T his week the Ethiopian government released a controversial report dealing with one of the largest protests in the country’s recent history. A special commission investigated the violence that occurred during the so-called Oromo protests, which erupted in November 2015 and continued throughout much of last year. Critics have slammed the investigation for what they see as an attempt to justify a violent response that resulted in the deaths of hundreds of unarmed civilians.
The Oromo people, an ethnic group which makes up roughly one-third of the population, voiced their anger against a government they feel excludes them from the political process. Demonstrations also spread to the Amhara region where similar sentiments were prevalent. Largely led by students, the protests eventually encompassed other groups too.
Security personnel often reacted with force in a country that rarely sees insurrection, as tens of thousands of people were arrested and hundreds killed. Human Rights Watch called it the “bloodiest crackdown in a decade”. A state of emergency declared in October 2016 remains in place until today.
Critics argue the government used the report to whitewash its violent crackdown. Referring to the events at the Irreechaa festival in October 2016 - conflicting reports suggest at least 50 people died - the investigation praises the army for its restraint, only singling out a few rogue policemen for firing into crowds. The report also stresses that families and relatives of victims will not receive any legal or political compensation.
Speaking to The World Weekly, Henok G. Gabisa, an Ethiopian expert on human rights based at Washington & Lee University, questioned how the state can “be a perpetrator and adjudicator at the same time”. He dismissed the commission as illegitimate, pointing to “hand-picked politically loyal individuals” and doubted the number of deaths, which the report puts at 669 people, as “far from the truth”.
Ethiopian president, Hailemariam Desalegn, has rejected calls for an independent investigation by the UN and EU. “This is an independent country, we are able to investigate its own cases,” he told the BBC. Human Rights Watch criticised the British government, one of the biggest aid donors to Ethiopia, for not putting pressure on the government.
“We can't protest, so we pray,” one Amhara women recently told the Inter Press Service. Mr. Gabisa believes that the protests are merely on “pause” and that it is only a matter of time before they erupt again.