Sep 14, 2017

HRC Side-Event: From Humanitarian Crisis to Human Rights Emergency in the Ogaden Region

On the occasion of the 36th Regular Session of the United Nations Human Rights Council (HRC), the Society for Threatened Peoples (STP) in cooperation with the Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organization (UNPO) will be organizing a side-event entitled “From Humanitarian Crisis to Human Rights Emergency in the Ogaden Region”. 

Thursday, 14 September 2017, 17:00 to 18:30

Palais des Nations, Room XV, Geneva, Switzerland

Side-event to the 36th Session of the UNHRC


Adding to an already dire human rights situation in the country, the last year has been a synonym of humanitarian distress for Ethiopia’s most vulnerable peoples and particularly for the inhabitants of Ogaden. The population of Ogaden is currently facing a devastating wave of deaths due to a cholera epidemic, adding to one of the worst drought and famine the region has experienced in its history. From 5 to 8 March 2017 alone, 300 people died and since November 2016, it is estimated that more than 2,000 lives have been claimed in the remote rural areas of Ogaden.

Meanwhile, foreigners, and especially international observers, are still banned from accessing the region, preventing a serious assessment of the death toll and of the humanitarian distress of the population. Ethiopian officials have also decided to officially describe the outbreak of cholera as one of acute watery diarrhea (AWD)– AWD being a symptom of cholera – by fear of making the country look bad, hurting tourism and the economy. In August 2016, the Washington Post reported that international humanitarian organisations in Ethiopia were only allowed to talk about AWD and not permitted to publish the number of people affected either. An assessment confirmed by Human Rights Watch in May 2017, after the organisation had interviewed a number of health professionals in the country. Needless to say, the word “famine” is not used either, the government not wanting to bring back memories of the 1980s drought that caused hundreds of thousands of deaths and left the country systematically associated with famine. According to official sources, 16,000 cases of AWD had been recorder in the Ogaden between January and May 2017 alone and 3,500 new cases are being declared every month. But none of these cases have been identified as cholera – in the past 10 years, Ethiopia seems to have been the only country in the Horn of Africa not to have been affected by cholera – and the total number of deaths remains uncertain.

The violation of people’s fundamental rights in the country aggravates this life-threatening crisis. The restrictions imposed by the Ethiopian government on the region further exacerbate the distress of the populations: while limitation of movement bars access to healthcare facilities, trade embargoes cause critical food shortages. The agro-pastoralist community has been strongly affected, as there has been a significant loss of livestock.

In this context of emergency, this side-event will focus on the dire humanitarian situation in the Ogaden region, stressing the issues of drought and the cholera epidemic affecting people in the area. The event will shed light, in particular, on the human rights violations that this situation entails, including violations of the right to food, to health and overall the right to life. The discussion will focus on the human rights situation but from an emergency/humanitarian perspective, underlining that the frontier between the two concepts is very thin or even irrelevant in a case such as Ogaden’s. 


Speakers include:

Ms Juweria Ali, Ogadeni women's rights activist, Ogaden Youth & Student Union (OYSU) Advocacy Chair & PhD candidate at the University of Westminster

Mr Garad Mursal, Director of the African Rights Monitor

Mr Sharmarke Dhaxiir, Ogaden Youth and Student Union (OYSU) Activist

Ms Ismail Omar, Ogaden Youth Advocate & Member of the Ogaden People's Rights Organization (OPRO)


The programme is available here.

For further information, please contact Julie Duval ([email protected]).