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The Human Rights League of the Horn of Africa (HRLHA)
Open Letter to the Presidents of the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD)
January 16, 2016
- IGAD Secretariat
Avenue Georges Clemenceau
P.O. Box 2653 Djibouti
Republic of Djibouti>
- Uhuru Kenyatta of Kenya,
State House Road
P.O Box: 40530-00100
- Yoweri Museveni of Uganda
P. O. Box 25497
- President HE Omar al-Bashir of Sudan of Sudan
Office of the President, People’s Palace, PO Box 281
- Hassan Sheikh Mohamoud of
The Democratic Republic of Somalia 2525
1 Villa Baidao, Baydhabo,
- Isaias Afwerki of Eritrea
Asmara, P. O. Box 257
Juba, South Sudan
- Ismaïl Omar Guelleh of Djibouti
Dear Honorable Presidents of the Intergovernmental Authority on Development(IGAD) Countries:
I am writing this letter on behalf of the Board of Human Rights League of the Horn of Africa (HRLHA). We believe that settling political differences and designing social policies in a human rights framework is the proper way to bring peace, stability and development.Therefore the HRLHA stands for the support and promotion of human rights. We have been closely following human rights situations in Ethiopia for over two decades and have seen much evidence that the Ethiopian government is violating individual rights (Article 10 & 14) as well as the constitution of the country. In addition, it is interfering in the internal affairs of regional states (Article 8 & 39). Human rights violations perpetrated by the Ethiopian government, besides being reprehensible in themselves, are affecting the socio-economic development of IGAD member countries.
I am writing this letter for four major reasons. Although Oromo refugees are facing abductions, deportations and intimidation by Ethiopian security forces in your various countries, for their survival many of them are still running to you. Using this opportunity I would like to extend my gratitude to your people and government for your hospitality and at the same time appeal to you to provide them more security.
Second, I want to bring to your attention that recently in Oromia regional state of Ethiopia, the Oromo people have been peacefully demonstrating in favor of the following seven major political statements:
- The Ethiopian Federal government has no legal or moral authority to expand the city of Finfinne (Addis Ababa) and annex land from Oromia regional state.
- The Federal government has no legal or moral authority to sell Oromo ancestral land to local and global corporate entities and to this end,evict residents from their homes and farms without compensation at market value.The demands of Oromos are consistent with the demands of many Africans under European colonial rulers. For example, the famous words of the first Kenyan President JomoKenyata states “when the Missionaries arrived, the Africans had the land and the Missionaries had the Bible. They taught us how to pray with our eyes closed. When we opened them, they had the land and we had the Bible”, resonates with the Oromo people. Oromo people are clearly saying “do not evict us from our land in the name of development”.
- The Oromo people are the single largest ethno-national group in the country, and they are making the reasonable proposal that the Oromo language becomes the second official language in the Ethiopian Federal government. This demand is financially feasible, morally right and legally justifiable.
- The Federal parliamentary seats allocated for the Oromo people are fewer than their population size warrants and they demand more seats. The demand challenges the long standing ethnic/national hierarchy and promotes equity. This should be rectified as soon as practical.
- Because of climate change, rivers and lakes are drying up; however, instead of caring for the natural forests,the Ethiopian government is engaged in dismantling the natural forests of Oromia and the people there demand a sustainable environmental policy. As you know, the Ethiopian government’s unsustainable developmental policy has contributed to the depletion of Haro-Amaya Lake and is causing Lake Turkana to recede.This climate change has lasting impacts on the environment of the whole region.
- In the last seven weeks,the Ethiopian government security forces have killed over 140 Oromo men and women– children, young and old — and imprisoned thousands of people. Citizens are demanding that the killers be charged and the prisoners freed.
- The Ethiopian government has intensified the imprisonment of Oromo political and community leaders; this is done to deny the Oromo people leadership.
Third, Ethiopia, reacted to the demands of peaceful protesters with extreme cruelty, although it was one of the founders and active members of the IGAD. As if the killings and imprisonments were not enough, now the Ethiopian government is beating the war drums: talking war and anti-terrorism rhetoric against the Oromo people.For example, the spokesperson of the Ethiopian government,Mr. Getachew Reda,described the Oromo peaceful protesters as ኣጋንንት(demons), ሰይጣን (Satan) and ጠንቋይ (their actions are like witchcraft). Also, in her Facebook,AzebMesfin– the widow of the late Prime Minister MelesZenawi-described the Oromo peaceful demonstrators asቦዘኔ-which means (nonsense, unproductive men and women or a wicked group). Such terms are used against the Oromo people in the country where most of the people are the followers of Christianity and Islam where in the minds of many, the demons, Satan and witchcraft are cursed. Clearly, those terms are meant to dehumanize the Oromo people. The leaders are using such terms to make the killing and imprisonment of innocent Oromo people legally and morally acceptable. Historical evidence shows that Menelik’s army and administrators-(Menelik was the founder of the Ethiopian Empire)-dehumanized the Oromo people and categorized their language as being connected to the devil and for that reason they denied the use of Oromo language at work, court, school and church. Such a belief made the killing of Oromo people at that time a religious duty and contributed to their mass killing. In Rwanda, racist views like those currently manifesting against the Oromo people contributed to the Tutsi genocide. The issue that the Oromo people are raising is a legitimate question and using war and anti terrorism rhetoric to slander the Oromo people is despicable.
Fourth, I want to provide some evidence that Ethiopia is violating the rights of Oromo people. Although the Oromo people constitute the single largest national group in Ethiopia (about 50% of Ethiopian people), the key decision makers are Tigray elites,who represent only five percent of the Ethiopian population.
- Ninety eight percent of the Ethiopian military generals are Tigray nationals – which means the Oromo people are being denied the right to have such high paying jobs.
- Key ministerial positions (foreign affairs, finance, security and military) are given to Tigray nationals.
- The Ethiopian prime Minster officially admitted that his government is facing challenges in controlling corruption. Those military generals and other officials are using their power to make the members of their ethno/national group richer. In most cases, those who are getting rich are doing so at the expense of the Oromo people. The Ethiopian government forcefully and massively evicted Oromo farmers from their lands with little or no compensation and transferred the land to the rich and Tigray nationals.
- Records show that in the last ten years over a hundred and fifty thousand Oromo families have been evicted from their farmlands and homes. By doing that, the government has changed the demography of Finfinne/Addis Ababa and the surrounding area. These forced demographic changes constitute “ethnic cleansing”, which is reprehensible by all international standards.
- The Ethiopian corruption commission made it clear that many are getting richer by evicting the Oromo people from their homes and farms. According to the report, the young men and women who are associated with the corrupt government officials say “ምንባችለርዲግሪ፤ምንማስተርስዲግሪ፣ይሻላልየሰበታመሬትሚሪት“instead of having Bachelor degree and Master degree from a university it is better to have a piece of land in Sabata”– referring to the region where the eviction of the Oromo people is currently going on widely.
- The Oromo people are also discriminated against in terms of employment. Although the Oromo people constitute about 50% of the Ethiopian population, they represent only 17% of the Federal Government employees.
Dear Presidents of IGAD member countries
The Board members of HRLHAare concerned with the following:
- The widespread killings, imprisonments and evictions are likely to lead to a mass exodus of Oromo refugees to your respective countries. We appeal to your people and government to provide adequate protection for the Oromo refugees.
- The Ethiopian military and police officers have started to join the Oromo uprising. As more and more armed forces personnel join the uprising the capacity of the Ethiopian government to maintain social order erodes. This creates conditions in which the conflict can cross borders and become a regional problem.
- As the Oromo leaders are imprisoned, people are deniedleadershipthat can help them frame their grievances from a human rights perspective. We are concerned that in the absence of community and political leaders, social anarchy will follow and this could in turn increase the chances for the conflict to cross the border and become a regional problem.
- Instability in Ethiopia disrupts peace and security in the region and this can impede the movement of goods, reduce tourism and slow down economic development.
- As we write this letter, 18 million people are starving and desperately waiting for relief foods in Ethiopia over. The government is focusing on attempting to subdue the uprising by means of deploying armed forces. The uprising and the ways the Ethiopian government is approaching to settle the grievance of people would further aggravate food insecurity.
We believe that IGAD as a collective entity and each member country has a role to play.
- As we have clearly seen in the past, conflicts between the Oromo people and the Ethiopian governments can easily spill into neighboring countries. Hence, your governments need to play proactive roles and make efforts to address the matter at its roots. You can mediate the Ethiopian government, protesters and opposition groups and help them to settle the issue in a round table discussion and resolve the political differences within a human rights framework.
- If the Ethiopian government does not want to settle the matter peacefully, you have the social responsibility and moral obligation to bring the matter to the African Union and UN Security Council in order to ensure and promote peace and stability in the region.
The board of HRLHA appeals to IGAD member countries to provide security to the Oromo refugees. We also appeal to them to take a proactive role, that is, to take initiatives to mediate and settle the conflict between the Oromo people and Ethiopian governments.
Reverend Shamsudin A. Boru (Abba Biiftuu)
Chairman of the Board