By :- Nakachew Ayele
Addis Ababa (Ethiopia Today) “Security forces have overreacted and needlessly beaten people, used tear gas, plastic and lethal bullets, and other excessive measures, including on older persons and children, resulting in at least one death, several bodily injuries, and distress on people gathered around Menelik Square for the national celebration,” says the EHRC.
On the press release sent to “Ethiopia Today” regarding incidents related to the 2023 Adwa Victory Day celebration, the commission says: “Official ceremonies appeared orderly after the security forces sealed off the various venues from access by the general public, but after the official ceremony, a traditional, popular, and peaceful gathering of people around Menelik Square and a religious congregation in nearby Saint George Church were violently disrupted by the unnecessary and excessive actions of the security forces, whose primary responsibility should have been to protect the safety and security of the public and safeguard the human rights of all persons.
“Implicated law enforcement officials must be held accountable, and law enforcement officers should be adequately trained to avoid similar incidents.”
The Addis Abeba Diocese of the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church (EOTC) also disclosed that many faithfuls were injured and a spiritual ceremony was discontinued due to tear gas thrown at the church following a measure taken by government forces to disperse a crowd during the celebration at the city’s Menilik II Square held yesterday.
A report by the Addis Abeba Diocese said that the Holy Arks were in place at the ceremony while the government security forces fired tear gas into the church, and the Holy Arks had to return to their respective seats without completing the ceremony.
The diocese additionally said it has received information from the scene indicating many worshipers were injured and passed out from the tear gas that was thrown from both entrance doors of the church.
Similarly, the opposition National Movement of Amhara, in a statement, condemned the incident, which it said killed one of its members, expressing it as “obstruction created by the government unlawfully preventing people from celebrating Adwa Victory Day the way they preferred.”
According to NAMA, the government’s security forces went beyond using completely unnecessary measures against the citizens found in every square and threw smoke bombs in the church and caused damage to the devotees and priests who were attending the ceremony.
The party disclosed that a member named Million (Mekwanent) Wodajo, who was a physics teacher at Menelik II Preparatory School, was shot dead by government security forces. NAMA further called for accountability measures and a public apology, along with an assurance that the incident will not be repeated.
EHRC said in its statement that “implicated law enforcement officials must be subject to accountability, and law enforcement officers should be adequately trained to avoid similar incidents.”
The commission further underlined that in carrying out their duties, law enforcement officials shall, as far as possible, apply non-violent methods before resorting to the use of force and firearms. Force and firearms may only be used if other means of achieving a legitimate law enforcement objective are ineffective or unlikely to be successful.
The FDRE Government Communication Service, however, released a statement yesterday indicating that security forces already had information about the existence of elements who wanted to prevent such national events from happening. The statement further said, without disclosing the identities of the bodies, that, particularly, those who wanted to disrupt the festival in Menilk Square tried to incite violence, but when they failed to disrupt the festival in the square, they tried to disrupt the religious festival in St. George’s Church.
The statement added that security forces had taken due care and protection with efforts to calm down the rioters, prevent the disruption of the religious festival in the church, and protect devotees, yet some of them were injured. Further to this, the statement stated that the government would investigate the situation and take appropriate action against the troublemakers.
The Chief Commissioner reiterated the human rights principle in the Guidelines for the Policing of Assemblies by Law Enforcement Officials in Africa adopted by the African Commission, which provides that “the use of force is an exceptional measure.