Death Toll Continues To Rise After Massacre In Western Ethiopia

On Wednesday 23rd December, more than 222 people were reportedly killed in an attack in the Western Benishangul-Gumuz region of Ethiopia.

Unidentified gunmen led the attack on Wednesday morning, which was the latest deadly attack in the region divided by ethnic violence. Many of the victims were shot or killed in explosions, while some were stabbed and left in critical conditions perpetrated by the armed men.

Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed called the attack a “massacre” and sent federal troops there the next day, killing 42 of the armed men suspected of attacking the village. Suspiciously, the attack came a day after Abiy’s visit, where he addressed the recurrence of ethnic violence in recent months.

The attack came as a result of the continuous outbreaks of deadly violence since Abiy was appointed president in 2018, accelerating political reforms that have weakened the state’s power over regional rivalries. The upcoming national elections in June 2021 have further inflamed rivalries over land, power, and resources.

Since September, Benishangul-Gumuz has experiences at least four deadly attacks, including a November gun attack on a passenger bus that killed 34 civilians. As a result of these attacks, more than 500 people have been internally displaced within four communities in the area who are taking refuge in a bus station in Galesa Kebele. Similarly, about 10,000 residents of Bekuji Kebele are fleeing to Bulen City, a 40km journey away. Thousands of these displaced people are currently taking shelter in primary schools and meeting halls in the Bulen Area.

As a result of the recent attacks, peacekeeping attempts have been made by the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission (EHRC) to address these problems. On 25th December, the EHRC issued a statement reiterating the need for immediate provisions on humanitarian aid and steps to improve the security framework with a view to civil security and the protection of human rights. The key objective of the Commission is to restore peace and security to the region and to contribute to the stability of those internally displaced as a result of the attack.

Present efforts are underway to classify victims with the assistance of survivors and Identity Cards. In addition, a committee composed of representatives of the police, regional authorities, and the General Attorney’s Office has been set up and is currently overseeing the identification, registration and burial of victims.

The EHRC has continued to encourage authorities to “urgently provide humanitarian assistance to victims and displaced persons.” While these steps are being taken to achieve these peacekeeping objectives, the EHRC also advises that these measures should also include civil security and protection of human rights.

Mia Heaphy