February 8, 2017
Mr Abdirahman Mahdi, International Relations Secretary of the Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF), and Mr Hassan Muhammad Moalin, ONLF Information Secretary, visited Washington DC for four days in January 2017. Together with Mr Marvin Kumetat, US Program Coordinator at the Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organization (UNPO), they held a round of advocacy meetings to raise awareness of the human rights situation in Ethiopia’s Ogaden region. Through targeted meetings, the delegation was successful in sensitizing US policy-makers and experts at various high-level think tanks for the current situation in the Ogaden, where the people’s most basic human rights are being systematically suppressed by the Ethiopian central government and its affiliated militias. Some of the points discussed during these meetings, the ONLF representatives were also able to raise during interviews with the VOA Amharic and Somali service.
During their 4-day visit to Washington DC in January 2017, the UNPO delegation met with Members of Congress and the US Senate, as well as experts of various think tanks. The delegation’s visit was an opportunity to renew pre-existing links with supporters and advocates of the Ogaden and to establish new ties with US policy-makers and government representatives not yet familiar with the region’s cause. Through these targeted advocacy meetings, the delegation was successful in raising awareness of the lamentable human rights situation in the Ogaden.
A meeting with experts on Ethiopia at the prestigious National Endowment for Democracy (NED) was particularly helpful in exchanging views on current geo-political developments and the humanitarian situation in Ogaden and Ethiopia as a whole. During an instructive meeting at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, the delegation was able to discuss the curtailing of individual and political freedoms and restrictions Ogadenis face on a daily basis and in almost all walks of life with a Carnegie expert who is doing research on civil society movements and the challenges they face, in particular in the Africa context.
During the discussions with policy-makers on the Hill, the delegation in particular focused on the lack of awareness about the fact that – while it tends to be hailed as a key ally and a beacon of stability and hope in an otherwise troubled region – Ethiopia ruthlessly suppresses already marginalized ethnic groups such as Somalis in the Ogaden, systematically restricting civil liberties and using horrendous human rights abuses such as torture and rape as a “tool” to terrorize and instil fear among the Ogaden’s population. The ONLF representatives also underlined the fact that the Ogadenis’ suffering is compounded by the havoc wreaked by large-scale, predatory oil exploration in the region, with millions of hectares of land being auctioned off to – in most cases – Chinese oil companies and mining conglomerates.
The meetings also served to sensitize US government officials for the current, most dramatic humanitarian situation in the Ogaden. The current drought – one of the most severe of the last 30 years – has wiped out the livestock of large swathes of the population. This is all the more dramatic as most of the agro-pastoralist Ogadenis heavily rely on their livestock for food and income. Across the region, people are now in dire need of humanitarian aid. However, as part of its attempt to isolate the region from the outside world and prevent the crimes it commits there from becoming public, the Ethiopian government rigorously controls almost all people and goods trying the enter the region – making it easy to siphon off food aid to feed its own troops, thereby aggravating an already dramatic humanitarian emergency.
In its discussions, the delegation further addressed the dire political, humanitarian and human rights situation in the rest of Ethiopia, pointing in particular to the on-going atrocities and grave human rights violations the central government and affiliated paramilitary forces perpetrate in Oromia, Amhara, Gambella, Benishangul, Sidama, Omo and Kongo. The delegation emphasised the danger of ignoring the severity of the crisis in Ethiopia and the blatant lack of democratic rights, including genuine forms of self-determination and the right of Ethiopia’s peoples to choose their own leaders. Furthermore, ONLF reiterated the need for the international community to engage in a dialogue not only with the Ethiopian government, but, crucially, also with opposition groups. The delegation suggested that the international community take an active part in bringing together all genuine stakeholders in order to find a viable solution to the developing catastrophe in Ethiopia.