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MN Oromos decry human rights violations in Ethiopia, say violence continues

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Mourning a death
The Ethiopian government may have backed off its planned capital expansion after deadly protests last fall, but ethnic Oromo in Minnesota say violence and arrests continue. Here, people mourn the death of an alleged protester shot dead by Ethiopian forces.
Zacharias Abubeker | AFP | Getty Images 2015

The Ethiopian government may have backed off its planned expansion of the capital after deadly protests last fall, but ethnic Oromo in Minnesota say violence and arrests continue.

On Thursday, members of the community — around 40,000 Oromo people live in the state — came together for a daylong forum in Minneapolis to discuss the human rights violations in the East African nation. 

In the last few months, clashes between state security forces and students in the Oromo region of Ethiopia have been deadly. Activists say more than 200 people have been killed, but Human Rights Watch said it couldn't verify the number. And it's unclear how many Oromos, the largest ethnic group in Ethiopia, have been arrested and imprisoned. 

Teshite Wako
Teshite Wako, president of the Oromo Community of Minnesota, says he helped to organize a Thursday forum to bring awareness to "genocide" taking place in Ethiopia's Oromia region, in the horn of Africa.
Doualy Xaykaothao | MPR News

Teshite Wako, president of Oromo Community of Minnesota, said Oromo people are being targeted.

"By the name of development, and investments in the country, Oromos are evicted from their land, and students started to protest against that, and the response they got was to be killed," Wako said.

Ethiopia's prime minister said he regretted the loss of life during November's demonstrations, and since then the government has ceased its plan to develop beyond the capital. However, daily killings and arrests have continued, said Wako.

"It's an urgent matter that we need to pay attention to," he said. "We would like, really, for genocide not to happen in our country. We are not against developments, investments, but what we are against is developments and investments that marginalize our people."

Among those featured at the forum was Anuradha Mittal, executive director of The Oakland Institute, who spoke about human rights violations that her California nonprofit has been reporting about in Ethiopia since 2007. 

Anuradha Mittal
Anuradha Mittal, executive director of the Oakland Institute in California, works with field researchers in Ethiopia to document "land grabbing" by developers, and how land investments impact local indigenous populations, including ethnic Oromos.
Doualy Xaykaothao | MPR News

"What is horrifying is a very systematic violation of human rights toward all communities that are not in political power," she said. "This is based on so-called development schemes, which will result in the renaissance state of Africa, grand highways, the largest dam. But all of those schemes are being carried out through land-grabbing, taking away farmlands of communities without their consent, without compensation."

Mittal added that when people protest, as young students apparently attempted to in November, there's violence.

"They've been tortured, they've been intimidated, arrested, there's no rule of law," Mittal  said. "There's a complete misuse of the anti-terrorism law, which has become a tool to lock up people (and) not have them face charges for years. It is shameful for us to keep quiet."

When President Barack Obama visited Ethiopia last year, he reportedly discussed greater business developments with officials, as well as human rights in the state. But Oromo Minnesotans say that's not enough and many are urging Obama to help the Oromo before he leaves office.