September 12, 2014

UNPO General Secretary Speaks at Annual Ogaden Diaspora Conference

On the occasion of the 19th Annual Ogaden Diaspora Conference, UNPO General Secretary, Mr. Marino Busdachin, delivered a speech on the deplorable situation in Ogaden. The conference, taking place on 12-13 September 2014 in London, was organized by Ogaden Community Associations and the Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF) and brought together different groups representing the Ogaden diaspora across the world. 

Due to the Ethiopian government’s total disregard for the right to freedom of speech, the Ogaden diaspora has played a crucial role by providing evidence and insight to the deplorable human rights situation in Ogaden and the systematic human rights violations being perpetrated by the Ethiopian authorities, including extrajudicial killings, sexual violence as a weapon of war, and the use of torture.

“It has proven difficult to accurately assess Ethiopia’s human rights record in Ogaden due to the government’s blatant disregard to the right to freedom of speech and lack of cooperation with NGOs and international organizations”, Mr. Busdachin stressed in his speech, reminding that any international or bilateral financial assistance to the Ethiopian government should be conditioned upon the respect for the human rights of all peoples in the country, including the people of Ogaden.

Ethiopia is one of the largest recipients of EU humanitarian and development aid and yet does not distribute it to those who need it in Ogaden. If the international community in general, and the European Union in particular, is serious about development and peace, the proposition that there can be no sustainable growth or reconciliation without respect for fundamental rights must be reinforced.  

 

Background to the human rights situation in Ogaden:

The stifling of dissenting voices and air of repression and censorship present is Ethiopia is particularly distressing.  The only press organization allowed to operate in the region are state owned and journalists are routinely harassed, imprisoned and even tortured for attempting to report the human rights violations in Ogaden.  Famously, two Swedish journalists Martin Schibbye and Johan Persson were imprisoned for over 400 days for attempting to report on the situation in Ogaden.  Local and regional journalists and whistleblowers are dealt with even more severely. Journalist and human rights defender, Eskinder Nega, remains in prison and will be there for a total of 18 years.  His ‘crime’ was exercising his human right to free speech and under Ethiopia’s controversial terrorism law he was sentenced to this ridiculous jail sentence

Furthermore, there has been a general lack of cooperation with NGOs and international organization seeking to monitor and research human rights abuses in Ethiopia.  The CSO (NGO) law prohibits charities, societies and associations receiving more than 10% of their funding from foreign sources from operating in Ethiopia and from promoting and defending human rights.  Requests from the UN Committee Against torture and other UN special procedures to visit Ethiopia and report on its practices have been repeatedly ignored.  Furthermore, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) is banned from the Ogaden region.  The government’s paranoia and insistence on keeping their human rights violations quiet has direct negative impacts on the humanitarian situation in the Ogaden region.  Badly needed medical and health supplies are not able to reach those who need it most in the region.

Sexual violence as a weapon of war is a grave offense committed by the Ethiopian authorities on the Ogaden people. The Ogaden Women Relief Association compiled evidence of the widespread use of rape as a weapon of war through their own research and through testimonials from Ogaden refugees in Kenya.  Due to the refusal of the Ethiopian government to allow humanitarian NGOs into the region and their failure to take action themselves, there is no protection for women in Ogaden and no services and care for those who have suffered these atrocities.  Despite these horrific acts being endemic to this conflict, the UN has not investigated it and has not assigned its Special Representative on Sexual Violence to look into the Ogaden case.  The women affected by sexual violence and rape in the Ogaden region of Ethiopia are left without justice.

Extrajudicial killings of Ogaden people are also an unfortunately common occurrence.  Most recently, a string of killings of suspected ONLF members in refugee camps in Kenya, particularly the Dadaab refugee camp, in Nairobi, and in Garissa by Ethiopian nationals is particularly worrying.  Five people were shot and killed or seriously injured in June and July of this year alone including Muslim cleric Sheikh Abdirashid Mohamed "Jelani,  Abdirashid Geel Qaad and Deek Mohammed Ahmed, who was Jelani's brother, Abdirashid Ali Bashir, Khathar Ismail and Mohammed Hassan Abdi. The killing of suspected ONLF members in Kenya has been ongoing since 2011 and the Ethiopian government and security forces are heavily suspected to be behind it.  The targeting of Ogaden refugees and the Ogaden diaspora is particularly heinous.