Ethiopia has “ruthlessly targeted” and tortured thousands of people belonging to its largest ethnic group for perceived opposition to the government, rights group Amnesty International said in a report released Tuesday.
The report, based on over 200 testimonies, said at least 5,000 members of the Oromo ethnic group, which has a distinct language and accounts for over 30 percent of the country’s population, had been arrested between 2011 and 2014 for their “actual or suspected peaceful opposition to the government.”
“The Ethiopian government’s relentless crackdown on real or imagined dissent among the Oromo is sweeping in its scale and often shocking in its brutality,” said Amnesty International researcher Claire Beston.
The rights group said those arrested included students and civil servants. They were detained based on their expression of cultural heritage such as wearing clothes in colors considered to be symbols of Oromo resistance – red and green – or alleged chanting of political slogans.
Oromo, the largest state in Ethiopia, has long had a difficult relationship with the central government in Addis Ababa. A movement has been growing there for independence. And the government has outlawed a secessionist group, the Oromo Liberation Front (OLF), which has fought for self-determination for over 40 years.
Since 1992, the OLF has waged a low-level armed struggle against the Ethiopian government, which has accused the group of carrying out a series of bombings throughout the country.
Amnesty said that the majority of Oromo people targeted are accused of supporting the OLF, but that the “allegation is frequently unproven” and that it is “merely a pretext to silence critical voices and justify repression.”
“The report tends to confirm the claims that diaspora-based Oromo activists have been making for some time now,” Michael Woldemariam, a professor of international relations and political science at Boston University, told Al Jazeera. “What it does do, however, is provide a wealth of detail and empirical material that lends credibility to claims we have heard before.”
Missing fingers, ears, teeth
Former detainees – who fled the country and were interviewed by Amnesty in neighboring Kenya, Somaliland and Uganda – described torture, “including beatings, electric shocks, mock execution, burning with heated metal or molten plastic, and rape, including gang rape,” Amnesty said.
Although the majority of former detainees interviewed said they never went to court, many alleged they were tortured to extract a confession.
“We interviewed former detainees with missing fingers, ears and teeth, damaged eyes and scars on every part of their body due to beating, burning and stabbing – all of which they said were the result of torture,” said Beston.
Redwan Hussein, Ethiopia’s government spokesman, “categorically denied” the report’s findings. He accused Amnesty of having an ulterior agenda and of repeating old allegations.
“It (Amnesty) has been hell-bent on tarnishing Ethiopia’s image again and again,” he told Agence France-Press.
The report also documented protests that erupted in April and May over a plan to expand the capital Addis Abba into Oromia territory. It said that protests were met with “unnecessary and excessive force,” which included “firing live ammunition on peaceful protestors” and “beating hundreds of peaceful protesters and bystanders,” resulting in “dozens of deaths and scores of injuries.”
Oromo singers, writers and poets have been arrested for allegedly criticizing the government or inciting people through their work. Amnesty said they, along with student groups, protesters and people promoting Oromo culture, are treated with hostility because of their “perceived potential to act as a conduit or catalyst for further dissent.”
Al Jazeera and wire services. Philip J. Victor contributed to this report.
October 23, 2014
The Human Rights League of the Horn of Africa (HRLHA) is highly pleased with the news that Minor Abde Jemal has been release from the Bishari Jail in Mettu, Iluu Abbabor Province; and has re-united with his parents in Bilo Nopha. According to information obtained by HRLHA through its correspondents, Minor Abde Jemal was released from prison after being taken to a court in Mettu, and his prison term was reduced from four years down to three months.
HRLHA believes that this is an outcome of the efforts of local, regional, and international human rights agencies, including HRLHA (http://www.humanrightsleague.org/?p=14955), who condemned the imposition of such a tough sanction against Minor Abde Jemal and demanded its reversal as well as different media organizations who echoed those outcries by the various human rights groups. However, HRLHA would like to express its appreciation to the Ethiopian Government, at both federal and regional levels, for the immediate and positive response to the strong reactions from the various groups of human rights advocacy and the media. HRLHA also calls up on the Ethiopian Government to adapt to such cultures of respecting and protecting fundamental rights of its citizens, regardless of their ages, gender, religious, and/or ethnic backgrounds, through abiding by the provisions of both constitutional and legal documents of the Country as well as the international human rights standardsthat it has ratified.
HRLHA would also like to take this opportunity to encourage fellow human rights agencies, advocacy groups, and media organizations so that they keep up with their efforts of fighting on behalf of those who were systematically made defenseless and speaking for those who were made voiceless.
Minor Abde Jemal was originally sentenced to four years in jail, along with nine other youth (whose prison terms, too, have been reduced to three months, but not released yet) on the 2nd of September, 2014 in a local adult court of Bilo Nopha District.
HRLHA – URGENT ACTION October 14, 2014
The Human Rights League of the Horn of Africa (HRLHA) strongly condemns the sentencing of Abde Jemal, a fourteen-year old minor, in adults’ court to four years in prison and $700.00 Birr fine for allegedly inciting people to political violence. According to HRLHA’s correspondents, Abde Jemal was arrested by the security agents while tending his parents’ cattle out in the field. HRLHA has learnt that Abde Jemal was severely beaten up (in other words, physically tortured) following his arrest by members of the security force in order to coerce him into confessing in court to the alleged crime. To begin with, this was allowed to happen despite the provisions of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child 1990, to which Ethiopia is a signatory, and which clearly states under Article 37(a) that State Parties shall ensure that “No child shall be subjected to torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment”; and additionally guarantees under article 40, sub-article 2(a) that every child alleged as or accused of having infringed the penal law should … “Not be compelled to give testimony or to confess guilt.”
HRLHA has also learnt through its correspondents that Abde Jemal, after being sentenced to four years in jail on the 2nd of September, 2014, in criminal charge file #06055 in the Bilo Nopha District Court, in the western Illu Abbabor Province of the Regional State of Oromia, was soon sent to Bishar, the provincial grand prison in Mettu, where adult offenders of all kinds of common crimes including murder are held. Being born to a poor family, Abde Jemal assumed the responsibilities of supporting his parents and himself at this very young age.
In the first place, it is undoubtedly abnormal and unusual to accuse a child of Abde Jemal’s age for inciting or being part of a POLITICAL violence. What is more, the Ethiopian Criminal Code, Chapter IV, sub-section I, under “Ordinary Measures”, states that, “In all cases where a crime provided by the criminal law or the Law of Petty Offences has been committed by a young person between the ages of nine and fifteen years (Art. 53), the court shall order one of the following measures …”: admitting to a curative institution (Art. 158), supervised education (Art. 159), reprimand; censure (Art. 160), school or home arrest (Art. 161), and other similar and light conditional sanctions and measures that facilitate the reforming, rehabilitation and reintegration of the young offender. The Criminal Code also provides, particularly under sub articles 162 and 168 in the same chapter, that the court shall order the admission of young offenders “… into a special institution for the correction and rehabilitation of the young criminals …” and “When the criminal was sent to a corrective institution, he shall be transferred to a detention institution if his conduct or the danger he constitutes renders such a measure necessary, or when has attained the age of eighteen years and the sentence passed on him is for a term extending beyond his majority.” Besides, the above mentioned UN Convention, under article 40, provides that “States Parties recognize the right of every child alleged as, accused of, or recognized as having infringed the penal law to be treated in a manner consistent with the promotion of the child’s sense of dignity and worth, and which takes into account the child’s age and the desirability of promoting the child’s reintegration and the child’s assuming a constructive role in society”. These all provisions inarguably show that minor offenders of Abde Jemal’s age deserve none of what have been imposed on him, including sending him to adults’ jail such as Bishari.
Also, the UN Declaration of the Rights of the Child, another international document that Ethiopia has ratified, states that the child shall in all circumstances be among the first to receive protection and relief, and that the child shall be protected from practices which may foster racial, religious and any other form of discrimination. In spite of these all, according to HRLHA’s belief, Minor Abde Jemal has been subjected to all forms of discrimination – racial and political in particular, and was not given any of the protections he is entitled to as a child or a minor.
By allowing such extra-judicial impositions to happen to its own citizen, a minor in this case, the Ethiopian Government is inviting the questioning of the credibility of its own justice system, and its adherence to international documents it has signed and ratified.
Therefore, HRLHA calls up on the Ethiopian Government to unconditionally reverse all that have been imposed on Abde Jemal and other minors like him, if any, in adults’ criminal court, and ensure that the Minor gets fair trial in an appropriate judicial setting, in case he has really committed a crime. We also request that the Ethiopian Government honours all international documents that it has signed and that apply to children’s rights. HRLHA also calls up on regional and international diplomatic, democratic, and human rights agencies to challenge the Ethiopian TPLF/EPRDF Government in this regard; and join HRLHA in its demand for a fair treatment for Minor Abde Jemal.
RECOMMENDED ACTION: Please send appeals to the Ethiopian Government and its concerned officials as swiftly as possible, in English, Ahmaric, or your own language:
- Expressing your concerns over the absence of fair and appropriate delivery of justice, and the political biases impacting on the overall justice system,
- Urging the concerned government offices and authorities of Ethiopia to ensure that Minor Abde Jemal would get a fair trial in appropriate court and based on the proper provisions of the criminal code as well as the constitution of the country,
- Urging the Ethiopian Government to abide by all international instruments that it has ratified
- Requesting diplomatic agencies in Ethiopia that are accredited to your respective countries that they play their parts in putting pressure on the Ethiopian Government so that it treats its citizens equally and fairly, regardless of their racial, religious, and/or political backgrounds.
Kindly send your appeals to:
- His Excellency Haila Mariam Dessalegn, Prime Minister of Ethiopia,
P.O.Box – 1031 Addis Ababa
Telephone – +251 155 20 44; +251 111 32 41
Fax – +251 155 20 30, +251 15520
- Office of the President of the Regional State of Oromiya,
Telephone – 0115510455
- Office of the Ministry of Justice of Ethiopia
PO Box 1370, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia,
Fax: +251 11 5517775;
Phone: +251 11 5520874,
- UNESCO Headquarters, Paris,
7, place de Fontenoy 75352 Paris 07 SP France
1, rue Miollis 75732 Paris Cedex 15 France
General phone: +33 (0)1 45 68 10 00
- UNESCO- Africa Department,
7 place Fontenoy,75352
Paris 07 SP, France
General phone: +33 (0)1 45 68 10 00
- UNESCO AFRICA RIGIONAL OFFICE
- JOSEPH NGU, Director – UNESCO Office in Abuja,
Tel: +251 11 5445284
Fax: +251 11 5514936
- Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights,
United Nations Office at Geneva 1211 Geneva 10, Switzerland Fax: + 41 22 917 9022,
(Particularly for urgent matters) E-mail: email@example.com
Office of the UNHCR,
Telephone: 41 22 739 8111
Fax: 41 22 739 7377
Po Box: 2500, Geneva, Switzerland.
- African Commission on Human and Peoples‘ Rights (ACHPR)
48 Kairaba Avenue, P.O.Box 673, Banjul, The Gambia.
Tel: (220) 4392 962, 4372070, 4377721 – 23
Fax: (220) 4390 764
Office of the Commissioner for Human Rights
- Council of Europe,
F-67075 Strasbourg Cedex, FRANCE
+ 33 (0)3 88 41 34 21
+ 33 (0)3 90 21 50 53
- U.S. Department of State
Laura Hruby, Ethiopia Desk Officer, U.S. State Department
Tel: (202) 647-6473
- Amnesty International – London
Email: Claire Beston” <Claire.Beston@amnesty.org>,
- Human Rights Watch
Email: “Felix Horne” <firstname.lastname@example.org>,
October 13, 2014
Tsehay Tolessa, 84, the widow of Rev. Gudina Tumsa, passed away on October 12, 2014. Addee Tsehay was a person of faith, courage and great perseverance. The government of Ethiopia, during the 1980s, never tolerated Oromo people’s aspiration for freedom and justice, but forced them to submit to harsh treatment. They grabbed Tolessa and forced her hands under her knees and tied them there, right after her husband, whom she married to in 1951, was abducted on July 28, 1979 and subsequently got killed. They filled her mouth with dirty rags and they beat her breaking bones and causing the skin to peel off. Then they threw her in a cell with 60 other people. There was standing room only and she remembered that she could only feel broken bones and blood as she had to stand. There was only one toilet but since nobody could move in the cell they could not use the facilities properly. No doubt disease was rampant and they were already under an immense famine. There was no light that came in this cell. She could not even hold a cup to drink water as others had to help her.
She stayed in that cell A FULL YEAR!!!! With her broken bones, rotting flesh and dilapidating condition she stayed in that mess of a cell for a whole year! When they let her out of the cell they put her in another jail for 10 years!! She was morally strong, even though she lost a husband, Rev. Gudina Tumsa, and brother-in-law, Baaroo Tumsa, to the Oromo cause.
Addee Tsehay was a tower of her family, a shining light of courage to her people and a woman of deep faith in God. She survived by four children (Kulani, Lensa, Aster and Boruu) and many more grand children. May God bless her!! Rest in peace!!
The funeral arrangement is in process.