Rights groups claim that Ethiopian security forces have killed at least 140 protesters. The Ethiopian foreign minister is to answer questions by members of the European Parliament on the alleged offences.
Human Rights Watch (HRW) last week alleged that Ethiopian security forces had killed at least 140 protesters and injured many more. Opposition parties and activists asserted thousands of Oromo protesters had been arrested and injured since the protests started in mid-November.
In a surprise move on Wednesday (13.01.2016), the Oromo Peoples' Democratic Organization (OPDO) party, which is part of the ruling coalition, announced that it wanted to halt the so-called "Addis Ababa Masterplan" which is at the root of the ongoing crisis. The plan involves the expansion of the capital into the surrounding Oromia region. Government spokesman Getachew Reda told reporters that the government would respect this decision, but that they would still prosecute those who had participated in the protests.
The plans to expand Addis Ababa were hotly contested by members of Ethiopia's largest ethnic group. Universities across the country turned into battlefields, with police firing live bullets to disperse the crowds. On social media, Ethiopians united under the hashtag #OromoProtests and Ethiopians of all ethnic backgrounds staged vigils all around the world.
On the eve of the hearing of Foreign Minister Tedros Adhanom in Brussels, rights groups insisted that EU officials "should convey serious concerns about Ethiopian security forces against the Oromo protesters."
Another topic on the Brussels agenda is the recurrent drought that has hit the country. Estimates say that as many as 15 million people could be threatened by hunger this year.
Donor darling Ethiopia
With Ethiopia ranking fifth on the table of aid recipients globally, raking in some $3.8 billion (3.5 billion euros) in 2014, donor countries have a responsibility to follow up on how the government handles human rights issues, Daniel Bekele, Executive Director with HRW's Africa Division, told DW.
His concern is echoed by EU advocacy director at HRW, Lotte Leicht, who says "[the] European Union should break its silence and condemn Ethiopia's brutal use of force to quell the Oromo protests." Being the single largest donor, the EU "should press the Ethiopian government to respond with talks rather than gunfire to the protesters' grievances."
The US State Department earlier urged the Ethiopian government "to permit peaceful protest and commit to a constructive dialogue to address legitimate grievances."
The Ethiopian government denies the alleged death toll of 140. Government spokesman Reda instead accused the Oromo protesters of "terrorizing civilians."
Ethiopian legal expert Awol Kassim Allo said he would like to see a space for all Ethiopians to participate in the political arena. "Only with such an approach can there be a possibility of paving a way to move forward," he told DW. In the last general elections in May 2105, Ethiopia's ruling coalition, the Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF), won 100 percent of the seats in parliament.
In a recent debate, Bekele Naga, Secretary General of the opposition Oromo Federalist Congress (OFC), told DW's Amharic Service that "the constitution of the country proclaims that the land belongs to the people." He added that the Ethiopian government "has been engaged in land-grabbing, leading to cultural genocide [of the Oromo people]." Another Ethiopian legal expert, Tsegaye Ararsa, complained that no government officials, including Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn, have publicly voiced regret over the loss of young protesters' lives. He believes there should be an independent fact-finding committee to look into the case.