The Ethiopian Human Rights Commission (EHRC) follows with grave concern the deadly hostilities between the Ethiopian National Defense Force (ENDF) and the Fano armed group in the Amhara Regional State. Following months of tension and sporadic clashes, large parts of the Amhara region was engulfed in heavy fighting since August 3, 2023. While heavy fighting has subsided in major urban areas since August 9, 2023, it continues in other parts of the region and remains a major concern until a sustainable solution is in place.
On April 12, 2023, EHRC issued a press release urging for dialogue and peaceful resolution, and the protection of civilians who were impacted by the violence that erupted in Amhara Region following the decision by the Federal Government to dissolve and reorganize Regional Special Forces. On August 4, 2023, following the declaration of a state of emergency with apparent national application to address the situation in the Amhara region, EHRC issued a press release reiterating its call for a peaceful resolution underscoring the grave impact of armed conflict on civilians. On August 12, 2023, EHRC issued a press statement along with a detailed human rights analysis and recommendations on the State of Emergency Proclamation urging Parliament to assess the necessity, legality and proportionality of the Emergency Powers as well as its 6-month time span and its geographic scope of application.
EHRC continues to monitor the impact of the conflict in the Amhara region on the human rights situation. The Commission is also receiving complaints of human rights violations both before and after the declaration of the state of emergency including from Addis Ababa and other areas of the country.
EHRC has confirmed that there was heavy fighting in and around cities and towns across the Amhara region, which involved the use of heavy artillery resulting in the deaths and injuries of civilians, as well as damage to property. There have been cases where protestors including civilians who attempted to block roads were killed. Prisons and police stations in the region were broken into, weapons and ammunition were looted, and pre-trial detainees and prisoners escaped. The Amhara regional administration officials at various levels have been the target of attacks, resulting in the temporary collapse of local state structures in many areas and killings of government officials.
Access to basic services including electricity, water, banking services, hospitals, schools, telephone and internet services have been disrupted in many areas. Shops have also been closed, and the fighting has forced residents to confine themselves to their homes and prevented from carrying out their daily routines. Humanitarian assistance to Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) in the Amhara region has been interrupted due to the conflict and the blocking of roads. The deteriorating security situation and interruption of services have placed refugees and asylum-seekers in Northern Gondar Zone, Dabat Woreda, in a situation of heightened vulnerability, and exacerbated protection concerns.
In Debre Birhan city, due to heavy fighting in 4 densely populated kebeles between August 6 and 7, 2023, civilians including in a hospital, church, and school as well as residents in their neighborhoods and workers in their workplaces apparently killed due to fragments from heavy artillery or in crossfire. IDPs in Debre Birhan are also at risk of being caught in the crossfires, particularly those in what is commonly known as the China IDPs site near Kebele 8 which hosts close to 13,000 people.
EHRC has also received credible reports of strikes and shelling including from Debre Birhan, Finote Selam, and Burie resulting in many civilian casualties and damage to residential areas and public spaces.
In Bahir Dar, in many areas of the city civilians were killed on the streets or outside their houses while some youths were specifically targeted for searches and subjected to beatings and killings. There are also credible reports of many civilian casualties and damages to property in various parts of Gondar and extra-judicial killings in Shewa Robit by the security forces, the details of which are yet to be fully investigated and verified.
In Addis Ababa city administration, there has been widespread arrest of civilians who are of ethnic Amhara origin, as well as widespread detention of irregular migrants from Eritrean, some of whom might be seeking asylum status in Ethiopia. EHRC has received multiple reports from families and friends of detainees, but the Commission has not yet been granted access to monitor the conditions of detentions since the declaration of the State of Emergency.
EHRC underscores that human rights are inalienable and should continue to apply and be respected both in times of conflict and peace. EHRC reiterates the non-derogable nature of fundamental human rights which also have acquired the status of jus cogens including the prohibition of extra-judicial killing and torture including during a state of emergency. EHRC also reiterates the disproportionate impact of conflict on persons with disabilities, older persons, children, and women. All parties must take the necessary precautions and measures to protect civilians, including by refraining from indiscriminate attacks. The necessary conditions for the civilian population to have access to basic services and to ensure that IDPs and refugees receive humanitarian assistance must be established.
In light of the above, EHRC:
- Calls on conflicting parties to immediately end all violations and abuses of international human rights law; and to agree, without preconditions, to immediately end hostilities, enabling space for dialogue and a peaceful resolution of the conflict;
- Calls on the Federal Government to cease the widespread detentions and allow regular and unconditional access to EHRC and other oversight bodies to all detention facilities to conduct effective monitoring; to release all persons arrested or detained arbitrarily, and review the legality of their detention by a competent judicial authority;
- Calls on the Federal Government to create the necessary conducive environment for the transitional justice process in Ethiopia which includes prioritizing dialogue and refraining from violence;
- Calls on public figures, prominent leaders, and government officials to refrain from engaging in statements that fuel the conflict and heighten the vulnerability of specific groups, and instead urge for the peaceful resolution of the matter; and
- The Commission also appeals to the Inter-governmental Authority for Development (IGAD), African Union (AU), United Nations (UN), and the international community and missions operating in Ethiopia to support and facilitate dialogue between the conflicting parties.