Sep 14, 2011

Bureau of Investigative Journalism Joins Ogaden And Oromo In Testifying On Systematic Abuses In Ethiopia

UNPO-organized event at Human Rights Council highlights severe abuses in Ethiopia’s Somali region, political repression and widespread denial of aid to punish political opponents


Below is an article published by UNPO:


UNPO, the Society for Threatened Peoples, Human Rights House Foundation and African Rights Monitor presented a parallel event Tuesday [13 September 2011] at the 18th Session of the UN Human Rights Council titled Oppression in the Ogaden: Human Rights in Ethiopia's Somali Region.


Leading off the event, Abdullahi Mohamed from African Rights Monitor spoke about the widespread abuses ongoing in the Somali (Ogaden) region, including forced displacement and the burning of villages, rape and extrajudicial killings. Mr. Mohamed also spoke about the psychological intimidation tactics practiced by the Ethiopian army in the region, including forcing families to leave those killed where they lay to serve as a warning to others. The lack of access to the Ogaden by human rights organizations and most humanitarian agencies was highlighted as a particular concern.


Bekele Jirata, who led the Oromo Federalist Democratic Movement (OFDM) until he was forced to flee Ethiopia, described his own experience as a political prisoner of the Ethiopian government. Along with at least 14 other OFDM members, Mr. Jirata was arrested in 2008 on false charges of supporting terrorism. During his detention he was tortured, and witnessed the use of torture against many of his fellow prisoners.


This pattern of abuse and intimidation against opposition supporters continues to this day; immediately after meeting with a research team from Amnesty International, the deputy Chairmain of the OFDM was arrested and imprisoned in a facility known for systematic torture. On the same day [27 August 2011], the Amnesty International delegation was called to a government meeting and ordered to leave the country.


Mr. Jirata also spoke about the many ways in which aid is used as a political weapon by the Ethiopian government, a point that was driven home by the BBC/Bureau of Investigative Journalism (TBIJ) report that was screened at the event. The report, resulting from an undercover investigation led by TBIJ lead reporter Angus Stickler, showed evidence of the government’s systematic denial of aid to punish political opponents. The report also noted the Ethiopian army’s targeting of civilians in the Ogaden region, featuring interviews with numerous Ogaden torture victims who had fled to Kenya’s Dadaab refugee camp to escape the abuses.


Following the report, Mr. Stickler spoke about his experiences researching and filming for the report while undercover in Ethiopia, highlighting the remarkable effectiveness of the government and security forces in stifling dissent in the country. Despite the measures his team took to avoid detection and protect those with whom they spoke, they have since heard numerous reports of the government arresting and harassing individuals thought to have assisted in the production of the report. While the length of the report was limited relative to the total amount of footage and interviews with victims collected by the reporters, Mr. Stickler expressed his hope that it can at least serve as an alert that all is not well in the state of Ethiopia.


Following these presentations the chairperson of the event, Mr. Florian Irminger of Human Rights House Foundation, spoke briefly about HRHF’s observation of the sharp decline in human rights work being undertaken in Ethiopia as a result of the Charities and Societies Proclamation, a highly restrictive law passed in 2009.


The floor was then opened for questions from the audience. Members of the Ethiopian Mission to the United Nations were the first to speak. Echoing previous responses of the Ethiopian government to reports detailing human rights abuses in the country, the representative claimed that Mr. Stickler’s team had only spoken with representatives from armed rebel movements attempting to violently overthrow the Ethiopian government, a point that has been strongly rebutted by the report’s researchers as well as the BBC.


Mr. Abdullahi concluded by pointing out the inadequacy of Ethiopia's response to allegations of rights abuses. He called upon the government to freely allow independent, international investigators such as the International Committee of the Red Cross into the Ogaden region, and allow them unfettered access to Ethiopia’s prisons.


Though Mr. Stickler pointed out that the international community is well aware of the alarming human rights situation in Ethiopia, UNPO hopes that this event has raised greater awareness of the seriousness of the situation. UNPO, Human Rights House Foundation and African Rights Monitor call upon the international community, in particular the largest providers of bilateral aid to Ethiopia – the United States, the United Kingdom, Germany and the European Union, – to make military aid dependent upon the Ethiopian government’s adherence to international human rights and humanitarian law and to publicly call upon the Ethiopian government to take the following actions:


Allow an independent, international investigation into human rights abuses in the Somali region.

Allow full and unimpeded access to the Somali region for independent humanitarian organizations, including the ICRC, members of the media, and national and international human rights groups.

Comply fully with the recommendations from the Committee against Torture, the Human Rights Committee and the Committee for the Elimination of Discrimination against Women.

Allow an independent, international investigation—without the participation of the Ethiopian government—into the EPRDF’s use of government services and other donor-supported programs as tools to entrench single-party rule and restrict the rights to freedom of expression, association, and peaceful assembly, participation in public life and non-discriminatory access to food and education.

Repeal or substantially amend Proclamation 621/2009 on the Registration and Regulation of Charities and Societies, which restricts and undermines the independent activity of civil society.  

Ensure non-discrimination and non-partisan equality of access to government services and food security programs.               


End restrictions on freedom of association, expression, and assembly and harassment and threats against opposition supporters, independent civil society, and the media.