Oakland, CA—In the past few weeks, we have received information that Ethiopian security forces have undertaken major operations to disarm two local tribes in Lower Omo Valley—the Mursi and the Bodi—because of incidents related to the sugarcane plantations. The disarmament operation has led to indiscriminate killings of civilians, mass detentions as well as horrific abuses including rapes, beatings, and various forms of humiliation by security forces.
Alleged destruction of granaries and theft of cattle by soldiers has been carried out, which are expected to result in distress and starvation for a population whose livelihoods have been already severely impacted by the establishment of the Gibe III dam and sugarcane plantations. This is compounded by the confiscation of guns that agro-pastoralists use to protect their communities and livestock from both wild animals and armed thieves from the neighboring Sudan while no alternative protection is offered to the population.
The construction on the dam began in 2006 with the intended use of increasing energy potential and irrigating large-scale plantations downstream, in the hopes of making the country a leading global sugar producer. In 2011, during the dam’s continued construction, the Kuraz Sugar Development Project (KSDP) was announced, and included a plan for sugarcane plantations spanning 245,000 ha and supported by five factories. The military-run Metals and Engineering Corporation (MetEC) was contracted to build the first sugar factory, Omo Kuraz I, while military forces also participated in the establishment of plantations. Over the past year, several MetEC officials, including the former Director General, were arrested on corruption charges and MetEC was removed from several projects. Over the past year, the government has announced plans to privatize different sectors of the economy, including sugar factories, and the future role of MetEC in such projects remains unclear.
These projects, as reported by the Oakland Institute, have had a devastating impact on local communities by interrupting centuries-old agricultural and pastoral traditions reliant on seasonal flooding. Eight Indigenous groups rely heavily on the movement of the river, practicing flood-retreat cultivation on the rich lands left behind after the floods. The loss of essential farmland and grazing land and the loss of water from the Omo river, now blocked by the dam, have severely undermined the livelihoods of the local population, affecting key agricultural practices and sources of food for the locals.
In the Lower Omo, most of the promises made to the locals in terms of provision of basic services, use of irrigation infrastructures, and improvement of living conditions have never materialized. The promise of a controlled artificial flood of the Omo river as a mitigation measure to compensate for the loss of the natural flood (the basis of the traditional retreat agriculture) was similarly never implemented. As a result, many communities today live with loss of autonomy and livelihoods and increased rates of hunger and disease.
Beyond the direct effects on livelihoods, the project also resulted in a large influx of migrant workers from other parts of the country, with associated rise in conflicts, communicable diseases, and alcohol use. Another consequence has been the high number of local people hit and killed by the plantation vehicles in recent years, for which no action seems to have ever been taken by the authorities. Shootings by local tribesmen have been reported in retaliation for such incidents, with fatalities among factory and plantation workers.
Our June 2019 report expressed the hope that “change might now be possible” with a new Prime Minister committed to peace and respect for human rights. However, the repression and extreme violence showed by the Ethioptean military indicate a choice to silence and weaken the local tribes rather than to fulfill the broken promises of the previous administration.
Information released on October 25 by a group of international and Ethiopian scholars and researchers on Ethiopia confirms the seriousness of the situation, the high number of casualties, and the severity of the atrocities perpetrated against the local communities.
Voices of Those Impacted
Below we provide testimonies from the impacted communities, received on October 21-22, 2019.
“The komorena [spiritual leaders] were taken by the police, Biotangia, Turko, Duli many of them, 15, they were hidden from us and taken at night. Whether they went to Jinka or to Hana, we don’t know. Now, people from all the provinces, both men and women, have been taken by force and put in the prison.”
White-Patched Bull, a Mursi man from Dirikoro village, 10/21/2019
“There are a lot of people imprisoned. You can’t count them all. They got so many people. The police told the Mursi to come so the Mursi did and then the police took all those Mursi away.”
Red Cow, a Mursi Woman from Goroburai village, 10/21/2019
“Women and children who were going to the doctor were captured, as well as anyone visiting the town around the factory. The security forces laid out thick black plastic tarps in the burning sun, then they made the Mursi sit on them, naked, while they beat them.”
Leopard Woman, a Mursi woman of Haile Wuha village, 10/21/2019
“In Chirim [a division of the Bodi], the crocodiles are still eating corpses, because the security forces chased the Chirim into the rivers. The security forces have threatened that if the Mursi didn’t come into the camp to be imprisoned then forces would go to the villages and start shooting or beating people.”
Leopard Woman, a Mursi woman of Haile Wuha village, 10/21/2019
“Many more security forces came today, some have guns mounted on the back of their trucks. They have given the Mursi two days to deliver their guns and people charged with crimes before they start opening fire on villages.”
Striped Bull, a Mursi man from Haile Wuha village, 10/22/2019
“We are imprisoned in a building and we have to go to the bathroom on the floor. They don’t give us food and make us drink urine like its water. The security forces are beating people so badly. They spear people with the bayonet of the gun and they beat them with the gun butt. There are many people that are severely hurt. Our spiritual leaders have been severely beaten and speared with bayonets. They cannot even walk. They have to crawl. There are a lot of people imprisoned.”
Striped Bull, a Mursi man of Haile Wuha village, 10/22/2019
Rather than own up to the previous government’s gross unfulfilled promises to, and mistreatment of, the Indigenous tribes via the dam and sugarcane plantations, the operation led by the Ethiopian military not only covers up the past but does so with intimidation and extreme violence.
Given the dire situation on the ground, it is essential that Ethiopians and the international community who mobilized to end repression in Ethiopia urge the Peace Nobel Prize Laureate, PM Abiy Ahmed, to take urgent action to remove military personnel from the Lower Omo area and ensure immediate measures to protect and provide assistance and redress to the local population.
The release without charge of 22 government critics who were arrested and detained for months on allegations of terrorism illustrates the Ethiopian authorities’ continued abuse of the country’s anti-terror laws, Amnesty International said today.For them to have been detained for four months without an iota of evidence being adduced is blatantly unjust. Fisseha Tekle, Amnesty International’s researcher for Ethiopia
The 22, released late on Tuesday, were among more than 200 people arrested in June after the killing of army chief Seare Mekonnen and Amhara Regional State President Ambachew Mekonnen – termed an attempted coup by the Ethiopian government. Most of those arrested have since been quietly released without being formally charged in court.
“The release of these 22 people without formal charges ever being filed against them is one consequence of the authorities’ continued misuse of the Anti-Terrorism Proclamation to arbitrarily arrest and detain government critics. For them to have been detained for four months without an iota of evidence being adduced is blatantly unjust,” said Fisseha Tekle, Amnesty International’s Ethiopia researcher.The Anti-Terrorism Proclamation continues to be the government’s tool of choice for arbitrarily arresting people. Dozens of other people are still languishing in detention under the ambiguous and overly broad anti-terrorism law. Fisseha Tekle, Amnesty International’s researcher for Ethiopia
“The Anti-Terrorism Proclamation continues to be the government’s tool of choice for arbitrarily arresting people. Dozens of other people are still languishing in detention under the ambiguous and overly broad anti-terrorism law. They must be immediately released or charged with clearly defined and recognizable offences.”
Amnesty International is calling on the Ethiopian authorities to expedite the revision of the anti-terrorism law in line with international human rights standards. The revised law should among other things provide suspects with the right to bail pending trial, as well as ensure any criminal offence is clearly defined in accordance with international human rights law.
The African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (the Commission), through the Country Rapporteur for the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia, Commissioner Lawrence M Mute, wishes to address itself on the human rights situation in Ethiopia.
The Commission is gravely concerned by the escalation of protests which have been taking place in the Oromia region since the 23rd October 2019. Those protests have spiraled into clashes amongst civilians and between civilians and security forces, and they are increasingly being fanned by ethnic and religious under-currents, with groups being mobilized to attack minority ethnic communities and churches.
The Commission is concerned that these clashes have led to the death of at least 67 civilians and security personnel and the injury of at least 200 people, the displacement of populations, and the destruction of homes, churches, businesses and public infrastructure.
The Commission expresses its condolences to all those who have been killed or injured in the clashes.
The Commission calls on all Ethiopians to play their due roles to ensure the expeditious restoration of the rule of law to avoid even greater catastrophe. Ethiopians indeed have the right to protest peaceably without resorting to violence on their neighbours or the security forces. No-one should exploit Ethiopia’s current political transition to divide the country on religious or ethnic grounds. Social media should not be used to spread hate and incite violence.
Regional governments too have responsibilities to guarantee the rights of all resident Ethiopians, and local administrative and security forces should act accordingly to protect all civilians regardless of their ethnic or religious backgrounds.
The Commission wishes to remind the Government that it is obligated to take measures for restoring peace and reassuring the country. It should ensure that its security forces take appropriate measures to protect civilians, and that they do not use indiscriminate force in this regard. It should investigate arising human rights violations, prosecute perpetrators and provide effective remedies to victims.
Finally, the Commission calls on the Government of Ethiopia to invite it to undertake a human rights protection mission in the country.
Commissioner Lawrence M Mute
Country Rapporteur of Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia