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Oromo Unrest - 2016

Oromia was rocked by violence in 2015 and 2016, sparked by plans to allocate farmland in the region, which surrounds the capital, Addis Ababa, for development. Authorities later scrapped the land scheme, but anti-government protests that began in Oromia and spread into Amhara region and elsewhere flared again over political and human rights, as well as the continued detention of opposition demonstrators. The violence, which left hundreds dead, prompted the government to impose a state of emergency in October 2016. The measure, which was lifted in August, restricted a number of rights and led to the arrest of more than 21,000 people.

The Ethiopian government announced 08 October 2016 a six-month state of emergency in response to intensifying and deadly anti-government protests across the country. Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn said in a televised address the declaration, which went into effect Saturday, was intended to curb recent attacks on government buildings and businesses. The demonstrations originated in the Oromiya region in late 2015. Protesters initially rallied around demands for land rights and are now calling for increased political, economic and cultural rights.

Human Rights Watch said 08 January 2016 that Ethiopian sources killed at least 140 people and wounded many more in what the group says "may be the biggest crisis to hit Ethiopia since the 2005 election violence." The rights group's new estimate was nearly twice the death toll it estimated in December 2015 as killed by security forces during anti-government protests, far beyond what the government has confirmed. The government had only confirmed five deaths since the protests began in November 2015. The deaths are attributed to clashes with security forces. Opposition groups say the protesters are mostly students and farmers of the Oromo ethnic group, while the government describes them as "extremist Oromo groups" and "armed gangs."

As of February 2016 Human Rights Watch had not been able to verify the total numbers of people killed and arrested given restrictions on access and independent reporting in Ethiopia. Activists alleged that more than 200 people had been killed since 12 November 2015, based largely on material collated from social media videos, photos, and web posts. Available information suggests that several thousand people have been arrested, many of whose whereabouts are unknown, which would be a forcible disappearance.

John Kirby, US Department of State Spokesperson, Bureau of Public Affairs, stated January 14, 2016 "The United States is increasingly concerned by the continued stifling of independent voices in Ethiopia, including the detention of Oromo political party leaders. These arrests have a chilling effect on much needed public consultations to resolve legitimate political grievances in Oromia. We support the Government of Ethiopia’s December commitment to public consultation with affected communities. For these consultations to be meaningful, all interested parties must be able to express their views freely. We reaffirm our call on the Ethiopian Government to refrain from silencing dissent and to protect the constitutionally enshrined rights of all citizens, including the right to gather peacefully, to write, and to speak freely as voices of a diverse nation. We call for the release of those imprisoned for exercising their rights, such as political party leaders and journalists."

The Ethiopian government pardoned more than 700 prisoners on 13 September 2016 in celebration of New Year's Day on the Ethiopian calendar and the Muslim holiday Eid. Among those released were people charged under the country's controversial anti-terror law. Critics of the law say it is used to stifle dissent and lock up political opposition members. Prisoners were released from Kaliti, Dire Dawa, Ziway, Shewa Robit and Harer, as well as other prisons administered by the federal government in the Southern region, Tigray region and Amhara region.

The Ethiopian government imposed a state of emergency in October 2016. That followed deadly anti-government protests by the Oromo and Amhara ethnic groups, who were pressing for greater freedom. Hundreds of people died in Ethiopia's two most populous regions - Oromiya and Amhara - in 2015 and 2016. Opposition to an urban development plan for the capital Addis Ababa sparked public demonstrations against political restrictions, land grabbing and human rights abuses. Much of the public anger stems from the fact that the Tigryan ethnic group, representing 6 percent of the population, control key business interests, hold senior level positions in government and the military, and own significant land at the expense of other ethnic groups.

Dozens, if not hundreds, of people were killed in Ethiopia’s Oromiya region 02 October 2016 when police fired teargas and warning shots to disperse anti-government protesters at a religious festival. The tear gas caused panic and triggered a stampede that killed at least 50 people. Several thousand people had gathered at Lake Harsadi for the annual Irreecha festival of thanksgiving in the town of Bishoftu, about 40 kilometers south of Addis Ababa. Some people from the crowd chanted "We need freedom" and "We need justice" and waved a rebel group's flag. Ethiopian security forces had killed about 600 Oromo since November 2015 during protests against the government, which was entirely dominated by the rival Tigre ethnic group.

Security forces used excessive force against protesters throughout the year 2016, killing hundreds and injuring many more. The protests were mainly in Oromia and Amhara regions. At year’s end more than 10,000 persons were believed still to be detained. This included persons detained under the government-declared state of emergency, effective October 8. Many were never brought before a court, provided access to legal counsel, or formally charged with a crime.

A March 14 report from the independent Ethiopian NGO Human Rights Council (HRCO) covering 33 districts in Oromia from November 2015 to February 20 described more than 100 extrajudicial killings. On June 10, the government-established EHRC reported to parliament that it counted 173 deaths in Oromia, including 28 of security force members and officials, and asserted security forces used appropriate force there. The EHRC also asserted Amhara regional state special security had used excessive force against the Kemant community in Amhara Region. The EHRC did not publicly release its report. On August 13, HRW estimated security forces killed more than 500 protesters.

Many protesters allege that the government’s violent response and the rising death toll changed the focus of the protests to the killing and arrest of protesters and decades of historic Oromo grievances came to the forefront.

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Page last modified: 16-02-2018 13:18:50 ZULU