Ethiopia is at a crossroads, and the United States must do more to make sure that the reforms enacted by Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed do not fail. Starting in 2017, Ethiopia has gone through profound changes.
Thousands of political prisoners have been released, and some restrictive laws have been revised with more under review. Political parties have been unbanned and Prime Minister Abiy signed a peace treaty with Eritrea ending a 20-year-old border dispute.
However, ethnic clashes and religious conflicts have resulted in the displacement of millions. In response to the assassination of political leaders, the government has arrested numerous people, some without due process. Further, there are growing concerns over the failure of security forces to protect people and property.
In November 2020, the country was thrown into full scale fighting between the forces of former leaders of the province of Tigray and the Abiy government. While the government claimed complete victory in December 2020, the fighting drove 60,000 people to seek refuge in Sudan, displaced nearly 500,000 and exacerbated the pre-existing humanitarian crisis in the region. Access for humanitarian support remains hampered and atrocities continue to be reported but cannot be verified due to obstacles to communications in the region.
In the context of ongoing political discourse, media and social outlets in Ethiopia and outside the country have become platforms for inflammatory language and misinformation.
The government of Prime Minister Abiy must address the alarming rise in violence that made Ethiopia the country with the highest number of internally displaced persons in the world in 2018. Most recently, in October 2019, the government itself reported 86 people killed and more than 200 injured in protests. Ten of those were killed in direct clashes with security forces, while the others were killed by intercommunal violence.
Over 400 people have been arrested in connection with the violence. In the Western Wollega and Guji Zones (both in Oromia), civilians have been massively impacted by clashes between government security forces and factions of the Oromo Liberation Army.
There have been reports of attacks on churches and mosques in different parts of the country. Additionally, there are reports showing an escalating number of deaths among university students in the various higher education institutions of Ethiopia, which also resulted in disruption of learning and teaching processes. The violence is contributing to and exacerbating a humanitarian crisis of over three million internally displaced persons in Ethiopia according to a figure provided by Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA). There are growing concerns over the instability, the increasing levels of violence, and the deterioration of the rule of law.
With general elections scheduled for June 2021, the way the Abiy government responds to this crisis will be more important than ever for Ethiopia and the entire region.
Ethiopia’s planned elections in June 2021 could determine the fate of the country and impact regional stability. The Abiy administration must do its part to ensure that the Ethiopian people can fully realize the reforms and respect for human rights and inclusive governance that they have fought for over the last several years.
- Call upon the Department of State to work with USAID and civil society to design and implement a violence prevention mechanism with civil society organizations in Ethiopia to monitor and serve as an early warning and response system to mitigate risks of ethnic- and religious-based violence.
- Ensure rule of law and respect for human rights by government actors and non-state actors alike, including the creation of a safe space for human rights concerns to be addressed without the threat of violence.
- Urge Prime Minister Abiy to immediately facilitate unrestricted humanitarian access to the Tigray region, to fully restore communications to the region, and to allow access for international human rights monitors.
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Deputy Director, Advocacy & Government Relations