(Right Groups, October 12, 2016) Amnesty International and Freedom House have called for an independent investigation into the the massacre of hundreds of civilians in Bishoftu, Central Oromia, at the annual Irreecha celebration, an Oromo cultural festival.
Hundreds of people, over 600 by some accounts, were killed as security forces opened fire and threw gas canisters into the huge crowd, who seized the occasion to express their grievances against the oppressive regime. Most were killed in a stampede while others were reportedly shot and killed by security forces.
“Fresh protests in Ethiopia since dozens of protesters were killed in a stampede at a religious festival on 2 October underline the need for the Ethiopian government to ensure a full investigation into how the protest was handled,” said Amnesty in a release on Wednesday.
“We have documented multiple complaints of police using excessive force, including lethal force, against largely peaceful protesters since demonstrations began in the Oromia region in November last year,” said Michelle Kagari, Amnesty’s Deputy Regional Director for East Africa, the Horn and the Great Lakes.
“The law enforcement agencies must immediately end all unlawful use of force against protesters. The government, meanwhile, has an obligation to ensure prompt, thorough, impartial, transparent and effective investigations, particularly into deaths during protests,” he said.
“This should include what role government forces played in Bishoftu, as well as how Ethiopian security forces manage public protests in general,” Kagari noted.
Freedom Housed meanwhile held security forces accountable for the death of the festival goers.
“The deaths in Bishoftu occurred because security forces fired tear gas and live ammunition at a crowd of over a million people celebrating a religious occasion,” said Vukasin Petrovic, director for Freedom House’s Africa programs.
“The government of Ethiopia should allow a truly independent body to investigate the tragedy at Bishoftu as well as security forces’ well-documented record of using excessive force against peaceful gatherings,” Petrovic said in a statement.