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The ‘Disposable People?’: The Plight of Neftegna

“…there is a persistent conspiracy to murder the disposable people-ethnic cleansing of the Neftegna…” says the author

Benishangul Gumuz region of Ethoipia

Moges Zewdu
January 14, 2021

When the conspiracy to murder is incessant, well-organised, is carried out with absolute impunity, and above all, the atrocities become a new normal, then those people against whom a genocidal campaign is being orchestrated would become disposable items. Heinous crimes had been committed in the recent political history of Ethiopia; nothing is new as such. But those crimes were committed, not against a specific group of people on the ground of their ethnic identity; rather, they were perpetrated by the ‘men in uniform’ and against all political enemies. The notable case in point is the notorious red terror.

For a sensible person, who attentively observes what has transpired just over the last two years, s/he could easily tell that there is a persistent conspiracy to murder the disposable people-ethnic cleansing of the Neftegna. From the outset, however, it appears to me that it is worth defining who the Neftegna people are. Based on my personal experience of and limited observation about the trajectory of the Ethiopian political landscape, the Neftegna stands for three distinct but interrelated notions. In areas where Orthodox Christians are the minority and, in the regions, where nationalism was built on the hostility towards the Orthodox Church (Oromia, Benishangul Gumuz, SNNP), Neftegna symbolises Orthodox Christians. In those places where there is a strong Amhara community in contiguous areas, then Neftegna refers to the Amhara people. Lastly, in rare occasions, Neftegna is also generally used to indicate the pan-Ethiopianist group (political ideology) irrespective of their religion or ethnicity. Not surprisingly, the Amhara people mostly fulfil all the manifestations of the Neftegna owing to the overlapping identity markers. Hence, the victims of mass atrocities in different parts of Ethiopia. In other words, the Neftegna, as a disposable people, has become the Tutsi of Ethiopia.

That being the case, it takes an extraordinary courage to keep silent in the face of organised attacks against the Neftegna. It requires supreme ignorance to remain aloof when our common house is on fire. Even more, one needs to be foolish to believe that it is ‘their turn’ and I am safe for now. The truth is, as history proved time and again, no one is safe unless everyone is safe.

Now it has become crystal clear that the mass atrocities being committed against the Neftegna are not isolated incident, but the result of systemic and organised conspiracy to murder. As such, we must answer three pertinent questions. They are what are the nature of the attacks, who are the perpetrators, and what should be done to alleviate the mayhem. Accordingly, I will try to shed some light on each of these questions in the following. 

  1. The nature of the Atrocities  

Without any further ado and diplomatic niceties and contrary to what some have contended, the victims have been and are still being attacked for their identity. Their identity, as pointed out above, is being the Neftegna people. It should be stressed that, what is relevant for the organised atrocity crimes to take place, is not the objective identity of the victim as such, but the subjective labelling attributed to the victims by the predisposed perpetrators. In our case, it has become common knowledge by now that the false narratives of Neftegna are institutionalised and all the victims had been attacked for no other apparent reasons than their identity. To this end, a closer look at the profile of the victims, who have been massacred indiscriminately, shows the fact that none of the victims has ever actively participated in political discourses or engaged in any form of enmity with the perpetrators, at any time and in any way. The attacks are premeditated and directed against the poor, innocent, and defenceless people. The widespread and persistent carnage in the Metekel area is only part of the broader plan of ethnic cleansing. It is not the beginning and by the dint of the prevailing facts, it will not be the last one either. 

There is nothing more troubling than to see many people and political figures, who tend to sugar-coat the nature of the attacks. Even more so, the recent report of the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission came short of characterising the attacks as a genocidal campaign, even though its own evidence has strongly shown that, invariably, the victims were selected and attacked based on their ethnic identity. Indeed, the same report asserted that there is a reasonable ground to fear that a genocide would ensue. 

Be that as it may, and unheeding to the politically motivated denials and ruthless distortions of the facts on the ground, it is paramount to provide the international legal definition of what constitutes crimes of genocide, in the light of what is unfolding in Ethiopia. The authoritative definition pertaining to the legal elements of the crimes of genocide is enshrined in Art. 6 of the Rome Statute, whereby it is stated: 

Genocide means any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such: (a) killing members of the group; (b) causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group; (c) deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part;(d) imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group; (e) forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.

From this and the ICC supplementary guideline on the Elements of Crimes, there are three main elements for the crime of genocide: mental element (the intention to destroy the group), the material element (commission of any of the acts listed from a-e) and the context within which the crime has been committed. As to the mental element, it is always inferred from relevant facts and circumstances. To this end, the words uttered before, during or after the commission of the acts; the pattern of the atrocities (isolated incidence or part of the larger plan to exterminate the group) and the dehumanisation of the victims, all help to establish an ‘intent to destroy a group’. Equally important, the number of the victims are not the determinant factor for the crime of genocide to materialise, though it could reinforce it.

Now, let us dissect each of the elements of the crime of genocide, and see if some or all of them are fulfilled concerning the continuing massacres against the Neftegna. 

To begin with, the victims are targeted because of their ethnic and / or religious identity (see the definition of Neftegna given above). That is to say, the grounds for the massacre are not because of other reasons and it is directed against the group as such. The term ‘as such’ is pertinent for the fact that the individuals had been attacked for the sole reason that they belong to the group which should be exterminated. Put differently, individuals are murdered not as an abstract person, but with a view and as a means to exterminate the group.

There is ample evidence which substantiates this legal characterisation. The perpetrators uttered, in the course of their genocidal campaign, to the victims ‘‘leave our land’’; ‘‘kill the Neftegna’’; ‘‘wipe out the Amhara’’; ‘‘cleanse our land with the blood of the Neftegna’’, etc. These, if anything else, shows the clear intent to destroy the group. And to reiterate it again, what really matters is not the actual identity of the victims, but the labelling of the victims by the perpetrators thereof. 

Secondly, it is not necessary that the group should be targeted as a whole and all at once, which is of course impracticable. Rather, committing any of the crimes listed from a-e would suffice in so far as the intention is the gradual extermination of the entire group as such. Of course, the persistent plan to exterminate the Neftegna over the last 3 decades have been there and still continuing.

As to the material elements, murder is being committed on a large scale, undergoing bodily injury has become the luxury, the massive displacement has caused unbearable conditions of life, and forced sterilisation was orchestrated during the TPLF regime. And as recorded facts speak for themselves, no need to elaborate further. 

When it comes to the context of the crime, it has to be noted that no genocide could be committed without an enabling circumstances. In the Ethiopian case, we have the institutionalised prejudices propagated for years, including on public and private media platforms and the complicity of the government security apparatus. On top of that, the reluctance of the government to stop the crime further strengthens this claim. To be precise, the government has never called the crime by its name, or worse, has never brought the perpetrators to justice, issued official apologies, and compensated the victims. 

Thus, the geocidal campaigns against the Neftegna are being carried out with full intention, in the context of favourable political conditions and most importantly, with an absolute impunity. 

If we just consider the events over the last two years, it is evident that the Neftegna have been targeted and massacred in a broad daylight, with no end in sight. The massacre continues every week, if not on the basis, and the pattern remains the same, with the only differences being the number of the victims and the places where it takes place. From Gura Ferda to Jigjiga, Sidama, Shashemene, Hararghe, Gura Ferda, Gimbi, Guliso, Mai Kadra to Metekel, the list goes on, an organised carnage continues. 

In a nutshell, we must come to terms with the reality and acknowledge the fact that the crimes of genocide are being committed on a large scale under the watch of the government. And the victims are targeted for no other reasons, but for being who they are-‘the disposable people’!

  1. Who could be responsible for the Genocide?

Seen from the vantage point of the political and social context, as pointed out above, the deeply institutionalised prejudices provided a fertile ground to sow the seeds of what would take the form of genocide. However, when it comes to the moral blame and individual criminal responsibility, those who gave the order or complicit in the crime would bear the highest moral and legal responsibility. In this regard, the inactions on the part of the government organs will cost it dearly. For example, taking the case of Oromia, as the government has admitted on a number of occasions, the massacres could have been avoided had the security forces been vigilant. Indeed, the regional security forces have been busy providing material and moral assistance to the perpetrators. If proper investigation is undertaken, the situation will be different in Metekel as well.

Even assuming that the government has not been complicit in the commission of the crimes, it still cannot escape the moral, political, and legal blames. Needless to state, the government has the primordial obligation to ensure peace and security of the people and it is legally obliged to protect civilians from the non-State Actors. Consequently, the propaganda of the government that attempts to shift the to the non-State Actors, whomever they are or whatever entity it may be, does not hold any water. On the contrary, all it shows is the manifest inability and / or unwillingness of the government to protect its own citizens. 

Politically, the government is telling us that it could not dismantle the belligerent groups operating in the country and has no monopoly over violence. In that case, all one can say would be that the government has simply wasted the opportune moment and the political momentum created by the transitional period, within which fundamental political and legal reforms undertaken and resilient institutions were built. And as a matter of fact, the reintegration of the OLF-Shene Militia did not follow a proper procedure. Actually, nobody knows on what conditions the hitherto terrorist group was integrated into the society. Or even, how come the National Défense Force and Intelligence Unit are unable to control the Shene Militia unless there are some form of complicity or lack of commitment? Similarly, the case of Metekel cannot be different. If there is a political will, there is a way. In any case, it is perplexing to hear from the government that speaks about its utter lack of control over the basic security issues, on the one hand and then shy away from the blame when it comes to responsibility, on the other.

Legally speaking, the government has manifestly failed to ensure justice and the rule of law. Thus far, there are no independent investigations, and no one has held accountability for the crimes, irrespective of the legal characterisation of the crimes. All we are doing is simply counting days and months until we are inundated by other organised crimes again. The cycle of violence has been there and will bound to continue, as things stand now. 

Simply stated, the government has no one to blame other than itself and its own structure. To make reforms, if there are any, 34 months are more than enough. There is no peace without justice and when there is no peace and security, the very future of the nation hangs in balance. At any rate, there appears no hiding corner for the government, provided that we have any effective government to reckon with.

  1. What can be Done? 

I am cautiously optimistic that it is still not too late to save the country from murky civil war and eventual disintegration assuming the government officials have ears to listen or summon a gut to take bold actions. Among others, the following measures can be taken, in order of their priority: –

Ensure peace and security

Above and beyond any other things, guaranteeing the peace and security of its citizens is the primary responsibility of any functioning government. What is at stake is the very survival of the nation and more specifically, a well organised genocidal campaign is being carried out against the Amhara people and other minorities in the Metekel Zone. To this end, the first step would be to call the crime by its proper name and acknowledge its magnitude; it is neither a communal violence nor isolated incidents. It is not only crimes against humanity either. It has only one name, which is, crime of genocide! So, ensure the safety of every citizen, provide special protection to the minorities, particularly the Amhara people, in the identified hot spot areas. 

But since the government is unable to protect them, legally arm some representatives of the community so that they can protect themselves until further help arrives. In addition, allow the regional security forces to help with containing the further spread of the carnage. First thing first!

Justice must be served!

Among others, one way of restoring public confidence is by vindicating justice impartially, fairly, and expeditiously. In the society where the culture of impunity rein, it is hardly possible to ensure law and order, let alone stopping genocide. Accordingly, establishment of an impartial Commission which will investigate the organised crimes committed over the last two years and setting up a special hybrid criminal tribunal is needed.

National reconciliation before holding elections

We must embark on an inclusive national dialogue, not political party fiasco nor series of lectures in the Office of the Prime Minister. It is a complete madness to talk about elections in a deeply divided society and extremely polarised politics. The dialogue should include all political parties except for those leaders against whom criminal charges have been filed. Accordingly, Elders, Religious Leaders, Academia, Women and Civil Society groups, with international community invited as may be appropriate, should participate in the dialogue. This means that political prisoners shall be released and should be allowed to partake in the national dialogue, which is based on mutual respect and equal partnership. In other words, the incumbent government has no exclusive political mandate or legal right to include or exclude any party at will. Everyone, both individually and collectively, should be given a fair chance to voice his/ her concerns pertaining to national issues. And holding elections, if there will be any, without making the ground safe for democracy is simply preparing a recipe for post-election violence.

Political Bargains for Constitutional Amendments 

As we all know, the main source of the institutionalised prejudices is the decadent ethnic federalism that treats some citizens as refugees in their own country and which completely excludes minorities from the political sphere. There are various models of federalism which can be readily contextualised to the Ethiopian political situation and the special breed of federalism we have is only found in Ethiopia. For example, political representations for the minorities can be guaranteed through consociational arrangement and by establishing a Commission for rights of the minority people, at both the federal and regional levels. All in all, a comprehensive amendment of the Constitution and overhauling of the federal system is a top national priority; being a long overdue as it is. 

Prioritisation of Pressing National Issues

It appears that the incumbent government has no clear and comprehensive national political roadmap and strategies. That can be discerned from the bumpy transition, inconsistent political decisions, and the admission of the Prime Minister.  We shall prosper only when we exist as a nation and security is ensured across the board. By hindsight, peace and security should come as the first priority, followed by national consensus on basic national issues, then this consensus should be institutionalised which should be reinforced by economic and political reforms and then, when the time is ripe and the environment is conducive, then fair, free, and inclusive elections. 

And the bottom line is: none of us will be safe, until all of us are safe!

Author’s Biography: Moges Zewdu Teshome is a former law lecturer at Haramaya University and has law degrees from Addis Ababa University and the University of Dundee. He is a candidate for a Master of Advanced International Studies at Vienna School of International Studies.

He can be reached at mogeszewdu2013@gmail.com
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Related : Metekel, Ethiopia : death toll from the latest attack well over one hundred

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1 COMMENT

  1. amhara elites should take the resposibility of thge killing of amhara lay men. Since you spread hate against other tribes. you made them appear despot and banda who work with UAE , Eritrea ..

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