of emergency.”
In 1995, Ethiopia adopted a federal system of government, which in theory devolves considerable power to the country’s regions. But in practice, key decisions are still taken in Addis Ababa.
“If the government wants a true and real form of stabilisation, then it should allow for a true representative form of governance so all people have the representation they need and deserve,” said Tewodros Tirfe of the Amhara Association of America.
In a report presented to a US congressional hearing in early March, Tewodros said some 500 members of the security forces had been killed in the recent clashes in the Amhara region. “Deeper resentment and anger at the government is driving young people to the armed struggle,” he told IRIN.
But Zadig and the government insisted: “The public stood by us.”
“They said no to escalating violence. In a country of more than 90 million, if they’d wanted more escalation we couldn’t have stopped them.”
Lyons warns of complacency.
“As long as dissidents and those speaking about alternatives for Ethiopia are dealt with as terrorists, the underlying grievances will remain: governance, participation, and human rights,” he told IRIN.
“The very strength of the [ruling] EPRDF is its weakness. As an ex-insurgency movement, its discipline and top-down governance enabled it to keep a difficult country together for 25 years. Now, the success of its own developmental state means Ethiopia is very different, but the EPRDF is not into consultative dialogue and discussing the merits of policy.”

Oromo: Violent Oppression and Disregard for Human Rights Continue as State of Emergency Gets Prolonged

Photo courtesy of J. Pandolfo/Flickr

On 30 March 2017, the Ethiopian Parliament voted to extend the state of emergency it had first declared in October 2016. The decision made by the parliament – which is fully controlled by the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic front (EPRDF) – paves the way for further state-sponsored oppression of the Oromo people as it empowers the Council of Ministers to “suspend such political and democratic rights guaranteed by the constitution.” The Tigray-dominated government abuses the state of emergency for political purposes, conveniently neglecting the fact that the suspension of political and democratic rights allowed under a state of emergency does not absolve the Ethiopian government from its human rights obligations.  Although Oromo protests have virtually disappeared as the region is now a de-facto military state, the Ethiopian government justifies the prolongation of the state of emergency with the alleged necessity to assure a “point of no return” for Oromo protests. This decision illustrates the Ethiopian government’s increasing disrespect for human rights and its abuse of political instruments to quench any form of dissent. 

Below is an article published by OPride:
The Ethiopian parliament on March 30, 2017 voted to extend by four months the state of emergency it declared in October 2016 to suppress the unprecedented Oromo protests that engulfed the country for a year and a half. The Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) controls every seat in the legislature after claiming 100 percent victory in the May 2015 elections.
Ethiopia adopted the emergency law under the pretext that ‘foreign elements’ are threatening the country’s peace and security. The draconian decree was drawing closer to its sixth month end, when on Thursday, Siraj Fegessa, Ethiopia’s Minister of Defense and Head of the Command Post – a body established to oversee the decree – told lawmakers, despite relative peace and security in the country, a prolongation is required to ensure that the repression of Oromo protests reaches “a point of no return.”
Even before the declaration of the martial law, Ethiopian security forces have summarily killed over 1,000 peaceful protesters and committed a range of serious human rights violations. By declaring the state of emergency, authorities sought to intensify the crackdown on Oromo uprising. One particular phrase in the constitution’s state of emergency clause ((Art 93(4)(b)) especially appealed to Ethiopia’s authoritarian government. It empowers the Council of Ministers to ‘suspend such political and democratic rights’ guaranteed under the constitution.
Not every disturbance warrants the declaration of an emergency decree. The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), which Ethiopia ratified in 1993, stipulates that the “situation must amount to a public emergency which threatens the life of the nation” for member states to proclaim a state of emergency. The treaty emphasizes the paramount importance of human rights safeguards even during the exercise of such “temporary and exceptional” decree.
In other words, the power to ‘suspend political and democratic rights’ does not absolve Ethiopia from its human rights obligations. Yet since the declaration of the state of emergency, the already dismal human rights condition in Oromia took a turn for the worst. The emergency measures empowered the Command Post to conduct arbitrary arrests and searches without a warrant, impose curfews and suspend basic human rights guaranteed both under the 1993 treaty and the Ethiopian constitution.
In fact, the Constitution limits the scope of the Council of Ministers power to suspend rights guaranteed under the law in the same provision that confers such powers on it. Accordingly, the law stipulates that the suspension shall be ‘to the extent necessary to avert the conditions that required the declaration of the state of emergency.’ In addition, ICCPR states that measures taken during the state of emergency should be limited to the extent strictly required by the exigencies of the situation.
The Ethiopian Constitution and other international instruments that Ethiopia ratified, particularly the ICCPR, provide for non-derogable rights that cannot be suspended even during a state of emergency. Notably, the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights has no derogation clause obligating Ethiopia to uphold all the provisions of the Charter even during a state of emergency.
Ethiopia’s constitution explicitly states provisions dealing with the federal state structure and some basic individual and collective human rights as non-derogable rights. As such the government cannot derogate from individual rights against inhuman treatment or punishment, right to equality and nation, nationalities and people’s right to self-determination including the right to secession. The constitutional requirement to interpret the human rights chapter of the Ethiopian constitution in conformity with the ICCPR also makes the Right to Life a non-derogable right. In the absence of a derogation clause, the African Charter goes one step further and obligates Ethiopia to uphold all the rights guaranteed under the Charter.
In declaring a nationwide state of emergency, Ethiopian authorities tried to legitimize the extrajudicial killings and other heinous crimes committed through direct act or omission of its security forces most notably during the grand Oromo protests across Oromia, the Irreechaa massacre, the Qilinto prison fire and killings in Amhara region during protests against the incorporation of Wolkait region into the state of Tigray.
During the last five months, under the cover of the state of emergency, Ethiopia resorted to yet more repression and violent use of government power to crush peaceful Oromo dissent rather than addressing legitimate Oromo demands. Even by government’s own account, authorities detained  , hoarding detainees into overcrowded ‘rehabilitation camps’ under terrible conditions.
Ethiopian authorities have now arrested and charged most of the senior leadership of the sole legally registered Oromo political party, the Oromo Federalist Congress (OFC). Prominent advocates of nonviolent struggle, including Bekele Gerba, Dejene Tafa, and other defendants, were charged under the sweeping anti-terrorism proclamation for allegedly inciting the Oromo protests.
The chairman of OFC, Dr. Merera Gudina, was also arrested in December upon his return from testifying before the European Parliament in Brussels by the invitation by EU Parliamentarian, Ana Gomez. In a letter addressed to the Ethiopian Prime Minister, the President of European Parliament, Martin Schultz, raised concerns about Merera’s arrest noting that he took part ‘in meetings in the European Parliament’ which he said is “a House of Democracy where different voices can be heard from foreign governments and representatives of opposition groups.”
On February 23 [2017], prosecutors brought four counts of criminal charges against Merera, alleging that he violated the State of Emergency regulation, the country’s Penal Code and Anti-terrorism proclamation provisions. These politically motivated charges include an attempt to disrupt constitutional order by instigating Oromo protests, meeting individuals designated as ‘terrorists’ during his EU visit and giving interviews critical of the government to the Voice of America radio.
The state of emergency has been used together with the anti-terrorism law to intensify government crackdown on Oromo dissent. Since its adoption in 2009, the Anti-terrorism proclamation has been instrumentalized to clamp down on Oromo dissent. In 2011, the EPRDF controlled parliament proscribed the Oromo Liberation Front (OLF) as a terrorist organization. Since then, Ethiopia has heavily relied on vague and broad provisions of the terrorism law to criminalize what the government deems “encourages or provides moral support’ for the OLF.
Ethiopia uses various mechanisms to restrict and maintain its stranglehold on the free flow of information including censorship, intimidation and arrest of journalists and bloggers. The emergency regulation and a provision of the terrorism law bans reporting on Oromo protests and other events that the government says constitutes providing moral support for the OLF. This has made an already embattled Oromo media even more vulnerable. The chilling effect forced independent publishers, including the Addis Standard, which reported extensively on the Oromo protests, to suspend their print magazines.
Notwithstanding its obligations under the Constitution and international instruments it ratified, Ethiopia has been trampling over the non-derogable individual and collective rights of the Oromo. As stated in ICCPR General Comment 29, government measures with regard to rights from which these instruments permit derogation were not tailored to the exigencies of the situation for the duration, geographical coverage, and material scope.
On March 15 [2017], the Command Post had lifted some of the emergency restrictions, including arbitrary arrests and search without warrant, curfews, and bans on the media citing the relative calm in Oromia. Fegessa told reporters that “the situation for which the restrictions were imposed could now be treated on a regular law enforcement processes.”
Given the relative calm in Oromia today, the exigencies that authorities cited to declare the state of emergency do not justify its extension. Instead, Ethiopia has now put Oromia under a de facto military rule, leaving little room for nonviolent Oromo dissent. The sustained protests that drew international attention to the plight of the Oromo people shattering the make-believe ‘Ethiopia rising’ narrative were unprecedented but the Oromo quest for freedom and self-determination did not start in 2015. It’s been going on in the background during the entirety of EPRDF’s dictatorial reign, often withstanding persistent crackdown on nonviolent Oromo dissent.
Prior to his arrest, Merera warned that Ethiopia will descend into an armed conflict if EPRDF does not address the demand of the Oromo people. The state of emergency might enable the government to intensify repression in the short term but it certainly will not crush the Oromo dissent to “a point of no return.” On the contrary, continued official repression is hardening public grievances and making the Oromo people ever more skeptical of nonviolent resistance as a way to achieve their freedom.