In its annual report this month, the state-appointed Ethiopian Human Rights Commission urged officials to pay closer attention to the tensions and violence in the Oromia region.
The commission said there have been attacks in 13 of the 20 zones in the Oromia region, leading to an alarming number of casualties and an extremely concerning overall situation.
The Ethiopian government blames a rebel group, the Oromo Liberation Army (OLA), for the violence. But the commission said the response of government forces has also resulted in rights abuses.
Deputy Commissioner Rakeb Melese said the rights commission is emphasizing the need for peaceful negotiations.
“The retaliation measures taken by government equally incurs human rights violations because civilians are affected, people are displaced, because of the retaliatory measures,” Rakeb said.
Attempts to call and text a spokesperson for the Oromo region went unanswered.
Fighting between the federal government and the OLA has caused thousands of deaths and displaced millions of people in the region over the past four years.
A former resident and teacher in the Horo Guduru Welega Zone, who wanted to remain anonymous, said school has been disrupted for the past two years where he used to live.
“I have taught for a long time there — for 26 years,” he said. “But because of the security problems there, I left. I am now in Addis Ababa. Even the way we left was in special circumstances, we walked 90 kilometers on foot — those of us who were able to leave.”
The resident said that the attacks are being carried out by militias, known as Fano, from the neighboring Amhara region.
“We know very well that it’s the armed fighters, Fano. They are the ones stealing, killing and displacing people,” he said. “Everyone knows this, including government bodies. They are creating major problems.”
In April, federal government orders to integrate Amhara special forces, including Fano, into the federal military or the police triggered widespread protests.
More recently, Amhara and Oromo militias have been targeting each other’s neighborhoods, one example of Ethiopia’s long-simmering ethnic conflicts.
Amanuel Adinew, executive director at the Center for Development and Capacity Building, which works in Oromia, said the conflicts have created mistrust in the community.
“The state of anarchy created around these areas of conflict is behind increasing levels of cruelty. It has eroded the trust that people had in one another,” Amanuel said.
In addition, he added, many social institutions aimed at helping people in need are no longer functional.
Peace talks between the Ethiopian government and the OLA took place in April, but ended without any agreements.