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Ethiopian forces killed scores in June-July unrest — report

January 1, 2021

Ethnic violence erupted in Ethiopia after the killing of singer Hachalu Hundessa. A local human rights watchdog says Ethiopian security officers used "highly questionable" force.

Smoke rises from Addis Abeba in Ethopia a day after singer Hachalu Hundesa's assassination
Smoke rises from Addis Abeba in Ethopia a day after singer Hachalu Hundesa's assassinationImage: Reuters/Str

Ethiopia's security forces were responsible for 76 deaths during the unrest following the killing of popular singer Hachalu Hundessa, a local human rights watchdog has found.

The Ethiopian Human Rights Commission (EHRC) said in a report published on Friday that Ethiopian security officers employed "highly questionable" force while trying to restore order. It also found evidence of ethnic violence and crimes against humanity amid the chaos.

The death of Hundessa, an Oromo singer-songwriter who was shot dead on June 29, 2020, sparked weeks of violent protests in Ethiopia. It also again laid bare ethnic conflicts in the East African nation, which is home to more than 80 different ethnic groups.

Omoro singer-songwriter Hachalu Hundessa
Hachalu Hundessa, an Omoro singer-songwriter and activist, was shot dead in June 2020Image: Leisa Amanuel

What did the EHRC report say?

During the unrest following Hundessa's death, groups of attackers injured and killed people in a gruesome manner, including through torture and beheading," according to the report.

Across some 40 Ethiopian localities the EHRC investigated, at least 123 people were killed and at least 500 others injured from June 29 to July 1 of last year. Nearly 6,500 were displaced and at least 900 properties were looted, burned or vandalized during the unrest, the report said.

The human rights watchdog said 76 deaths and at least 190 injuries could be attributed to government security forces.

"While it is understandable that security forces had the challenging task of restoring order in the face of such widespread violence, the proportionality of the force employed in some contexts is highly questionable," the report said.

The report also said that security forces failed to respond to repeated calls for help. Witness statements claimed that police sometimes stood watching as attacks took place.

The EHRC called on the Ethiopian government to investigate suspected incidents of excessive force and hold those security officers to account.

Government yet to respond

Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed's government has yet to comment on the EHRC's findings. 

Abiy, who faces a general election on June 5 of this year, has struggled to quell ethnic violence in Ethiopia during his two and a half years in office. His government conducted an aggressive military operation in the northern Tigray region, which, according to the United Nations, displaced more than 1 million people.

The unrest following Hundessa's assassination was not related to the Tigray conflict, but it's another sign of tensions straining the country.