March 27, 2013

Ogaden: NGOs Denounce Human Rights Violations

Accounts of human rights violations in Ogaden, gathered by NGOs, attempt to raise international awareness of the cruel acts Ethiopian military and para-military forces commit.

Below is an article published by Media With Conscience News:

“Every night, they took all of us girls to [interrogations]. They would separate us and beat us. The second time they took me, they raped me… All three of the men raped me, consecutively”. Along with 15 other female students, Human Rights Watch (HRW)  report in Collective Punishment, this innocent 17 year-old Ogaden Somali girl was held captive for three months in a “dark hole in the ground” and raped 13 times.

This is just one of countless accounts of abuse, from within the Ogaden region of Ethiopia, where it is widely reported criminal acts like these are perpetrated by the Ethiopian military and paramilitary forces on a daily basis. Untold atrocities like this; past and present are awaiting investigation, amid what is a much-ignored, little known conflict in the Horn of Africa.

In an attempt to hide the facts from the rest of the world, in 2007 the Ethiopian government banned all international media, and expelled many humanitarian aid groups from the area. It is reputed that any Non-Governmental Organizations (NGO’s) allowed to stay do so on the condition that they sign a waiver document, agreeing not to report human rights violations by the government. Ethiopia, Leslie Lefkow of HRW[i] states, “is one of the most difficult places to work for human rights groups or humanitarian agencies on the African continent”, and the Ogaden (a barren land, littered with military remnants from past conflicts), “is one of the most difficult places to work in Ethiopia.” There are “huge challenges to doing investigations on the ground because the security apparatus of the government is extremely extensive and permeates even the lowest levels, the grass roots, the village levels”, where regime spies and informers operate, reporting anything and anyone suspicious.

Information about life within the region comes from whispering sources on the ground, and from those who have fled the violence, and are now living outside Ethiopia. Many are in refugee camps in Kenya and Yemen, from where they recount stories of horrific abuse. Mohammed, from the Dhadhaab (or Dadaab) camp in Kenya, described to Ogaden Online (OO) 1/12/2012 [ii] how he was captured by the Ethiopian military, accused of being a supporter of the Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF) and mercilessly tortured. “They hogtied me”, he said, “and then flogged me while pinned down.” Mohamed’s face “was disfigured to the point where he can’t be recognized”. Refugees support Amnesty International’s (AI)[iii] findings of “torture and extrajudicial executions of detainees in the region” -women tell of multiple gang rapes, their arms, feet and necks tied with wire, for which they bear the scars, men speak of barbaric torture techniques at the hands of the Ethiopian military and paramilitary - the notorious, semi legal, completely barbaric Liyu Police, who, Leticia Bader of HRW[iv] says, “fit into this context of impunity where security forces can do more or less what they want”.

The ONLF is cast as the enemy of the state, and regarded, as all dissenting troublesome groups are, as terrorists. They in fact won 60% of seats and were democratically elected to the regional parliament in the only inclusive open elections to be held, back in 1992. Civilians suspected, however vaguely of supporting the so-called ‘rebels’, are forcibly re-located from their homes. The evacuated villages and settlements, emptied at gun point HRW (CP) record, “become no-go areas” and in a further act of state criminality, “civilians who remain behind risk being shot on sight, tortured, or raped if spotted by soldiers”. Children, refugees report are hanged, villages and settlements razed to the ground and cattle stolen to feed soldiers: HRW record (CP), “water sources and wells have [also] been destroyed”. Systematic, strategic methods of violence and intimidation employed by the Ethiopian regime, that has, Genocide Watch (GW)[v] state, “initiated a genocidal campaign against the Ogaden Somali population”. […]