On the 6th and 7th August, over 90 people were killed during peaceful anti-government protests in Ethiopia.
Protesters were met with violence from security forces as they took to the streets across Ethiopia’s Oromia and Amhara regions. Video footage and witness reports suggest that demonstrators were fired upon with live ammunition in several parts of the country which resulted in civilian fatalities.
‘Reports state that between 48 to 50 protesters have been killed in Oromia. This death toll might be higher because many were wounded’, opposition leader Merera Gudina told the AFP news agency.
During the protests, demonstrators were heard chanting anti-government slogans and waving dissident flags. Others demanded the release of jailed opposition politicians and accused the government of human rights abuses and the marginalization of ethnic communities, reported Al Jazeera.
Amnesty International reported that the number of those killed over the course of the weekend totaled to 97 with 67 killed in Oromia and a further 30 in Amhara. ‘The security forces’ response was heavy-handed but unsurprising. Ethiopian forces have used excessive force in their mistaken attempts to silence dissenting voices’, said Michelle Kagari of Amnesty International.
UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Raad Al Hussein, called on Ethiopia to conduct an external investigation into the deaths which Amnesty International has suggested may amount to “extrajudicial killings”.
In addition to those killed on the streets, Amnesty International has reported the arrest of hundreds of protesters who are ‘being held at unofficial detention centers, including police and military training bases.’
Ethiopia has been plagued by civil unrest since November last year, the onset of which was caused by the announcement of plans to clear farmland and forest across all 17 zones in the Oromia region for the development of an investment project. Despite the project being dropped by authorities in January, demonstrations continue over the use of state violence and the prolonged detention of protesters.
Human Rights Watch released a report earlier this year highlighting the repeated use of force by Ethiopian security forces to disperse protesters in ‘many of the 500 reported protests’ that occurred between November and June. In that period ‘[o]ver 400 are estimated to have been killed, thousands injured, tens of thousands arrested, and hundreds, likely more, have been victims of enforced disappearances’, wrote the HRW.
Several humanitarian organisations have expressed their concern over the treatment of detainees following the most recent protests, fearing that those being held face the danger of being subject to further human rights violations.
The Guardian also notes that concern is also rife within the international community, not only over the reported human rights abuses, but also to the potential for widespread instability within Ethiopia, a powerful and relatively stable western ally in a dangerously fragile region. Instability within Ethiopia could have repercussions in neighboring South Sudan and Eritrea, two nations currently plagued by humanitarian crises.
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