Adwa Celebration Incidents: EHRC says Security Officers Used Excessive Forces

The 127th anniversary of the Adwa Victory was celebrated on Thursday, marking the victory of Ethiopians over the colonial Italian army at the Battle of Adwa.

Various programs were held in all corners of the country as well as Ethiopian missions abroad and among the Ethiopians and people of Ethiopian origins.

In Addis Ababa, the 2023 Adwa victory was officially marked at Meskel Square attended by senior government officials including president Sahle-work Zewde who laid wrath of flowers at Menelik II square in memory of the victory.

The celebration, however, was later marred by deadly incidents involving government security forces.

In a statement today, the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission (EHRC) said security forces “violently disrupted” the celebration at Menelik square as well as a religious congregation in a nearby Saint George church using excessive force.

These incidents left at least one person dead and several others injured, said the EHRC, calling for “law enforcement officials implicated in the incidents to be subject to accountability”.

Regarding the incidents, EHRC Chief Commissioner Daniel Bekele said,

“Security forces have overreacted and needlessly beaten people, used tear gas, plastic and lethal bullets, and other excessive measures including on older persons and children resulting in at least one death, several bodily injuries and distress on people gathered around Menelik Square for the national celebration.

“Official ceremonies appeared orderly after the security forces sealed off the various venues from access to the general public.

“But after the official ceremony, a traditional, popular, and peaceful gathering of people around Menelik Square and a religious congregation in nearby Saint George Church was violently disrupted by the unnecessary and excessive actions of the security forces, whose primary responsibility should have been to protect the safety and security of the public and safeguard the human rights of all persons.

“Implicated law enforcement officials must be subject to accountability and law enforcement officers should be adequately trained to avoid similar incidents.”

The Chief Commissioner reiterated the human rights principle in the Guidelines for the Policing of Assemblies by Law Enforcement Officials in Africa adopted by the African Union Commission, stating that: “The use of force is an exceptional measure”.

He said,

“In carrying out their duties, law enforcement officials shall, as far as possible, apply non-violent methods before resorting to the use of force and firearms.

“Law enforcement officials must, as far and for as long as possible, differentiate between peaceful assembly participants and those who engage in violent acts.

“An assembly should be deemed peaceful if its organizers have expressed peaceful intentions, and if the conduct of the assembly participants is generally peaceful.”

“‘Peaceful’ shall be interpreted to include conduct that annoys or gives offense as well as conduct that temporarily hinders, impedes or obstructs the activities of third parties.”

“Isolated acts of violence do not render an assembly as a whole non-peaceful,” Daniel concluded.