(Nairobi) – Ethiopian government forces summarily executed a 17-year-old boy in broad daylight in Ethiopia’s Oromia region, Human Rights Watch said today. The public execution of Amanuel Wondimu Kebede underlines the lack of responsibility for the abuses of the security forces in the country.
On May 11, 2021, government forces apprehended and beat Amanuel in Dembi Dollo, a town in the Kellem Wellega area of western Oromia. A video posted on social media by the city administration shows security forces mocking a bloodied Amanuel with a handgun strapped around his neck. He was executed in public that day. In the weeks that followed, authorities intimidated and arbitrarily arrested other residents of Dembi Dollo, including members of Amanuel’s family.
“The summary execution by Ethiopian authorities of a teenager shows an incredible disregard for human life,” said Laetitia Bader, Horn of Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “The ruthless way in which security forces and local officials filmed and then publicized this horrific event demonstrates that these authorities believe they can act above the law without fear of the consequences. ”
The Western Oromia was the site of a three-year program conflict between federal and regional government forces and the Oromo Liberation Army (OLA), an armed group that broke with the opposition political party, the Oromo Liberation Front(OLF), in 2019. The Federal Command Post in western Oromia coordinates federal and regional security forces in the region, including the Ethiopian Defense Forces, Oromia Special Police, regular police forces Oromia and the administrative militias. On May 1, the Ethiopian parliament outlawed “Shene” – a government mandate for the OLA– like a terrorist organization.
Human Rights Watch interviewed 11 residents of Dembi Dollo and reviewed several videos and photographs posted on social media, media articles, and statements from government officials regarding Amanuel’s murder.
Witnesses said that at around 8 a.m. on May 11, Oromia regional special forces, known as Liyu Hail, arrested Amanuel near his home in Kebele 07 neighborhood of Dembi Dollo. Media accounts says local authorities alleged that Amanuel shot and injured a contractor, Gemechu Mengesha, in the city. Relatives said Amanuel was 17 and still in school. Residents of Dembi Dollo were surprised that authorities apprehended Amanuel and described him as a grade 10 student, who worked in a church and had always lived in the Kebele 07 neighborhood.
Two residents saw Oromia’s special forces beat, punch and kick Amanuel. “They used all means to beat him, with their boots, their hands, with the stick and the butt of the rifle,” said a witness. “He even received blows on the head. He fell to the ground. It was very shocking to see. Residents later saw Amanuel trying to escape in the Kebele 05 neighborhood, but soldiers shot him in the leg.
A second video that Human Rights Watch reviewed shows Amanuel walking down a street, visibly limping on the right side and surrounded by security forces, including Oromia special forces and local police. Amanuel is forced to repeat: “I am a member of Abba Torbee [an armed group in Oromia and with unclear links to the OLA]. Don’t do what I did. Learn from me.
Witnesses said a mix of command post forces, including Oromia special forces, Oromia police, local militias and Ethiopian defense forces, then ordered the vehicles to stop and gathered residents of the local bus stop. Owners of nearby businesses were also forced to close shop and watch the events. Other residents joined the crowd alone. A man observing the scene said, “They brought everyone to the center of town and told people that if anyone tried to attack the security forces in the town, he or she would suffer the same fate.
Video corresponding to Dembi Dollo’s Facebook post on Communications Affairs, which showed Amanuel with visible signs of blows to the head, blood on his t-shirt, torn clothes, and his hands apparently tied behind his back in a circle. point in town with a handgun hanging around his neck. Blood appears visible next to Amanuel on the roundabout and the road. The video shows at least three Oromia special forces soldiers standing near him, two of whom carry Kalashnikov-style assault rifles. In the video, she is told to confirm her name and place of birth.
Four witnesses described how authorities ordered Amanuel to turn his head and then shot him at least twice in plain sight. A photo posted on social media appears to show Amanuel lying down, his hands still tied behind his back, slumped at the city roundabout.
After the execution of Amanuel by the security forces, they prevented the inhabitants from approaching the body. Security force personnel brought Amanuel’s parents, whom they had detained at a local police station that morning, to the roundabout. Her mother started screaming when she saw her son’s body, and Oromia’s special forces and local police started beating her and Amanuel’s father in response. A witness said:
His mother was crying, screaming, asking to be able to bury her son. She held out her hands, saying: “Maalo, maalo” [Afaan Oromo for “please, please”]. They beat her with sticks. [His] father also asked to pick up the body. He also reached out, trying to persuade them. The mother was beaten, she fell to the ground.
The community elders eventually negotiated with the security official in the Kellem Wellega area, who ultimately allowed them to recover Amanuel’s body for burial.
Journalists asked Tesema Wariyo, Kellem Wellega’s security chief, why Amanuel had not been brought to court. He replied: “Amanuel was not a suspect, but clearly an enemy, a member of OLF-Shene from the bush.” Human Rights Watch contacted the Oromia regional police commission and the security zone chief Kellem Wellega by phone, but received no response.
Since Amanuel’s murder, government authorities have intimidated and harassed residents of Dembi Dollo, including Amanuel’s family and friends. Oromia security forces arrested more than a dozen people, including Amanuel’s father, reunited at the family home mourning The death of Amanuel. The other residents have been warned not to visit the house again. While many of those arrested have since been released, Amanuel’s father remains in detention. “The case of Amanuel and his family is not unique,” said one resident. “We are getting used to these killings. ”
Human rights groups and media reported numerous abuses by government security forces, including extrajudicial executions, summary executions of detainees, arbitrary arrests and say again communications cuts in western Oromia. Armed groups in the region are also reportedly removed or kill members of minority communities, police and government officials, and attacked aid workers and their vehicles.
International human rights and humanitarian law prohibits summary, extrajudicial or arbitrary executions, as well as torture and other ill-treatment of persons in detention. Ethiopia is a party to international and regional treaties, including the Convention on the Rights of the Child, the Geneva Conventions and the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child, which contain special protections for children.
The government’s continued failure to properly investigate security force abuses or hold those responsible in Oromia and elsewhere in Ethiopia to account has helped perpetuate a climate that facilitates such crimes, Human Rights Watch said. The Ethiopian authorities should publicly denounce extrajudicial killings and other serious abuses committed by the Ethiopian security forces, and undertake system-wide structural reform of the security sector at the regional and federal levels.
“The Ethiopian authorities have shown nothing but contempt for the alleged atrocities instead of investigating these heinous acts,” Bader said. “The authorities should demonstrate their determination to end the abuses that have ravaged Oromia residents like Amanuel, and ensure that all those responsible, regardless of rank, are brought to justice. ”