Ethiopia: Strengthening public trust

03Aug 2017
The Guardian Reporter
The Guardian
Ethiopia: Strengthening public trust

THE unrest in some parts of the country that took place between June and September, 2016 claimed the lives of a lot of people and led to the destruction of millions of birr worth of property.

The rightful social demands for good governance turned sour and led to fatal clashes between protesters and the Ethiopian security forces.

As widely covered by the opposition media run by Ethiopians living abroad back then, there were a number of places where the protesters were armed. This was not the standard peaceful demonstration where everyone went out unarmed to vent their grievances and have their voices heard. In a number of cases, it was a group of armed men standing in defiance of local administrations and law enforcement.

The foreign based media run by Ethiopians clearly reported of the formation of militia groups led by local chiefs in various defunct districts/woredas of Amhara region. They also reported of armed attacks by a group of people in various parts of Oromia.

 These medias took the fatal encounter as an opportune moment to agitate the people into rising against the government and tried their best to spill it over to other regions as well. Therefore, the presence of armed groups that fought against the security forces is not a mere governmental claim but a reality backed by even opposition medias operating from abroad.

The Ethiopian Human Rights Commission has been looking into the matter and has recently presented its findings to the House of People's Representatives. The Commission's investigation dealt with the unrest in some parts of Amhara and Oromia regional states as well as the Gedio zone of the Southern Nations, Nationalities and People's Region.

Commissioner of the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission, Dr. Addisu Gebre-Egziabher, explained to the HPR that the report covered the violence which caused loss of human life, destruction and damage on public and private properties from June to September 2016. 

He further stated that the commission talked to victims and their families, elders, representatives of youth, security forces, individual and group witnesses, and prisoners; and read various documents as sources of evidences in its investigation. The commissioner also reported that the investigation was carried out in 15 zones and 91 woredas of Oromia Regional State and in 6 zones and 55 woredas and towns of Amhara Regional State as well as in 6 woredas in Southern Nations, Nationalities and Peoples Regional State.

The investigation revealed that 669 people lost their lives as a result of the disturbances in the stated areas. The commission reported that in Oromia, a total of 495 persons, including 33 members of the security forces, lost their lives; while 464 sustained severe injuries. In Gedio Zone of the Southern Nations, Nationalities and Peoples State, the report stated that 34 persons lost their lives and 178 sustained severe injuries. Following the unrest in the Amhara Regional State, 140 people, including 30 members of the security forces, lost their lives and 376 citizens sustained severe injuries. The report also stated that over 11,000 persons were forced to flee their homes due to the violence with millions of birr worth of property damaged.

It also found the measures taken by the security forces to control the unrest were proportionate in general, but disproportionate in some areas. The commissioner stressed that security forces responsible for the deaths of 14 people in Adami Tulu, the deaths of 38 people and injury of 62 people in Awedai and Bedesa, and the deaths of 3 people in Dodola Woreda should be hold accountable.

Following the report by the Commission, the House of People's Representatives passed a decision to prosecute government officials, security forces and opposition politicians for their roles in creating the conditions that led to the excessive use of force to quell the unrest in the three regions. There have been allegations that some government officials and opposition politicians had an active role in inciting violence and agitating local people to attack members of other ethnic groups. Likewise, some members of the security forces allegedly used excessive force in trying to quell the unrest. Accordingly, the report by the Commission has confirmed some of these allegations, prompting the HPR to pass a decision to prosecute these people and further investigate the role of others in the bloody ordeal.

Considering the Commission's report identified lack of good governance, abuse of rights, unemployment, lack of timely response to public grievances, and delays of projects as the major causes of the unrest, it is of utmost importance that the culprits are brought to justice. The people want to see some justice done as the culprits should not be allowed to walk away with their crimes.

The Commission's report has rightfully called on the criminal acts of some government officials and security forces to ensure rule of law. There is a weak political culture of exposing the misdeeds of one's own security forces and government officials in Ethiopian history. There have only been a few instances of punishment of security forces and government officials under the EPRDF regime as well. Therefore, the Commission's adherence to the truth and its breakaway from the long Ethiopian tradition of rewarding loyalty is commendable.

It is measures like this one that restore public confidence in the justice system and other institutions in the country. 

Such acts give hope to the people that the problems of good governance, abuse of power and corruption that sow the seeds of marginalization in them can actually be conquered through a working relation between them and the government. Such measures also provide timely response to popular demands by bringing the culprits to justice. It is a demonstration that no one who takes the life of an Ethiopian would be allowed to walk free from justice regardless of their political affiliation. The sense of public satisfaction in the exercise of justice would also be high, potentially prompting the need to cooperate with the government over the issue.

With the participation of the people playing a pivotal role in alleviating the problems of good governance, strengthening popular trust through such measures that advance rule of law is the foundation of the big steps that would come next. The Commission's report has, in that sense, laid the ground work to build a lasting working relation between the people and the government.