The Ethiopian government must immediately grant independent investigators and media access to the Amhara region as reports of gross human rights violations emerge following ongoing armed confrontations between the Ethiopian National Defense Force (ENDF) and the local armed Fano militia, Amnesty International said today.
Several media outlets reported that an airstrike on the region this week led to numerous civilian deaths. Amnesty International has also received allegations of mass killings and casualties in Finote Selam, Bahir Dar and Shewa Robit which merit further investigation.
“Following allegations of ongoing human rights violations in the Amhara region, the Ethiopian government must provide unhindered access to the Independent Commission of Human Rights Experts on Ethiopia (ICHREE) and other independent investigative bodies, alongside independent media, to thoroughly examine these allegations,” said Tigere Chagutah, Amnesty International’s Regional Director for East and Southern Africa.
“The government and its security forces must respect and protect human rights of people,” said Tigere Chagutah
On 4 August 2023, the Ethiopian government declared a six-month state of emergency with nation-wide application, following increased violence in the Amhara region. The state of emergency, approved by Ethiopia’s House of People’s Representatives on 14 August 2023, gives the government sweeping powers to arrest suspects without a court warrant, impose curfews, prevent freedom of movement, and ban public assemblies or associations.
The government and its security forces must respect and protect human rights of peopleTigere Chagutah, Amnesty International's Regional Director for East and Southern Africa
The state of emergency puts Amhara Region under a command post, led by the country’s intelligence chief, and reporting to the Prime Minister.
The emergency proclamation also allows the closure or restriction of media outlets or other entities suspected of “acting contrary to the purpose of this proclamation” – terms which are ill-defined, can be interpreted broadly, and are not subject to judicial oversight.
The federal government also announced that it has detained individuals in Addis Ababa in informal detention centers, including schools. Lawyers and family members of individuals detained in Addis Ababa told Amnesty International that detainees were being denied the right to access to court and legal counsel.
The government blocked internet access in the Amhara region since 3 August 2023, infringing on the public’s right to freedom of expression and access to information.
In Ethiopia, previous states of emergency proclamations have led to mass arrests, prolonged detention without charge or trial, and unlawful restrictions on communication.
The sweeping state of emergency gives the Ethiopian government unchecked powers while internet blockages make it harder to monitor the situation in Amhara region.Tigere Chagutah
“The sweeping state of emergency gives the Ethiopian government unchecked powers while internet blockages make it harder to monitor the situation in Amhara region,” said Tigere Chagutah.
“Now is not the time for international and regional actors to reduce scrutiny of Ethiopia and it is essential that the Independent Commission of Human Rights Experts on Ethiopia, other independent investigative bodies and the media can work freely.”
The Fano militia and the Amhara Special Forces fought alongside the Ethiopian National Defense Forces against the Tigrayan forces since November 2020 until a Cessation of Hostilities agreement was signed on 2 November 2022. In April 2022, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch reported how Amhara regional officials, Amhara Special Forces and Fano militia, with federal forces’ complicity, were responsible for the ethnic cleansing of Tigrayans from Western Tigray.
In April 2023, the federal government of Ethiopia announced plans to dismantle regional special forces including the Amhara Special Forces and to reintegrate members into federal forces. The decision led to protests in the Amhara region.
From early August 2023, Fano captured major cities across the Amhara region, including the historic Gondar city and Debre Birhan – which is only 135 km from Addis Ababa. Following the declaration of a six-month national state of emergency by the federal government, the ENDF announced the recapture of these major cities.