Ethiopian government not protecting people from ethnic violence – claim

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Ethiopia’s government is failing to protect citizens amid escalating ethnic violence that displaced nearly a million people in the last six months, the head of a national human rights body reporting to parliament said.

Among other conflicts along ethnic lines, fighting in the south between Oromo and Gedeo 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 government fails in its responsibility to protect citizens that such rights abuses took place,” Addisu Gebregziabher, head of the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission, told Reuters.

It is the first time Addisu publicly criticised Abiy’s administration for its handling of violence.

The independent commission also investigated the conduct of Ethiopian authorities during three years unrest that forced the resignation of the previous prime minister, paving the way for Abiy’s appointment.
“The conflicts we are seeing involve serious human rights abuses,” Addisu told Reuters after a news conference in Hawassa, where the ruling coalition is holding a long-delayed congress.

The event is expected to help cement the authority of Abiy, a 42-year-old former army officer who presided over major political and economic changes in the country during his short time in power.

Some critics say Abiy loosened his coalition’s grip on the country and releasing political prisoners and lifting a ban on opposition groups led to a surge in ethnic violence as dormant rivalries resurfaced.

Government spokesman Ahmed Shide did not answer phone calls requesting comment on Thursday, while the ruling coalition meeting continued.

Abiy’s new approach has drawn praise inside Ethiopia and abroad, his rhetoric is beginning to ring hollow in some parts of the country due to increasing violence — and concerns government is not acting to stop it.

On the violence, Addisu said: “There is 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 in the case of the ethnic violence in Benishangul-Gumuz, regional officials prevented his commission from carrying out research in some areas.