House debates

Thursday, 15 September 2016

Constituency Statements

Holt Electorate: Oromo Community

10:12 am

Photo of Anthony ByrneAnthony Byrne (Holt, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise today on behalf of the Oromo community in Melbourne to again raise my concern about the actions of the state security forces in Ethiopia, with new and deeply concerning developments since the peaceful protests were conducted through Oromia, Ethiopian's largest region, in November 2015. Human Rights Watch has reported that, during this protest period, over 400 people are estimated to have been killed, tens of thousands have been arrested and hundreds have been victims of enforced disappearances. These atrocities have been directly identified as being conducted by the Ethiopian government.

As an example, on 4 September 2016, whilst we celebrated Father's Day here in this country, the Oromo nation was mourning the death of over 60 Oromos in a prison, called the Kilinto prison, that was set ablaze. This comes after nine months of peaceful protests which have spread countrywide with the emergence of the Amhara protests in the north and the intensification of the Konso protests in the south. Renowned leaders like Bekele Gerba have been issuing letters to the public to continue the peaceful protests and implement a program of civil disobedience. An example: a grand rally was conducted on 6 August 2016, where in one city alone, Asasa, over 20 peaceful protesters were killed. The imprisoned protest leaders have also issued a five-day market boycott before the Ethiopian new year. The timing of this economic boycott was critical as it substantially reduces and reduced consumer and general spending by the public and government during this period. The boycotts of the Ethiopian commercial bank, telecommunications and transport services lasted until 13 September. About 60 per cent of Ethiopia's GDP is from the Oromia region; hence the consequences.

Oromo farmers, artists and professional athletes are the backbone of Ethiopia but have for many years been marginalised and oppressed. A few weeks ago, that oppression was symbolised by the Oromo Olympic silver medallist Feyisa Lilesa, who was revered in Ethiopia by the Oromo people when, after participating in the marathon, he crossed the line with the Oromo protest sign that has been used for two years now.

Lilesa dedicated his achievement to the Oromo protest, thereby risking his life, his career and his family at this Olympics. His action exposed the brutal governance of the TPLF. More importantly, it highlighted the plight of the 45 million Oromos in Ethiopia. These people have won medals for Ethiopia since the time of one of the greatest runners of all time, Abebe Bikila, an Oromo himself. They have been unable to reap the benefits of their contribution to Ethiopian society. Consequently, there have been very large numbers of Oromos fleeing their country. Only this year hundreds of Oromo refugees perished in the Mediterranean Sea.

There has been an ongoing period of persecution by the Ethiopian government. It needs to be condemned by the Australian government. They are an oppressed minority. It is our job to raise in this place the oppression of minorities like the Oromo community. (Time expired)