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US State Department report reveals extensive human rights abuses in Ethiopia’s conflict zones

The 2023 Country Report on Human Rights Practices in Ethiopia, released by the U.S. State Department, highlighted that the conflicts involving government forces and armed groups like the Oromo Liberation Army and Fano militia led to a significant number of civilian casualties. All parties engaged in these conflicts were found to be involved in extrajudicial killings of non-combatants, according to the report (Photo: EHRC)

Addis Abeba – The 2023 Country Report on Human Rights Practices in Ethiopia, which was issued by the U.S. State Department, has detailed serious violations that have taken place during conflicts within the country over the previous year.

The 68 pages report includes testimonies of extrajudicial killings, enforced disappearances, torture, arbitrary detentions, and limitations on democratic rights in various regions affected by conflict.

While the November 2022 Cessation of Hostilities Agreement ended active hostilities between the federal government and forces in the Tigray region, the report cites persistent abuses by Eritrean troops along the border as well as the continued activities of various militia groups in other areas.

The report highlighted that various factions involved in the conflict, including the Ethiopian National Defense Force (ENDF) as well as Eritrean, Tigray, and Amhara forces, were implicated in perpetrating war crimes and crimes against humanity. These atrocities encompassed offenses such as homicide, sexual assault, forced expulsion of civilians, and instances of ethnic discrimination.

The report underscored numerous incidents detailing extrajudicial killings perpetrated by security forces, including the purported involvement of government troops in the deaths of 23 civilians in the Oromia region in January 2023.

Additionally, it referenced findings from the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission (EHRC), which documented over 200 killings by government forces across nine towns in the Amhara region subsequent to the declaration of a state of emergency in August 2023.

The US State Department further remarked on the emergence of enforced disappearances as a significant concern, with local media and human rights organizations reporting a surge in instances of critics, activists, and journalists being held incommunicado by authorities.

Notably, a former member of a regional security force disappeared in December 2022 following a summons, while in western Tigray, numerous ethnic Tigrayans were purportedly detained by Amhara forces at undisclosed locations, as outlined in the report.

The report highlighted the prevalence of arbitrary arrest and detention without due process, noting that thousands of ethnic Amhara and Oromo individuals were reportedly apprehended and confined in makeshift facilities under deplorable conditions.

Furthermore, it alleged the systematic utilization of torture by security forces during interrogations to elicit confessions, encompassing methods such as beatings, the use of stress positions, and other forms of cruel treatment, both at official detention centers and unofficial sites.

Additionally, the report referenced findings from the EHRC, which revealed the existence of unofficial detention camps operated by regional police where suspects were subjected to torture.

The report stated that prisons and detention facilities suffered from severe overcrowding, exposing inmates to harsh and life-threatening conditions characterized by inadequate provisions of food, water, sanitation, and medical care.

It further noted instances where inmates were confined in cells for prolonged periods without relief. Additionally, allegations emerged regarding security forces carrying out executions of detainees removed from official facilities.

The US State Department asserted that authorities had not undertaken credible investigations into the widespread reports of such abuses. Furthermore, it highlighted that access to external monitoring was significantly restricted after August 2023.

The various conflicts involving government forces engaged in combat with militia groups such as the Oromo Liberation Army and Fano militia resulted in numerous civilian casualties, with all involved parties implicated in extrajudicial killings of non-combatants.

The report also highlights the presence of ethnic cleansing, widespread sexual violence, and other abuses against the ethnic Tigrayan population by Eritrean soldiers and Amhara militia persisted in Tigray, even after hostilities ceased following the Pretoria agreement. A prior UN commission determined that the federal government had failed to safeguard Tigrayans from violations committed by Eritrean troops.

These conflicts also triggered significant displacement, while reports indicated that humanitarian aid was misappropriated, with food intended for famine-stricken areas of Tigray diverted and sold in markets as part of a coordinated effort, exacerbating civilian suffering.

The 2023 report from the U.S. Department of State underscores that although authorities prosecuted some low-ranking officers, overall, limited measures were taken to credibly investigate violations and hold perpetrators accountable across all ranks, thereby perpetuating a culture of impunity. AS

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