News / Africa

    Ethiopia Boundary Dispute Puts Human Rights Violations in Spotlight

    FILE - Ethiopian migrants, all members of the Oromo community of Ethiopia living in Malta, protest in Valletta against the Ethiopian regime's plan to evict Oromo farmers to expand Ethiopia's capital, Addis Ababa, Dec. 21, 2015.
    FILE - Ethiopian migrants, all members of the Oromo community of Ethiopia living in Malta, protest in Valletta against the Ethiopian regime's plan to evict Oromo farmers to expand Ethiopia's capital, Addis Ababa, Dec. 21, 2015.

    After almost two months of clashes between Oromo protesters and security forces in Ethiopia, authorities have scrapped a "master plan" that would have expanded the boundaries of Addis Ababa and, according to protesters, would have displaced Oromo farmers.

    However, observers are divided on the significance of the move by Ethiopia and whether it truly represents a change of policy or just a reaction to negative publicity.

    Dr. Awol Allo, a fellow in human rights at the London School of Economics, said he believes the government will find other ways to seize land it deems useful.

    "I don't actually believe that the practices of displacement and the eviction and the plunder would cease," Allo told VOA. "Remember, the expansion of Addis began a very long time ago and it has intensified over the course of the last 10 years because of the influx of investment into the city, both foreign and domestic."

    Compiled by activists

    Allo pointed to figures compiled by jailed Oromo activist and opposition leader Bekele Gerba, who said 150,000 Oromo farmers have had their land taken by the government over the past 10 years.

    "The practices would continue. They just don't call them a master plan," Allo said. "The master plan was basically intended to sort of basically formalize and legalize the processes of annexation and expansion. It may not have that kind of name that gives it a broader mandate, sort of legitimacy and authority, but the practice would nevertheless continue."

    Earlier this week, the European Parliament adopted a 19-point resolution urging Ethiopia to respect the rights of peaceful protesters as well as to cease intimidation and imprisonment of journalists. During a recent visit to Ethiopia, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power urged the government to engage in dialogue with protesters.

    Approximately 140 people were killed during the protests, according to activists interviewed by Human Rights Watch.

    "What we are urging is that the international community should not turn a blind eye to these gross violations of human rights that have taken place in Ethiopia," said Mandeep Tiwana, head of policy and research at CIVICUS, a group that works to strengthen civil society and civilian participation in politics.

    "They should diplomatically engage with Ethiopia, institute external inquiry into this matter and also bring to court those responsible for excessive force. And it appears that security forces have used excessive force against peaceful protesters, and, in fact, there are reports that even children as young as 12 have been killed," Tiwana said.

    Confirmed deaths

    The government has confirmed that 13 security forces died in the clashes. VOA made repeated requests for comment from the Ethiopian Embassy in Washington, D.C., but has not yet received an official statement.

    The protests come at a particularly difficult time for Ethiopia, as the worst drought to hit the area in 30 years has caused a famine that is particularly affecting the northeast region.

    The aid group Save the Children says as many as 10 million people need food aid. It calls this one of the two worst humanitarian crises in the world, following only Syria.

    But observers hope the international community's desire to aid those affected by the drought will not prevent it from insisting that Ethiopia respect human rights as it pertains to the Oromo protests.

    Muthoni Wanyeki, Amnesty International's regional director for East Africa, the Horn and the Great Lakes, said her organization and others are calling for three additional measures following the master plan's cancellation.

    Release, investigation

    First, they want the unconditional release of the people arrested during the protests. They also want an independent investigation of police conduct, and they are calling for a national dialogue about policing and demonstrations and what is appropriate during protests.

    "It is a sign of good faith that the government canceled these immediate plans," Wanyeki said. "I think the pressure from the community and from all of the people that put aid into Ethiopia's much-wanted development progress need to insist on standards around projects like this."

    Under Ethiopian law, all land belongs to the government, and people who are relocated are entitled to compensation.

    However, the constitution specifically protects the rights of pastoralists and their right not to be displaced from their land.

    Allo said proper compensation and due process have not occurred in the Oromo region around Addis Ababa.

    People's "entire livelihood is inextricably tied to the land and land means everything," he said. "Their property is a way of living for them, so to deprive them of that possibility – that prospect of leaving the land that they have known, in the ecologies that they have known, without proper consultation, without appropriate compensation – I think that is a huge injustice."

    Salem Solomon

    Salem Solomon is a journalist and web producer at Voice of America’s Horn of Africa Service, where she reports in English, Amharic and Tigrigna. Her work has appeared in The New York Times,, Reuters and The Tampa Bay Times. Salem researches trends in analytics and digital journalism, and her data-driven work has been featured in VOA’s special projects collection.

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    Comment Sorting
    by: Elsa from: UK
    January 27, 2016 11:49 PM
    White elephant in the room we are supposed to ignore, article written by an Eritrean reporter. Willfully kicking aside opportunity to be impartial. Omission: Eritrea openly arming and financing Oromo fighters in Ethiopia, while UN Security Council sanctions against Eritrea still in effect for "supporting terrorism."

    Now hurry up and censor this post in the name of free speech, freedom of the press, hypocrisy.

    by: Temam Muktar
    January 27, 2016 2:59 PM
    I am sure these farmers' kids won't continue the trade of their parents. With increased industrialization there will be less and less subsistent farmers and more industrialist workers , the government is trying to hasten what will naturally happen and the opposition is trying to score political points by giving the issue a tribal bent . Oromo and Tigray with development the farmers will eventually be moved, in the west they call it imminent domain. The land belongs to the public this the government can allocate it to whom ever will develop it . Peace .

    by: Muketu
    January 27, 2016 11:21 AM
    Two points :
    1. After a century of repression by successive Ethiopian governments, the only way out for Oromo people is to have complete control of political and economic rights over Oromiya and it's resources
    2. Oromo land doesn't belong to the government. It belongs to Oromo people. Oromo people didn’t participate in the writing or approval of any Ethiopian law. For over a century, they have been ruled by settler colonialists of Abyssinians and never had a voice in all matters.
    In Response

    by: Addis Alem from: U.S.A
    January 27, 2016 1:54 PM
    You are most likely one of those "greater Somalia" fantasizers or Sudanese nomads claiming to be Eritreans who are forever waiting for Ethiopia to break apart. Dream on, if you want to bask in another three decades of anarchy. I say this because had you been a real Oromo, then you would know that Mengistu Hailemariam himself and half of his generals were all Oromos! And here you are talking about colonization ... colonization my foot!

    by: Berhanu dema from: charleston SC ,USA
    January 26, 2016 12:28 AM
    Please choose the right title before you start scribbling ,you made it sound like two countries are having border dispute while it is a question of the right to negotiate over their land have the proper compensation be it in the form of arable land or monitory . Please do not fanfare with those who salivate to see the fragmentation of Ethiopia and its people.

    by: Elsa from: UK
    January 25, 2016 7:36 PM
    Facts optional, it's called "Freedom of the Press!"

    Awol Allo and others quoted are well known ethnic Oromo activists, even though article attempts to make them sound impartial, like omitting Awol Allo's Al Jazeera history.

    Not a single question asked why "peaceful protesters" are lobbing grenades in places of worship, on college campuses, even burning trucks passing through Oromo land...Yup, freedom of the press!
    In Response

    by: Safia from: Oakland, CA
    January 27, 2016 10:53 PM
    "Alex from Kenya," VOA's own previous articles showed photo of burnt out truck by protestors in Oromia zone. Grenades thrown into university in Dilla (Oromo zone) and even place of worship in the capital were all headline news. If you're going to peddle hate for a living, at least be good at it.
    In Response

    by: Addis Alem from: U.S.A
    January 26, 2016 2:08 PM

    Alex of Kenya,

    Do you mean Ethiopia is supposed to envy the likes of Kenya, whose corruption is so bad that it threatens its very national security? Kenyan democracy is overrated, even if you ignore its bloody ethnic violence that is still simmering under the so called democratic surface. But what I despise most about this mother of all corruption is how it still remains a colony of foreign oligarchs; Pakistanis and Lebanese who look down native Kenyans as their servants in their own freaking country! What you mean by free press is the suppression of native Kenyan voices so that they would continue to be servants in their own freaking country! We Ethiopians would rather die than let such a disgrace be our daily reality!
    In Response

    by: Alex from: Kenya
    January 26, 2016 11:26 AM
    And, you'd you mind explaining what's wrong with being an Oromo Activist??... You said, the "article attempts to make them sound impartial, like omitting Awol Allo's Al Jazeera history." If he said something you don't like, does that make him "impartial"?? ... Why don't you focus on the facts?? ... Did he say anything EVEN a brain-washed government loyalist - like yourself disagree??... The accusation on your last paragraph is basically your word (no evidence) against the protestors!! ... You see how oppression backfires?! ... Have you had a free press, they'd have dig out who throw the grenades and expose it!! ... But, you (and your masters) didn't allow FREE investigative journalist and an independent judiciary system... you're just ripping what you saw!

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