Ethiopia government does not protect people from ethnic violence: rights committee

FILE PHOTO: Ethiopia & # 39; s Prime Minister, Abiy Ahmed, will address a news conference on 25 August 2018 in his office in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. REUTERS / Kumera Gemechu
The Prime Minister of Ethiopia, Abiy Ahmed, addressed a news conference in his office in Addis Ababa
Thomson Reuters

By Aaron Maasho

HAWASSA, Ethiopia (Reuters) – The Ethiopian government fails to protect its citizens in the midst of escalating ethnic violence that displaced nearly a million people in the last six months, the head of a national human rights body that reports to parliament on Thursday.

Among other ethnic conflicts, the fighting in the south between the Oromo and Gedeo groups has escalated since Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed – the first leader of the Oromo ethnic group in the modern history of Ethiopia – came to the office in March.

Last week alone, more than 70,000 people, mostly Oromos – the largest ethnic group in the country, the target of members of other groups in the western state of Benishangul-Gumuz, said regional officials.

"In some cases, security officials deliberately avoided going in. It is when the government does not take responsibility to protect its citizens from such violations of rights," Addisu Gebregziabher, head of the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission, said. Reuters.

This is the first time that Addisu has publicly criticized the administration of Abiy because of his approach to the violence.

The independent committee also examined the behavior of the Ethiopian authorities during the three years of unrest that forced the resignation of the previous prime minister and paved the way for the appointment of Abiy.

"The conflicts we encounter involve serious violations of human rights," Addisu told Reuters after a press conference in the southern city of Hawassa, where the government coalition holds a long delayed conference.

The event is expected to contribute to strengthening the authority of Abiy, a 42-year-old former army officer who in his short time in power has chaired major political and economic changes in the country.

Some critics say that Abiy eased the grip of his coalition on the country and that releasing political prisoners and lifting a ban on opposition groups led to an increase in ethnic violence, because slumbering rivalry could emerge.

Government spokesman Ahmed Shide answered no phone calls Thursday afternoon asking for comments, while the ruling coalition's meeting continued.

Although Abiy's new approach in Ethiopia and abroad is praised, his rhetoric in some parts of the country is starting to sound hollow due to the increasing violence – and his concerns are that his government is not acting to stop it.

With reference to the violence, Addisu said: "There is also a lack of accountability, while some regional officials were arrested because they had stolen violence in Gedeo, others still have to be addressed."

He said that in the case of ethnic violence in Benishangul-Gumuz, regional officials had prevented his commission from investigating in some areas.

(Reporting by Aaron Maasho; Writing by Maggie Fick; Editing by Hugh Lawson)

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