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EHRC urges end to conflicts causing widespread human rights violations in Ethiopia

Daniel Bekele (PhD) held his last presser as EHRC’s chief commissioner (Photo: EHRC/Facebook)

Addis Abeba – In its 3rd Annual Human Rights Situation Report, covering the period from June 2023 to June 2024, the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission (EHRC) said armed conflicts remain a significant cause of human rights violations across the country, resulting in civilian casualties and displacement. 

The report noted that internally displaced persons, particularly vulnerable groups, continue to face challenges in accessing basic necessities and services. The 132-page document, released at the conclusion of EHRC Chief Commissioner Daniel Bekele’s five-year term, provides an overview of the human rights situation in Ethiopia, highlighting both progress and areas of concern.

According to the report, a key development during the reporting period was the resolution of the two-year war in Northern Ethiopia through a peace agreement between the Ethiopian federal government and the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF). While hostilities have ceased,  the report notes that the region continues to grapple with the long-term effects of the war. Civilians face ongoing challenges in accessing basic services, healthcare, and education.

The Amhara region has experienced a complex security situation, with the EHRC documenting instances of extrajudicial killings and arbitrary detentions. Government security forces have detained individuals in cities such as Bahir Dar, Debre Tabor, and Gondar on accusations of supporting rebel groups. The report also notes attacks on police stations and detention centers by insurgent forces known as Fano, resulting in the release of detainees.

This comes in the backdrop of recent killings in the town of Keranio, in east Gojjam zone on 14 June, 2024, which claimed the lives of seven civilians, injured two others after “government forces” attacked a group of civilians attending a funeral, according to residents. The killing in Keranio was followed two days later with another attack that took place on Sunday 16 June, in the town of Jiga, Jabitehna district, in West Gojjam zone in which at least 13 people were killed.

A recent report by Human Rights Watch (HRW) also alleged that Ethiopian security forces, along with an allied militia group, have conducted extensive attacks on medical professionals, patients, and healthcare facilities in the Amhara region since August 2023. According to the rights organization, these actions constitute “war crimes.”

Responding to questions raised by lawmakers during a parliament session on Thursday, regarding human rights violations and accusations of mass killing against government forces, PM Abiy Ahmed stated “the government doesn’t kill en masse.”

While denying mass killings, PM Abiy acknowledged that human rights violations do occur in Ethiopia, stating, “We should correct our mistakes and take responsibility.” He highlighted accountability measures within the military, noting that thousands of ENDF and police members have been imprisoned facing legal and disciplinary action for code of conduct violations.

The PM also stated that the concept of human rights is being used for political purposes. He called for parliamentary investigation into institutions and proclamations related to human rights, expressing concern about organizations funded by external entities.

In Oromia, EHRC’s report noted ongoing tensions and conflicts have led to civilian casualties and displacement. The EHRC recorded incidents in several zones, including North, South, West, Southwest, and East Shewa. The report also highlights an increase in kidnappings for ransom affecting both Oromia and Amhara regions.

The implementation of the State of Emergency which remained in effect for ten months, had significant impacts on human rights, EHRC’s report stated, highlighting widespread issues with arbitrary detentions. 

In Amhara, security forces detained individuals in cities such as Bahir Dar, Debre Tabor, and Gondar on accusations of supporting rebel groups. In Addis Ababa, during the ten-month state of emergency, numerous individuals, including media personnel and political party members, were held without specific command post orders. The report notes concerns about detention conditions. 

In Addis Abeba, detainees were held in non-standard facilities, including schools, under poor conditions. The Awash Arba detention center, known for its extreme heat and remote location, faced criticism for limited access to family visits and medical care.

Restrictions on movement have affected all focus regions. Road blockades and security checkpoints have disrupted transportation, impacting economic activities and access to services. In Amhara, intensive checks by security forces and militia groups have made road travel risky, leading to reduced mobility.

The report underscores the broader socio-economic impacts of ongoing conflicts. In Amhara and Oromia, economic disruptions have led to increased food prices and urgent humanitarian needs. The EHRC projects that by the next fiscal year, up to 10.8 million people could face critical food insecurity across the affected regions.

Healthcare services have been significantly impacted, with restricted mobility, damaged infrastructure, and migration of healthcare professionals leading to declines in service quality and availability. The report pays special attention to the rights of women and children in conflict-affected areas, noting reports of sexual and gender-based violence in the Amhara region.

The EHRC monitored supplementary elections held on June 24, 2024, in parts of Afar and Benishangul-Gumuz regions. While most areas saw peaceful voting, some irregularities were observed, including unauthorized individuals at polling stations and attempts to influence voters.

The EHRC’s report concludes with a series of recommendations aimed at addressing these challenges. These include calls for the immediate release of individuals held in arbitrary detention, reform of laws and policies that adversely affect human rights, and improvements in the treatment of individuals in custody.

The commission emphasizes the need for peaceful dialogue and inclusive transitional justice processes to address the recurring cycles of conflict and widespread human rights violations across all focus regions. AS

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