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Extrajudicial killings by Ethiopia’s security forces: rule or exception?

Similar video footage of Oromia Liyu Police executing youths in the southern part of the region was posted on social media in October last year. The youths were reportedly released from prison before they were taken far from residential areas and killed.

In May 2021, Oromia security forces executed a 17-year-old named Amanuel Wendimu in public in Dembi Dollo town of western Oromia after summoning the public to the town’s main street square and accusing him of being a member of Abbaa Torbee.

Though it has yet to be verified, video footage was released on social media in February this year showing members of Oromia security forces burning the bodies of several people—reportedly in the West Guji Zone. In the video, the security forces were calling the victims ‘Shene’, a name the government uses for OLA. The footage shows a group of Oromia Liyu Police ordering local militias to gather the bodies and pour gasoline on the burning bodies.

Violence elsewhere

Extrajudicial punishment is not limited to Benishangul-Gumuz and Oromia. Security forces are accused of committing extrajudicial executions throughout the country, though the government mostly tries to blame other groups for the crimes or justify the actions of its forces.

According to OCHA, nearly every region in Ethiopia has been experiencing similar conflicts, though the hotspots are Benishangul-Gumuz, Oromia, and northern Ethiopia. The government has responded to political opposition, the presence of armed groups, and intercommunal conflicts by deploying security forces.

In November 2021, nine political and armed opposition groups from eight of Ethiopia’s eleven regions signed an agreement to cooperate in fighting against the Ethiopian government to remove the current regime.

The signatories were the TPLF, OLA, Afar Revolutionary Democratic Unity Front, Agaw Democratic Movement, Global Kemant People Right and Justice Movement, Kemant Democratic Party, BPLM, Gambella People’s Liberation Army, Sidama National Liberation Front, and Somali State Resistance.

Since 2018, there have been conflicts around regional borders, along with the insurgency and counter-insurgency operations between the government and rebel groups. The armed resistance in Oromia and Benishangul-Gumuz are increasing exponentially, and the deployment of government forces has kept pace.

Ethnic conflicts have been reported in Afar, Amhara, Benishangul-Gumuz, Oromia, SNNP, Somali, and Tigray. Ethnically targeted attacks and profiling have become the norm. Though government forces were deployed to restore peace in these conflict-prone areas, they were often accused of committing extrajudicial executions themselves.

Minorities in Amhara have also been experiencing extrajudicial killings by security forces and ethnically targeted attacks by a mob of Amhara youths and the Amhara Fano militants for years. Amhara forces are involved in the war in Tigray and federal forces have been deployed in Amhara during bouts of intercommunal violence. Amhara has not, however, experienced the deployment of security forces from other regions.

In 2021, the Ethiopian military and allied militias carried out attacks targeting Qemant civilians and destroyed several villages of their communities in Amhara.

In December 2021, another horrific video appeared on social media that showed dozens of civilian bodies dumped in one place. These were reportedly Oromo civilians killed by federal and Amhara security forces, including Fano militia, in Artuma Woreda of Oromia Special Zone in Amhara.

Amhara security forces were accused of killing civilians, including youths and elders, and destroying homes in the Oromo Special Zone of Amhara during the March to April 2021 conflict that resulted in the deaths of hundreds and the displacement of thousands.

Video footage of the Amhara mob pulling eight Oromo passengers from an ambulance and beating them to death in Shewa Robit town of Amhara region was released in March. The footage of the brutal attack, which was geolocated by Digital Forensic Research Lab (DFRLab), also suggested the presence of Amhara security forces in the area.

Northern Ethiopia

Rights groups and credible media outlets are mostly focused on reporting about the war in the northern part of Ethiopia. They have documented many atrocities against civilians committed by all warring parties in the Tigray, Afar, and Amhara regions.

For example, on 16 December 2021, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch said, “Amhara security forces are responsible for a surge of mass detentions, killings, and forced expulsions of ethnic Tigrayans in the Western Tigray territory of Northern Ethiopia.”

Tigray’s forces were also implicated in reports of extrajudicial executions of Amhara civilians. Human Rights Watch has accused Tigrayan forces of summarily executing dozens of civilians in two towns they controlled in Ethiopia’s northern Amhara region between 31 August and 9 September 2021.

Crimes targeting ethnic Tigrayans in Afar were reported, documenting claims that allied forces of Eritrean troops and Afar security forces killed 278 unarmed Tigrayan civilians.

In February, Amnesty International reported several accounts of killings targeting Amhara civilians by Tigrayan forces in the Amhara region since August 2021.

Though international actors have been expressing their concerns about crimes committed by security forces during the war in the north, the world has largely ignored the crimes being committed elsewhere in the country.

As a result, the extrajudicial punishments by security forces appear to have transformed from an aberration into a concerted strategy and are spreading widely throughout the country.

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This article first appeared on Ethiopia Insight.

Main photo: Amanuel Wendimu on the main traffic circle in Dembi Dollo with his hands tied behind his back and a pistol hanging on his chest, minutes before he was publicly executed by Oromia security forces in 2021; social media.

Published under Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International licence. Cite Ethiopia Insight and link to this page if republished.

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