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News Analysis: 123 people killed in June-July unrest, 76 by security forces; attacks constitute elements of crime…

Jan 01, 2021
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EHRC Press briefing on its latest report detailing the violence that swept Oromia in the wake of the assassination of Oromo artist Hachalu Hundessa

Please click here to download the full report in Amharic

By Siyanne Mekonnen @Siyaanne  &

Bileh Jelan @BilehJelan

Addis Abeba, January 01/2020 – A report by the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission (EHRC) has found that “crimes against humanity was committed by individuals and groups who directly participated in the violence and security crisis that swept through Oromia Region following the death of musician Hachalu Hundessa on June 29th, 2020.”

EHRC said its the report, which was released today, was published after its team “visited over 40 different localities in Oromia Region over the course of several days as part of its investigation into human rights abuses committed there between June 29 – July 2, 2020.”

In a press briefing held this morning, Dr. Daniel Bekele, EHRC chief commissioner, said, “The attacks were carried out by organized groups serving higher agendas. After they announced Hachalu’s death, people started pouring out on the streets to express grief and it slowly turned into violent riots. These violent riots soon turned into episodes of killing by means of strangulation, stabbing and other means of assault. Due to the nature and intent of the attacks, these crimes are crimes against humanity.

The number of causalities confirmed by EHRC’s report contradicts Oromia Regional State’s report which said 176 people, including ten security forces, were killed in the unrest.

Corroborating EHRC’s detailed report, Daniel further highlighted that security forces turned a blind eye on the attacks against civilians. “In some instances they blatantly refused to respond to calls of help by arguing that they didn’t get orders from the top and they were not required to look after private businesses, protecting only government and religious institutions. However in places where security forces were prepared, further damage was averted. “

Nevertheless, the commissioner added that the situation “was life threatening for the security forces to contain the violence because it was carried out suddenly and by mobs in large numbers. “

The city of Shashemene in west Arsi in the aftermath of the June-July unrest

Commissioner Daniel also highlighted incidents when “victims were prevented from accessing medical services by security forces. In some instances [security forces] entered hospitals and threatened healthcare professionals who were treating victims.”

In the 59 pages report, the findings state that attackers moving in groups used axes, knives, machetes, sticks and other weapons to kill and injure civilians in gruesome ways that involved beheadings and torture.

“Given the repeated pattern of atrocity crimes in the country, Ethiopia needs to design and implement a comprehensive national strategy for the prevention of atrocity crimes which aims to address the root causes of the problem”.

Commissioner Daniel Bekele

“Altogether, 123 people died and more than 500 were injured in the carnage that also displaced thousands from their homes. The findings show that the attacks meet the elements of a crime against humanity with large numbers of people, organized in groups, having selected their victims on the basis of their ethnicity or religion when conducting a widespread and systematic attack in several different areas over the three days,” a press release by EHRC said.

The report also states, while it is understandable that security forces had the challenging task of restoring order in the face of such widespread violence, the proportionality of the force employed in some contexts is highly questionable. In some instances, security forces employed disproportionate force in their attempt to restore order amidst widespread violence and as a result, passersby, bystanders, young people, elderly people stepping in to mediate, and even police officers lost their lives from gunshot wounds despite having no participation in the unrest

EHRC’s Chief Commissioner Daniel Bekele said,“Given the repeated pattern of atrocity crimes in the country, Ethiopia needs to design and implement a comprehensive national strategy for the prevention of atrocity crimes which aims to address the root causes of the problem”.


Below is the investigation report

“It did not feel like we had a government”

Violence & Human Rights Violations following Musician
Hachalu Hundessa’s Assassination


Executive Summary and Recommendations

During the security crisis that followed musician Hachalu Hundessa’s
assassination on June 29th,
2020, people died in gruesome killings, others suffered physical and mental
injuries, property destruction as well as displacement and harassment.

The Ethiopian Human Rights Commission (EHRC) investigated human rights
violations across the region during the three days of unrest that ensued. This
report presents the findings thereof.

In the 40 localities where the EHRC investigation was carried out, the
security crisis that lasted from June 29th to July 2nd, 2020, led to the death of 123 people, physical
injuries of at least 500 people, the displacement of thousands, and looting and
destruction of private and public property. 35 of the 123 victims who lost
their lives and 306 of those injured were killed or injured by individuals and
groups participating in the unrest while at least 76 deaths and 190 bodily
injuries were caused by government security forces. 12 people died as a result
of a bomb explosion, fire or similar disasters during the security crisis.

During these widespread attacks, a large number of people, moving in
groups and armed with knives, stones, flammables, electric cables, sticks, axes
and machetes; beat, injured and killed people in a gruesome manner, including
through torture and beheading. The attackers committed these killings by
breaking into or forcing people out of their houses, before dragging or
throwing bodies along streets. People were subsequently prevented from
recovering the bodies of their loved ones.

The gravity of some of the injuries was such that victims were still
hospitalized and agonizing long after the events. Many of those who survived
such grave injuries say they were still alive because even their attackers left
them for dead. In addition to the beatings, killings and property destruction,
the attackers used ethnic slurs, humiliated and threatened their victims. The
trauma has left victims feeling vulnerable targets to further ethnic or
religious attacks.

In addition to the loss of human life and property, 6468 people have been
displaced from their homes after losing their house and property to the attacks
or in fear of their lives, and at the time of the investigation, still lived in
temporary shelters in churches and makeshifts set up by local authorities.
Large scale property destruction has occurred; at least 900 properties have
been burned, looted or vandalized, including houses, commercial properties and

The Commission finds that the attacks during the unrest and overall
commission of the crime by individuals and groups who directly took part in it,
constitutes the elements of a crime against humanity.

More specifically,

  • A large number of people, organized in groups for the
    most part, moved from place to place to kill, bodily and mentally injure and
    displace people; destroy property,
  • The conduct was committed as part of a widespread and
    systematic attack against civilian population that extended to at least 40
    different localities and over three days from the early hours of June 30th to July 2nd,
  • Some targets in the attacks were selected on the basis
    of ethnic and religious identity. Other civilians were attacked with intent
    regardless of their religious or ethnic affiliation,

●   The perpetrators knew that the conduct was part of or intended the conduct to be part of a widespread or systematic attack directed against a civilian population and

  • The social media and television content/messages broadcast/circulating at the time as well as the slogans chanted by perpetrators of the crime show that the individuals and groups taking part in the conduct acted in a strategic and coordinated manner with full knowledge of the act thereof.

On the basis of the above findings, the overall conduct carried out by
the attackers who were organized in groups, and the result thereof, is not a
simple criminal act but a crime against humanity which is an atrocity crime and
a grave violation of human rights.

In the 40 localities where the Commission’s investigation took place, following
news of musician Hachalu Hundessa’s death on June 29th, 2020, a large number of people went out into
the streets, initially in the form of protest. After an act of burning tires,
throwing stones and closing off streets, groups went on to attack people and
destroy property in a conduct that took up pace beginning June 30th, 2020.

In localities where protesters who went out into streets caused unrest
and attacks, civilians were attacked
inside their homes by individual and grouped perpetrators and were beaten and
killed in streets in a gruesome and cruel manner with sticks, knives, axes,
sharp iron bars, stones and electric cables. People have also suffered mental
and bodily harm; their houses and property were either looted or intentionally
burned. People were displaced as a result and both private and public property
was destroyed.

While the conduct varied from place to place in scale and nature, the attack targeted people of Amhara ethnic origin in localities where Christians constitute the majority of the local population and, inversely, Orthodox Christians where Muslims are a majority.

“EHRC found that the localities where the devastation was massive, local authorities and security did not respond to victims’ repeated calls for help, being told instead “that higher ups gave no order to intervene, we are not here to protect private property, we are here to provide security to government development institutions, banks and religious institutions”.

EHRC report

The role of the security forces in preventing and stopping the attack on
people and property also varied from place to place. In some of the localities,
security forces had appropriate preparedness and successfully managed to
prevent, stop or minimize damage. On the contrary, where the security forces
had minimal preparedness, such as in Batu, Shashemene, Chiro, Haromaya, Woliso,
Adama, Goba, Arsi Negele and Arsi Robe in particular, as well as Dera, Adaba,
Agarfa, Kofele, Djadju and Iteya, the damage was extensive.

EHRC found that the localities where the devastation was massive, local
authorities and security did not respond to victims’ repeated calls for help,
being told instead “that higher ups gave no order to intervene, we are not here
to protect private property, we are here to provide security to government
development institutions, banks and religious institutions”. Survivors and
witnesses also recount how sometimes police stood watching as the attacks took
place. “It did not feel like we had a government!” decried one victim the
Commission spoke to.

Local authorities, security forces and government officials on their part
say that the widespread nature of the attacks and the large group of people
taking part in them, made it difficult to stop the attacks with sufficient
speed and scale. However, the lack of preparedness on the part of the Regional
government to prevent such attacks, including in those localities where similar
attacks have taken place before, has exposed people to a repetitive cycle of
abuses and violations.

In some of the localities where EHRC’s investigation was carried out,
witnesses describe being barred and prevented from accessing medical services.
In Guna Woreda, Negele City, Arsi Negele and Dodola, in total violation of
human rights obligations, security forces even went inside medical institutions
and harassed, including by threatening medical professionals, and barred
victims from getting medical help. Flouting their humanitarian and professional
obligations, some medical professionals themselves, in Wolisso in particular,
refused to treat victims of the attacks.

Use of Force by Security

While it is understandable that security forces had the challenging task
of restoring order in the face of such widespread violence, the proportionality
of the force employed in some contexts is highly questionable.

In Guna Woreda, Negele City, Adama, Dodola, Negele Segala, Awoday, Burayu
and Ambo the Commission found that there were people killed with bullet wounds
to the head, shots to the chest area or the back. People not participating in
the protests – passersby, bystanders observing from their doorsteps, young
people, elderly people trying to mediate, people with mental illnesses, and
even police officers – also lost their lives in the unrest.

some of the localities, Ambo and Ginchi for instance, armed lone perpetrators
as well as those moving from place to place in groups, throwing hand grenades
and shooting, also injured and killed security officers. It is understandable
that the situation forced security officers to use lethal weapons. However,
even in many other localities where the context could have allowed for use of
less-lethal weapons, the use of lethal weapons exposed protesters, residents
and the security officers themselves to otherwise preventable bodily harm and

At the time of the investigation, the Commission did not find any
indication of ongoing efforts to investigate the use of force by security
officers during the unrest and to hold to account those who caused unnecessary
human suffering as a result.


To Federal and Regional government

  • To start the process of investigating and bringing to
    justice and hold perpetrators accountable based on the Commission’s findings of
    crimes against humanity,
  • Based on recognition that an atrocity crime can occur
    in Oromia or in other regions elsewhere in the country, it is imperative to
    design and set up a comprehensive atrocity crimes prevention mechanism,
  • To recognize, as indicated in the report, that crimes
    against humanity of this nature combined with the current national context are
    signs that the risk of atrocity crimes, including genocide, is increasing and
    to put in place a Comprehensive National Strategy for the Prevention of Atrocity
  • To recognize that international human rights law
    obligates governments to take appropriate and concrete measures to ensure the
    safety and security of people, in particular where there are strong indications
    that the ethnic or religious affiliation is putting the basic safety of people
    dangerously at risk,
  • To carry out an impartial investigation into the role
    of security officers during the attacks and in the disruptions of medical
  • As provided by international human rights law, to ensure
    transparency into the ongoing process and mechanism of appropriate compensation
    and rehabilitation of those who have suffered physical, mental and material
    injury, and
  • To ensure fair treatment of suspects and prisoners
    detained in relation with the security crisis, and appropriate investigation
    and accountability of security officers who have caused physical injury of

To Federal and Regional Offices of the Attorney

  • In accordance with international human rights law, to
    identify and hold accountable the perpetrators of the human rights violations
    that occurred during the widespread security crisis and to regularly update the
    public on the process.

To the House of Peoples’ Representatives and Chaffee Oromia

●    To monitor the implementation of the recommendations based on the human rights violations this investigation has identified,

  • To monitor that federal and security officers carry out their duties in a manner that respects human rights,
  • To facilitate a lasting and institutional solution for
    the increasing trend of discrimination
    and attacks against minorities in Oromia Region or elsewhere in the country,
  • To set up a national
    rehabilitation and compensation fund that would allow

a harmonized and sufficient compensation for victims of human rights violations
as per international human rights standards.

media and activists/social media influencers

recognize there is an increasing vulnerability to atrocity crimes and taking into
consideration the current complex ethnic, religious and political tensions in
the country, to avoid sharing/producing content that, directly or indirectly,
promotes discrimination, suspicion and hatred thereby aggravating the risk for
violent conflicts.

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