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The Ethiopian Human Rights Commission (EHRC) has called again for transparent, inclusive and credible peaceful solutions and transitional justice processes to armed conflicts, which its latest annual report says are still a major cause for human rights violations in the country.

Published this week, the report covering the year leading up to June 2024 noted the recent approval of the transitional justice policy and initiations of peace talks with armed groups as positive progress, but emphasized that the transitional justice initiative needs to be victim-centered, transparent, and up to international standards.

The past year has been marked by severe and substantial numbers of conflicts and clashes between government security forces and armed groups, which have given rise to numerous human rights violations, according to EHRC. The reporting period also covered the 10-month state of emergency that ended in May, which the Commission cites led to the arbitrary and extended detention of a large number of people.

“Even though several human rights violation cases are reported to the Commission, EHRC could not visit all the detention centers due to government barring. A significant number of political party members and journalists were detained from Addis Ababa, Amhara, Oromia, Sidama, and central and southern Ethiopia. People are arbitrarily detained, while others have disappeared,” states the report.

The Commission’s experts managed to visit 306 police stations, 52 detention centers and 15 informal detention centers, including Awash Arba located in eastern Ethiopia. Its report highlights that some people have been detained allegedly for expressing their “anti-government” opinion on social media. Others stand accused of inciting conflict between ethnic groups and disseminating false information about government officials, among other accusations.

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In the Amhara region, public mobility has been severely curtailed in light of spontaneous and widespread instances of fighting between government security forces and Fano armed forces. Both sides also conduct invasive searches on civilians, according to the report.

The repeated blockage of roads has hampered the flow of commodities and caused an economic and social crisis, especially fueling inflation, reads the report.

EHRC states that armed security forces were observed within 500 meters of polling stations during the recent local elections, although no major incidents were observed.

A significant number of people have been detained in the Amhara region by the government as it alleges they were involved in aiding and providing support to armed groups. However, arbitrary and extended detentions, and police refusal to release detainees despite court orders, have been observed in all regional states, according to the report.

The Commission received 1,450 cases over the past year, mostly related to human rights violations and injustice.

The armed clashes in different parts of the country have worsened food security and health complications, according to the report. Nearly 10.8 million people are critically food insecure.

The Commission recommends a peaceful resolution for the conflict between government and armed groups and ensuring the transitional justice initiative is victim-centered, trustworthy, transparent and meets international standards.

Civilian suffering, including death and bodily injuries, resulting from measures taken by government forces or armed groups, remains the most pressing human rights concern, according to the report. It shows that human rights violations against civilians in the context of armed conflict are still concerning and in effect have become more widespread. Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) in armed conflict areas, particularly women, children, persons with disabilities and the elderly, are vulnerable due to the lack of adequate food and basic humanitarian assistance, disruption or interruption of health and education services, and other social and economic problems.

Extrajudicial killings of civilians continue to be a concern in areas affected by ongoing or past armed conflicts and, in some cases, outside a context of conflict. This annual human rights situation report also raises the growing problem of kidnapping of civilians, including for ransom, as a grave concern in both the Amhara and Oromia regions.

The report indicates that EHRC has been monitoring the human rights situation during the state of emergency that remained in effect for 10 months beginning August 2023. In this context, many people have been subjected to prolonged detention in both regular and non-regular detention centers; while many have remained in detention without their whereabouts being disclosed for days or weeks.

It is also indicated in the report that even though EHRC’s efforts to monitor and investigate all the reported non-regular detention places have been unsuccessful for various reasons, it has addressed all the complaints by engaging with the relevant administrative and security authorities and published a number of reports on the same.

As detailed in the report, numerous instances of arbitrary detentions, including of media personnel and political party members, which were carried out within the context of the state of emergency but outside the orders of the Command Post established to oversee the implementation of the emergency decree, have been recorded in Addis Ababa, and in Amhara, Central Ethiopia, Oromia, Sidama and Southern Ethiopia regions.

The report also indicates that several incidents of arbitrary detentions and enforced disappearances, often said to be due to “ongoing situations”, were recorded in many parts of Ethiopia. Freedom of movement, particularly road transportation, has become challenging due to the security situation in various parts of the country and restrictions arising there from. Road blockades by government security forces or armed groups for consecutive days have continued to cause economic and social problems, adversely impacting commodity prices, livelihoods, and access to health and education services, particularly in the Amhara, Benishangul-Gumuz, Gambella and Oromia regions.

The annual report highlights concerns over lack of timely, adequate, uninterrupted, and special-needs-based humanitarian aid and social services for IDPs. The human rights situation of women, children, persons with disabilities, and the elderly, who have been displaced in various parts of the country due to natural and man-made factors, is also very concerning, EHRC warns.

The rise of human rights violations against women and children, notably incidents of sexual and gender-based violence, in conflict-affected areas, also requires immediate attention and action, according to the report.

Among key recommendations and emerging issues for further monitoring and follow up in the upcoming fiscal year include the resolution of armed conflicts through peaceful dialogue and the implementation of national consultation and transitional justice processes in a credible manner are of priority. Others include the immediate release of persons in arbitrary or unlawful detention, the reform of laws and policies adversely affecting human rights and the improvement of the treatment of individuals in custody or detention. Calling for immediate attention to socio-economic rights and issues, the report strongly highlights the negative impact of ongoing armed conflicts on the health and education sector in particular and other socio-economic rights compounded by financial and budget deficit.

In his foreword to the third Annual Human Rights Situation Report, coinciding with the end of his five-year term, EHRC Chief Commissioner Daniel Bekele (PhD) emphasized that “there is no alternative to peaceful means, dialogue, discussion, and transitional justice processes to end the cycle of recurring conflict in Ethiopia and to achieve a lasting solution to the widespread human rights violations that have occurred in this context.”

Daniel also urged all stakeholders —including the government, parties engaged in armed conflicts across various regions in the country, and all stakeholders concerned for the human rights situation in the country — to sincerely support and give a chance to the national dialogue and the transitional justice processes.

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