Felix Horne Senior Researcher, Horn of Africa
Resolution Calls for Urgent UN Inquiry Into Protester Deaths and Detention
Demonstrators chant slogans while flashing the Oromo protest gesture during Irreecha, the thanksgiving festival of the Oromo people, in Bishoftu town, Oromia region, Ethiopia, October 2, 2016. © 2016 Reuters
Today, the European Parliament passed a resolution calling for a United Nations-led independent investigation into the killing of protesters in Ethiopia. Between November 2015 and October 2016, Ethiopian security forces killed hundreds of protesters, and detained tens of thousands. An overly restrictive state of emergency has been in place for the past seven months, and tens of thousands more people have been detained under it. Today’s resolution echoes a previous European Union parliamentary resolution, resolutions by other countries, and last month’s request by the UN’s top human rights chief for access to investigate the abuses.
Ethiopia’s government has always rejected outside scrutiny of its horrific rights record, insisting that it can investigate itself. Yet it has conspicuously failed to do so. Past investigations by the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission (EHRC) have not met basic standards of impartiality, including its June 2016 report into abuses during the protests’ first six months. In April 2017, the EHRC acknowledged that 669 people were killed in an oral report to parliament, but found that security forces had used excessive force in just a few situations. This stands in stark contrast to what Human Rights Watch and other organizations have found, drawing on evidence that includes a wealth of video and photographic material. The EHRC hasn’t publicly released a version of their findings, so it’s impossible to assess their methodology or learn how they reached their conclusions.
International experts having access to areas where protests occurred and to people still in detention are important first steps towards meaningful investigations. But there are other obstacles too, like victims and witnesses being too afraid to speak out about government abuses. Thousands of Ethiopians have fled the country since the protests, seeking asylum in bordering countries. They too should be part of investigations into what happened, from locations where they may be more free to speak without fear.
Today’s resolution specifically calls on Federica Mogherini, the EU’s top diplomat, to “mobilise EU Member States” to urgently pursue the setting up of the UN-led international inquiry, and they can take the first step towards this at the upcoming Human Rights Council session next month in Geneva.
It’s hoped that implementing today’s timely resolution can help address the pervasive culture of impunity in Ethiopia. The resolution also reiterates the EU’s recognition of the importance of justice to ensure Ethiopia’s long-term stability. To the many victims of Ethiopia’s brutality, a UN-led inquiry could at least begin to answer pleas for justice that too often have gone unheard.