On Sunday November 1st, armed soldiers in west Ethiopia opened fire and killed dozens of men, women and children in a cruel attack that was claimed to be executed by the Oromo Liberation Army, a group that has been active in the area for a long period of time. The victims belonged to the Amhara ethnic group, which is the second largest in the country. The total number of deaths remains unknown, however, Amnesty International stated that at least 54 people have been killed. As ethnic tensions are rising in the country, the government is struggling to provide its citizens with safety and protections.
The event took place in Gawa Qanqa village in Guliso District of West Wellega Zone, reportedly a day after government forces withdrew from the region with no explanation. Along with violence against civilians, militants looted property and set houses on fire. According to Amnesty International, the attack was aimed towards the Amhara group specifically. Deprose Muchena, the organization’s Regional Director for East and Southern Africa, said that “This senseless attack is the latest in a series of killings in the country in which members of ethnic minorities have been deliberately targeted.”
Furthermore, the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission (EHRC), explained how people were taken by force from their homes and brought to a school, where soldiers started shooting at them. The event was described as a “massacre” where most victims were women, children and elderly, and the ones who were unable to escape were killed by the soldiers. The commission urged authorities to examine the event and why the military unexpectedly pulled out from the area. Daniel Bekele, the head of the commission, argued “These gruesome killings of civilians are unconscionable and flout basic principles of humanity.” Along with this, an opposition party called the National Movement of Amhara (NAMA), condemned the government for failing to protect its people.
The attack reflects the rising ethnic violence in Ethiopia, along with years of turmoil. For too long civilians and minority populations have been targeted and exposed to a significant amount of brutality. Security measures must be established in order to protect the population, and the militants responsible for the attack must be held accountable. Amnesty International’s Deprose Muchena said in a statement that “The Ethiopian authorities must investigate what happened and prosecute those responsible for the attack through fair trials.”
Ethiopia has a long history of unrest, forcing people to escape ethnic violence and oppression. In 1973, the Oromo conflict emerged when nationalists of the ethnic group founded OLF and its armed wing OLA, as an opposition towards the Ethiopian government, with the goal of liberating Oromo people and establishing an independent Oromia state. Since then, the country has experienced a vast amount of violence and destruction executed by the group.
However, in 2018 people became hopeful when Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed came to office, being the first Oromo chairman of the ruling Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front from the Oromo Democratic Party. During his first months in office he managed to bring enormous change to the country, leading a historic peace agreement with Eritrea for which he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. Nevertheless, the Prime Minister has not been able to slow down the ethnic tensions within Ethiopia, as the attack on Sunday is one of many that the country has experienced in the last few years.
As ethnic tensions in Ethiopia escalate, actions must be taken to protect the Ethiopian people. The government has failed to keep its citizens safe, as violence against minorities rises. Moreover, the unexplained withdrawal of government troops right before the attack raises questions that must be answered.
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