State Dep’t and U.N. Silent About Latest Anti-Christian Violence in Ethiopia

By Lambert Mbom | April 1, 2011 | 4:10am EDT

Ethiopia, Africa. (Wikipedia Commons)

( – While the Obama administration cited human rights atrocities in Libya as part of the reason for U.S. and U.N. military intervention there, neither the State Department nor the United Nations have apparently condemned an outbreak of violence in western Ethiopia, led by Muslim radicals. Since early March two Christians have reportedly been killed, more than 3,000 displaced and at least 69 churches destroyed.

Also, leading human rights organizations including Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and Human Rights First appear not to have publicly condemned the attacks.

“Extremist Muslims killed two Christians, burnt 69 Christian churches, and destroyed 30 homes, leaving between 4,000 to 10,000 Christians displaced,” Jeremy Lim, International Christian Concern (ICC)’s regional manager for Southeast Asia, told ICC is a human rights group promoting religious freedom and assisting Christian victims of persecution.

According to Compass Direct News, which focuses on religious freedom issues, “38 of the churches burnt belonged to the Ethiopian Kale Hiwot, its Bible school building and two church office buildings, while 12 were Mekane Yesus buildings; six were Seventh-day Adventist structures; two were Muluwongel church buildings, and another belonged to a ‘Jesus Only’ congregation.” Kale Hiwot, Mekane Yesus and Muluwongel are evangelical denominations.

Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi linked the violence to “elements of the Kawarja sect and other extremists who have been preaching for religious intolerance in the area.”

“Little is known of the Kawarja, but officials say they have been whipping up hatred and inciting violence against non-Muslims locally for the past few years,” according to a Reuters report, which added, “Some say the Kawarja's aim is to establish an Islamic state in a country that has never had a Muslim leader in modern history.”

Ethiopia is in central north-east Africa and borders Somalia, Kenya, Sudan and Eritrea. Directly northwest from Ethiopia, across Sudan, is Libya. In his Mar. 28 speech explaining the decision to intervene in Libya, President Barack Obama said, “Innocent people were targeted for killing. Hospitals and ambulances were attacked. … Confronted by this brutal repression and a looming humanitarian crisis, I ordered warships into the Mediterranean.”

In Ethiopia, the latest violence took place in Asendabo, a town in the south-west of the country, and its environs, which are predominantly Muslim areas. It is within the Oromiya region, about 186 miles from the capital, Addis Ababa.

According to Reuters, “Local Imams say the incidents were sparked when word came out that Muslim laborers working at a construction site at a Protestant church claimed to have found pages from the Koran used as toilet paper.”

Despite the razing of 69 Christian churches, two deaths, and the displacement of thousands of Christians, the State Department has not issued any statement on the events in Ethiopia.

The department’s Office of International Religious Freedom, which “monitors religious persecution and discrimination worldwide and implements policies in respective regions or countries, and develops programs to promote religious freedom” has not released any comment on or condemnation of the violence.

Despite several inquiries by for comment, the Ethiopia desk at the State Department did not respond before this story was posted.

The independent U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) has also apparently not mentioned anything about the incidents, although spokeman Tom Carter acknowledged that the commission was aware of the violence in Ethiopia.

This anti-Christian attacks started on March 2. At that time, the U.N. Human Rights’ Council was holding its month-long session in Geneva, during which it adopted a resolution combating intolerance based on religion. Yet neither the council nor other U.N. rights bodies has released any statement on the Ethiopian situation.

Even the London-based Amnesty International and Washington-based Human Rights First, advocacy groups promoting respect for human rights, have neither addressed the issue nor responded to’s requests for comment.

According to the State Department's 2010 Annual Report on International Religious Freedom, Ethiopia's constitution "provides for freedom of religion, and other laws and policies contributed to the generally free practice of religion.”

“According to the 2007 census, 44 percent of the population belongs to the Ethiopian Orthodox Church (EOC), which is predominant in the northern regions of Tigray and Amhara,” it states.

“Thirty-four percent of the population is Sunni Muslim, of which the majority is Sufi. Islam is most prevalent in the east, particularly in the Somali and Afar regions, as well as in many parts of Oromiya.”

“Christian evangelical and Pentecostal groups constitute 19 percent of the population. Established Protestant churches such as Kale Hiwot, with 6.7 million members, and Mekane Yesus, with 5.3 million, are strongest in the Southern Nations, Nationalities, and Peoples' Regional State. They are also strong in western and central Oromiya and in urban areas,” the report reads.

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