Ethiopia’s national human rights commission has called for the deployment of the national defense forces to restore order and stability in the regions where violence is rampant.
The commission’s chairperson, Addisu Gebregziabher addressed a press conference on Thursday in the southern city of Hawassa, where the ruling coalition is holding a long-delayed congress.
Addisu faulted the government for failing to protect its citizens amid escalating ethnic violence that has displaced nearly a million people in the last six months.
In some cases, security officials deliberately avoided stepping in. It is when the government fails in its responsibility to protect its citizens that such rights abuses took place.
Among other conflicts along ethnic lines, fighting in the south between the Oromo and Gedeo groups has escalated since Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed – the first leader from the Oromo ethnic group in Ethiopia’s modern history – came to office in March.
Last week alone, more than 70,000 people, mostly Oromos – the largest ethnic group in the country, were targeted by members of other groups in the western state of Benishangul-Gumuz, regional officials said.
“In some cases, security officials deliberately avoided stepping in. It is when the government fails in its responsibility to protect its citizens that such rights abuses took place,” Addisu said.
It is the first time Addisu has publicly criticised Abiy’s administration for its handling of the violence.
“There is also a lack of accountability. For instance, while some regional officials were apprehended for stoking violence in Gedeo, others are yet to be held accountable.”
He said that in the case of the ethnic violence in Benishangul-Gumuz, regional officials had prevented his commission from carrying out research in some areas.
Congress expected to endorse reform
While the ongoing congress of the ruling coalition is expected to endorse Abiy’s leadership and reforms, the 42-year old former army officer might be reluctant to deploy the army that has in the past been accused of gross human rights violations.
“The prime minister is in an extremely delicate situation because on the one hand if it’s too light of a touch and he doesn’t respond, then people’s lives are lost. If he comes in with too heavy a hand, then there is law enforcement brutality … that the government has been systematically criticised for now for decades,’‘ said Tibor Nagy, the U.S. assistant secretary of state for Africa in an interview last week.ALSO READ: Three things Ethiopia PM told delegates at ruling coalition congress
Fekadu Tessema, Spokesperson of the Congress, told journalists on Thursday that the congress discussed details of reforms undertaken in the past six months, stressing the need to ensure rule of law and fighting anarchism.
Some critics say that Abiy has loosened his coalition’s grip on the country and that releasing political prisoners and lifting a ban on opposition groups has led to the surge in ethnic violence as dormant rivalries were allowed to resurface.