By Siyanne Mekonnen @Siyaanne
Addis Abeba, January 17, 2021- Six of the jailed members of the Karrayyu Gadaa leadership who were initially said to have gone missing after the unlawful deaths of 14 members of the Karrayyu Gadaa Michilee leaders were released on December 31, 2021 reports said. A survivor of killings, who was later jailed alongside 22 others, for the first time gave Addis Standard first-hand accounts of the incident that unfolded at Karra, where a prayer ceremony, Waaq Kadhaa was being held on December 1. Weeks after the incident, members of the ruling party accused the Oromia police of having involvement in the execution Karrayyu Abba Gadaas.
“We were unsuspecting when Oromia police arrived and immediately encircled us. We’ve always had a good relationship with government officials,” said the survivor who didn’t want his name to be disclosed for fear of retribution. He recalled, “They provided no explanation as they unexpectedly showed up and began searching homes, looting properties, and confiscating weapons and traditional armaments.”
“They told us that we were going to die in a few hours. They even asked us to give them our money before we die.”
A survivor of the execution
“They rounded up 39 of us then loaded us on the cargo bed of a pick-up truck. We trusted that they meant no harm. Soon after, they started threatening us and accusing us of killing their members. We didn’t know what they were talking about. There hadn’t been any violence in our area,” he continued, “They were intimidating us the entire drive. They told us that we were going to die in a few hours. They even asked us to give them our money before we die.”
The survivor recalled that after we arrived at a remote area, they were asked who among them was from Haro Kersa Kebele. According to him, 16 people were identified and were ordered to lay on the ground face down and shot. “Some of them started beating us while others shot those who were lying down. We were forced back on the cargo bed of the truck,” he said, adding “I was appalled to hear that wild animals scavenged from their bodies for days.”
Weeks after the incident, members of the ruling party publicly admitted government forces’ involvement in the killings. In a live Facebook video, Hangasa Ibrahim, a member of the House of People’s Representatives accused the head of Oromia police commissions, commissioner Ararsa Merdasa of being behind the killings. Another government official attributing the killing to government forces is the state minister of peace, Taye Dendea. On his personal Facebook page with over half a million followers, the state minister implied that the Karrayyu Gadaa leaders were killed by elements within the regional government. Repeated attempts to speak with both government officials were unsuccessful.
“Some criticized the police for failing to finish off the 39 people at once. That would have prevented criticism against the government for killing Karrayyu Abba Gadaas.”
Hangasa Ibrahim, member of the House of People’s Representatives
The MP corroborated the statements Addis Standard received from eyewitnesses, including the aforementioned survivor about the sequence of events leading up to the killing of the Abba Gadaas. He also mentioned the beating and killing of one of the 23 detainees. Countering the government’s own statement, the MP went on to say that, the police shot 16 of the Gadaa leaders ‘without remorse’. “Why would anyone be killed when they can be jailed or brought to the court of law?” he asked in a live Facebook broadcast that has reached over 60,000 viewers.
The survivor recounted that the remaining people were driven to an area called Sogido where an Oromia Special Forces training camp was located. All the 23 of them were detained in what he describes as a room big enough for two people. “We were met with another round of beatings at the camp. We were beaten until we passed out,” he said.
On Friday, December 3rd, the detainees were relocated to another detention center. “We were loaded on the back of a truck and ordered to lay down face down so that we couldn’t see where they were taking us. When we arrived somewhere around Mojo, they covered our faces as we got off the back of the truck. We were then locked in a dark room,” he said. He remembers that their detainers registered their names.
He also spoke of the death of one of the captives, Jilo Borayu Hawas who died on December 8. “Jilo succumbed to hunger in addition to the beatings. They didn’t take out his body for four nights. We shouted for help for days to no avail. They took his body out on Saturday after the elders found us. They only started giving us food after his death. Some who got too weak from starvation received medical care,” he said.
On the other hand, days after the government officials admitted the involvement of government security forces in the killings, the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission (EHRC) sent a letter to the Oromia police commission and the regional attorney general office requesting explanations on the incident. Addis Standard received the letter which is dated December 31, 2021, from an employee of the commission who wanted to remain anonymous. The letter detailed that members of the area’s administration were at the scene of the killings and that the executions were carried out following several phone calls. The commission also mentioned that the attempts made by its investigation team to visit the jailed Gadaa leaders were unsuccessful.
“We were loaded on the back of a truck and ordered to lay down face down so that we couldn’t see where they were taking us.”
A survivor of the execution
The survivor of the killings detailed the circumstances of how two out of the 16 people managed to escape the killings. “‘Their lives were spared by some members of the security forces who pretended to shoot at them but fired in the wrong directions,” he said. The parliament member attested to this and said in his live video broadcast that two individuals ‘managed to escape and reveal the truth.’ Hangasa also said, “Some criticized the police for failing to finish off the 39 people at once. That would have prevented criticism against the government for killing Karrayyu Abba Gadaas.”
Speaking about the condition of his release from month-long detention, he explained, “They released Six of us following the elders’ plea. We don’t know why they held the remaining others.” He also mentioned an investigative committee that was sent to the woreda from the higher government bodies he could not identify. Another resident of the area, Jaarraa (Name changed for security reasons, told Addis Standard that the committee was sent to the woreda and tried to speak with eyewitnesses. According to him, the local officials prevented the committee members from traveling around the woreda citing military operations by armed groups. Jaarraa accused the local officials of attempting to prevent the truth from coming out. “They are also actively looking for the two escapees and those who were released from detention. We suspect that they might kill them,” he said. The survivor also shares this fear. He confessed that he is apprehensive of the local administrations’ attempts to locate him and the other survivors of the killings.
He also detailed the conditions after he was released and rejoined his community. “We were shocked to see the settlement of militias from the neighboring Amhara region in our village. We sought refuge in another village called Dodoti,” he said recalling that residents including women and children fled the area after the incident on December 1st. “They are cutting down trees and manufacturing charcoal. They are backed by the federal police whose camp is located in a nearby area called Qorke,” he explained.
His statement was corroborated by three other members of the Karrayu community who told Addis Standard that the seat of the Michile Gadda leaders and many other villages in the woreda were occupied by militiamen from the neighboring Amhara region following the execution of the Abba Gadaas. The residents talked about the continued advancement of armed groups from the neighboring region.
“We were shocked to see the settlement of militias from the neighboring Amhara region in our village.”
A survivor of the execution
Balchaa (name changed for security reasons) said, ”They [federal forces] prevent us from using grazing lands and water sources close to the borders. The Amhara militias have recently settled in Tututi Kebele, east and south of a place called Qorke.” According to him, the advancements have become common in the last three years but it has intensified after the killing of Abba Gadaas. Large swathes of land are being pillaged for charcoal production, he said. He explained that are grazing lands and a well in an area called Gorora are now inaccessible to the Karrayyu community who is suffering from drought.
Abera, another resident of the woreda said that the militiamen opened fire on the Karrayyu community in the days leading up to the killing of the Abba Gadaas. He accused the local administration of enticing the neighboring Amhara community to defend themselves from “Shanee” (a term government officials use to refer to Oromo Liberation Army). “Our community is disarmed and has nothing to defend itself with,” he said. When asked about the measures taken by security forces of the Oromia region he said, “They tell us to defend ourselves.”
Bulchaa testified that the government forces confiscated the weapons from the community recently. “The word Shanee is being used as a pretext to attack the pastoralist Karrayyu community who carries arms to defend its cattle from wild animals,” he said adding, “We have no knowledge of the group the government calls Shanee, it is not possible for an armed group to hide in such a small woreda.”
“We have no knowledge of the group the government calls Shanee, it is not possible for an identified group to hide in such a small woreda.”
Buclhaa, a member of the Karrayyu community
Roba who wanted to go by his first name for security reasons spoke of widespread looting of cattle by militias from the Amhara region. He also recalled a recent standoff between the two communities where three people were killed.
He also narrated a recent incident where elders and Abba Gadaas of the four other Gadaa parties denounced those who have affiliation with the armed group. “The Abba Gadaas urged those people to separate themselves from the community and called on those who want to rejoin the community, he stated, adding, “This is a testimony to the Karrayyus’ allegiance with peace. We want the killings and jailing to stop.” Commenting on the admission of the government officials, he said “It is amazing that we never heard words of condolence from the government.”
The survivor who remains apprehensive of being rearrested warned the Abba Gadaa union of what he called attempts to disfigure the truth. “Politics and Gadaa aren’t the same. We want the union and all Oromos to know our truth.”
Addis Standards‘s several attempts to speak to the Oromia Police commissioner, the Oromia communication bureau as well as woreda officials were unsuccessful. AS