December 23, 2015
Dear Honorable Haile-Mariam Desalegn – the Prime Minister of Ethiopia,
I am writing this letter on behalf of the Board of Human Rights League of the Horn of Africa (HRLHA) to implore you to stop the killing of peaceful Oromo demonstrators and free all political prisoners.
The Human Rights League of the Horn of Africa (HRLHA) stands for the support and promotion of human rights. We have been closely following human rights situations in Ethiopia for over two decades. Although the government of your predecessor, the late Prime Minster Meles Zenawi, claimed to have ended the Ethiopian empire and formed the Federal state, that is only true on paper. There is plenty of evidence that your government is violating the constitution of the country as well as individual rights (Article 10& 14) and interfering in the internal affairs of regional states (Article 8 & 39).
Recently in Oromia regional state, the Oromo people peacefully demonstrated in favor of the following seven major political statements:
1. The Federal government has no legal and moral authority to expand the city of Finfinne (Addis Ababa) and annex land from Oromia.
2. The Federal government has no legal or moral authority to sell the Oromo ancestral land to local and global corporate entities and evict residents from their homes and farms without compensation at market value.
3. The Oromo people are the single largest ethno-national group in the country, and they are making reasonable proposal that the Oromo language become the second official language in the Ethiopian Federal government.
4. The Federal parliamentary seats allocated for the Oromo people are fewer than their population size warrants and they demand for more seats. This should be rectified as soon as practical
5. Ademocratically elected government is supposed to respect the people’s rights and peacefully settle all social and economic grievances. However, the reaction of your government to the peaceful Oromo demonstrators has proven that you are not doing this. Oromo protestors demand the peaceful settlement of grievances.
6. Because of climate change, rivers and lakes are drying up; however, instead of caring for the natural forests, your government is engaged in dismantling the natural forests of Oromia and the people there demand a sustainable environmental policy. This also benefits the entire country.
7. In the last four weeks, your government security forces have killed over 85 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.
Oromo demonstrators have been saying “lafni keenya, laffee kenya” (our land is our bone), implying that bones arevital for humans, and the land is vital for their social, economic, political and cultural existence. They also say, “afaan keenya, afaa keenya” (our language is our shed and shield). Language is accumulated knowledge through which societal norms and wisdom are transmitted. For the Oromo people inherited wisdom and sacred knowledge are kept in their culture-language and denying them the use of their language in their capital –Finfinne- is not only an unreasonable but a tyrannical imposition of social design on a large proportion of the population which shows again that the government does not respect them and works in brazen disregard of their preferences. Furthermore, denying the Oromo people the right to use their language in their capital amounts to cultural destruction or cultural genocide.
As if the killings and imprisonments were not enough, now your government is beating the war drums and talking war and anti-terrorism rhetoric against the Oromo people.For example, the spokesperson of your 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, Azeb Mesfin– the widowof the late Prime Minster Meles Zenawi-described the Oromo peaceful demonstrators asቦዘኔ-which means non sense, unproductive men and women or a wicked group. 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 wasthe 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 antiterrorism rhetoric to slander the Oromo people is despicable.
Here is some of the evidence that your government is violating the rights of Oromo people. Although the Oromo people constitute the largest national group in Ethiopia, the key decision makers are Tigray nationals, and the population of that group of people constitutes five percent of the Ethiopian population.
1. 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.
2. Key ministerial positions (foreign affairs, finance, security and military) are given to Tigray nationals.
3. As you officially admitted, your government is facing challenges in controlling corruption. Those military generals and othersare using their power to make the members of their national group richer. In most cases, those who are getting rich are doing so at the expense of the Oromo people. Your government forcefully and massively evicted Oromo farmers from their lands with little or no compensation and transferred the land to the rich.
4. Records show that in the last ten years over a hundred and fifty thousand Oromo families have been evicted from their homes. By doing that, your government has changed the demography of Finfinne and the surrounding area. These forced demographic changes constitute “ethnic cleansing”, which is reprehensible by all international standards.
5. As you know, the great majority of the Oromo people rejected the so- called “Addis Ababa master plan”. For example, recently the decision makers of the Oromo Peoples Democratic Organization (OPDO) who theoretically represent the Oromo people, had a meeting and discussed the master plan and voted against the project 25 to 2. The two individuals who voted for it were instructed to do so by your government. Although the vote was almost unanimous, the decision was reversed by TPLF security forces. This shows that your government is tyrannizes the Oromia regional state.
Dear Prime Minister Desalegn,
Board members of HRLHA believe that the true decision makers in your government are the members of the Tigray People Liberation Front (TPLF).You are the prime minister yet you allow others- the security forces- to kill unarmed citizens. This in fact makes you complicit in their crimes. You need to lead the country based on its constitution. The constitution does not give different powers to different ethnic groups; you need to exercise the power that the constitution gives you and stop the persecution of the Oromo people.
We want you to govern the country based on the constitution and design your social policies on human rights principles. The political petitions of the Oromo people are framed in the perspective of human rights. Reckless talk of war and terrorism against the Oromo people will raise tensions and animosities.
The board of HRLHA appeals to you to charge those who are involved in killing over 85 protesters and release those who are detained simply for exercising their constitutional rights and other political prisoners. These matters could possibly be settled in roundtable discussion. Your consideration and reply would be appreciated.
Reverend Shamsudin A. Boru (Abba Biiftuu)
Chairman of the Board