Ethiopia secret committee violating human rights in suppressing Oromo insurgency group: Reuters investigation News
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Ethiopia secret committee violating human rights in suppressing Oromo insurgency group: Reuters investigation

An investigation published by Reuters on Friday revealed that a secretive committee of high-ranking officials in Ethiopia has been committing human rights violations in order to eliminate the Oromo Liberation Army- Oromo Liberation Front (OLF-OLA) insurgency group. Reuters interviewed over 30 sources, revealing the committee’s existence for the first time on record.

The committee, called Koree Nageenyaa, began working to suppress the OLF-OLA around 2019, following a wave of protests stemming from political and social tensions. The OLF-OLA describes itself as a “political organization seeking equality and self-determination, human rights, democracy and equality for Oromia and her neighbors.” While the Ethiopian government re-designated the group as a terrorist group in 2021, most countries do not describe it as a such.

Sources in Reuters’ report say that the Koree Nageenyaa has ordered “hundreds of arrests” and “dozens of killings” of any persons suspected to be involved with the OLF-OLA, as well as a “massacre of 14 shepherds in Oromia in 2021 that the government has previously blamed on OLA fighters.” The Koree Nageenyaa reportedly meets in Oromia regional offices and is headed by Prime Minister Abiy’s former chief of staff and president of the Oromia region.

The military leader of OLF-OLA, Jaal Marroo, told Reuters that he “is aware of the Koree Nageenyaa’s existence.” He accused the committee of human rights violations. A former judge on the Oromia supreme court told the investigative reporters that “[t]he Koree Nageenya sits down and decides that a person needs to be detained. Then they go and arrest them without warrant or investigation or due process.” There are reports of torture during detention, with one source revealing that he was electrocuted while strung upside down for 45 days, a technique known among detainees as “number eight.”

The findings of the investigation was presented to the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission, who responded in a press release that the killing and human rights violations of civilians by the government and armed groups should end immediately. It called for accountability, compensation of victims, and peaceful dialogue on all sides for a lasting solution. It called on the Oromia region to urgently provide lasting solutions in light of the investigation, its findings, and the information and evidence gathered.  Reuters says that the Ethiopian federal government, Prime Minister’s office and regional government “did not respond to detailed questions.”

Oromia has a history of armed violence and social inequality. In 2020, Amnesty International released a report detailing the extensive human rights violations by the Ethiopian Security Forces in the Oromia region. It details that a majority of the fighting in Oromia has been led by the OLF-OLA, who are “critical of the ongoing reform alleging that it disregarded the interests of the ethnic Oromo.” A further press release in 2020 reported extensive arbitrary arrests and human rights violations including rape and extrajudicial execution in Oromia by the Ethiopian security forces.

The OLF-OLA were offered a peace agreement by the government and was removed as a designated terrorist group, but refused to disarm and immobilize. In 2022, a Human Rights Watch report said that the ongoing fighting between insurgent and government forces have resulted in “serious abuses against Oromo and minority communities.”  The government blames the OLF-OLA for civilian massacres and attacks, while the OLF-OLA alleges that the government militia is responsible.