Ogaden: Ethiopia’s Hidden Shame

The film records the distressing stories of three extraordinary women, Anab, Maryama and Fatuma.
Introduction:
Ethiopia is regularly cited as an African success story by donor nations; the economy is growing they cry, more children are attending school and health care is improving. Well GDP figures and millennium development statistics reveal only a tiny fraction of the corrupt and violent picture in the country.
What development there is depends the Oakland Institute relates, on “state force and the denial of human and civil rights”; the country remains 173rd out of 187 countries in the UN Human Development Index and around 40% of the population live below the extremely low poverty line, of $1.25 a day, – the World Bank worldwide poverty line is $2 a day.
The ruling party, the EPRDF, uses violence and fear to suppress the people and governs in a highly centralised manner. Human rights are ignored and a methodology of murder, false imprisonment, torture and rape is followed.
The ethnic Somali population of the Ogaden in the southeast part of the country, have been the victim of extreme government brutality since 1992. It’s a familiar story of a region with a strong identity seeking autonomy from central government, and the regime denying them that democratic right.
In 2013 and again in 2014 I visited Dadaab refugee camp in Kenya and met a number of people who had fled state persecution in the Ogaden. Men and women told of false imprisonment, murder and torture. All the women I spoke with relayed accounts of multiple rape, and sexual abuse; defected military men confessed to carrying out these appalling crimes.
We filmed the meetings and put together a short documentary, Ogaden: Ethiopia’s Hidden Shame. Most people have never heard of the region and know nothing of what is happening there.
The purpose of the film is to raise awareness, of what human rights groups describe as a genocidal campaign, and to put pressure on the primary donors – America, Britain and the European Union. Countries that collectively give around half of Ethiopia’s federal budget in various aid packages, and whose neglect and indifference amounts to complicity.

State Terrorism in Ogaden, Ethiopia

Ethiopia is being hailed as a shining example of African economic growth. Principle donors and devotees of the International Monetary Fund/World Bank development model (an imposed ideological vision which measures all things in terms of a nations GDP) see the country as an island of potential prosperity and stability within a region of failed states and violent conflict. “Economic performance in recent years has been strong, with economic growth averaging in double-digits since 2004,”states the IMF country report. The economic model (a hybrid of western capitalism and Chinese control) adopted by the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) government is a centralised system that denies democracy – consultation and participation in “development plans” is unheard of – ignores and violates human rights.
A willing ally in the “war on terror,” Ethiopia is a strategically convenient base from which the US launches it’s deadly Reaper Drones over Yemen and Somalia, carrying out “targeted assassinations” against perceived threats to “national security” and the ‘American way of life’. In exchange perhaps, irresponsible benefactors – Britain, America and the European Union – turn a blind eye and a deaf ear to the human rights abuses being perpetrated throughout the country by the highly repressive dictatorship enthroned in Addis Ababa.
Widespread repression
Whilst there are state-fuelled fires burning in various parts of the country: Oromo, Amhara, Gambella, and the Lower Omo Valley for example. Regions where Genocide Watch (GW) consider “Ethiopia to have already reached Stage 7 (of 8), genocide massacres,” arguably the worst atrocities are taking place within the Ogaden, where GW say the Ethiopian government has “initiated a genocidal campaign against the Ogaden Somali population.”
A harsh region subject to drought and famine where, according to human rights groups such as Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, as well as first hand accounts, innocent men, women and children are being murdered, raped, imprisoned and brutally tortured by government forces.
The region borders Somalia and is populated largely by ethnic Somalis, many of whom do not regard themselves as Ethiopian at all and see the Ethiopian military operating within the region as an occupying force. The Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF) has been engaged in a struggle for independence for the last 22 years. They were elected to power in the 1992 regional elections; however, after they had the democratic gall to propose a referendum on self-determination, the central government under the leadership of the previous Prime-Minister – Meles Zenawi, sent in the military: leading members of the newly elected regional authority and their supporters were executed and arrested and the army installed to control the region. The ONLF, branded terrorists by a government that labels all dissenting individuals and groups with the “T” word, were driven into the bush from where they have been waging armed and diplomatic resistance ever since.
Since 2007, all international media and prying meddlesome humanitarian aid groups have been banned from the area, making it extremely difficult to collect up-to-date information on the situation. The main source of data comes from courageous refugees and defected military men who have found their way to Kenya or Yemen. Most fleeing the region end up in one of the five sites that comprise the sprawling UNHCR-run Dadaab refugee camp in North Eastern Kenya. Established in 1992 to accommodate 100,000 people for 10 years, it is often described as the largest refugee camp in the world and is now home to round 500,000, although manipulated Kenyan government figures are much lower.
Maryama’s story
Maryama arrived in Dadaab with her son and daughter in May 2014 after fleeing her homeland in Ethiopia. She had been the victim of terrible physical and sexual abuse at the hands of the Ethiopian military. Her shocking story echoes the experience of thousands of innocent women – many of whom are no more than children – throughout the affected parts of the Ogaden. I met Maryama in the UNHCR field office of the Dagahaley site in October 2014. She spoke to me of her life in the Ogaden and the violence she had suffered. We sat on the ground in the shade of a UN office building. She spoke with clarity and passion for over an hour, her two-year old son on her lap.
Like many people in the Ogaden, Maryama lived a simple life as a pastoralist. Tending her goats and camels, she moved from place to place with her family. She had never attended school, cannot read or write and knows little or nothing of her country’s politics. Some time in 2012, she was arrested when a large group of armed soldiers from the Ethiopian military descended on her family’s settlement in Dagahmadow in the district of Dagahbuur. “They came to us one day while we were tending to our affairs in our village and they accused us of being supporters of the ONLF as well as having relatives in the ONLF.” The soldiers “called all the village people together and started carrying out acts of persecution. They took anything of value, including property and livestock, by force and burnt down homes in the process. I had just given birth seven days earlier when they came into my home and they asked me why I am inside the house [a small semi-circular wooden structure made from branches and mud] by myself [she was bathing her son at the time]. They saw footsteps near my home, which they followed and concluded that it must have been left by the ONLF” [the prints were in fact made by the military]. “All of us were taken out of our homes and questioned about the ONLF, we all denied any involvement. Our homes were then burnt.”
The solders moved from house-to-house questioning people about the footprints. A young mother, who had given birth the day before and was holding her child, was interrogated, she knew nothing and said so. An elderly woman went to her aid; she was caught by the throat and questioned about the footprints – she knew nothing. They shot her dead. Two men from the village arrived and were immediately questioned. One of the men answered, denying any connection with the ONLF; two soldiers tied his hands together, threw a rope around his neck and pulled on each end until he choked to death. Maryama was ordered to hold the strangled man upright and not allow him to fall to the side. When, exhausted after two hours, she let go of the body she was “arrested with six other girls (including my sister), one of the girls had given birth that day.” On the first night in captivity [in an abandoned village] “she was forced to her feet by two soldiers, one of them kicked her in the stomach – she fell on the floor, keeled over and died on the spot. They also shot my sister in front of us. I watched as she bled to death next to the other girl who had died from the beating.”
Maryama told how after witnessing these atrocities, soldiers put a plastic bag over her head and tied a rope around her throat until she lost consciousness. When she came to, she found herself outside in a deep pit; she was naked and in great pain; she found it difficult to move. Her son was nowhere to be seen. Eight other people were with her, five were dead – one was a cousin, two were neighbours. These people had gone missing 10 days previously; it was assumed they were in prison. She cried hysterically.
After 28 days in the pit, her son was brought to her and they were both taken to prison. She was held captive in Jail Ogaden, in the regional capital Jigjiga, for approximately two and a half years, during which time she was subjected to torture and extreme sexual abuse. There were, she told me, over 1,000 women in the prison. At this point it is perhaps worth stating the obvious: this woman had broken no law, had not been charged with any offence or been granted any of her constitutional or human rights.
Maryama, along with other female prisoners, was routinely tortured by military personnel; stripped naked, they were forced to crawl on their hands and knees across a ground of sharp stones. Their knees would collapse and bleed; if they stopped, they were verbally insulted and beaten with wooden sticks or the butt of a rifle. Another favoured method of torture was to strip the women and take them to the latrines where toilet waste was thrown over them. At the same time they were beaten with sticks, belts and hit with the butt of a rifle. They were not allowed to wash and were forced to sleep covered in this waste.
Maryama, who was around 18 years of age when she was first arrested, was repeatedly raped by groups of soldiers while in prison. They like the women to be young – 15 to 20 – and semi-conscious when raped so the girls cannot resist and the perpetrator cannot be identified; part strangulation with a rope or a blow to the head using the butt of a rifle renders the innocent victim unconscious. Soldiers are told to use the penis as a weapon and are “trained,” defected military men told me, to rape women and how to “break a virgin”; violent demonstrations on teenage girls are given by training officers. They are told to eat hot chillies before going out on patrol, so their semen will burn the women rape victims. A defected divisional commander in the Liyu Police, Dahir, related how during his five years in the force he had witnessed between 1200 and 1500 rapes in the Ogaden.
The creation of a climate of fear amongst the population is the aim of the government and the military; they employ a carefully planned, if crude, methodology to achieve their vile objective. False arrest and detention of men and women, arbitrary assassinations and torture, rape and the destruction of property and livestock make up the arsenal of control and intimidation employed by the EPRDF government.
Unbelievable
The Ethiopian regime maintains that nothing untoward is taking place within the Ogaden region. The military and Liyu police (a renegade paramilitary group), they tell us, are safeguarding civilians against the terrorist organization operating there, namely the ONLF. Soldiers in training are brainwashed to see the population of the region, men, women and children, as enemies of the State. Accounts like Maryama’s are pure fiction, government spokesmen say, and, sorry chaps, the region is unsafe for members of the international media or human rights groups and you cannot enter. And if you do, you will be arrested.
There is indeed terrorism raging throughout large parts of the Ogaden and elsewhere in the country; it is State Terrorism perpetrated by a brutal regime that is guilty of widespread criminality, much of which constitutes crimes against humanity.
January 2105
http://www.counterpunch.org/2015/01/09/state-terrorism-in-ogaden-ethiopia/

Ogaden to Dadaab in Search of Peace

It was dark when I arrived at Wilson Airport, Nairobi for the 7am United Nations charter flight to Dadaab. I was in Kenya to meet refugees from the Ogaden region of Ethiopia and record their stories. Accounts of false imprisonment, murder, rape, torture at the hands of the ERPRDF government: stories, which would prove deeply distressing.
An inhospitable land, the Ogaden region is home to around five million Ethnic-Somalis, and has been the battleground for several armed conflicts between Somalia and Ethiopia since the 19th century. There is natural gas and oil under Ogaden soil: is the Ogaden yet another oil-infused battleground?
A hidden war, the people’s suffering irrelevant in the eyes of Ethiopia’s donor benefactors, who see their ally as stable and ignore wide-ranging human rights abuses.
Mainly pastoralists, the people of the region live simple lives tending their cattle and moving along ancestral pathways. Most have never been to school, cannot read or write and live hard but honest lives in tune with the land. They want simply to be left alone, and allowed to live peaceful dignified lives.
Shocking Stories
A fleet of white UN 4x4s met the incoming Nairobi flight and drove us along the pitted dusty road through Dadaab town to the main United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) compound. With a population approaching 500,000 in the five sites Dadaab Refugee Camp collectively forms the largest temporary settlement (22 years temporary) in the world.
A small open room in the middle of one of the courtyards suffices as a workspace. Noor, a tall man in his forties, was eager to talk about his experiences. Strong and proud, he had worked for the local government in Fiiq province, Ogaden. All regional government activities, he said, are supervised by the military, “they control everything.” Arrested without charge in 2010, he had been imprisoned for two years in barracks, where he “was repeatedly beaten. After two years I was released and confined under house arrest, but managed to escape.” Noor had witnessed the killing “of a 14-year-old girl, by the Ethiopian military. She had set up a small business – a kiosk. The military suspected she received financial support from the ONLF [The Ogaden National Liberation Front, which has been fighting for self-determination since 1984].”
Noor, frustrated by the lack of international interest, estimates that less than 25% of aid reaches those it is intended for; the military steal the rest, some is used to feed soldiers and the Liyuu Police – their paramilitary brothers-in-arms – some they sell to starving villagers. Donor countries are unable to monitor aid deliveries: the Ethiopian government has restricted access to the region for aid groups and the media since 2007.
Having told his story, he shook my hand and sat quietly with the others in the stifling heat. One woman, Muus Mohammed, beautiful and bitterly angry, looked at me through doubtful eyes, unsure whether to trust me. She had witnessed the killing of her father and brother by the military, and had been imprisoned herself for three years, when she was repeatedly raped and beaten. Carrying out orders
The inculcation of fear lies at the heart of the Ethiopian government’s methodology in the region and indeed throughout the country: “the first mission for the military and the Liyuu is to make the people of the Ogaden region afraid of us,” said Dahir, a former divisional commander of the Liyuu force; In keeping with acts of (state) terrorism, he dutifully carried out his orders “to rape and kill, to loot, to burn their homes, and capture their animals – we used to slaughter some of the animals we captured, eat some and some we sold back to their owners.” He ordered and committed hundreds of killings and some 1,200 rapes, or 1,500 – he couldn’t say precisely. Should this man be granted asylum in London, to end up running a café in Shepherd’s Bush, or in Sweden studying engineering in Stockholm? This moral question confronted me as the former soldier recounted serial brutality that turned my stomach, rendering me silent.
In the safety of the UNHCR compound, a huge enclosure reminiscent of a French campsite, I met 18-year old Hoden. Dressed in a long black headscarf, she avoided eye contact, looked fragile, and shy and would only speak to me if we were alone. We sat in a small air-conditioned portakabin at the back of the main compound and she slowly, tentatively began to answer my intrusive questions.
She cried as she told me her story. Brought up in Fiqq town, her family moved to Gode after her mother was arrested. It was in Gode that she too was imprisoned for six months, caned, tortured, raped every night by gangs of soldiers. She was a frightened 17-year-old child then, today she is a lonely mother shrouded in shame, with a one-year-old baby girl – result of a rape. Hoden is stigmatized within her community for ‘having a child from an Ethiopian soldier’. At the end of our time together she said her ‘future has been ruined.’ She lowered her head and wept.
Omar was a slight, gentle man with a glazed frightened stare, a look I would come to recognise many times during the week. He came to Dadaab in September 2012 from Gode, in the district of Godi, which he said, is one of the most badly affected areas of the Ogaden conflict.
His wife, son and brother had been killed: pregnant with their second child, Omar’s wife became sick and “decided to travel to the countryside to drink goat’s milk hoping to recover.” When her condition deteriorated Omar went to her. “I stayed on in the countryside and sent my wife and son back [to Godi] with my brother.” They were stopped by the military “and asked where they had come from, what they were doing in the countryside and where they got the car from.” They were accused of being affiliated with the ONLF and executed at the roadside.
Accusations of ONLF membership/support are the common excuse for killings, torture, false imprisonment and rape, accusations brandishing the innocent as the enemy. All three bodies were left at the roadside.
When Omar returned to the city he “found the dead body of my son by the roadside, he was being eaten by stray dogs.” Omar was arrested and imprisoned for “one year and two months,” when he was routinely tortured. “There is a river nearby the prison, late at night we were taken to the river, a rope tied around our necks and held under the water. They pulled me out and beat me with wooden sticks and their rifles. Sometimes they would vary the method and put a sack over my head, tie it around my throat with rope, submerge me in the river, then beat me – it happened to most of the prisoners.” One night around midnight, “the rope broke and I fell into the water. The soldiers thought I had drowned [as many do] and left me, but fortunately I know how to swim and I swam to the opposite bank and escaped.”
We had been talking for over an hour, despair and anger filled the room. Drawn back to the horrors of his family’s tragedy Omar sat staring into his pain, his soul entrapped.
From Victim to Murderer
A sullen 25-year-old former member of the Liyuu Police, Abdi joined the Liyuu, rather than be imprisoned, in August 2010 and became one of 500 in a regiment stationed in Fiiq. He looked guilty and repeatedly justified his actions – saying he had no choice, unable perhaps to face the reality of what he had done.
During their three-month training he and his fellow recruits were told “to enjoy our freedom, and to rape the young women. I raped between 10 and 20 women and remember killing 11 civilians.” Soldiers “who raped a lot of women, who robbed a lot and did lots of killing were rewarded and praised. They were given bonuses of around 5000 ETB ($250) as a present.”
Abdi was in the force for two years, three months. Two appalling incidents caused him to leave. “One day we saw a group of pastoralist families with their animals. We approached the families and took three women aged 20 to 30 years and nine girls aged 15-20 years old… We were 300 soldiers. We raped all the women and killed about 80 people.” A group of seven furious village elders “came to ask why we raped their women, one of the men was the father of a girl we raped. The old man was very angry and took a stone and hit the leader of our force on the head, and made him bleed. The leader selected two soldiers and ordered them to kill all seven elders and all the girls and women.” This took place in March 2011 and “started to make me feel sorry for the people.” Despite this rush of compassion, Abdi stayed with the force another year, until a final atrocious straw broke his military resolve. It was around 20th December 2012 in the rural area around Galalshe, where “we killed 96 innocent people. Of the 96, 25 were tied together in a clear field, two soldiers were selected and they shot them all dead. We also burnt their homes to the ground. That day I saw a woman who was dead and lying on her was her baby, who was suckling from her breast. That is the day I decided to leave the Liyuu police.”
I had never sat with a man who had killed and raped; I thanked him for his honesty. He was only a child himself, his life before him a past to somehow atone for.
Aid convoys travel to the camps in convoys of 15-30 vehicles with armed Kenyan police throughout: carjacking and hijacking of staff and visitors is an Al-Shabab threat taken seriously.
In Dagahaley camp (c. 100,000 people), an array of shacks 20-minutes’ drive from UNHCR’s Dadaab compound, children and women collected outside the gates of the UN field office. Fifty or so men, women and children were ushered unceremoniously into a holding area, where they sat with the same dignity I had seen on my first day. I photographed them against the white wall of the UNHCR offices. Ahmed, my translator, wrote a succinct word or two next to their name: Ardo, female 30, falsely imprisoned, gang raped, tortured; Fadumo, female 40, falsely imprisoned, gang raped, tortured; Raho, female 31, falsely imprisoned, gang raped, tortured, her family killed by the Ethiopian military; Cibaado, female, 60, blinded in prison and burned; Khadar Hared Adam, male 17, tortured, using a crocodile to attack his legs.
“Why don’t they stop the violence?”
Many who arrive in Dadaab journey to the Kenyan border on foot, walking in intense heat over harsh landscapes for months: 40 year old Fadumu Siyad arrived in Dadaab in August 2012 after two months: “we used to walk all day and all night. At first we cooked food we carried with us, but after a month the food was finished, then we looked for pastoralists who helped us by giving us food and milk. I was walking with my three young children,” a girl, 14 and two boys, 10 and 7 years.
In the Hagadera camp I met Ardo, a pastoralist; she had never known a permanent home, used a power shower or a dishwasher, she bathed in wells ‘sometimes’ and lived a simple life. “I had very long hair, down to my waist, they used to tie my hair around my throat to strangle me and then, whilst the hair was tied like this, they would rape me.” ‘They’ are Ethiopian soldiers, carrying out the orders of the EPRDF government.
May I ask something now, said Ardo: “Why are the British and Americans supporting the government? Why don’t they stop the violence? Why do they say nothing?”
On my last day a defected former officer from the Liyuu Police agreed to talk to me. Forcibly recruited when he was 30, he was in the force for five years before the horror of what he was doing became too much for his humane sensibilities. Trained to rape and kill, and how to “break a virgin,”, a brutal process involving 15 – -18 -year -old girls who have been falsely imprisoned. He told of violent abuses constituting war crimes and crimes against humanity that shocked and appalled.
How to speak to a man who has just told you he and his “men” dismembered teenage girls, buried others alive, hanged boys, murdered village elders and incessantly raped. He seemed to be in a permanent state of shock, staring out from a dark place onto a world of his own making.
The Ethiopian government denies any abuse is taking place in the Ogaden region.
It was pouring with rain as we landed in Nairobi: I walked to my hotel, ate, began writing and wondered at our fractured world and man’s continual inhumanity to man.
March 2014
http://www.counterpunch.org/2014/03/28/ogaden-to-dadaab-in-search-of-peace/

Ethiopian Persecution, Threats and Kidnapping in the Ogaden

Hidden and isolated from the world the armed conflict raging in the Ogaden region of Ethiopia goes unnoticed. The killing and raping of innocent civilians at the hands of the military and their paramilitary partners in crime the Liyu police, the false arrests, torture and imprisonment remain largely hidden and unreported. The international media, human rights groups and most aid organisations (including the International Red Cross) have been banned from the region by the ruling Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) since 2007.
Testimonies of extreme abuse and mistreatment reported by Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International and diaspora agencies have come mainly from refugees who have found their way to the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) administered Dadaab Refugee Camp in Kenya, where hundreds of men, women and children have sought safety. “I was arrested without charge in 2010 and imprisoned for two years in a military barracks, when in prison I was repeatedly beaten,” relayed Noor Sayat, a 40-year old former local government worker. Omar Abdi told me how his wife and son together with his brother had been murdered in cold blood by the military, and how he “was imprisoned for one year and two months.”
During which time he “was tortured every night…late at night we were taken to the river, a rope tied around our necks and held under the water. They pulled me out and then beat me with wooden sticks and their rifles. Sometimes they would vary the method and put a sack over my head, tie it around my throat with rope and then submerge me in the river, then beat me.” Women tell of being subjected to gang rapes in prison: “I was raped by groups of soldiers,” 27-year old Raho told me. “It used to happen around midnight. I can only remember the first three men who raped me. They would take me out and leave the baby in the room with the other women, and bring me back in the early morning… the soldiers would come every night about midnight to take some of the women out for raping.” Raho was imprisoned for two years, the first eight months of which she was pregnant. She was raped throughout with the exception of the “40 days when I gave birth and had my new born baby.” She was released after complaining of abdominal pains caused, she believes, by the relentless sexual abuse.
For many community leaders the persecution continues inside Dadaab, with life-threatening telephone calls and text messages made by members of Ethiopia’s secret service, military and Liyu police. Ogaden Online relays that “the names, family history and even the pictures of Ogaden leaders [now living in] the Kenyan refugee camps,” have been collected by Ethiopian intelligence. The plan is “to hunt, kill, maim, or intimidate” members of the Ogaden diaspora, “especially in the Kenyan refugee camps and those present in the Kenyan capital, Nairobi.” The men who make up such so-called security services, in Ethiopia and elsewhere, live in a dark and ugly world; Ethiopia is besieged by social and economic problems and yet the government, shrouded in paranoia and hatred, spends its time and scant resources persecuting those seeking sanctuary.
The many claims of rape, false arrest, torture and execution of civilians by military personnel and Liyu police officers were confirmed by the statement of a former Liyu commander I spoke to in Dadaab. He told shocking stories of mutilation, murder, burying people alive, rape and systematic destruction of property. The Ethiopian government, he said, “wants to colonise the people and get rid of the Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF); the main target is the oil.” The Ogaden is reported to be rich in oil and natural gas; the promise of buried treasures may explain the West’s acceptance of wide-ranging human rights abuses being committed by the Ethiopian government – not just in the Ogaden, but throughout the country.
The struggle for self-determination for the region has been waged by the ONLF since its formation in 1984. The freedom fighters, or ‘dangerous terrorists’ if one accepts the government’s rhetoric, where voted into office in 1992 in regional elections. They “won 60% of seats… and formed the new [regional] government” [Human Rights Watch (HRW)] reported. Two years later they called for a referendum on self-determination. The EPRDF government’s reaction was to kill 81 unarmed civilians in the town of Wardheer; disband the regional parliament; arrest and imprison the vice-president and several other members of the parliament; instigate mass arrests and carry out indiscriminate killings. These brutal acts ignited the current struggle and drove the ONLF into the shadows.
ONLF Peace Negotiators Abducted
In January this year, peace talks planned to take place in Nairobi were sabotaged when two key ONLF negotiators were kidnapped. “Press reports from Kenya indicate that two members of the Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF) were abducted on 27 January 2014 outside a restaurant in Nairobi… ONLF officials stated the two persons were ONLF central committee members invited by Kenyan officials to participate in peace negotiations with Ethiopian government officials.  ONLF officials further alleged that security agencies from Ethiopia and Kenya were involved in the abduction of the two ONLF negotiators.” [David Shinn former US ambassador to Ethiopia] The ONLF claim that, “a source inside Ethiopia [has] informed the ONLF that the two abducted ONLF officers were seen in a military hospital undergoing treatment for extensive wounds caused by torture.” They go on to relay how Sulub Abdi Ahmed and Ali Ahmed Hussein – “senior negotiators for the ONLF in the talks being brokered by the Kenyan government – resisted torture and the accompanying pressure to sign (under duress) a “fictitious peace agreement”. The men had participated in the second round of talks between the Ethiopian Government and ONLF last year and were in Nairobi for the planned third round of talks.
It’s hard to see how peace talks worthy of the name can be entered into whilst one of the parties is committing abductions and assassinations, and wide-ranging atrocities in the disputed region. A reasonable and I would say essential condition of any talks is the cessation of violence by both the Ethiopian military/paramilitary and the armed wing of the ONLF.
The Kenyan police force is notoriously corrupt, two of its officers were arrested for their involvement in the kidnapping, both, “have pleaded not guilty to kidnapping two Ethiopian rebels in the capital, Nairobi. Painito Bera Ng’ang’ai and James Ngaparini are alleged to have driven to the Ethiopian border and handed them [ONLF negotiators] over to Ethiopian officials.” [BBC] The kidnapping is the latest in a long line of similar incidents; the ONLF report that in “1998, the Ethiopian Army killed three members of an ONLF delegation team and abducted two members participating in bilateral negotiations with the Ethiopian government inside the Ogaden.” They go on to state that, “two years ago, the Ethiopia government assassins killed another senior leader in Nairobi.”
Talks ‘stalled’ in September 2012 when the Ethiopian team (contrary to the unconditional basis agreed for the talks by both sides that, “no preconditions shall be made to negate the inherent character and purpose of the peace negotiations”) demanded that the ONLF representatives acknowledged the Ethiopian constitution, a broadly liberal document written by the EPRDF in 1992 and largely ignored by them ever since. In its articles the Somali (or Ogaden) region is classified as a State of Ethiopia, a contentious statement implying sovereignty over the area, which the ONLF where not prepared to endorse. In a statement they made clear their position, stating that the constitution, “must reflect the will of the people and that the Somali people never exercised a referendum on the constitution.” They went on to say that, “the solution to the conflict in the Ogaden can only be achieved by accepting the principles of the [people’s] right to exercise their self-determination without any preconditions or restrictions.”
Unsurprisingly the Ethiopian government have denied any abduction took place: “the two abductees came willingly, and are kept somewhere inside Ethiopia while negotiating with the Ethiopian government, and will soon speak on Ethiopian TV.” This absurd statement was followed by another, this time from Shimelis Kemal the Minister of Government Communications Affairs Office, who claimed to have “no information about the alleged kidnapping of Ogaden officials in Nairobi”. Followed fictitiously by Dina Mufti (Foreign Ministry), who told VOA Amharic “that his government was not aware of the whereabouts of those men or any abduction.” The two men remain detained in an undisclosed location inside Ethiopia. Let us hope they are safe and that they are swiftly released.
Nationwide Violations
The human rights violations, many of which constitute crimes against humanity, taking place inside the Ogaden region are but the most acute examples of widespread government violence, abuse and suppression being meted out throughout the country. Genocide Watch “considers Ethiopia to have already reached Stage 7 [of 8], genocidal massacres, against many of its peoples, including the Anuak, Ogadeni, Oromo, and Omo tribes.” Ethiopia rarely attracts the attention of the international media and their western donors are content, it seems, to turn a blind eye and a deaf ear to the cries of the people, happy that their ally in what is one of the most volatile regions of the world is on the face of it stable. It is a stability however brought about through fear, security forces personnel – police, military and secret service men – instilling fear of imprisonment, torture and death, amongst the people.
Political dissent is not tolerated, freedom of assembly all but criminalised, and intimidation to garner support for the ruling party is government policy. Membership of the EPRDF brings with it work permits, a range of essential aid from food to fertiliser, a home, university places, government jobs, business opportunities such as opening a shop, a hairdressing salon or driving a taxi – only possible if you are an EPRDF card carrying devotee, one prepared to hang a photograph of their cherished leader, former Prime Minister Meles Zenawi, in your Lada. Economic growth is said to be racing along at 8% per annum; however, the beneficiaries of any development dividend are those within the cosy government clique, and given that deceit and duplicity are government policy, there is considerable doubt as to the reliability of the growth claims. “It is not clear how factual Ethiopia’s economic data are. Life is intolerably expensive for Ethiopians in Addis Ababa, the capital, and its outlying towns. Some think Ethiopia’s inflation figures are fiddled” [The Economist].
Why, I was repeatedly asked by refugees from the Ogaden, “does Britain support the EPRDF regime”, why is the Department for International Development (DFID) funding the Liyu police, why do they not act for us – good question. The people of the Ogaden are suffering wide-ranging atrocities and throughout the country human rights are violated, the people are suppressed and fearful, all of which donor nations such as Britain and America are well aware. All pressure should be applied to the EPRDF regime to observe human rights, dismantle draconian laws like the internationally condemned Anti-Terrorist Proclamation and Charities and Societies Proclamation; desist from military action and withdraw troops from the Ogaden, open up the region to the international media and human rights groups and enter into substantive peace talks with the ONLF.
As witnessed in many parts of the world when the people unite change ensues, governments fall. The people of Ethiopia, in the Ogaden, Oromo, Amhara, Gambella and elsewhere, need to stand together and peacefully demand their right to freedom, to justice and to peace.
February 2014
http://www.counterpunch.org/2014/02/28/ethiopian-persecution-threats-and-kidnapping/

Walking From the Ogaden: Seeking Peace in Dadaab

Many people living outside Africa, most perhaps, have never heard of the Ogaden (or Somali) region of Ethiopia, they know nothing of the murders rapes and destruction that the ethnic Somali’s allege are taking place there. We all have our problems and what can I do anyway, these governments are corrupt, we – meaning western governments shouldn’t be sending them money, especially now with all the public sector cuts taking place. So runs the uninformed, albeit understandable response.
I like it here in Dadaab, “it’s peaceful”, seven year-old, Khandra Abdi told me. Do you have lots of friends? “No, what would I do with a friend…. I have an imaginary friend called Roho, she is also seven years old.” Khandra had seen her mother and other women tortured, when, as an innocent child, of an innocent mother, she was imprisoned in the regional capital Jijiga, in the infamous Jail Ogaden, with its torture rooms and underground cells. Whilst in prison, Sahro received no medical treatment for the “wounds” sustained when she was violently arrested, and was detained without charge “for three years with my daughter”. Throughout that time she says, soldiers repeatedly gang raped, beat and tortured her. The soldiers “kept a record of the girls and women they want to rape. Women that resist or refuse are beaten, then raped and then raped again and again.” Resistance then, is futile in a world devoid of common humanity and the rule of law.
In the end “they let me go because my wounds had become infected and I could not be used [raped] by the soldiers anymore”. The military get rid of the women Saro says, when they are no more use to them. The arrests are arbitrary, so too the release.
After her release, in fear of her life and of her daughter’s safety, she set off, with no funds on the arduous journey to Kenya, aiming for Dadaab. With Khandra, she “firstly travelled by camel – given to me by my brother, to Danod in Wardheer. This took approximately 15 days. My brother gave me food to cook on the way and some money. Then I got a lift in a lorry to the Kenyan border.”
It’s an arid land inhabited by around five million people. Mainly pastoralists, they live simple lives tending their cattle and moving along ancestral pathways. Most have never been to school, cannot read or write and live hard but honest lives in tune with the land and the past.
There is natural gas and oil under the Ogaden or is it Ethiopian soil, first discovered when the Italians, under the dictator Benito Mussolini occupied Ethiopia for nine years.in the 1930’s.
Sahro, emotionally scarred and looking older than her 36 years, uneducated and desperately poor, she earned “some little money by making and selling tea to the villagers and pastoralists who came to the village”. The Ethiopian military and their paramilitary partners, the Liyuu police patrol the region, not all of it just the five targeted states. They move from base to village recruiting young men often at gunpoint, raping women, looting and burning homes, local people tell us. They work in five-day cycles, five on, five off, time is needed to recover I suppose, from the activities of the working week.
One evening the Ethiopian military descended upon Danod, a settlement in the district of Wardheer, where Sahro lived “in a tent… with two sisters and my daughter. I was divorced from the children’s father.” The military accused her of the heinous crime of making tea for the Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF). Rebel group, or freedom fighters, depending on your viewpoint, that since their inauguration in 1984 have been calling for self-determination, politically, when they made up 60% of the regional government, and post 1994, militarily and politically.
The night Sahro was arrested they took her, “with Khandra into the forest and they tried to rape me. I fought them and ran from them, the soldiers shot at me, hitting me in the leg [shows me her scar] and hand [missing finger on right hand] and I fell to the ground. There were four soldiers chasing me, and many more in the village.” It’s hard for a woman with a child to fight off four soldiers and “many more in the village”. Bundled into a car she was driven to Jijiga and incarcerated.
People from the region fleeing government persecution, are not automatically granted refugee status, instead they are required to pass through an assessment process, undertaken by The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) ‘Refugee determination Unit’. An official position that, given the level of state criminality, in my view, warrants re-evaluating. UNHCR have limited resources and filling forms often takes months, adding up to years in some cases. Three separate sites make up the Dadaab refugee camp in Kenya, with a total population of close to 500,000 – a small city, it is the largest refugee camp in the world. UNHCR manages it and gives basic support – shelter, blankets food and water rations to the people seeking refuge that knock on their door.
Many that arrive in Dadaab make the journey to the Kenyan border on foot, often walking in intense heat over harsh landscape for months: 40 year old Fadumu Siyad, arrived in Dadaab in August 2012 after walking for two months ”from Saga to Ceelbarda. It is a very long way; we used to walk all day and all night. At first we cooked food we carried with us, but after a month the food was finished, then we looked for pastoralists who helped us by giving us food and milk. I was walking with my three young children”, – a girl aged 14 and two boys aged 10 and 7 yrs. Another woman I met, walked with her two small children, she would carry one for 20 meters, put her down then go back for the other one. She did this for three months, until she reached the Kenya. The physical and indeed mental strength of such women is to be admired.
The inculcation of fear lies at the heart of the military methodology, “the first mission for all the military and the Liyuu is to make the people of the Ogaden region afraid of us”, said Dahhir, a divisional commander in the Liyuu force. In keeping with acts of (state) terrorism, he was told and dutifully carried out his orders, “to rape and kill, to loot, to burn their homes, and capture their animals – we used to slaughter some of the animals we captured, eat some and some we sold back to their owners.”
Rape, a weapon of war for centuries, is (allegedly) a favourite tool used by the Ethiopian forces to terrify and intimidate the people of the Ogaden, and we are told other parts of the country, Gambella and Oromo for example. In the safety of the UNHCR compound, a huge enclosure reminiscent of a French campsite, I met 18-year old Hoden on my first day in Dadaab. Dressed in a long black headscarf, she looked fragile and shy. We sat with Ahmed the translator, in a small portakabin the air conditioning on, surrounded by desks and she slowly began to answer my awkward questions.
She cried a lot as she told me her upsetting story. Brought up in Fiqq town, her family of pastoralists moved to Gode after her mother was arrested when she was 16. It was in Gode that she too was imprisoned, held for six months, caned, tortured and “raped every night by gangs of soldiers”. She was a frightened, innocent 17-year old child then, today she is a wounded, lonely mother with a one-year old baby girl – the result of one of the rapes.
Notions of Identity and freedom lie at the heart of the political and military struggle for autonomy from Ethiopia, who many regard as a foreign occupying force. The view from Addis Ababa is, unsurprisingly, somewhat different. The Government and most Ethiopians see the Ogaden as part of the federal state of Ethiopia, albeit a part given to them by the British. A detail, that whilst historically correct, is for the time being at least, largely irrelevant. The ONLF, heroes to the ethnic Somali’s, are seen by the Ethiopian regime as a band of unlawful terrorists, causing mayhem in the region, that the brave soldiers of the military, serving their country well, are trying to capture.
As the T word has now surfaced, perhaps at this point it’s worth repeating the definition of terrorism found in The US Department of Defense Dictionary of Military Terms. It is, they say “The calculated use of unlawful violence or threat of unlawful violence to inculcate fear; intended to coerce or to intimidate governments or societies in the pursuit of goals that are generally political, religious, or ideological”. So that would cover the rape and murder of civilians, the destruction of residential property, torture, false arrests and arbitrary executions, all of which are – we must say ‘it is alleged’, being carried out by the Ethiopian military, actions that (if true) earn the EPRDF government the international accolade of ‘State Terrorist’. An appropriate title that sits uncomfortably with the EPRDF’s democratic pretensions and the cozy relationship enjoyed with their western allies and principle donors. Western governments, who we must assume know well the level of state criminality being committed, and, to their utter shame, say nothing in support of the human rights of the people of Ethiopia.
Distressingly Hoden, is now “stigmatized amongst her own people” within Dadaab, for “having a child from an Ethiopian soldier“. Such are the narrow minded, judgmental attitudes that pervade such communities and destroy the lives of countless women, young and old. At the end of our time together, Hoden said, her “future has been ruined”. She lowered her head as she gently wept, and we sat together in silence.
June 2013
http://www.counterpunch.org/2013/07/09/seeking-peace-in-dadaab/

Ogaden Refugees Fleeing Government Persecution

The Ethiopian military and paramilitary forces, operating in the Ogaden region of Ethiopia, are, it is alleged, carrying out extra judicial killings and gang rapes; falsely arresting and torturing innocent civilians; looting and destroying villages and crops in a systematic attempt to terrify the people. This is the consistent message coming out of the region and from those who have fled persecution and are now in the world’s largest refugee camp, in Dadaab, Kenya. It is a message of government brutality and collective suffering taking place not only in the Ogaden but in a number of areas of Ethiopia, including the Amhara region, Gambella, Oromia and the Omo valley. Regime brutality that Genocide Watch (GW) consider “to have already reached Stage 7 (of 8), genocide massacres, against many of its peoples, including the Anuak, Ogadeni, Oromo, and Omo tribes”. They call on the EPRDF regime to “adhere to it’s own constitution and allow its provinces the legal autonomy they are guaranteed.”
Around five million people live in the Ogaden (or Somali) region of Ethiopia. Predominantly ethnic Somali’s, mostly pastoralists, they live in what is one of the least developed corners of the world. Ravaged by drought and famine, the region has been the battleground for violent disputes between Ethiopia and Somalia for generations. The Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF), claim the people of the region want self-determination from Ethiopia, a right they have been fighting for since their formation in 1984. A right enshrined in the 19th Century agreement (enacted in 1948) with Britain, when sovereignty and control of the region was passed to Ethiopia. A crucial proviso, successive Ethiopian governments have conveniently ignored.
With the international media banned by the Ethiopian government since 2007 and with an economic and aid embargo being enforced the region is totally isolated, making gathering information about the situation within the five affected districts difficult. I recently spent a week in Dadaab where I met dozens of refugees from the Ogaden; men, women and children who repeatedly relayed accounts of murder, rape, torture and intimidation at the hands of government forces. Accounts that if true, – and we have no reason to doubt them, confirm reports from, among others – Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International and Genocide Watch – who make clear their view, that the Ethiopian government has “initiated a genocidal campaign against the Ogaden Somali population”, constituting “war crimes and crimes against humanity”.
State Terrorism
The people, victims of terrible abuse, carry with them the scars, often physical, always psychological, of their horrific ordeal. Listening to their stories and the testimonies of former Liyuu personnel, a clear picture of the systematic approach being employed by the Ethiopian military and Liyuu Police operating within the Ogaden emerges.
Arbitrary killings, rape, torture, and destruction of property are the unimaginative preferred tools of terror, ‘use the penis as a weapon against the women’ the men are told, burn villagers homes and steal their cattle, confiscate humanitarian aid-including food, and create an intolerable fear ridden environment. Men joining the Ethiopian military and Liyuu Police, like 25 year old Abdi who arrived in Dadaab in January 2013 and like many was forcibly recruited, are told, “there is no court that can control you, that we were free from the law, enjoy your freedom, they told us.” The methodology of occupation, including extra judicial killing, is made clear,  “we were told to rape the young women… When we went into the rural areas, we were 300 men. When we saw a young mother with children aged from one years old to five years old, we would rape her.”
Soldiers that commit many rapes, murders and robberies, Abdi tells us, are “rewarded and praised. They were given bonuses of around 5000 ETB ($250), in addition to the salary that was 2000 ($100) ETB a month.”
Women, like 27-year-old Rohar, tell of arbitrary arrests and torture. Imprisoned with her husband when she was “in the ninth month of pregnancy. We were made to walk for three days and three nights before a bus collected us and drove us for one more day/night to Jijiga.” Detained for two years without charge in Jail Ogaden in Jijiga, Rohar, as most detainees are, was accused of supporting the ONLF and “repeatedly tortured from the very beginning even though I was pregnant. They would tie a rope around the branch of a tree and a noose around my neck, then they would pull on the rope to strangle me. The evidence is still on my body – (she shows me a terrible burn scar on her neck).”  Throughout this time she reports being “raped by groups of soldiers. It used to happen around midnight. I can only remember the first three men who raped me. They would take me out and leave the child/baby in the room with the other women, and bring me back in the early morning.”  Rohar was released when she was no more use to the soldiers after becoming unwell with abdominal pains, caused, she believes, by the repeated rapes. This account, from beginning to end is typical of many women’s experiences.
A divisional commander, now in Dadaab, related how during their three-month training in the Liyuu they were shown demonstrations in “how to rape a woman, and how to break a virgin”. They are carrying out atrocities in the region in order,  “to make the people afraid and to place them under the control of the Ethiopian military, and fundamentally “because there is oil in the region and the government wants the oil for themselves. The military is there to make the people fearful so they won’t support the ONLF.”
Back in the late 19th century, when the region was under British control, oil was suspected to be present in the region, in 1936 under the Italian occupation geological mapping of the Ogaden Basin began by the Italian oil company AGIP. Their records were later used by other companies in early studies of the region and in the early 1940’s oil exploration in the Ogaden basin began.
In 1972 the American company Tenneco drilled a series of wells and found oil and gas. These discoveries mean the region, now desperately poor, is potentially the richest area of the country. In 1975 in the wake of the Ethiopian revolution, the company stopped operations and the military junta expelled all foreign companies. In the past fifty years or so it is estimated that 46 wells have been drilled searching for the black gold.
It would appear the Ethiopian government sees the natural resources of the Ogaden as another party asset to add to its burgeoning portfolio. People living within 100 km of oil exploration sites have been displaced, some GW tell us are herded into internally displaced camps, whilst others are simply made homeless. Sharing the view of the Liyuu recruit, the ONLF believes the Ethiopian military intends to secure the resources for the government and exclude local people. The Africa Faith and Justice Network confirms this view, saying: “With the discovery of petroleum leading to exploration missions by foreign companies, the government’s motives [in the region] are questionable.”
Donor neglect and self-interest
Why, In the face of such blatant state criminality, do donor countries – America, Britain and the European Union, who provide between a third and a half of Ethiopia’s federal budget, remain silent, this the common-sense question, repeatedly asked by victims of abuse. Ethiopia is of course a key strategic ally of America and the west in their fight against extreme Islamic groups, the US has military bases in Ethiopia from where it launches its unmanned drones into Somalia and Yemen. Add to this the potential oil bonanza in the Ogaden, and indeed elsewhere in the country, and a toxic cocktail of mixed motives and self-interest starts to ferment.
The EPRDF government, under the premiership of Mr. Hailemariam Desalegn, when confronted with accounts of military criminality issues blanket denials and accuses groups, such as HRW, of political bias and misinformation. Duplicitous and disingenuous, the regime, which owns most of the media in Ethiopia, seeks to control the flow of information within and without the country, and hide the atrocities being committed by the military and Liyuu to innocent civilians in the Ogaden and indeed elsewhere. If the government has nothing to hide Mr. Desalegn then open up the region to humanitarian aid groups and allow journalists unrestricted access.
Peace is the number one priority in the Ogaden and for humanity more broadly, and all measures to remove the obstacles to its realization should be made by those working for the people of the region. Discussions held in Nairobi in September 2012 broke down when the ONLF refused to accept the condition of constitutional recognition asked of them by the government team. This was unfortunate and to my mind ill judged, what should be insisted upon however, is that both the military/Liyuu and the ONLF lay down their arms and agree an unconditional ceasefire. It is hard to see how one can negotiate a long term solution whilst innocent men are being tortured, women raped, children terrified and homes destroyed.
June 2013
http://www.counterpunch.org/2013/06/11/ogaden-refugees-fleeing-government-persecution/

Under darkness in the Ogaden Region of Ethiopia: State Criminality

No matter how tightly truth is tied down, confined and suffocated, she slowly escapes. Seeping out through cracks and openings large and small, illuminating all, revealing the grime and shame, that cowers in the shadows.
The arid Somali (or Ogaden) region of Ethiopia, home to some 5 million ethnic Somalis has been isolated from the world since 2005, when the government imposed a ban on all international media and most humanitarian groups from operating in the area. Human Rights Watch (HRW)[i], report that the government, “has tried to stem the flow of information from the region. Some foreign journalists who have attempted to conduct independent investigations have been arrested and residents and witnesses have been threatened and detained in order to prevent them from speaking out“. Aid workers with the United Nations (UN), Medecines Sans Frontiers (MSF) and the International Committee of The Red Cross, plus journalists from a range of western papers, including The New York Times have all had staff expelled and/or detained, by the Ethiopian regime, which speaks of democracy yet does act not in accordance with its own liberal constitution and consistently violates international law, with total impunity.
Under the cover of media darkness together with donor country indifference, the Ethiopian government according to a host of human rights organisations, is committing wide-ranging human rights abuses that amount to war crimes and crimes against humanity. Serious accusations based on accounts relayed by refugees and interviews with Ogaden Somalis on the ground, that give, one fears, a hint only of the level of state criminality taking place in the troubled, largely ignored region. HRW[ii], make clear the seriousness of the situation, stating that, “tens of thousands of ethnic Somali civilians living in eastern Ethiopia’s Somali Regional State are experiencing serious abuses… Ethiopian troops have forcibly displaced entire rural communities, ordering villagers to leave their homes within a few days or witness their houses being burnt down and possessions destroyed—and risk death.”
The African Rights Monitor (ARM) in their detailed study, conservatively titled ‘Concerns Over the Ogaden Territory’[iii], found, “that the Ethiopian government has systematically and repeatedly arbitrarily detained, tortured and inhumanly degraded the Ogaden people.” Women and children they report, “are raped, sexually assaulted, and killed”. The ruling Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) they found, “systematically attacks the women and children as they are the weakest in a civil society” and are unable to defend themselves. Documenting a series of specific cases of violence, HRW (28/05/2012)[iv] report, “an Ethiopian government-backed paramilitary force [the Liyuu Police] summarily executed 10 men during a March 2012 operation”, HRW “interviewed witnesses and relatives of the victims who described witnessing at least 10 summary executions…. The actual number may be higher.” Such accounts as these clearly warrant investigation by independent agencies, and yet they are resolutely ignored. Supporters of the regime know well what is occurring throughout the Ogaden, and yet they remain silent. America – the single biggest donor to the country, with military bases inside Ethiopia from where their deadly drones are launched into Somalia and Yemen – and Britain are close allies – of the Ethiopian government it seems, but not of the Ethiopian people it seems.
A regime of abuse
Page after page could be filled with detailed accounts of abuse from refugees who have fled the region, human rights groups and members of the Ogaden diaspora. Atrocities meted out to innocent civilians suspected of supporting the ONLF, which Genocide Watch (GW)[v] find, amount to “war crimes and crimes against humanity”. Beaten to death, hanged from a tree, tied with wire and held over burning chilies, raped, repeatedly and falsely imprisoned; brutal, unjustifiable acts, justified by the government as part of a ‘counter insurgency operation’, against the Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF), predictably branded terrorists.
Documented reports of human rights violations amounting to state terrorism are dismissed by the EPRDF government, a regime with a notoriously dismal human rights record – who suggest that such accounts are reports of military personnel simply carrying out their duty to safeguard the Ethiopian people by routing out terrorist gangs. A scripted rhetoric of righteousness drafted in Washington after 9/11, translated worldwide distorted and espoused by totalitarian governments East and West, North and South to legitimise methods of control and acts of aggression.
Given the media restrictions, we cannot vouchsafe the governments view, but “if the Ethiopian government doesn’t have anything to hide, why don’t they allow independent investigators and journalists into the region”, Leslie Lefkow, HRW deputy director of Africa[vi], poses the question on the tip of our tongues that cannot be asked too often. There is, she says with understatement, “ a lot of concern about the human rights situation on the Ogaden”. GW are more blunt, claiming unequivocally that Ethiopia is committing genocide in the Somali region, as well as to the “Anuak, Oromo and Omo” ethnic groups (or tribes). And they call on the EPRDF regime to “cease all attacks on the Ogaden Somali” people and “immediately release all prisoners”, urging them to “adhere to it’s own constitution and allow its provinces the legal autonomy they are guaranteed.”
A Captains Story
In 2005, delivery of the Ethiopian government’s violent policy of suppression in the Ogaden shifted from the Military to the newly-formed paramilitary group, the Liyuu Police. Not a recognisable police force at all, as Faysal Mohamoud Abdi Wali a defected 38-year-old former Captain in the Intelligence unit of the Liyuu makes clear, but “an extension of the military”, which operates under a cloak of impunity, lacking all accountability. Faysal Mohammoud served in the Liyuu from its inception eight years ago, when it was called the ‘Liyuu Xayi’ until he defected in 2012. His testimony is of particular interest, especially given the media ban.
The former Liyuu officer from regiment nine “stationed in the Duhun districy”, was interviewd by Swedish journalists, Amnesty International and myself. He related how young men are forced to join the force and arrested should they refuse. Confirming findings by HRW that forced recruitment takes place amongst tribal groups, who are ordered Faysal says tribal elders are ordered “to bring at least 80 fighters for every single tribe. If any of these [recruited fighters] escaped from the Militia they seek and capture [them, the truant is] then forced to kill one of his relatives or kinship”.
He recounts mass killing, in “Hamaro, Sagag, and Dhuhun of Fiq provinces”, where he says “large number of civilians accused of being ONLF sympathizers” where massacred. “These people are mostly killed by hanging from trees and girls are gang-raped and then murdered.” He goes on to say “the youth in Dhuhun, the young men and the young women in Hamaro, the young men slaughtered in Degeh-bur and teens summarily executed [in] Denan and Dakhato”. Extra judicial executions, intimidation and “forceful methods; strangling and rape of females aged 15 – 25,” are used as weapons of terror, “based on the advice we received from the regional president Abdi Mohamud Omar who said ‘indoctrinate the women with the male phallus and the men with guns’. Omar was largely responsible for the creation of the Liyuu, which evolved out of the Ethiopian army, and was embraced by the former Prime Minister Meles Zenawi.
The Captain states he was an “eye-witness for unaccountable massacres” by Liyuu Police who, after killing villagers “burned the entire village to the ground”. They forcefully remove them [villagers] from the land and slaughter their livestock. In remote villages, they sometimes massacre them all. For example, they forcefully removed many villagers from Gudhis, massacring 125 members from that village and burned the village, in 2007.”
Soldiers are rewarded he says, for killing civilians, for the “good job they have done”. Nomads who have the misfortune to see the Liyuu on operations, are killed, “in order to make sure that their information is not received by the ONLF rebels“. Summary executions,  he reports are commonplace, as “in Dakhato in June 2010… {Where] 43 nomads were killed”. Faysal Mohammedd estimates the number of civilians murdered by the Liyuu since 2005 “to be in excess of 30, 000 people”.
Urgent Action required
The Somali region, poor and desolate, is potentially the richest part of Ethiopia. Natural Gas and oil have been discovered to be lying under the harsh surface and various contracts for exploration have been granted to international companies, (without consultation with local, indigenous people, needless to say). The current round of violence is to many people linked to the discovery of these natural treasures: GW relay how, “immediately after oil and gas were discovered in the Ogaden, Ethiopian government forces evicted large numbers of Ogaden Somalis from their ancestral grazing lands”. According to Faysal Mohamoud the federal government “has strategic economic and land acquisition aim in the Ogaden region, intended to exploit the natural resources of the region.” These are strategic aims that they are seeking to realise through the silencing of the indigenous local people.
Whilst some numbers, dates and locations from these and other accounts may be debated, the weight of claims of human rights violations and state criminality, is, it would appear beyond dispute – to the extent that GW have, “called upon the United Nations Security Council to refer the situation in Ethiopia to the International Criminal Court”. This required measure together with a range of others (including; the immediate release of all so called political prisoners, the correct distribution of all humanitarian aid to the needy, journalists granted open and unrestricted access, and a thorough investigation by independent observers) would be the right and proper course of action in the region. Action that should be undertaken, at the insistence of Ethiopia’s main donors – America, Britain and the European Union and with all due urgency.
April 2013
[i] http://www.hrw.org/news/2008/06/12/ethiopia-army-commits-executions-torture-and-rape-ogaden
[ii] http://www.hrw.org/sites/default/files/features/ethiopia/index.html
[iii] http://www.africanrightsmonitor.org/pubs/1.pdf
[iv] http://www.hrw.org/news/2012/05/28/ethiopia-special-police-execute-10
[v] http://www.genocidewatch.org/ethiopia.html
[vi] http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q_AWWRJ5JoI

Ethiopian Annihilation of the Ogaden People: Besieged Abused Ignored

In the harsh Ogaden region of Ethiopia, impoverished ethnic Somali people are being murdered and tortured, raped, persecuted and displaced by government paramilitary forces. Illegal actions carried out with the knowledge and tacit support of donor countries, seemingly content to turn a blind eye to war crimes and crimes against humanity being committed by their brutal, repressive ally in the region; and a deaf ear to the pain and suffering of the Ogaden Somali people.
Around five million traditionally nomadic pastoralists – live in what is one of the least developed corners of the world besieged by military oppression, drought and famine.
Democracy denied
When the British, with due colonial duplicity, arrogantly handed the Ogaden region over to Ethiopia in 1954, the ethnic Somali people found themselves under occupation by, what they regard as a foreign power. The centuries old struggle for self-determination, has since 1984 been taken up by the Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF), predictably regarded as ‘terrorists’ by the Ethiopian government; which hunts them down and, with impunity, tortures imprisons and rapes its members and suspected supporters while carrying out widespread extrajudicial killings.
In 1992 as part of the Ethiopian Peoples Revolutionary Democratic Front’s (EPRDF) much trumpeted, never realized policy of Ethnic Federalism, that promised autonomy and cultural respect to the many tribal groups in the country; ethnic Somalis in the Ogaden were officially acknowledged and inaugural regional elections held. The ONLF, a secular group in a largely Muslim region, “won 60% of seats… and formed the new (regional) government” Human Rights Watch (HRW) reported. Two years later, and in response to the will of the people, the ONLF called for a referendum on self-determination. The government’s reaction to such democratic gall was to kill 81 unarmed civilians in the town of Wardheer, disband the regional parliament, arrest and imprison the vice-president and several other members of the parliament, instigate mass arrests and indiscriminate killings; this brutal act ignited the current struggle and drove the ONLF into the shadows and its current guerilla war.
Resource rich
The region, rich in oil and gas reserves, is potentially the wealthiest area of Ethiopia. Resources that the indigenous people are understandably keen to benefit from, that the EPRDF sees as another party asset to add to its burgeoning portfolio. Genocide Watch (GW) tell us that, “immediately after oil and gas were discovered in the Ogaden, Ethiopian government forces evicted large numbers of [Ogaden Somalis] from their ancestral grazing lands and herded them into Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) camps, causing a humanitarian disaster”. If the ONLF are correct and their view sounds more than plausible, the Ethiopian military intends to secure the resources for the government and exclude the local people. The Africa Faith and Justice Network confirms such suspicions, saying: “With the discovery of petroleum leading to exploration missions by foreign companies, the government’s motives are questionable.”
Upfront fees for exploration rights are reputed to have been sold to foreign corporations for between $50 – $100 million, paid by under-informed, overexcited multinationals, who subsequently pull out, having underestimated the logistical problems of working in the region. China Petroleum was one such; they were subjected to an unprecedented ill-judged attack by the ONLF in 2007 that caused the deaths of nine Chinese workmen and, according to China Daily, “65 Ethiopian employees”. The Ethiopian government, itching to intensify the conflict that had been simmering for over three decades, retaliated with excessive brutality, by HRW reports, “launching a brutal counter-insurgency campaign in the five zones of [the] Somali Region primarily affected by the conflict… [Where] the Ethiopian National Defense Forces (ENDF) has deliberately and repeatedly attacked civilian populations,” killing hundreds of men women and children.
Displaced & destitute
Thousands of terrified Ogaden Somalis have since fled the affected areas. They seek refuge “in neighbouring Somalia and Kenya from widespread Ethiopian military attacks on civilians and villages that amount to war crimes and crimes against humanity,“(ibid). Large numbers have been made homeless and destitute, accurate numbers are difficult to collate due to restricted access, however human rights groups estimate the number, to be greater than one hundred thousand.
The Ogaden, GW states “has been transformed into a vast military occupied area, with thousands in internally displaced persons (IDP) camps.” Most displaced persons, the International Displacement Monitoring Centre (IDMC) reports, “sought shelter with relatives or safety in the bush, rather than gathering in organized camps,” where widespread abuse is known to take place, including starvation that GW describes as “genocide by attrition”. These desperate, frightened people are not regarded as refugees and so receive no humanitarian aid support from the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR). And the EPRDF, consistent with their duplicitous approach to governance, fails to meet dutiful obligations under the historic Kampala Convention which “reaffirms that national authorities have the primary responsibility to provide assistance to IDPs…. (And) … to address the plight of people uprooted within their borders”. The ruling party ignores these requirements, acting not in accordance with international law, the federal constitution or indeed their moral duty.
Especially violent
In 2009, after widespread condemnation of the Ethiopian army’s conduct in the region, the regime formed the highly suspect Liyu (Special) Police. Somaliland Press (26/9/12) states, the government “deliberately recruited unemployed youths from the streets”. This shadowy paramilitary force of 10,000 – 14,000, fits, HRW says, “into the context of impunity where security forces can more or less do what they want.” Not a group, then, that the British government should be supporting. In a baffling move however, according to The Guardian (10/1/13), the Department for International Development (DFID) has submitted, a “tender to train security forces in the Somali region of Ogaden”, Amnesty International’s Claire Beston said: “It was highly concerning that the UK was planning to engage with the Special Police..…. There is no doubt that the Special Police have become a significant source of fear in the region.”(Ibid) The DFID in denying the report ambiguously states that, “reforming the Special Police is critical for achieving a safe and secure Somali Region”, failing to recognize that the Liyu force needs not reforming but disbanding and, along with all Ethiopian military personnel, marched out of the region immediately.
State-sanctioned terrorism and genocide
In addition to murder and rape, appalling levels of torture and extrajudicial execution are reported. Thousands, according to GW, “have been arrested without any charges and held in desolate desert prisons”. Mass detention “without any judicial oversight are routine. Hundreds—and possibly thousands—of individuals have been arrested and held in military barracks, sometimes multiple times, where they have been tortured, raped, and assaulted”, HRW report.
Children and women being the most vulnerable suffer acutely, the rape of Ogaden Somali women is a favored weapon of the Ethiopian paramilitary; held in military barracks women are imprisoned as sex slaves, where they are subjected to multiple gang rape and torture. African Rights Monitor (ARM) recount one woman’s story that mirrors many and shocks us all. She claims to have been, “raped by fifty soldiers for a period of twelve hours and hung upside down over a pit of fire that had chili powder in…. to suffocate her lungs”.
Statistics of abuse are impossible to state, the numbers are perhaps of less importance than the crimes and the suffering caused, survivors bear the physical scars and mental trauma of their ordeals, from which many may never recover.
A scorched-earth policy involving burning of crops and homes and killing cattle is part of the campaign of state terror, as HRW record, “Confiscation of livestock [the main asset], restrictions on access to water, food, and other essential commodities” have “been used as weapons in an economic war”. As has the destruction of villages, confirmed by evidence from the American Association for the Advancement of Science, proving, “that the Ethiopian military has attacked civilians and burned towns and villages in eight locations across the remote Ogaden region of eastern Ethiopia.” Such inhumane methods are employed by the EPRDF to instill fear in the Ogaden Somali people and suppress their legitimate demands for autonomy. It is shocking criminal abuse which staggeringly, “GW considers to have already reached stage 7 [of 8], genocidal massacres against many [Ogadeni, Anuk, Oromo and Omo] of its people”. International donors however, who provide a third of Ethiopia’s total federal budget – around $4 billion a year, to their utter shame say and do nothing; neglect constituting complicity.
Village executions
With the region virtually shut off, video evidence smuggled out of Ethiopia by Abdullahi Hussein, a former Ethiopian civil servant is rare. Revealing Somaliland Press say that, “whole villages have been emptied of inhabitants through executions and mass flight from terror… you can hear members of the Liyu Police desecrate a civilian they have just killed. They stomp on his head and poke his face with a stick.” Such attacks on settlements are routine: Demanding our attention is Qurille village in the Wardeer district attacked in September 2012: Ogaden Online recounts how troops: “Shoot each resident of the town in their custody at point blank range” including women and children. Bodies are hung from trees in a public display of state terrorism, to engender lasting fear. This type of brutality is widespread. HRW records how in Raqda village in the Gashaamo district during March 2012, “the Liyu police force summarily executed at least 10 men – in their custody, killed at least nine residents… [and] abducted at least 24 men.”
The killing continued two days later on 17th March, when “Liyu police took another four men from their homes and summarily executed them. A woman whose brother was a veterinarian told HRW: “They caught my brother and took him outside. They shot him in the head and then slit his throat.” Defenseless villages are easy prey for the Liyu and their brutal methodology, as HRW state, “troops have forcibly displaced entire rural communities, ordering villagers to leave their homes within a few days or witness their houses being burnt down and possessions destroyed—and risk death”. Page upon page could be filled with such violent disturbing accounts.
Exclusion of foreign media and aid workers
Contrary to constitutional and human rights law, the EPRDF has imposed a widespread blockade on the Ogaden region, seeking to control the flow of information outside the country as it does within its borders, where it allows no freedom of the media; of expression, of assembly or of political dissent. Add to this the outlawing of trade unions and the partisan distribution of aid and a picture of a brutal totalitarian regime emerges from the duplicitous mist of politically correct, democratic rhetoric.
Attempts to work in the region by international media and humanitarian groups are seen as criminal acts, punishable under the widely condemned anti-terrorist proclamation. Two Swedish journalists investigating human rights abuses in the Ogaden, made headlines in July 2011 when they were attacked and arrested by the Liyu police and subjected to a terrifying ‘mock’ execution. Charged and sentenced in Ethiopia’s kangaroo court to 11 years imprisonment, they were later released having served 400 days in appalling conditions. Reporters from the New York Times, The Telegraph and Voice of America have also been imprisoned and expelled, so too United Nations (UN) workers and staff from Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) who were arrested and accused of being spies! Wrapped in paranoia, the EPRDF suspended 42 NGOs in 2009 for reporting government human rights abuses in the region and, in 2007 in what must be the EPRDF’s Pièce de résistance, the International Committee of the Red Cross were expelled.
In addition to the information embargo, the region is subject to what HRW describe as “severe restrictions on movement and commercial trade, minimal access to independent relief assistance,” and the “politicized manipulation of humanitarian operations, particularly food distribution”; meaning food supplied by donor countries is stolen to feed the Ethiopian army and the Liyu force.  This in one of the worst areas for drought and famine in the country, where, In-Depth Africa reports, “1,539,279 people (30% of the population) in the region lack food, water and health services”.
Peace and justice for the people
The little known conflict in the Ogaden is a cause of intense tension between Ethiopia and Somalia and a destabilizing issue in an unstable region.  It is a fight that has been distorted by the former Government of Somalia, which sought to misrepresent the issue and transform it into a boundary dispute; a misconception that suits the Ethiopian regime keen to avoid the substantive point of regional autonomy.
All efforts to facilitate a lasting peaceful resolution to what is an age-old struggle should be urgently made, Ethiopia’s donors and facilitators, principally America, along with the European Union and Britain must act with due responsibility. Action should be taken to: Close down IDP camps and the people allowed to return to their communities; aid provided for rebuilding villages (not to train the Liyu) destroyed by the military; regional elections organised and a referendum on self-determination held.
The appalling atrocities committed daily by the Ethiopian paramilitary constitute war crimes and crimes against humanity that should immediately be referred to the International Criminal Court for prosecution. They are, though, just the deepest wounds within a scarred body of human rights abuses, violating federal and international law, being perpetrated by the EPRDF regime throughout the country and with utter impunity. This must end and the Ogaden Somali people, allowed to determine their own destiny and to live in peace.
January 2013
http://www.globalresearch.ca/besieged-abused-ignored-ethiopian-annihilation-of-the-ogaden-people/5322617