AAA Report - April 26, 2023
Report on killings and injuries by Oromo ENDF in Merawi town (North Mecha Woreda, West Gojjam Zone, Amhara Region) on April 10, 2023
Original version published on April 26, 2023, correction made on May 26, 2023 to correct discrepancy in a victim's name.
As of Sunday, April 9, 2023, the Oromo Ethiopian National Defense Force (ENDF) were largely present in Merawi town of North Mecha Woreda (West Gojjam Zone, Amhara Region, Ethiopia). A number of ENDF infantry convoys also arrived in Merawi on April 10, 2023, reportedly to pursue members of the Amhara Special Forces (ASF) in nearby areas as youth were preparing to continue protest that had started the day before, according to witnesses. As the situation became more tense, the town’s elders swiftly convened and counseled the ENDF officials to abandon their purpose of pursuing the members and let the youths’ voices be heard. When the ENDF infantry persisted in carrying out its objective to pursue the ASF in the area and disperse the gatherers, the negotiation ended up coming to an impasse. Then the residents of the town assembled to protest, and the ENDF started shooting at them, killing and injuring unarmed protestors and anyone else who happened to be on the streets. The Amhara Association of America (AAA) was able to verify the deaths of three civilians and the physical injuries of another 21 individuals by name.
Since early April 2023, the Prosperity Party regime led by Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed Ali has been trying to disarm the regional special forces in Ethiopia. Though it was announced that the measure targets all regional special forces in the country, practically, it has selectively targeted the ASF and Fano (non-state volunteer militias).
This measure by the Abiy administration that selectively targets the ASF and Fano was met with stiff resistance across all corners of Amhara Region in Ethiopia. As of April 9, 2023, there were peaceful demonstrations in several cities and towns of the Amhara Region, including Gonder, Debre Tabor, Dessie, Kombolcha, Debre Birhan, Bahir Dar, Merawi, Injibara, Burie, Finote Selam, Debre Markos, and Dejen. Political parties and members of the Federal Parliament have also expressed their objections against this decision of the federal government. Protests also decried other pertinent issues facing the Amhara people including ongoing apartheid practices and ethnic-based massacres, displacement, political marginalization, home demolitions and travel restrictions in the Oromia Region and elsewhere in Ethiopia.
The ruling party’s unilateral decision to dissolve and disarm the ASF is legally and practically unacceptable. Legally, according to the 1994 Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia (FDRE) Constitution, which is the supreme law of the land, under Article 52(2)g, it empowers regional states with the power to ”establish and administer a state police force.” The Constitution does not say the power of the regional governments is limited to the power to establish regular forces only. Instead, it allows states to establish security forces under any name, whether special or regular. The ”special” or ”regular” terms are a matter of terminology and uniform; whether they are ”special” or regular,” they are still state police and thus fall within the ambit of the state’s power under Article 52(2)g of the Constitution. This was what states were practically doing before the pronouncement of this decision. For instance, in the context of the Amhara National Regional State, the ASF is administered within the police commission of the region, and the recruitment, promotion, and privileges of members of the special force are similar to those of the regular police forces. The only difference, if it can be taken for real, is that the members of the special force are dressed differently and the regular police in the region are dressed with their own distinct blue uniforms.
The second clause under the aforementioned article of the Constitution strengthens this assertion. The clause grants states the power ”to maintain public order and peace within the state.” This implies that if situations in a particular state necessitate the establishment of specially trained and armed forces, states can establish their own special force with a view to maintaining peace and security within their territory. In this context, the establishment and necessity of ASF in the Amhara Region are justified. The Amhara Region is uniquely exposed to security challenges in the country. There are challenges within the region from the terrorist Oromo Liberation Army (OLA), which widely operates in the Oromo Special Zone of the region and is responsible for the death and displacement of thousands of Amharas within the neighboring zones of the region. For instance, the OLA has destroyed the town of Ataye (the administrative seat of Efratana Gidim Woreda) eleven times so far. There are also formidable challenges from groups affiliated to the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) including the Kimant militia, which widely moves in the West Gonder Zone and are responsible for the abduction of several civilians in the zone, and the Agew Shengo militias operating in the north. So the existence of these security challenges justifies the need to have a specially trained force that can maintain peace and order in the region pursuant to the second clause of Article 52(2)g of the Constitution.
The decision of the Abiy administration is wrong not only legally but also practically. The TPLF, which invaded the Amhara Region in four rounds following the withdrawal of federal forces from Mekelle, capital of the Tigray Region, in June 2021, is preparing for another round of invasion and openly declaring that it will retake the Amhara territories of Raya and Welkait. The security challenge within the Amhara Region from the OLA is also unabated in the region; it, for instance, opened a war against the residents of Ataye on April 1st, 2023. Given the situation of the Amhara Region, the dissolution of the ASF would undoubtedly put the region at risk from clear and present threats. Therefore, the decision of the Prosperity Party is untimely in the Amhara Region.