Human Rights Watch (HRW) stated yesterday that Ethiopian security forces have killed at least 75 protesters and wounded many more in the protests which started in November. Reportedly, security officers have also been killed however the number remains undisclosed.
The protests began when students resisted the government’s proposed plan to expand the capital’s administrative control into the Oromia region. The region spans across the country and houses a third of the Ethiopian population. Whilst to begin with the protests were sparked by students they have been joined by farmers and other residents from the area.
AFP reported that the government spokesman, Getachew Reda, stated that the “peaceful demonstrations” have spiraled into violence and he accused protesters of “terrorising the civilians.”
Although HRW reported 75 deaths of protesters, they also reported that the government has only acknowledged five thus far. The government on December 15 announced that protesters have a “direct connection with forces that have taken missions from foreign terrorist groups.” Ethiopia’s Anti-Terrorism Task Force will now be taking the lead when responding to the protests.
The deputy Africa director at HRW, Leslie Lefkow, criticised the Ethiopian government saying the “government’s response to the Oromia protests has resulted in scores dead and a rapidly rising risk of greater bloodshed.”
“The government’s labelling of largely peaceful protesters as ‘terrorists’ and deploying military forces is a very dangerous escalation of this volatile situation,” Lefkow continued.
A student partaking in the protests told HRW “I don’t know where any of my friends are. They have disappeared after the protest. Their families say they were taken by the police.”
The United States State Department has also expressed concern over the situation in Ethiopia urging the government to allow peaceful protests and “commit to a constructive dialogue to address legitimate grievances.” It also advised protesters to abstain from violence and to “be open to dialogue.”
The ruling party which has been in power since 1991 has been accused of suppressing dissent in the past as well as repressing opposition, along with accusations made against the administration saying it has committed numerous human rights violations.