Indigenous Peoples

As Ethiopia’s Abiy Ahmed collects the Nobel Peace Prize, abuses in the Lower Omo Valley must be addressed

Abiy Ahmed was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for reaching peace with Eritrea. Yet, Indigenous groups in Ethiopia’s Lower Omo Valley have been abused by security forces, a fact that the prime minister must address, says the Oakland Institute.

By Anuradha Mittal, Executive Director of the Oakland Institute & Naomi Maisel, Intern Scholar

Just as the calm before a storm, the notion of “peace” is relegated merely to a temporary ruse if not supported by the foundations of justice and equality.

This international Human Rights Day, the Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed Ali for securing peaceful relationships with neighbouring Eritrea, as well as domestic reforms supporting equality and justice. Yet he already made headlines days before the ceremony in Oslo, Norway, by refusing to attend a press conference called by the Nobel Institute and an additional one alongside the Norwegian Prime Minister, normally attended by each year’s Nobel Laureate.

Abiy Ahmed Ali Nobel Peace Prize 2019 ceremony ethiopia prime minister
Ethiopia’s Prime Minister and Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Abiy Ahmed Ali speaks after being awarded the Nobel Peace Prize at Oslo City Town Hall in Norway. “I accept this award on behalf of Ethiopians and Eritreans, especially those who made the ultimate sacrifice in the cause of peace,” he said © Erik Valestrand/Getty Images

The director of the Norwegian Nobel Institute, Olav Njolstad, expressed concern regarding Ahmed’s refusal to attend any events at which he would face questions by the press, especially as the ceremony comes in the wake of violence throughout Ethiopia, with reports of at least 67 people dead in Addis Ababa, the country’s capital, during protests at the end of October.

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Members of the Indigenous Mursi group, photographed by Kelly Fogel © Kelly Fogel

Addressing violence in the Lower Omo Valley

While Ahmed condemned the bloodshed, promising to “bring perpetrators to justice,” he hasn’t yet addressed reports of violence among Ethiopia’s marginalised groups located in the country’s south, in the Lower Omo Valley region. The Oakland Institute has received evidence that Ethiopian forces have detained and abused members of two tribes in the area, the Bodi and Mursi, under the guise of a disarmament campaign, subjecting them to inhumane conditions.

Women and children who were going to the doctor were captured, as well as anyone visiting the town around the factory. The security forces laid out thick black plastic tarps in the burning sun, then they made the Mursi sit on them, naked, while they beat them.Leopard Woman, a Mursi woman of Haile Wuha village, 21 October 2019

The terror also included rapes, beatings and indiscriminate killings.

We’re imprisoned in a building and we have to go to the bathroom on the floor. They don’t give us food and make us drink urine like its water. The security forces are beating people so badly. They spear people with the bayonet of the gun and they beat them with the gun butt. There are many people who are severely hurt.Striped Bull, a Mursi man of Haile Wuha village, 22 October 2019

Officials claim the disarmament campaign was undertaken in response to tribal violence and shootings surrounding sugar plantations, in an effort to promote “peace.”

Read more: Ethiopia, displaced indigenous communities in the Lower Omo Valley deserve inclusive development

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Karo mother and child sitting along the banks of the Omo River – a vital water source for the tribes of the area – whose flood cycle has been interrupted following the construction of the Gibe III Dam © Kelly Fogel

The effects of Gibe III on the Indigenous in Lower Omo

Ethiopia began the construction of the Gibe III Dam in 2006, meant to irrigate large-scale sugar plantations and other government schemes for so-called development. However, the project displaced several Indigenous groups of the Lower Omo region, who have relied on seasonal flooding by the river for centuries, practicing flood-retreat cultivation for farmland and livestock grazing.

The government has never delivered on promised services such as food, education and controlled artificial floods, resulting in food insecurity, acute hunger and poverty among the displaced groups. Adding insult to injury, outsiders were invited to work the plantation jobs promised to the communities, and many locals were killed by plantation vehicles and never saw justice.

Now it’s time for the current government to take responsibility for the gross mistreatment of the Indigenous groups by the previous administration, steering clear of using violence to silence those who have been affected. In its June 2019 report, the Oakland Institute expressed hope that Ahmed, who came to power in April the previous year, would correct past mistakes, but there has yet to be any response.

71 years after the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Ahmed accepts the Nobel Peace Prize. To do this award justice, it’s imperative that he addresses human rights abuses taking place under his rule, ending the violence as well as providing the necessary services and finances to restore the livelihoods of the Lower Omo’s communities.

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