November 1, 2006

Oromo: Electoral Violence Caused 193 Deaths, 4.45m Br in Damage

The report on the result of electoral violence in June and November 2005, produced by an Inquiry Commission established by parliament in January 2006 has been released. In addition to the 193 people died, it estimated the loss on property caused at 4.45 m Br (404000 Euros)

Finally, the most anticipated and controversial report produced by an Inquiry Commission established by parliament in January 2006 is out: in addition to the 193 people died, it estimated the loss on property caused as a result of electoral violence in June and November 2005 at 4.45 million Br.

The largest property victim was the Addis Abeba City Bus Enterprise that suffered serious damages on its 190 buses, including a couple of them torched to ashes; the company sustained a total loss of close to three million Birr. It was only followed in Addis Abeba by an individual, Colonel Araya G. Yohannes, where violent demonstrators burned his houses that led him to sustain an estimated loss of nearly 150,000 Br.

The violence, and thus damage on property, was not limited to Addis Abeba but included some parts of the Oromia and the Southern regional states as well as the town of Bahir Dar, 581Km west of Addis Abeba. In fact, the second largest loss was reported in the Gurage Zone, Southern Regional State, where angry demonstrators caused an estimated damage of 513,000 Br worth of property belonging to individuals and the state.

Some of the victims included the Ethiopian Investment Commission, Wegagen Bank (at its braches in Mesalemia and Bahir Dar) and Chinese Road and Bridge Construction.

The 10-page report was submitted to the Speaker of Parliament, Teshome Toga, on October 11, 2006. The Speaker subsequently distributed copies of the report to members of parliament last week; there will be a debate on the report on Monday, October 30. Most MPs from the opposition declined to comment before they make their position clear on the floor of the House.

Nonetheless, the evolution of the Commission has a story of its own, as does the report. The Commission lost five of its original members, including its first chair, Frehiwot Samuel, and his deputy, Shiferaw Jamo, who were picked by the Legal and Administrative Standing Committee, in December 2005. Selected for their "neutrality, integrity, non-partisanship and good standing in their community", members included representatives of the four religions and the judiciary.

They interviewed close to 600 people, including many that are fighting treason and genocide charges from jail, and examined 3,405 documents. They were tasked to determine not only the number of loss of life and the extent of the damage on property, but also whether or not the security establishment used excessive use of force while quelling what the report discovered was "massive and widespread violent protests against the government", and if the handling of those under police custody were treated according to what the constitution and other international laws dictate. The interview started from Prime Minister Meles Zenawi who was under direct command of the law enforcement agencies right after polling date on May 15, 2005.

The report discovered that there was violent protests in 204 locations in Addis Abeba, but mainly concentrated in Shiro Meda, Arat Kilo, Yeka, Kotebe, Piassa, Semen Mazegadga, Gulele, Kolfe, Merkato, Nifas Silk and Mexico areas. About 193 people, mainly civilians but also six police officers, were killed, many of them killed by gun fire.

But members of the Commission that have finally signed on the report submitted to Parliament fall short of pronouncing government reaction during this period an "excessive use of force".

The report, however, says the Commission does not believe the handling of human rights during this period was consistent to the Constitutions and other laws, althought recognizes that the government has tried to avoid violations of these rights.

"The series of instruction given to law enforcement forces by officials in relations to human rights handling suggests this," said the report.

But these are not statements as forceful as what the Commission members have said in their concluding remarks.

"Measures that law enforcement forces had taken to control the violence during the period the Commission was mandated to investigate were legitimate and appropriate," said the Commission in the report. "It was an act taken to protect the newly installed government and perhaps thought to spare the country from unending chaos."

Not everyone is convinced; least of all one of their own and deputy chairman of the Commission but acting as head following the departure of Frehiwot. He said the federal government put its heavy hands on the consciousness of Commission members to change what they had agreed on earlier.

Speaking from his place in exile in Europe, Woldemicheal Meshesha, also deputy president of the Federal First Instance Court, whistled the first blow to Anthony Mitchell, an Associated Press reporter based in Nairobi after he was deported from Ethiopia in January 2005, that has brought the credibility of the Commission's report to task.

He claimed that eight of the Commission's members had voted, while video taped, that law enforcement forces had employed excessive force when trying to put the violent protest under control. It was only after a "threat" from the Prime Minister that they skewed the original report. Fearing for his life, Woldemicheal left the country.

That is not the case, according to Mekonnen Disasa (PhD), from the Addis Abeba University, and acting chairman of the Commission. He was brought on board after the resignation of the five members.

"We spoke to the Prime Minister when we started our investigation," Mekonnen told Fortune. "he told us during our interview that we should do it being true to our consciousness."