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Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Criminalizing, detaining, killing and dismissing Oromo students in Ethiopian Universities

I am writing this article to remind the world, particularly human right watch groups, to pay more attention and stop the rising gross violations of human right against Oromo students in Ethiopian Universities.

The history of discriminating and attacking Oromo students has extended over four decades now. My interest here is not to cover the plights of Oromo students over this length of time but it is to illustrate when, how and why the Ethiopian state attacks Oromo students on campuses. Especially, ever since the minority regime has ascended to power via undemocratic means in 1991, targeting Oromo students as ‘enemies’ of the state has been increasing every year.

I will use a few instances from 2008 to illustrate the nature of the tactics the government uses to demoralize and to disrupt students from focusing on their educational goals. On January 1, over 200 Oromo students were arrested and a few sustained injuries from live ammunitions. This happened at Arbaminch University. The reason they were attacked was because they were found celebrating January 1 as a new year. The attacks were justified by alleging that the students were promoting ‘subversive’ Oromo Liberation Front agenda. Several ethnic groups are represented in Ethiopian Universties but the only group who is always exclusively victimized are the group of Oromo students belonging to the Oromo tribe, for mere reasons of belonging. People everywhere do not choose what tribe, what race they want to be born and be. It is just natural; you are one or the other. But in Ethiopia this is crime for Oromo students. Mass arrests are spontaneous and they do not involve court arrest warrants. Once students are arrested out of say the 200 students, a few who are picked by government spies as ‘front-runners’ will disappear without due process of law, maybe some as long as the regime is in power.

The other form of human rights violation against Oromo students takes a form of arbitrary complete academic dismissals. As an example for this, on the 18 January 12 Oromo students were given complete dismissals at Jimma University and coerced out of campus by heavily armed federal police. Because the students wore T-shirts with the map of Oromia and Oromo heroes, including sports heroes, printed on them, the universities board decided them exclude them from there education. Then, in the same way, the students were accused of being sympathizers with the Oromo Liberation Front and that justified their segregation. Incidents of this nature are so widespread that it seems to be a normal process. Both the Oromia regional state and the central governments are found to turn blind eyes to this.

The other form that the attacks against Oromo students take is provocation by students affiliated ethnically and politically to the state. These provocations mostly come by calling Oromo students derogatory names that dehumanizes and insults their tribe, Oromo. This has been a major cause of exchange and fight between tribally divided students. Then, security forces intervene in favor of students affiliated to ruling party and again Oromo students are victimized. The justification is simple. University administrators together with security forces, pull out one phrase “Member of Oromo Liberation Front’. To a worrying degree, this has been going on viciously.

What happens once Oromo students arrested?

If it is a mass arrest in several hundreds, the majority will be suspended for one year from their school, a few others given academic dismissals, and a few will be thrown behind bars without access to fair trial for unlimited period of time. Of course, some unfortunate ones are shot dead at the early stage of unrest.

When do attacks take place? They happen usually one or two weeks before final examinations. While students who are by origin from the Prime Minister’s tribe got to study for their exams undistracted, Oromo students are often traumatized by the knowledge that they can’t take their exams or don’t have enough time to study if they are released 2 days before exams.

Implications of the plights

Trauma caused at once will have a lasting impact of demoralizing the Oromo students as a result of which one may expect a decline in their academic performance. Besides this psychological warfare, Oromo students sustain bodily injuries and some will die. This would affect their poor parents who have had a dream of seeing their son, daughter finish University and help them alleviate their poor living conditions. If these attacks happen only once to all groups of students, it can be called an accident. But given the increasing gross violations against Oromo students from year to year, the state bears the responsibility for this.

Call on the FDRE and Oromia State Governments

It is incumbent on the Prime Minister’s office to stop making the universities battle grounds and instead making them where every Ethiopian child regardless of its ethnic origin enjoys full academic privileges/the rights to education. Exclusively detaining, killing and dismissing Oromo students while other students learn undisturbed are dangerous scenarios which can further divide the already divided Ethiopian people. Students come to universities for books and not for bullets. Oromia State is presently failing to protect the interests of students from its region in Ethiopian Universities despite the claims and propaganda that it stands for the interests of the Oromo people.

Call on the Human Rights Watch Groups and the International Community

I personally appreciate the reports that have so far been produced on human rights abuses in Ethiopia by organizations such as Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, and Genocide Watch. I further appeal for more attention to Oromo students who continue to suffer gross violations of human rights, in manners that are clearly discriminatory in nature, as opposed to students from tribes of previous and present Ethiopian ruling regimes. The pressures that the International stakeholders put on Ethiopian government has a substantial impact on making Ethiopia move towards reconciliation and ‘true’ freedom and democracy. Democratizing and stabilizing Ethiopia will then contribute not only for its own development and progress but to stabilizing the Horn of Africa region.

Qeerransoo Biyyaa

Map of oromia

Map of oromia