Students have been among the most vocal critics of government policies, and they have paid a heavy price for their dissent. On numerous occasions, students have taken to the streets to express their discontent with a range of political issues including changes in education policy, denial of academic freedom, and the negative impact of economic policies. High school and university students are among the most educated people in Ethiopia. High school students in particular are sensitive to the hardship government policies may cause as many come from rural areas where their families live in abject poverty. As a European diplomat said, "it is perfectly logical . . . . Students are always more idealistic and active!"39 Yet the government appears to feel threatened by their protests and repeatedly overreacts in suppressing demonstrations, often using lethal force followed by large-scale arbitrary arrests.
The atmosphere in Nekemte and other towns across Oromia reportedly had been tense in the weeks leading up to the demonstrations. Residents of the primarily agricultural region had complained that government economic policies were exacerbating the impact of inadequate rainfall and a recent decline in the prices of coffee and grain. High school students, many of whom commute from rural villages to attend school, were protesting against the economic depression they saw among their families and communities. During the Nekemte protests, the students reportedly shouted, "Let's go to the market and see how much grain there is. Then let's go see how many people are going hungry."44 Underlying the discontent was frustration among some Oromos resulting from sustained government pressure to support the pro-government Oromo Peoples' Democratic Organization (OPDO) or be branded as pro-OLF. The demonstrations all took place around a series of meetings and celebrations marking a seven-day period of "renewal" leading up to a celebration for the eleventh anniversary of the OPDO scheduled for March 27.
Students in other towns around the region soon began to take to the streets as well. A week later, on March 27, high school students in the town of Shambu staged a protest in their school compound, boycotting classes as well as the OPDO celebration. Police and local militia members approached the school and, when students attempted to march out of the compound, some reportedly fired directly at them. Based on conversations with eyewitnesses, the Voice of America reported that five students were killed that day. State officials claimed that three students "who tried to disarm local militia" were killed and four more injured.45 The state president, Junedin Sado, justified the police shootings as follows:
An employee of the Shambu hospital was arrested after he gave a journalist information about students being treated there.47 The Oromia Support Group reported that security agents again fired on demonstrators in Shambu on May 3 and wounded three, the day of the funeral for another student who had been killed.48
In Ambo town, police initially responded to student unrest without the use of lethal force but, after the third day of escalating protests, shot a student to death. Protests in Ambo began during a March 26 meeting when students chanted slogans and announced their intention to demonstrate. Local police arrived on the scene and sent the students home. Local police, police trainees, and Rapid Deployment Forces then came to town to help control the situation. Residents told a journalist that six trucks of police officers were brought in from the nearby Senkele police camp. As announced, students came to town the next morning and began shouting antigovernment slogans as residents gathered for the OPDO anniversary celebration. When a small group of students was said to have torn down the OPDO flag, police fired into the air to disperse them and arrested the ones who took the flag.49 Students continued to protest and riot during the ensuing days, adding the killing of students in Shambu to the list of their grievances. On March 29, police shot a high school student to death in Ambo. State officials reported that one student was injured and "one innocent student who was walking by was shot dead by accident."50 Residents told journalists that police chased the boy into the compound of a private home and shot him in the back.51 A published photo of the dead boy's jacket showed a bullet-hole in the back.52
The Oromia State Council also reported one student killed and six wounded in Gedo. The council's statement said that, in addition to the five students who were killed, three militia members, five policemen, and ten civilians were injured in the disturbances and that angry mobs killed a policeman, burned forty houses, and engaged in looting in eastern Wollega outside Shambu. The statement added that nine policemen were wounded in Bako and reported disturbances in Ghimbi, Najo, Dembi Dolo, and Guder. The state claimed that the OLF had infiltrated schools, organized students and teachers, and "instigated them into engaging in violence and acts of lawlessness."53 A journalist who had been on the scene told Human Rights Watch that angry residents in a village outside Shambu, some of whom possess illegal firearms, shot at police who were pursuing a student leader seeking refuge in the village.54
The largest number of arrests was reported in Ghimbi. A student told Human Rights Watch that 1,798 people were detained at the Ghimbi central prison while he was there in March 2002.58 He estimated that up to half of them had been arrested in the wake of this year's student protests and that the remaining detainees had been there as long as five or ten years on suspicion of collaborating with the OLF. He was arrested in late March in his home village some twenty kilometers away, where he had been tutoring high school students while he was suspended from Addis Ababa University in the wake of the 2001 student strike (discussed below). He was detained for one week at his local district police station along with two other university students and fourteen high school students. Police who interrogated him asked, "Why are you teaching high school students to be full men?" He and another university student were then transferred to the central prison in Ghimbi. "They didn't beat me, but others faced that," he said. "I know of at least ten or thirteen prisoners who were tortured. . . . I saw them tie someone's hands with an iron chain and make him sleep on the ground for a week without shelter."59 Human Rights Watch also received reports of a priest and a group of high school students from Bila including a girl named Lalise Abose who were detained at Ghimbi.60
Hundreds of arrests were reported in Ambo town, where police housed detainees in Haile Selassie's former palace when their growing numbers overwhelmed the local jail. One Ambo teacher arrested at his office on April 16 along with a teacher, a school administrator, and a shopkeeper was taken to the Ambo palace. The first night, he was kept outdoors in the cold without a blanket or mattress. Later, he was held in a three meter by three-meter room with about fifteen other detainees. One month later, he was transferred to the jail at the Ambo police station, where he was confined in a small room with approximately sixty other detainees. Because of the lack of space, they had to take turns lying down to sleep. He was brought before a local judge four or five times, and each time the court granted the prosecution a continuance to continue investigations and he was not charged with any crime. He was released on June 14, 2002 on 3,000 birr (U.S.$360) bail. After his release, local officials prevented him from returning to work at the school, and he had no income.61
Another intellectual arrested at Ambo was Dr. Ephrem Mamo, a veterinarian who had previously been a professor at AAU and dean of Alemayehu Agricultural College. Dr. Ephrem, who was released in early July, told acquaintances he had not been ill-treated.62 A university graduate working for the district agriculture office in Bako was also detained at the Ambo palace for approximately two months.63
Human Rights Watch interviewed two other Ambo men who said that they saw several detainees beaten and tortured while they were detained at the Ambo palace. One said prison guards treated student detainees the worst. The other recounted how police burned a student with a hot iron all over his body and clubbed another local man with a metal bar that peeled off skin on his buttocks and arms. The two, who were detained at the palace from April 8 until June 13 and 19, respectively, said they had not been physically ill-treated. However, one said that police had threatened him and, while interrogating him, had written down the names of his children.64
Even some primary school students, some as young as nine, were detained. A professor at Addis Ababa University lamented that his eleven-year-old nephew, whose father had died of natural causes the year before, had been arrested in early April in Dembi Dolo and detained for nearly three months. "I talked to him on the phone. He doesn't understand. . . . The boy's mother almost died of grief; first she lost her husband and now her first born and only son was taken away. There are hundreds of cases like that."65 A European diplomat who visited the prison in Dembi Dolo met an eleven-year-old detainee who had been in prison for a week and suspended from school for a year for writing "I support the OLF" on the blackboard at school.66 A resident of Gella told a journalist that twenty-seven children were arrested there and forced to walk thirty kilometers to the prison in Dembi Dolo, where they were detained for two months for singing a song insulting members of the TPLF.67 Eleven children aged nine to thirteen were also reportedly suspended from school in Dembi Dolo for wearing black clothing to school to indicate that they were in mourning for the students who were killed in Shambu.68
Human Rights Watch has continued to receive reports of arbitrary arrest by Oromia police even though most of those arrested in the wake of the protests have since been freed. In Guder on July 5, 2002, at least eleven civilians were arrested, including the director of Guder Senior Secondary School and five teachers.69 Police in Nazret reportedly detained four students, along with one of their fathers, on October 25 and 26, 2002, and announced plans to arrest thirty-six more students. The students are members of the Gumii club of Nazret (Adama) Senior Secondary School and a local junior high school. Sources in exile reported that their alleged infraction was printing a textbook on Oromo cultural history.70
AAU Student Strike, April 2001
Government forces responded to the protests with extreme brutality, killing more than thirty people, wounding some four hundred, and arresting thousands. Academic life ground to a halt for one month around the country, and most AAU students who participated in the strike did not return to class for one year.71 About 250 students fled to Kenya; others went to Djibouti or Sudan.72 Their demands for academic freedom have yet to be met.
Student Demonstration and Violent Security Force Crackdown
The day before, hundreds of students had attended a public meeting led by former AAU professors Dr. Berhanu Nega and Professor Mesfin Woldemariam, members of the executive committee of Ethiopian Human Rights Council. At that meeting, students resolved to stand up for their human rights and academic freedom. When the university administration resisted, increasing numbers decided to boycott class, leading to a large-scale student strike that soon became fatal. Dr. Berhanu and Professor Mesfin were arrested a month later, detained for one month, then released on bail and charged with challenging the constitution through illegal means and inciting riots under the pretext of promoting human rights.74 Their criminal trial is still in the preliminary stages.
On April 10, students gathered outside the university administration office waiting for a response to their letter. Eyewitnesses told Human Rights Watch that they discovered undercover security forces posing as students in their midst and, upon learning that they did not have student identification cards, they "captured" them, essentially holding them hostage.75 Shortly thereafter, in a sign of the brutal tactics to come, hundreds of Special Forces surrounded the campus, approaching each of AAU's six gates. The students dispersed, and the police actively pursued them to their dormitories. "They broke down doors and attacked us. They were so brutal. . . . We heard gunfire in the campus. Students jumped from the third floor, especially in the [first-year] dorm," said one student.76 Another described students fighting back, including a fourth year student who threw stones at the approaching police and urged her friends not to retreat:
When the police left, the dormitories were spattered with pools of blood, and broken glass littered the campus. More than fifty students were injured that day. Police reportedly initially refused to allow ambulances to take wounded students from the campus to the hospital.78
Police also apprehended a few students including Mesfin Gabre Selassie and a blind student, made them take off their shoes, and put them on trucks to take them to the nearby Special Forces' police camp. The students were reportedly mistreated. As one student who saw them shortly after their release said, "Each bitterly complained about the police-some were wounded on their heads, others on their hands, they were crying, it was terrible."79
At that point, Minister of Education Genet Zewde came to the campus, denounced the police intrusion as illegal, and ordered the police to leave, which they did. She then met with the student leaders, but the students refused to discuss any substantive matters until those who had been detained were freed. They said she resisted taking immediate action, but that they stood firm. After some discussion, the students said the minister called the police from her cell phone and, thirty minutes later, the detained students were released and came and joined the crowd. "First the government denied that they had been detained, then later admitted it and released them with one phone call. This is when I realized the government could arrest or free whomever it wanted with no procedure," said one student who was present at the meeting.80
The April 10 meeting with the minister ended in a stalemate. Students say they left the meeting as a group chanting protest slogans. On their way back to the dorms, police attacked once again and arrested twenty-two science students. Student spokesman Fasil Eshetu was among those taken and beaten after the meeting. "They pushed us into a car and took us to a military compound that is just behind the ministry building near the university," he said. "They beat us there for one hour and then released us. . . . The minister knew we had been beaten. She saw the wounds on the heads and faces and arms of the students who went to meet her [later]."81
According to another student, instead of discouraging the students, police violence actually reinforced support for the strike. "This was the turning point. More students then went to the streets in protest, and the government response was even stronger."82 Students at Mekele University in Tigray were the first to demonstrate in solidarity, on April 12. The next day the body of business student Sime Terefe, an Oromo, was found by a river some seven kilometers from the Mekele campus. His throat had been slit. Many Oromo students interviewed for this report said they joined the strike only after Sime had been murdered. According to an Amhara student, "Even some Tigreans joined. Then the government paid some attention."83 Soon, students at universities and colleges at Jimma, Bahir Dar, Mekele, and Awassa began to strike in solidarity as well, as did many high school students around the country. A former Oromo student, who has since sought asylum in Kenya, added, "They imprisoned two students who took [Sime's] body to AAU, saying they did that to provoke students to revolt."84
Police intimidation extended to high schools and college campuses around the country. A student at Awassa Agriculture College told Human Rights Watch that he and his colleagues kept silent during the demonstrations out of fear. He said that soldiers had come to their campus, warned them not to demonstrate, and ordered them to go home. Awassa high school students had been bolder, he said, but the police brutally repressed their demonstration. "At that time there were policemen and soldiers, and I saw them shoot the students."85
The AAU students met with the minister of education again on April 16, and the meeting again resulted in deadlock. The minister had reportedly agreed to allow the students to form a student union of their choice and resume publication of the student newspaper. She had also agreed to the removal of police from the campus in principle, but said she was not in a position to set a deadline for this.86 Students also expressed anger that police had entered the campus and attacked students on April 10 (one student shouted, "Who let the dogs out?") and demanded an inquiry and accountability for the police actions.87 That evening, the minister gave the students an ultimatum to resume class or leave the campus by April 18. "Instead of dividing the students," said one student leader, "this pulled people together. We all started demonstrating in the streets."88
On April 17, students said, the situation grew "out of control."89 Police came to the campus in the morning and found students leaving in response to the minister's ultimatum. Many, particularly those who came from outside Addis Ababa, sought refuge in the nearby St. Mary's church, where Special Forces came and surrounded them. According to a first-year science student who was in the church, between ten and twenty police entered the church, followed by ten military "commandos." The security forces then ordered them all to return to the campus. The military commander threatened to have them shot if they refused or shouted. They were ordered to remove their shoes. They were held on campus for the rest of the day and, as described below, were taken to a police jail that night.90
The arrests triggered massive student protests. For the next two days, as many as 10,000 AAU students began demonstrating; they were joined by thousands of high school students, unemployed youths, and others who angrily took to the streets in solidarity and to express their frustration with the government. Student leaders have acknowledged that some of them became violent, burning at least ten cars and vandalizing government buildings and private businesses including a hotel and a bank in the Arat Kilo neighborhood. The police responded with excessive force, and the situation escalated. More than forty demonstrators were killed by police bullets on April 17 and 18.
In the words of one witness:
A doctor at the Tikur Ambessa Hospital told a journalist he was shocked. "Why did they use live ammunition to control the crowds when they could have used teargas or plastic bullets?" he asked.92
On April 18, the ministry of education ordered the indefinite closure of Addis Ababa University, temporarily closed primary and secondary schools in Addis Ababa, and advised parents around the country not to send their children to school for the time being.93 Only the AAU law faculty remained open. The rest of the university reopened less than two weeks later and classes nominally resumed by early May.94 A number of students-many of whom expected to graduate that July-chose to return to class to complete the academic year. They described a tense atmosphere in which students were frequent victims of intimidation. Daniel H., one of a group of graduating students who had attempted to organize a memorial and expression of solidarity with the students who had been killed during the strike, told Human Rights Watch: "We were going to raise our hats for a moment and hold candles in the graduation hall."95 But authorities did not allow this expression of solidarity. "Before that, the police came to my home at night," Daniel said. "They told me to keep out of unnecessary things, keep your dignity or lose your life. They said if anything happens in the hall, `you are the first responsible and we will kill you.' I was really scared. I didn't go to the graduation ceremony-I hid in the dorm and went to find my mother afterward."96
Most students suspended their education for one year. The government arranged for many of them to tutor high school students in their home areas from December 2001 through March 2002 and provided stipends for this work. The students returned en masse on the anniversary of the strike in April and completed the academic year in July.
It is worth noting that students joined the strike for many reasons; not all were immediately motivated by the lack of academic freedom. One student who believes he was harassed repeatedly for attempting to organize Catholic students said he joined the strike when he realized that, "Our generation was slipping because we weren't demanding that our rights be respected."97 "At the beginning of the strike in Mekele, the issue was solidarity [with students at AAU]," said a professor at Mekele University. "As time went on, they started claiming academic freedom at Mekele as well."98
Many viewed the student movement through the prism of ethnic politics, as they do with many aspects of Ethiopian political life. Amhara students, who account for a substantial number of student leaders, hoped to stop a trend toward ethnic polarization on campus, which they consider destructive to the student movement. Some Oromo students, on the other hand, perceived such efforts as a direct attack on their constitutionally granted autonomy as an ethnic group. Whether or not, as an Oromo professor put it, "academic freedom became an issue articulated for the students,"99 the students were exercising their political rights, and the government response was grossly out of proportion to any threat they posed.
At midnight on April 18, police brought seventeen large trucks and two buses to transport some 3,000 students, many of whom had sought refuge at St. Mary's church, to the Sendafa Police camp. One told Human Rights Watch he was beaten on the back with a club as he boarded a truck.100 Another said he was beaten when he was arrested and when he was brought to Sendafa.101 The students were also ill-treated while in detention at Sendafa, including being beaten with rifle butts. A third student detained there said, "The commander kicked me, walked on me with his boots, and inserted his [pistol] into my mouth."102 The detainees received no food or drink for the first thirty hours of captivity. Most were held in a single barracks where, because of lack of space, they had to take turns lying down on the cement floor to sleep. They were compelled to engage in "sports" consisting of barefoot running and kneeling races on gravel. Some reported that police beat their backs, shoulders, and buttocks while they performed these "exercises."103 A Sendafa resident told Human Rights Watch that police did not allow students' families to give them food, clothes, or blankets and even abused those who came to Sendafa in search of their detained family members. "When the AAU students were here, their families came with food and clothes. This whole street was crowded with their families. The police stopped them and beat them. I saw them make a fifty-five year-old man take his shoes off and walk fifty meters barefoot."104 These students were freed after ten days, after being fingerprinted and forced to sign confessions.
Hundreds more students, and thousands of local residents, were arrested in Addis Ababa in the following days. Police at campus gates reportedly had a list of 125 students to be arrested. One, a Tigrean student of political science named Muzgede, was reportedly briefly detained and seriously beaten.105 Fasil Eshetu, spokesman of the student movement, was abducted near the campus on April 20. He told Human Rights Watch he was held for nine days during which police tortured him.
Another leader of the student movement, Daniel H., told Human Rights Watch he was arrested at home on April 19.
He was taken first to a central police station for three days, then to his district police station for two days and later transported overnight to Zewai prison. Police beat him at the district station and at Zewai. At the district station, they beat him and forced him to sign a confession. At Zewai, police threatened to kill him and hit him with a rifle butt. "I was never so afraid in my life," he said. "I thought I would lose my life the next morning."
His family had no idea where he was. They looked for him at prisons and police stations throughout Addis Ababa and at Sendafa and Shoa Robit prisons, where large numbers of students had been detained, but had not known to look at Zewai. He was released after twenty-two days in detention. He says he asked for documentation confirming the time he had spent in detention, but the police refused. "They said, `do you want to go home or not.' I said `yes.' They said, `then don't ask such questions.'" He was never charged with a crime.108
Most of the hundreds of others detained at Zewai were high school students, unemployed youths accused of looting, members of opposition parties accused of instigating the strike, and people who had been arrested by accident or along with family members. One of them told Human Rights Watch that he saw at least twenty detainees at Zewai who were fifteen or younger and thus entitled to be held separately from adults and afforded special protection as "young persons."109 He said that a local judge ordered the release of a twelve-year-old on the detainees' first court appearance but that prison authorities did not release him. Instead, police returned the boy to the Zewai prison and simply did not bring him to court again so the judge would assume he had been released.110
Hundreds more were taken to Shoa Robit prison about 220 kilometers from Addis Ababa. According to a human rights activist, family members who traveled to Shoa Robit to bring food and supplies were turned away by police.111 One hundred twelve members of the Ethiopian Democratic Party (EDP) alone were arrested after the strike, as were many members of the then All Amhara Peoples Organization (AAPO, now AE.U.O). Most were released on June 1 but the EDP said in July 2002 that one party member, Shewangzaw Eshetew, was still being held at that time. EDP members, like other detainees, described ill-treatment, including lack of medical care, poor sanitation, and beatings.112
AAPO member Gebrehana Wolde Medhin was one of four prisoners who died in detention after the strike. The government claimed that he died of tuberculosis, but AAPO asserted that he died as a result of having been beaten, citing the fact that the family had not been informed that he was hospitalized and that the body had not been returned to the family.113 Hundreds of detainees were eventually brought to court and charged with vagrancy, joblessness, and inciting riots.
Several students told Human Rights Watch police had sought them out in the days and weeks following the strike at the homes of family and friends in Addis Ababa and in the countryside. One Gurage student, who had participated in the strike but was not a leader, said a local security official threatened him when he went to his home village. The official warned him not to be involved in any more antigovernment activities and said, "I can kill you because I have the right."114
Another student of Oromo origin stayed with several different people in Addis Ababa when he was released from Sendafa but then went home to his village, Bila, because security forces had come looking for him where he was staying. In Bila, a relative told him that party cadres and police had questioned him about what the student was doing there and threatened to arrest him. The student then went to another village in Wollega province, where his brother works as a teacher, and the same thing happened. He returned to Addis Ababa after two weeks to find that police were still asking his uncle for his whereabouts, so he fled the country. He recalled, "My father said, `I don't want to see you dead here. So go away from here.'"115 Another student told Human Rights Watch he fled in June, two months after the strike, because uniformed police came to the friend's house where he was staying in Addis Ababa and searched it, and because police in civilian clothes had repeatedly visited his family twenty kilometers outside of town looking for him. When interviewed by Human Rights Watch, he was continuing to receive threatening emails from unknown persons.116
Harassment of Oromo University Students
Later that week, fourteen Oromo first-year students were dismissed from the university. The AAU administration did not respond when Human Rights Watch asked for an explanation and clarification of the rule pursuant to which the students were expelled. Students, professors, and Oromo activists interviewed for this report believe the reason for their dismissal was their suspected involvement with the OLF. One of those expelled told Human Rights Watch that a security guard approached him as he tried to enter the campus, ordered him into the security office, then told him to surrender his student identification card and vacate the premises. When he protested, another security officer grabbed him by his shirt front and pulled him out of the office saying, "You can join the OLF in the bush." He was not given a chance to retrieve his belongings from his dorm room, and he never received notice of his expulsion in writing. Security agents reportedly told another student being expelled, "you can go to the forest and fight like we did," apparently referring to the TPLF's origin as a guerrilla movement of former students.118
Other students known as Oromo activists likewise report ongoing intimidation and threats of arrest. A fourth year student said plain-clothed security agents had accosted him in town numerous times in 2002. On May 22, 2002, someone threatened him and said, "Why don't you stop organizing students. It is not good for us. [Stop or] else we will have to destroy you." Earlier that month a car ran into him while he was walking on the side of a road, and he considered this to be an assassination attempt or a warning to cease his political activities. He told Human Rights Watch that he felt so intimidated by these and other events that he had left school before taking his examinations.119
Other Oromo students chose to remain in Addis Ababa for the summer because they feared arrest if they returned to their home villages, particularly in the wake of the large-scale arrests following the high school protests. Two university students returned home to Tafo village just outside Addis Ababa. One of them, Kebede Bayisa Tukura, was arrested on July 28, 2002, within days of his arrival.120
Oromo students have repeatedly been the victims of human rights violations in the past four years. Some point to the beginning of the Ethiopia-Eritrea war in 1998 as the start of heightened tension between the students and the government. At that time, the government forcibly recruited large numbers of Oromo youths, including children, for the war.121 A group of students met the then parliamentary spokesperson to discuss their opposition to the war in general and the recruitment of Oromo youths in particular. In response, according to one of the students at the meeting, the spokesperson told them they must go home and urge others to fight for Ethiopia's sovereignty or suffer the consequences. "She said we had to act as cadres," he said. "This was a turning point in organizing ourselves."122
The next major confrontation between Oromo university students and the government came two years later, in February 2000, when raging forest fires in Bale and Borana were destroying much of the countryside of Oromia. Oromo activists believed the fires had been deliberately set and grew increasingly angry as they perceived the government had taken no action to extinguish the flames for more than five weeks. More than four hundred Oromo university students in Addis Ababa organized themselves to fight the fires. "They accused us of provoking people to revolt," one of the organizers said.123 Batle File, then a third year university student in mechanical engineering, was arrested in Oromia during the effort to extinguish the fires. Later in February 2000, university students requested permission in writing to demonstrate to express their anger that the fires were still burning and that high school protests of failure to put out the fires had been put down brutally, as discussed below. Several Oromo university students reportedly were harassed by security agents after making this request, including seven students whom two armed uniformed police threatened in a dorm room on campus on March 30, 2000. 124 According to students interviewed by Human Rights Watch in July 2002, Batle File reportedly was still in detention in Nekemte.125 High school students also demonstrated during this time, and police reportedly used excessive force to disperse their peaceful protests, as noted below.
On October 11, 2000, university students demonstrated again, this time against a government decision to move the capital of Oromia from Addis Ababa to Nazret, and at least four students were arrested.126 One of them, who was apprehended shortly after he gave an anonymous interview to the BBC World Service correspondent in Addis Ababa, was detained for approximately twenty-four hours and beaten. "They released me on the condition that if I do such bad things again, I will be shot dead," he told Human Rights Watch.127 "After that, the situation for students became worse and worse," said another student. "We became always afraid."128
Controversy has also surrounded the use of a derogatory term for Oromo. In a number of instances on various campuses, students or professors have used the word "galla." The term, from the Amharic-language, was a common term for Oromo until the 1960s, but has now developed derogatory connotations similar to the word "nigger." Oromo students reacted violently when a Tigrean student used the word "galla" when quoting a historical book in a class presentation on December 20, 2000; large numbers of students gathered on the scene and a group fight ensued. Police then came to arrest the Oromo students who had started the fight, but other students lay down in the road and blocked police egress until they let the students go. The police relented and left, but returned later that night. At around midnight, police entered the campus dormitories without warning, broke into Oromo students' rooms, and violently pulled students out. Police took ten students to a police station, 157 to Sendafa Police College, and eighteen to Makalawi (Central) Prison. The eighteen taken to the central prison were brought before a judge and released on bail on January 1, 2001; they have not yet been tried. Human Rights Watch interviewed two students who were detained at Sendafa and the central prison, and both said they were beaten.129
Oromo students on other campuses soon began to stage demonstrations in solidarity. Mohammed, a third year biology student, and two others were dismissed from Bahir Dar University on December 23 after they participated in a demonstration. Mohammed went home to Bale on December 26, and, two days later, militia in civilian clothes carrying Kalashnikovs came to his family's house to arrest him. He was detained at Adaba, a military camp, for one month, along with twenty others including two high school students, Aman Hasi and Mussa Hufeen. He was released on 3,000 birr (U.S.$350) bail on January 26. He fled the country the following week after being warned of plans to rearrest him.130
Disturbances resulting from inflamed passions in response to the use of the word "galla" have been reported on campuses elsewhere in Ethiopia as well. Oromo students became angry when a student used the word "galla" at Mekele University in June 2002, but the situation was diffused when the administration gave the student a stern warning.131 In 2001, a student at Wanduganet Forestry College attacked an instructor who had called him "galla." Three or four students were arrested for attacking the teacher but were not charged. Oromo students appealed to state authorities and the ministry of education; Oromo students across the country, and the president of Dobu University (to which the forestry college is subordinate) reportedly came to address the students' concerns.132 "All that over the mere quotation of a word," said a professor of social sciences. "Some of us prefer to avoid teaching about that. It is hard to teach about anything constructive!"133
Most of those interviewed for this report said they were not surprised that the government believes that Oromo students might be acting in support of the OLF, particularly in the wake of renewed OLF military activity in June 2002.134 In the words of a European diplomat, "It is perfectly logical that the OLF is looking for support among students. . . . But any Oromo critical of the government is labeled OLF, and then branded a terrorist or a security detainee. So he will get [a] closed-door court or no court at all."135
The students say they are willing to continue to fight for their rights. One student who was arrested after the high school student protests lamented, "Look at the seventeen students arrested in [my home town]. Is it because they were questioning education policy or that producing productive Oromos would take us backward? I fear no educated Oromo will be able to lead Oromia. We are ready to be jailed, even killed rather than accept this. It is immoral."136
Pattern of Excessive Force in Response to Political Protests
The following observation made by EHRCO in January 2001 is even more relevant today:
The crackdown on high school protests in Oromia in 2002 described at the beginning of this chapter was reminiscent of a crackdown in the same region two years earlier. On March 9, 2000, high school students in Ambo demonstrated after authorities arrested four students who were sent to express concerns about the raging forest fires. EHRCO reported that students threw stones at police who tried to enter the high school compound to disperse the demonstration and that police responded by first firing into the air and then beating students indiscriminately, beating one student to death and wounding nine others. The Oromia Support Group reported that 300 civilians had been detained after the protest.139 An educator said a woman boldly stood up in an Ambo community meeting he attended and accused security forces of having beaten her nephew to death. He recalls that local officials claimed the boy had been killed by stones thrown by other students but promised to investigate his death. As far as Ambo residents know, he told Human Rights Watch, nothing came of the investigation.140
A group of Oromo university students demonstrated in protest and raised the issue of the death of the Ambo student in a meeting with then president of Oromia Regional State, who reportedly dismissed their concerns and claimed that students had stoned another student to death.141 High school students also protested in towns around Oromia and police reportedly killed a girl in Dembi Dolo.142 EHRCO reported a similar chain of events in Nekemte, where students initially attempted to enlist local officials to help extinguish the fires but, considering their overtures to have been rebuffed, staged a demonstration on April 13. Special Forces surrounded the school compound and fired into the air. A melee ensued in which students threw stones and police chased and beat them. Several students were wounded and dozens arrested.143
Another student demonstration was put down violently in Awassa in December 2000. Local and college officials reportedly grew angry when students at Awassa Teachers College went on a hunger strike to protest living conditions on the campus. Tensions quickly escalated, and, on the first day of the strike, large numbers of students began to protest. Armed security forces came to the campus and beat students. The following day, students again clashed with police, who fired their weapons reportedly killing one student. Junior high and high school students demonstrated to express their solidarity with the college students the following week, a demonstration police dispersed by firing into the air; some sixty students fleeing the scene were arrested and others beaten. A high school student died after being hit in the neck by a stone. Schools in the town were closed for two weeks.144 High school students in Awassa demonstrated again in May 2001, this time protesting conditions of peasants in Hossana and Hadiya where many of their families lived. Police again responded with guns, reportedly killing six students.145
Lethal repression of political protests has unfortunately been a recurring theme in Ethiopia, not only in protests involving students. The most deadly crackdowns on demonstrations in 2002 took place in the towns of Awassa and Tepi of the Southern Nations, Nationalities and Peoples' State. On May 24, 2002, thousands of Sidama residents of Awassa and neighboring villages came to town to demonstrate against a plan to change the city's administrative status. The police apparently claim that demonstrators shot each other.146 However, eyewitnesses interviewed by Human Rights Watch, journalists, and other researchers unanimously confirm that some demonstrators carried spears but most were unarmed. A researcher who visited Awassa after the protest and interviewed eyewitnesses and local officials said:
The government acknowledged seventeen civilian deaths, in addition to the deaths of two policemen; EHRCO reported twenty-five killed, including eleven students aged thirteen to sixteen; the Southern Ethiopia Peoples' Democratic Coalition (SEPDC) published a list of forty-six people killed, sixteen of whom were students. Both EHRCO and SEPDC listed high school students among the wounded.148
In the remote town of Tepi, also in the SNNP region, members of the Sheko and Majenger minority groups clashed with local officials and police over political rights on March 11, 2002, leading to the deaths of at least eighteen civilians and one local official. In the following days, more than one hundred were killed and several villages reportedly razed to the ground by order of local authorities. Approximately one thousand civilians were arrested after the disturbance, and 269 were still in detention when a European Union (E.U.) delegation visited Tepi in June 2002.149
An editorial in a local English-language newspaper charged:
Impunity of Security Forces
In the wake of an E.U. demand for an inquiry into the events at Awassa and Tepi, the Ethiopian government claimed it had arrested ten officials for instigating violence in Tepi and five for involvement in the riot in Awassa.154 Human Rights Watch welcomes this development and strongly urges the government to prosecute these and any others found responsible to the full extent of the law. However, diplomatic and NGO sources have reported that those arrested might not have been the ones responsible for civilian deaths.155 Two months earlier, before the E.U. demand for accountability, government sources had reported that disciplinary action had been taken against some municipal officials shortly after the Awassa riot. Dr. Beyene Petros, chair of the southern region opposition party, SEDPC, warned that this was misleading. He said that those disciplined were actually accused of having encouraged civilians to demonstrate-not of having killed unarmed protestors.156 Similarly, a journalist told Human Rights Watch that government officials who had been dismissed after this year's high school protests in Oromia were accused of encouraging the demonstrations, not of using excessive force to quell them.157
Local officials claimed to have arrested a police officer immediately after he had shot a student to death in Ambo in March 2002. Residents said they had not received any further information about the prosecution as of July; the boy's mother was still waiting for promised compensation in July.158 Local newspapers published the names of five security agents suspected of killing students in Shambu, but journalists say that, as far as they know, these individuals have not been disciplined or accused of any crime. Worse yet, Shambu residents reported that a militia member accused of having shot a student was given a promotion; his alleged crime was not investigated.159
After the April 2001 AAU student strike, the Parliamentary Committee on Social and Legal Affairs held a widely publicized inquiry into government excesses. Officials of the university, the ministry of education, and the Federal Police Commission all denounced the police entry into the campus and loss of life. Getachew Erena, representative of the Federal Police Commission, told the committee that, "mishaps had indeed occurred" and that the police lacked rules and regulations to govern police conduct during civil disturbances.160 But if the parliamentary committee's investigation led to any disciplinary action or criminal prosecution, the government has not publicized the outcome. According to an AAU professor:
Human Rights Watch researchers asked students (including one who had given testimony before the committee), professors, journalists, human rights activists, and a member of parliament what the results of the parliamentary inquiry had been. No one knew whether anyone had been prosecuted or disciplined, if a report had been produced, or if any reforms had been instituted in response. A year later, a local newspaper accused the parliament of abdicating its responsibility by remaining silent in the face of reports of killings in Oromia and Awassa.162
40 Letter from Oromia State Council to "The Diplomatic Community International Committee of the Red Cross in Ethiopia Humanitarian Organizations" concerning "Facts about Student Arrests in Oromia Region," not dated, available at www.waltainfo.com, (retrieved May 22, 2002).
43 Letter from Oromia State Council; Human Rights Watch interviews, Addis Ababa, July 27, 2002.
58 Oromos living abroad told Human Rights Watch that relatives living near Ghimbi estimated some 1,500 were detained at the town's central prison in June. Human Rights Watch interview by telephone, Oslo, Norway, July 1, 2002.
71 The following is based on more than twenty interviews with students who participated in the strike in Nairobi in April and July 2002 and in Addis Adaba in July 2002; interviews with journalists, professors, university officials, and politicians who followed the events; and close reading of news articles, reports, and calls for help posted on various websites including International Ethiopian University Support Site (http://ntama.uni-mainz.de/~aau/), the Ethiopian Human Rights Council (http://www.ehrco.net), and Worldwide Protest to Stop the Brutal Treatment of Addis Ababa University Students and Human Rights Activists (http://www.geocities.com/lmak27455/).
72 For a discussion of the human rights violations to which these students and other refugees have been subjected in Nairobi, see Human Rights Watch, Hidden in Plain View: Refugees Living Without Protection in Nairobi and Kampala (New York: Human Rights Watch, 2002).
74 See, "Ethiopia: Targeting Human Rights Defenders," Human Rights Watch Press Release, May 19, 2001. An unofficial English translation of the Amharic-language charges can be found at the International Ethiopian University Support Site, http://ntama.uni-mainz.de/~aau/Mesfincharges.html (retrieved August 16, 2002).
78 "Ethiopia: Government Attacks Universities, Civil Society," Human Rights Watch Press Release, May 10, 2001. Ambulances were reportedly allowed to transport wounded students after "initial difficulty of access to the compound." "Red Cross Steps up Humanitarian Activities During Riots in Addis," Walta Information Center, April 20, 2001.
83 Human Rights Watch interview, Addis Ababa, July 16, 2002. They said they had been reluctant to join earlier because Amhara students had largely failed to come to their defense when police beat and arrested tens of Oromo students in December 2000, as discussed below.
96 Ibid. Daniel H. was not physically harmed but the threats continued. Three months after the May incident, a man followed him and threatened him in a bar saying, "we will [teach] you to keep out of political activities." .
108 Human Rights Watch interview, Addis Ababa, July 19, 2002. Human Rights Watch interviewed three other people who also said their families had no information about their whereabouts while they were detained at Zewai. One, an unemployed man aged twenty-four, contracted tuberculosis there and almost died due to lack of medical care. Human Rights Watch interviews, Addis Ababa, July 23, 26, and 29, 2002.
110 Human Rights Watch interview, Addis Ababa, July 26, 2002. According to a lawyer, there is no juvenile detention facility in Ethiopia. Human Rights Watch interview, Addis Ababa, July 18, 2002. There is a juvenile court in Addis Ababa, but woreda (district) courts are empowered to hear all juvenile cases outside the capital. Second Periodic Report of Ethiopia to the Committee on the Rights of the Child, U.N. Doc, CRC/C/70/Add.7, March 23, 2000, p. 16 para. 33.
123 Human Rights Watch interview, Nairobi, July 10, 2002. The government reportedly planned to prosecute individuals accused of setting the fires. "Fire Suspects to be Prosecuted Next Week," The Addis Tribune, March 17, 2000.
148 Ethiopian Human Rights Council, "Serious Human Rights Violations in Awassa and Its Environs," 51st Special Report, June 4, 2002; Southern Ethiopia Peoples' Democratic Coalition, Information on the Massacre of the Sidama in Awassa by the TPLF/EPRDF Government, 2002. The SEPDC report cited fifty-one deaths but five of the victims were unnamed, reportedly because their cadavers had been eaten by hyenas.
149 Nita Bhalla, "E.U. wants Ethiopian `atrocity' inquiry," BBC News, July 16, 2002. See also Ethiopian Human Rights Council, "A Conflict that Resulted in Many Deaths in Tepi, Shekicho Zone," 49th Special Report, May 2, 2002; SEPCD and Coalition of Alternative Forces for Peace and Democracy in Ethiopia, Human carnage of the Sheko, Mejjenger and the Manja peoples in Kaffa, Bench-Majjii and Shaka zones in the SNPP Region, April 3, 2002.