We noted last week that Felix Horne, Human Rights Watch’s Ethiopia researcher, has recently been making considerable efforts to push the European Union to use its role as Ethiopia’s main development cooperation partner to force Ethiopia to accept an international investigation into the way the government had responded to recent protests.
He has been writing articles on the subject, giving interviews to Reuters and, last week, addressing the European Parliament’s Subcommittee on Human Rights. In all of these, in order to support his demands, he has deliberately given impressions and made claims he knows to be false about recent events, notably the Ireecha tragedy on October 2.
During his briefing to the EU Parliament subcommittee, Mr. Horne said a “an unknown number of people, possibly hundreds, died during a stampede after security forces used teargas and gunfire to control a tense crowd at the annual Ireecha festival.
Ireecha is an important cultural event for the Oromo ethnic group and draws millions of people each year to the sacred site at the town of Bishoftu. The deaths have exacerbated pre-existing anger and frustrations throughout Oromia. Since that terrible day, there have been more anti-government protests and destruction of government buildings and properties.” In his earlier interview with Reuters, Mr. Horne carefully ignoring much of the actual evidence that is available (including videos of the event) also suggested that the numbers who died in the tragedy on October 2 were far higher than the official figures, that the stampede which led to the deaths was purely the result of over-reaction by armed security forces to a few protestors shouting anti-government slogans, He added that the government had from the outset been trying to interfere in the organization of the festival.
There is, in fact, no evidence (though there are a multitude of allegations made over social media) of any more deaths than the official figures of 55 who died, all from being tragically drowned or crushed in the stampede. None of those who died were killed by gunshots, despite Mr. Horne’s claims, as has been confirmed by reports from the hospitals in Bishoftu.
Mr. Horne claims Human Rights Watch spoke to hospital staff and “it is clear that the number of dead is much higher than government estimates.” No it isn’t. That is merely Mr. Horne’s allegation. He clearly wanted the number to be higher to fit in with his preconceived ideas that hundreds must have been killed, as Human Rights Watch claims, equally arbitrarily, there have been in other protests around the country in recent months.
It is worth noting that, despite Mr. Horne’s attempts to hint to the contrary by throwing doubt on the comments of doctors and nurses on duty at the town’s hospitals, that all of those who died suffered from being crushed or drowned in ditches and shallow water. No one was shot. Indeed, it is quite clear from the videos that there was no shooting and the police were unarmed.
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