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A new report from the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission (EHRC) reveals that extrajudicial killings and civilian deaths in Oromia have grown increasingly alarming.

The report covering two years beginning September 2021 was compiled following interviews with the families of over 158 victims, witnesses, medical professionals, elders, and government officials.

It implicates government security forces, the Oromo Liberation Front (commonly referred to as OLF-Shene), and informal armed groups based in the Amhara region, in the violation of international human rights and involvement in the killing of at least 103 civilians during military operations or otherwise.

The report has also revealed the identity of several civilians killed by these forces over the study period.

Apart from the extrajudicial killings, numerous people have sustained bodily injuries, according to the report. It also reveals widespread displacements, kidnapping, and robberies orchestrated by the forces.

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“The extrajudicial killings and other injuries inflicted on people are ‘very serious human rights violations.’ They are orchestrated by violating civilian rights that must be protected under any circumstances. Thus, they can be categorized as war crimes and crimes against humanity. Therefore, an immediate, neutral and holistic criminal investigation must be launched. Accountability must be ensured and victims must be compensated and a lasting peaceful resolution must be secured,” reads the report.

Daniel Bekele (PhD), EHRC commissioner, stressed the Commission has previously produced a number of similar reports but to no avail.

“The continuation of conflict in several parts of the country has no benefits but extends human suffering. All parties must commit themselves to a peaceful resolution for the conflict and human rights violations in Oromia as well as elsewhere in the country and make good on their promises,” said Daniel.

US officials disclosed the ongoing conflicts in Oromia and Amhara were raised during discussions with senior government officials.

Molly Phee, assistant secretary of state for African affairs, and Mike Hammer, Washington’s special envoy to the Horn, took part in talks with officials including PM Abiy Ahmed (PhD) and new Foreign Minister Taye Atske Selassie over the last week.

Other participants include Ahmed Shide, minister of Finance, Getachew Reda, president of the Tigray Interim Administration, Daniel of EHRC, and representatives of civil society organizations.

During a digital media briefing on Thursday, Phee and Hammer said they are pressing the Ethiopian government to end the conflicts.

“We also raised our rising concerns about the human rights situations in Amhara and Oromia and urged that the government ensure the protection of civilians and hold to account perpetrators of abuses.  While work remains, we acknowledge progress on transitional justice and advancing a national dialogue that is inclusive and credible. Both are key to overcoming past grievances and setting Ethiopia on a better trajectory,” said Hammer.

The US officials say PM Abiy has responded positively regarding preparedness for peaceful dialogue with armed groups.

“In all those meetings, we expressed US support for the full implementation of the Pretoria Cessation of Hostilities Agreement (CoHA), as well as our willingness to facilitate dialogue with the Oromo Liberation Army and participate in possible talks with the Amhara Fano aimed at finding a peaceful resolution to ongoing violence, as there is no military solution. We appreciate that the government of Ethiopia has expressed its openness to dialogue,” said Hammer.

Two rounds of talks between the federal government and OLA (OLF-Shene) have thus far failed in Tanzania, while there have been no updates concerning a third round. The federal government has yet to sit for talks with armed forces in Amhara (Fano).

However, following discussions with representatives from the Amhara region, the PM stated this week the government is ready to engage in a peaceful resolution.

“The Prime Minister says he is committed to a peaceful resolution of the challenges that Ethiopia is now facing in the Amhara and Oromia regions,” said Phee, responding to questions from The Reporter during Thursday’s briefing. “We encourage him to act on that commitment. We have expressed concern publicly and privately about the conduct of security services in responding to insurgent and criminal attacks. We know that that’s a complicated security challenge, but more must be done to respect the rights of civilians. And we remain postured through our ambassadors in the region to support the Ethiopian government and other stakeholders as they try to restore calm to both regions.”

Hammer, who was also an observer during the Tanzania negotiations, had similar sentiments.

“We were directly involved in a round of talks with the Oromo Liberation Army in Dar es Salaam last November, and remain ready, as we’ve offered to the government and the parties, to help facilitate a peaceful resolution to that conflict. And we know that our Ambassador Massinga in Addis has also offered this to the government, and if there’s an opportunity to engage with the Fano, we would welcome the opportunity to try to, again, advance peace. And as we’ve said repeatedly, there is no military solution to these conflicts. And in fact, the focus right now should be on dialogue and of course ensuring the protection of civilians,” said Hammer.

Rising tensions with Somalia were also part of the discussions with US officials. Phee and Hammer have also visited Mogadishu, and stressed the need to de-escalate and engage in dialogue over the controversial MoU with Somaliland.

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