May 09, 2014
Secretary of State John Kerry
US Department of State
2201 C Street NW
Washington, DC 20520
RE: Joint Appeal Letter of OCO, OYSA, IOWO, and HRLHA on the Current Massacre of Oromo Students by the Ethiopian Government
Dear Mr. Secretary,
The Oromo Community Organization of Washington D.C. area (OCO), the Oromo Youth Self-help Association (OYSA), the International Oromo Women’s Organization (IOWO), and the Human Rights League of the Horn of Africa (HRLHA) are writing this joint appeal letter to you to express our deep concern and outrage about the current massacre of at least 50 Oromo students, some as young as nine years, from Ambo and other towns of Oromia regional state by the federal police and army of the Ethiopian government. While more numbers of fatalities are still coming in and the exact number is hard to be known due to the denial of access by the government for local and international journalists, we have known through our contacts that more and more reports of death are coming every day. Moreover, hundreds are severely wounded by live bullet and thousands others are rounded up and thrown into jail. Given the history of brutality of the current regime in Ethiopia, those in jail are feared to be tortured or even secretly murdered in their prison cells.
Land Grab Disguised under “Integrated Development Master Plan”
For the last several weeks thousands of Oromo university students have been protesting the recently announced “integrated development master plan” to expand the capital Addis Ababa (Finfinnee), capital city of Ethiopia. The students were peacefully protesting the plan because they believe it is an extension of the widespread land grab observed in the country over the last two decades. We agree with the students that the master plan is designed by the TPLF led Ethiopian government to eventually kill Oromo language and identity. The so called “integrated development master plan”, if implemented, increases the current size of the capital by 20 folds, from 54, 000 to 1.1 million hectares. It is designed to incorporate 36 Oromian towns into Addis Ababa, such as Dukem, Bishoftu, Adama, Gelan, Legetafo, Sendafa, Sululta, Burayu, Holeta, Sebeta, and Addis Alem among others. More than six million Oromo farmers will be forcefully evicted from their ancestral land by the plan.
Four of the 30 or so students killed in Ambo town, Oromia, on April 30, 2014: Tadese Gashu, Kumela Gudisa, Endale Dessalegn, Abdi Kamal
Soon after the government announced the plan, several thousands of Oromo university students throughout Oromia regional state expressed their objections through peaceful protest. Ignited by students at Jimma University, the protest immediately spread to the rest of universities and colleges in the region including Haromaya, Ambo, Wallaga, Adama, Mada Walabu, Bule Hora, Metu, Dire Dhawa, and Jijjiga. Thousands of Oromo students continued crowding the streets in their respective cities. The protest is not limited to university students. High school and elementary students along with local residents have joined the protest in the towns of the entire regional state. One of the biggest protests was held in Ambo town, some 80 miles south of the capital Addis Ababa (Finfinne). Organized by Ambo university students, it is estimated that more than 25,000 people have taken part in the protest. The protest in Ambo on April 30, 2014, begun peacefully until the government forces fired live ammunition on the students and killed a 9th grade male student, Tadesse Gashu. When the news of the killing of this innocent student spread across the town, more and more residents joined in the protest defying the order of the military to stop protesting. The military then changed the city into a war zone indiscriminately firing live bullet on unarmed civilians. Dead bodies spread all over the place. People were even denied of picking the bodies of their children. On April 30 alone, while you, Mr. Kerry, were at the capital, Addis Ababa, more than 30 students and residents have been shot and killed by the military in Ambo town. Hundreds others have been wounded hundreds others have been rounded up and thrown into jail. Six others are reported to have been killed the next day in Gudar town, some 6 miles from Ambo. Similar situation occurred in many towns such as Robe (Bale zone), Adama, Jimma, Haromaya, Nekemte, and Dire Dhawa. In Robe town alone 6 students are reported to have been killed on the first day of protest alone. Gruesome pictures of the dead, bleeding of the wounded, and screaming voices of women and children are spread all over social media posted from several towns in Oromia. It is heartbreaking to see and listen to.
Dear Mr. Secretary,
A brief historical and political context will shade light to the understanding of the resistance of Oromo students to the so called “Integrated master plan”. Addis Ababa was founded during the second half of the 19th century by emperor Menelik and his wife, Taytu, conquering the indigenous Oromo people. Precedent to its foundation, Addis Ababa was home to the Oromo people, the single largest ethno-national group in Ethiopia and third in Africa. The name Addis Ababa is said to have been given by Taytu. Its original Oromo name was Finfinne and to this day Oromos call it Finfinne. Prominent Oromo clans like Gulleles and Galans were inhabitant of the land. Oromo clans were forcefully evicted by the Menelik army and their land was given to Amhara settlers. Through time, these indigenous people were pushed and replaced by new settlers or colonizers. Robbed of their land, many of the members of the Gullele and Galan clans were fated to servitude and laborers. Our grievance is not only losing our land but also our language, culture, and identity.
The new invaders, the Tigrean ruling elite are planning to expand farther into Oromia and evict the Oromo from their ancestral land and settle the Tigrians and also sell to foreigners under the guise of development.
The current Ethiopian government is ethnic based federalism with 9 regional states. On paper, per the country’s constitution, these “autonomous” regional states are to govern their respective regions. It has to be noted that it is the decision of the TPLF led Ethiopian government to put Addis Ababa under Federal Administration.
As a matter of fact, Addis Ababa itself is the heartland of Oromia. In recognition of this, the Ethiopian constitution Article 49 (5) stipulates “the special interest of the state of Oromia will be respected regarding provision of services, the utilization of resources and joint administrative matters.” The current so called Integrated Development Master plan violates this article of the constitution.
Completely surrounded by Oromia regional state, Addis Ababa city is entirely dependent on Oromia for all services. Today almost all electric power, water supply and other infrastructural raw materials come from Oromia region. Ethiopian constitution states that Oromia regional state is to “take part” in the city administrative decisions. Despite these historical, constitutional and economic rights, Oromia regional government were devoid of any decision making process over Addis Ababa administration. The ultimate decision is in the hands of the TPLF (Tigre People Liberation Front) leaders whose interest is to exploit the land and resources of Oromia and destroy Oromo identity. The Oromo students and the Oromo public at large oppose the plan because it is secretly developed by the TPLF for the last five years without involvement of any Oromo voice. Oromo farmers were completely excluded in the decision making process, and are about to be victims of the forceful eviction. Even high officials of the OPDO, the infamous Oromo organization that was cherry picked by the ruling TPLF party to govern Oromo people, and the Oromia regional state were kept in the dark.
Dear Mr. Secretary,
It is so sad that such heinous crimes were happening on the Oromo students on April 30 and May 1 , 2014, when you were making official visit to Ethiopia. While you were in Addis Ababa, dozens of students are being massacred in Ambo, just 80 miles from your site and yet the Ethiopian government media kept silent as if nothing has happened. This is the government that the U.S. Government is giving financial and economic aid and maintains intelligence and military “cooperation” with. The U.S. military support is used to kill Oromos and others demanding respect for their democratic and human rights. The consequence of the unabated killing of citizens with impunity by tyrannical governments will be regrettable as we can see in many countries today
The current student protest against the master plan is partly the extension of government involvement in extensive land grab which we, the Diaspora Oromo, have been protesting in front of the US State Department and the White House. The plan is a land grab disguised under development. It is designed to kill the Oromo generation. There is no legal or social justification to include this small cities and provinces under Addis Ababa city administration for development.
The principle of integrated regional development does not infringe on the geopolitical entity of the regions. As we can see here in the United States, integrated development among the District of Colombia-Maryland-Virginia does not in any way, encroach on the entities of the states. We do not see any reason why the model cannot be applied in Ethiopia, unless it is for sinister motive.
We earnestly ask the US government to use its influence to urge the Ethiopian government to respect the right of the Oromo people, rule of law and stop killing and arresting Oromo students. We specifically request that the US government:
Demand an immediate stop tothe unlawful so called “Integrated development master plan” and the unlawful eviction of Oromo farmers and the illegal selling of Oromo land under the disguise of such “development”.
Ask the Ethiopian government to stop killing and arresting unarmed Oromo school children and other civilians.
Demand that an independent commission be appointed to investigate the mass killing in Oromia regional state
Request that the Ethiopian government bring to justice those who are involved in the massacre of Oromo students and other cities.
Demand the unconditional and immediate release of Oromo students who are jailed for exercising their constitutional right and all political prisoners languishing in jail for several years.
Insist on the release of all political prisoners and respect the rule of law before providing aid to the regime.
Demand that the regime to commit itself to the respect of human rights and allow freedom of expression and assembly and making a peaceful protest.
Demand the repeal of all new laws that violate the fundamental freedom of citizens.
Desta Yebassa, Ph.D.
Board President, Oromo Community Organization of Washington D.C. area (OCO)
6212 3rd ST NW Washington, DC 20011
Chairman, Oromo Youth Self-help Association (OYSA)
6212 3rd ST NW Washington, DC 20011
International Oromo Women’s Organization (IOWO) Board Director
Director, Human Rights League of the Horn of Africa (HRLHA)
994 Pharmacy Avenue, M1R 2G7, Toronto, ON, Canada
President Barack Obama
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW
Washington, DC 20500
Tel: (202) 395-2020
Mr. Ban Ki-moon
First Avenue at 46th Street
New York, NY 10017