RESOLUTION ON THE REPORT SUBMITTED BY THE GAMBELLA INQUIRY COMMISSION
Ever since our country embarked upon a democratic path, various efforts have been made to peacefully and lawfully resolve incidents which arose within, and between, its regions.
The House of Peoples’ Representatives, by way of establishing various inquiry commissions, has been working towards providing lawful solutions to spontaneous or politically motivated instances of violence, with a view to discharging its responsibilities of protecting the rights of citizens and communities.
Our federal system of government is known to have promptly resolved incidents which arose at Bedeno and Areka through inquiries made by Commissions the House had established.
In respect of the incident that recently arose in the Gambella Region, an independent and impartial organ was established, under Proclamation No. 398/2004, in order for the incident to be enquired into.
The Commission, as per the Proclamation for its establishment, was entrusted with the task of investigating the causes of the violence as well as the factors that aggravated it and the damage caused thereby.
The Commission has, accordingly, been engaged in the required activities, for the last three months, and reported its findings to the House on 6th July 2004.
The House, at its ordinary session held on 6th July 2004 deliberated extensively on the report submitted to it by the Commission and referred the matter to its Legal and Administrative Affairs Standing Committee for further scrutiny and for preparation of a draft resolution.
The following draft resolution is accordingly submitted by the Standing Committee.
ESSENTIAL POINTS INCLUDED IN THE REPORT OF
THE INQUIRY COMMISSION
The Commission, with a view to fulfilling the serious task entrusted to it by House, has undertaken various activities impartially and in full independence.
In this respect, it has duly made contact with the concerned sectors of the community, victims of the violence as well as different government organs. It has also collected relevant documentary evidence and visited the areas that were affected by the incidents.
It has given ample opportunity to any individual or organ to openly come forward with opinions or information on the matter. In general, it has made every effort to see to it that its task was transparent and complete. The Standing Committee, after having examined the report submitted, has observed the following major points made therein:
- It is learnt that various violent incidents had been recurring in the Region before 13th December 2003 and that the clashes between the Agnuak and Nuwer Nationalities is long-standing. Among the major causes thereof, questions of grazing land and territorial claims, feelings of being threatened caused by the large influx of Nuwer people from Sudan to the Region and a power struggle dating back to the days of the Transitional Government can be cited.
- Although peaceful co-existence has long endured between the Agnuak Nationality and non-indigenous residents of the Region, of late, settlers and others on duty-travel have been killed by illegally armed Agnuaks, under a calling that the Region belongs only to the Agnuak. In addition, such illegal activities are known to have been backed by certain officials of the region and the culprits were not brought before the law.
- It is indicated in the report that, in 2002, many had lost their lives as a result of violence which arose between the Agnuak and Mzenger Nationalities.
- Following the killings of eight persons at dawn on 13th December 2003, some non-law-abiding residents of Gambella town, driven by a sense of revenge, killed and wounded members of the Agnuak Nationality and destroyed property. The killing of those eight people can be cited as the immediate cause of the crisis that erupted in Gambella on 13th December 2003, and it is ascertained as a major cause which gave vent to the suppressed grievances of the non–indigenous residents of the Region.
- It is mentioned in the report that some individuals were emotionally and unlawfully driven to revenge as a result of frustration caused by the fact that groups and individuals answerable for the killings, at various time, of non-indigenous residents of the Region were never brought to justice.
- It is believed that the inadequacy of measures towards permanently resolving problems related to the unlawful carrying of arms created an atmosphere conducive to the repeated killings that occurred in the Region, and which strongly contributed to the violence which arose on 13th December 2003.
- The Commission has pointed out that the damage caused could have been substantially minimised had the officials of the region taken appropriate measures before those who spontaneously gathered to receive the bodies of the eight killed had resorted to violence and things had got out of control. The Town Police Commissioner, as well as others who were on duty for security matters, by their failure to act in consideration of the then emotional state of the populace and other related factors, contributed to the worsening of the situation, as reported by the Commission.
- Between the 13th and 15th December 2003, 65 persons died while close to 75 were wounded and thousands were displaced and fled across the border. In addition, 482 houses were burnt down and 266 households were ransacked. In general, property that was damaged and pillaged is estimated at more than Birr 3,121,065.
- Members of the town police force, at the time of the violence, duly carried out their professional responsibilities and engaged themselves in diverse humanitarian activities. It is believed, on the other hand, that a few policemen improperly collaborated with the lawbreakers and caused harm to members of the Agnuak Nationality.
- As the army was pursuing the culprits who had killed the eight persons, insufficient numbers of its personnel were present in the town at the time the conflict erupted on 13th December 2003. It is testified, including by members of the Agnuak Nationality, that the Army, which was at a distance of 7 kms away from the town had, upon learning of the clashes, walked back the whole distance to the town and protected the Agnuak from further attack, saving many of their lives. It is indicated that the killings and destruction of property would have continued unabated had the army not arrived, though late, and arrested suspects, pacified the populace and undertaken security measures. Nonetheless, a few members of the Army are known to have participated in the killings, by collaborating with the unruly, in defiance of their professional duty.
1. It was a correct and appropriate measure that the House of People’s Representatives, upon its own initiative, had established an independent and impartial Inquiry Commission with the view of having investigations undertaken on any harm caused to citizens and the populace as well as to having the matter settled lawfully, in respect of the violence that arose in Gambella.
The move has proved that our federal and democratic order is one which corrects itself by taking remedial measures upon investigating the problem from its roots, whenever unlawful acts are committed in any corner of the country.
This and similar measures taken earlier, to correct sporadic incidents, are manifestations of the transparency and accountability taking root in the democratic order that is being built in our country and, hence, boosts our confidence in the system.
Thus, the House or any other government organ, while striving to prevent trouble should, in cases that it occurs, further develop the sound tradition of resolving the trouble through legal and peaceful means, without awaiting pressure from outside.
2. Through the inquiry undertaken by the independent and impartial Commission, during the last three months, it has been ascertained that:
2.1 The primary cause of the fighting that arose last December were illegally armed individuals who roamed the Region and caused the loss of many lives by repeatedly attacking peaceful citizens. The leadership of the Region had also failed to check the killings caused by such elements and failed to ensure that law and order prevailed;
2.2 The attack made on peaceful members of the Agnuak Nationality by non-indigenous residents of the town, subsequent to the killing of the eight persons on 13th December 2003, was unjustified and completely objectionable.
All those involved in the unlawful act should be held accountable for the death of 65 persons, the burning down of 460 thatched-roof and 22 corrugated sheet-roof houses and the destruction of property worth Birr 3.1 million.
2.3 At the time that members of the Agnuak Nationality were attacked by non-indigenous residents of the town, the Army was pursuing the illegally-armed gang, and upon its late return to the town had acted very much responsibly in order to contain the fighting. By doing so, it prevented further loss of life which could have even greater. Hence the Army deserves commendation for having fulfilled its institutional responsibilities in a public-spirited manner.
2.4 Nevertheless, a few members of the Army, that joined residents of the town who went on the attack, were responsible for the death of 13 out of the 65 people killed in the incident. Accordingly, those members of the Army must be brought before the law.
3. Rumours that were circulated against the Government and the Army, at the time of the incident, have been proved baseless, as per the report submitted by the Commission. The rumours circulated at the time, including by some entities which claim to be human rights watchdogs, to the effect that more than a thousand were killed through a scheme of genocide perpetrated against the Agnuak by the Government and the Army, is ascertained to be a malicious campaign against the latter. Although a single loss of life, let alone 65, is objectionable, the malicious campaign against the Government and the Army, which made every effort to contain the fighting and resolve it dependably, is ascertained to have been conducted for cheap political gains.
4. Efforts made by the Government and the Army to responsibly contain and check conflicts that had arisen between communities are commendable. Without overlooking the duty to prevent clashes from arising, the efforts to resolve and check unexpected ones, impartially and responsibly, should strongly be maintained.
To that effect, the Federal Government should devise advance-conflict-warning and resolution systems and fulfil its responsibilities even more efficiently.
5. The Federal Government should, with respect to accomplishing development and good governance in the Region, sustain its effort to strengthen the Regional Government and to carry out whatever needs to be done on its part. Moreover, undertakings on the return of the displaced and the exiled, as well as the rehabilitation of victims, should intensely be continued.
6. The Inquiry Commission must be highly commended for submitting its well-researched report to the House promptly, and for having carried out its task with a deep sense of responsibility. The House has fully endorsed the report submitted to it by the Inquiry Commission, except for three objections and two abstentions. The House commends all members of the Commission for having completed this serious task impartially and truthfully.
Hence, the Standing Committee requests that the House endorse this draft resolution.
The Legal and Administrative Affairs Standing Committee
the House of Peoples’ Representatives
Addis Ababa, 8th July 2004
The foregoing Draft Resolution was, except for six objections and one abstention, fully adopted by the House of Peoples’ Representatives of the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia, at its session held on 8th July 2004.