2016-18 Ethiopian state of emergency
A state of emergency was declared on Sunday, October 9, 2016 by Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn, although the state of emergency reportedly took effect on Saturday, October 8, 2016. The state of emergency authorizes the military to enforce security nationwide. It also imposes restrictions on freedom of speech and access to information. Media have reported the state of emergency’s duration was announced for six months. The Constitution of Ethiopia provides for a six-month state of emergency under certain conditions. The government’s declaration of state of emergency followed massive protests by the Oromo and Amhara ethic groups against the government, which is controlled by people in the Tigrayan ethnic group, a smaller ethnic minority. It is the first time in approximately 25 years that a state of emergency has been declared in Ethiopia. In March 2017, Ethiopia’s parliament voted to extend the state of emergency for another four months.
Ethiopia, one of the oldest states in the world, has a great history of victory against the colonial powers. Ethiopia's more than 80 ethnic groups have lived together in harmony for generations. The diversity of ethnicity is beautiful, but it has also negative impacts in the unity of the state. After the downfall of Mengistu Haile Mariam's military regime in 1991, the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front took over power. The first thing it did was to implement a Federal system of government in the country. It was not an easy task to implement a federal government system in a country like Ethiopia. This is because the country was a unitary state for more than three thousand years. Another reason for difficulty is that federalism is based on ethnic and language backgrounds. After implementing the federal system, there was different ethnic based conflict. The source for those conflicts goes to natural resources, lands, and others factors. In some scholars view those are not the main factor for the ethnic conflicts, “it’s because of the implementation of ethnic based federalism.”
A couple of months before the state of emergency was declared, U.S. State Department officials criticized Ethiopia (historically a strong ally) for how it was dealing with protestors. U.S. Ambassador on human rights Tom Malinkowski wrote (in remarks later attributed to Secretary of State Kerry by the L.A. Times) "security forces have continued to use excessive force to prevent Ethiopians from congregating peacefully, killing and injuring many people and arresting thousands."
Oromo opposition and Amhara resistance
After 25 years of leading this country, the Ethiopian government is facing opposition from all directions of the country. The two major ethnic groups—the Oromo and the Amhara—together represent approximately 61.4% of the country’s population, and the Oromo started a resistance movement against the Tigray-dominated government that began in November 2015. This movement went to different parts of the country. Corruption, poor administration, injustice, lack of equal economic benefits and losing their land in the name of investments are some of the causes that triggered the movement. The situation with the opposition became particularly difficult in October 2016. Due to corruption in the country, human rights violations and lack of equal economic benefits, the opposition has been accepted by most protesters. On October 2, there was an annual Oromo religious festival called Irreechaa, a festival where people from the entire Oromia region come and give thanks to their God in a city named Bishoftu. Bishoftu is approximately 50 km (30 miles) from Addis Ababa, Ethiopia's capital. During this festival people all Oromo people come to give thanks to their god. In this event, people started shouting and showing different signs and protesting the government. Police fired tear gas into a crowd of people protesting the government at this festival, which was attended by approximately two million people; this resulted in a stampede and more than 50 deaths.
Those who supported what the government did to stop the opposition say “it was the right and the only decision to stop further destruction and conflicts between different ethnic conflicts. And the government is responsible to protect the country peace so the measure taken was right and necessary.” Whereas another group that strongly blames the government for the measure taken during the festivals says “people have the right to express their feeling anywhere and anytime. So the government needs to respect this right of their own people.” Although it is not clear if the measure taken by the government was necessary or not, or proportional or not, this was an immediate reason that led the people all over the Oromia region to go out for the opposition. People started to burn the government property and also foreign investor’s property. After the government’s call for an immediate council of minister’s meeting, the government declared a six-month state of emergency. Due to this, most rights will be suspended. The police may arrest people without court arrest warrant and search any house they suspect without search warrant. The following is also prohibited by the government according to this declaration of a State of Emergency: Any kind of demonstration and meeting, watching Ethiopian Satellite Television (which is led by the political groups outside the country), writing articles which will incite people to go for opposition, having any communication with the opposition groups outside the country, having any sign of opposition on mobile phones and laptops, and accessing websites which criticize the government. This action of the government is getting support as well as opposition. These who support the declaration of State of Emergency say that it’s a decision which will save the country from civil war and ethnic conflicts. Whereas some scholars don’t agree with this, saying that the civil war in the country wouldn’t happen. The opposition is targeting the ruling government and not an ethnic group.
According to the Ethiopian constitution, the council of ministers has the power to declare the State of Emergency under three conditions: 1) during foreign invasion, 2) during a natural disaster or natural epidemic, and 3) when there is a breakdown of the country’s law and regulation which will endanger the constitutional order.
The declaration of State of Emergency creates fear in most people. Most adults in the country have a bad experience with states of emergency. During the dictatorial Derg regime the government used violence to quell dissent. There was a state of emergency in which they put curfews on cities. During this time, the police went to different houses and did whatever they wanted. Due to this bad memory, most people get home early. Whereas, others have said “it’s a key to safety”, and the country’s security became better after the declaration of the state of emergency. However, most business in big cities of the country have decreased due to the blockage of internet services. Tourist traffic outside the capital city, Addis Ababa, decreases due to different security reasons. Additionally, most people who live in cities prefer to stay home or go home early rather than working. Most economists also predict that this declaration will highly affect the income of the only internet service provider in the country called Ethio telecom.
Restrictions on communication
The government tightened restrictions on internet use during the state of emergency. The government shut down the internet for several days, criminalized reporting on protests via social media, and criminalized communicating with exiled dissidents (which are classified by the government as terrorists).
Arrests, releases and trials
Within two weeks of announcing a state of emergency, the government, by its own count had arrested 1,645 people. Merera Gudina, an Oromo opposition leader, was arrested after testifying before the European Parliament. On November 12, 2016 the government announced the names and reasons for arrest for 11,067 people who were arrested. In late December, Voice of America reported that the government was releasing over 9,000 people who had been arrested since the start of the state of emergency; the government planned to arraign 2,449 others. Deutsche Welle reported in February 2017 that the government claims 20,000 people are arrested in Oromia, while opposition groups claim 70,000 people are arrested; the government has indicated it will release 22,000 prisoners, having released 11,000 prisoners on February 3.
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- "Despite outward calm, Ethiopia extends state of emergency". Washington Post. March 30, 2017.
- https://muse.jhu.edu/article/399077/pdf ethnic based federal system
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Ethnic groups: Oromo 34.4%, Amhara (Amara) 27%, Somali (Somalie) 6.2%, Tigray (Tigrinya) 6.1%, Sidama 4%, Gurage 2.5%, Welaita 2.3%, Hadiya 1.7%, Afar (Affar) 1.7%, Gamo 1.5%, Gedeo 1.3%, Silte 1.3%, Kefficho 1.2%, other 8.8% (2007 est.)
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When the Tigray-dominated government proposed to develop farmland predominantly used by the Oromo people, who make up 34 percent of the population, protests broke out across Oromo regions from November 2015 onward.
- http://www.tadias.com/10/02/2016/ethiopia-deadly-stampede-at-protest-during-irrecha-festival-in-bishoftu/ Bishoftu
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Article 93 Declaration of State of Emergency 1. (a) The Council of Ministers of the Federal Government shall have the power to decree a state of emergency, should an external invasion, a break down of law and order which endangers the Constitutional order and which cannot be controlled by the regular law enforce…[but note] Article 106 The Version with Final Legal Authority…The Amharic version of this Constitution shall have final legal authority.
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In terms of prevailing norms of governance, neither the autocratic imperial Ethiopian government (pre-1974) nor the Derg (1974–1991) were tolerant of opposition. The Derg used widespread violence and repression to deal with any kind of dissent, real or imagined.
- Freedom on the Net 2016 Ethiopia (Report). Freedom House. November 2016. Retrieved February 12, 2017 – via U.S. Department of Justice Executive Office for Immigration Review.
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Security forces implementing Ethiopia’s six-month State of Emergency have last night detained prominent opposition party leader Dr. Merera Gudina, Chairman of the Oromo Federalist Congress (OFC), upon his arrival at Bole International Airport.
- "Ethiopia releases list of over 11,000 state of emergency detainees". Africa News. November 12, 2016.
- Belachew, Tizita; Amiha, Meleskachew (December 22, 2016). "Ethiopia Releases Thousands Arrested Since Start of State of Emergency". Voice of America News.
- "Political unrest simmering in Ethiopia". Deutsche Welle. February 10, 2017.