Call for Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights in Ethiopia

Politics News Opinions Sophia Tesfamariam
Ethiopia human rights
If the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights is truly concerned about the Situation of Human Rights in Ethiopia, it should address the urgent call for an independent investigation of all the crimes committed by the regime against its own people.

By Sophia Tesfamariam,

As an Eritrean American who has closely followed developments in the Horn region and knows a little bit about the political machinations involved, I was sorry to see Navi Pillay, former United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights succumbing to US pressure by singling out Eritrea for rebuke when she knows full well that there is no verifiable evidence against the State of Eritrea except the words of a few self serving individuals who find it to be a lucrative business to engage in the human rights network.

These individuals and groups assembled by the US and Ethiopia do not represent the people of Eritrea. These miscreants neither have the moral or legal authority to represent Eritreans in Eritrea or in the Diaspora, where their record of betrayal and crimes is well known.

Unfortunately, the true voice of the Eritrean people continues to be muffled and today, sadly, it is the voice of defectors, disgruntled former diplomats who abandoned their people and country, pedophiles, self proclaimed “human rights” and “democracy” activists and individuals who have committed treasonous acts against the people of Eritrea are provided forums from which to spew their insults against the State of Eritrea, its government and people.

Providing these miscreants such a forum undermines the credibility and integrity of the UN Human Rights Council. It is an affront to the people of Eritrea whose 30-years long struggle was for human rights and justice. The Eritrean people in Eritrea, and in the vast Diaspora communities, are perfectly capable of speaking for themselves, and do not need the services of groups funded by the minority regime in Ethiopia and its handlers, to speak on their behalf.

The minority regime in Ethiopia and its handlers who have orchestrated the vilification campaign at the UN Human Rights Council believe that they can advance illicit agendas against the State of Eritrea by pressuring the UN Commissioner and its staff.

It is a disgrace to Africa and especially the horn region, to see the emasculated leaders of Djibouti and Somalia leading the charge against Eritrea at the behest of Washington and the mercenary regime, a “staunch US ally”. Having failed to achieve their goals with the illegal, unfair and unjust resolutions 1907 and 2023, adopted by the Security Council on 23 December 2009 and 5 December 2010, they were hoping to use the UN Human Rights Council to advance their shameful agendas against the people of Eritrea.

The UN Human Rights Council, instead of becoming tools for the regime and its handlers, and further undermining its fledgling credibility and integrity ought to call for a Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Ethiopia. Unlike the many reports on Eritrea presented to the UN Human Rights Council on Eritrea by treasonous self serving quislings, the situation in Ethiopia has been documented by various independent human rights groups and victims of the minority regime in Ethiopia.

The minority regime in Ethiopia has committed untold crimes against its own people in the last 20 years. The genocides in the Gambela, Ogaden and Oromia regions of Ethiopia have been documented by various human rights organizations including Survivors International and Genocide Watch. The crimes of the regime were also well known to US officials, as they too have documented these abuses as the hundreds of Wikileak cables from Addis Ababa, Ethiopia show.

>> MUST READ : Why Diaspora Ethiopians Must Engage in Human Rights Advocacy

Suffice it to mention some recent US State Department cables from Ethiopia, which according to US officials provide “a unique insight into abuse of detainees and dynamics regarding Ethiopia’s non-traditional detention facilities”:

  • “…released political and other prisoners in Ethiopia have recently reported to PolOff that they and other detainees have been tortured in police station jails in attempts by security officials to elicit confessions before cases go to trial. Depending on the detainee, abuses reported include being blindfolded and hung by the wrists for several hours, bound by chains and beaten, held in solitary confinement for several days to weeks or months, subjected to mental torture such as harassment and humiliation, forced to stand for over 16 hours, and having heavy objects hung from one’s genitalia (males)… torture seems to be more common at police station detention centers… Released prisoners have also reported to PolOff cases of prisoners being detained for several years without being charged and without trial, prisoners held in jails despite having been released by the courts, and police interference with court proceedings…”-(March 2009)
  • “…Two political prisoners who were arrested for “inciting violence” following the 2005 elections described to PolOff various forms of torture to which they were subjected during the three months spent at Addis Ababa Police Commission’s Criminal Investigation Division… In an effort to elicit confessions, police beat them, tied their hands and legs with chains, and tied a water bottle to the male prisoner’s genitals. They were given one meal every two days, and were not allowed to shower or change clothes. The same sources told PolOff that three prisoners with whom they were detained (Tsegaye Ayele Yigzaw, Gedlu Ayele Hulu-Ante, and Argata Gobena Maru) died in jail as a result of the beatings, poor conditions and absence of medical treatment, and one pregnant woman (Webit Lengamo) miscarried after being severely beaten. They reported that many fellow prisoners (with whom they are still in contact) left prison with permanent injuries to the ears, heads, hands, legs, and/or genitals…”-(Cable dated March 2009)
  • “…Embassy LES present at a hearing on November 13 heard retired General Asaminew Tsige tell the court that he was tortured and had lost his left eye due to beatings by prison guards. Major Mekonnen Worku told the court he was beaten in jail and showed the court injuries on his arms and legs. The court asked the prison administration to respond to the accusations of torture and beating. On November 17, the prison administration told the court the alleged torture and beatings reported by suspects were self-inflicted…”-(Cable dated 11 December 2009)
  • “…In a series of private discussions on the margins of a December 1-2 pastoralist conference held in Ethiopia’s Somali region (reftel), reliable senior Ogadeni elders reported to Deputy Political Counselor and USAID Officer (EmbOffs) a disturbing pattern of widespread, systemic human rights abuses by Ethiopian Government (GoE) and Ethiopian military (ENDF) forces in the Ogaden. Elders from four of the five Ogaden zones told consistent reports of hangings of civilians, branding people, gang rape, arbitrary detentions and killings, forced conscription, and denial of access to food and water resources. These, combined with consistent reports from elsewhere in the region over the past few months, paint a picture of the horror inflicted on the civilian population as part of Ethiopia’s counter-insurgency against the Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF)…”-(December 2007)
  • “…The May 17 Gumaz attack against the Oromos was especially brutal, more so then in previous years. There are reports senior ethnic Gumaz tribal leaders and government officials played a role in encouraging and organizing this attack. The Gumaz attackers were reported to be armed with machetes, spears, bows and arrows, small arms and possibly a rocket propelled grenade. Specific acts of violence perpetrated by the Gumaz assailants against the Oromos are reported to have included amputations of limbs, flaying (skinning people alive), disembowelment of pregnant women and killing of fetuses, emasculations of males and in some cases forcing female family members to consume the severed appendage and killing of small children and infants…” (May 2008)
  • “…GoE human rights abuses including arbitrary detention, rape, and killing reportedly continue at 2007 levels…government forces continue to withhold food and block legitimate trade from “anti-peace” communities, and continue to engage in mass arrests, rapes, and killings of ONLF supporters…the Jijiga prison, nicknamed “Ogaden Prison” for the volume of Ogadeni clansmen detained there, holds some 3,000 suspected ONLF supporters. The prison was designed to hold 600 prisoners. Ahmed Maah, a UNICEF Child Protection Specialist who had personally visited the prison, said the prison currently holds over 200 children between ages 12 and of these, 100 are children who are accused only being associated with the ONLF…”-(December 2009)
  • “…allegations of electoral irregularities in 2005 prompted the opposition to launch an organized civil disobedience campaign that turned violent when confronted by security forces. These security forces killed nearly 200 protesters, detained more than 30,000 suspected demonstrators, and arrested most leaders of the opposition…”-(4 February 2010)
  • “…On January 8, Human Rights League for the Horn of Africa (HRLHA) reported that three students from Awassa University were arrested by the Federal Police on January 5 and January 6 in connection with the riot in Shakiso Wereda, Guji Zone of Oromiya Region. The three Awassa University students who are natives of Shakiso are: Nega Gezaw, Dhaba Gire and Jatani Wario. Demboba told Poloff and PE FSN that the three students were not physically present in Shakiso during the riot, but police picked them up from Awassa town for alleged involvement in the riot. According to HRLHA and Demboba, the whereabouts of the three students is unknown. Similarly, the whereabouts of Assefa Arure and Dulecha Robe, both members OFDM are still unknown…”( 22 February 2010)
  • “…UNHCR reported that on December 21, Ethiopian police entered into Kebribeyah refugee camp, arrested eight male Somali refugees, including one 14 year old and one 17 year old, and turned them over to Ethiopian security personnel… Three of the refugees were shot and killed, allegedly by the military/militia. Their bodies were discovered by locals on December 21 in Gilo village approximately thirty kilometers from the camp… The occurrence of two fatal incidents in Kebribeyah camp in one month, especially with the allegations of ONLF involvement, suggests an increase in targeting refugees in violation of the GoE obligations as party to the 1951 Refugee Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, the 1967 Protocol, and the 1969 OAU Convention on Refugees…”- (8 February 2010)

Over the last 20 years, Ethiopians and others in the international community have reported on the following human rights abuses by the minority regime’s cadres and armed forces.

Gondar Massacre (1993)

On Monday 7 September 1993 a large crowd of believers had gathered at Adebabay Eyesus, in the city of Gonder. Security forces opened fire into the crowd. According to the Ethiopian Human Rights Council, 18 were killed and 17 wounded.

Massacre in Hararghe (1993)

On 5 September 1993, Meles Zenawi’s forces opened fire at a gathering of peasants who could not deliver a person of interest. 26 people were killed, including 6 women and 12 were wounded

Loque massacre in Awassa

On the 24 May 2002 Sidama people at Awassa, Loque conducted a demonstration against the minority regime in Ethiopia. The regime retaliated by indiscriminately shooting and killing 69 and wounding hundreds more. Its forces then dragged the dead bodies through the streets of Awassa.

Massacre in Yeki (2002)

On 22 July 2002, the BBC reported that over 100 people were killed and their villages razed to ground on the orders of the local authorities in Yeki. EU sources said that the head of the local police spoke of 128 fatalities. The opposition claimed that between 500 and 1,000 died. The report also said that the local people spoke of a mass grave in which hundreds of people were buried. The European Union delegation did not see the grave. The army was been used to suppress protests. Between 400 and 1,000 people were arrested after the violence.

Massacre in Addis Abeba (2005)

When the Ethiopian people protested the 2005 elections, the regime retaliated by firing at the unarmed protesters and killed over 200 and injured many more. Over 40,000 Ethiopians were detained around the country.

Massares in Oromia (2008)

Since 1991, Oromo nationalists have been targeted for human rights violations. Oromo peasants, academics and businesspeople who are suspected of supporting the nationalist movement have been killed, disappeared, tortured and detained. The Oromo region is being impoverished and its environment degraded. The Oromo people, who number 25-30 million and constitute at least 40% of the population of Ethiopia, have been further persecuted by famine, fire and forced conscription.

In May 2008, over 400 Oromo infant, children, women and men were slaughtered in cold blood. The Oromo Support Group (OSG) has reported 3,981 extra-judicial killings and 943 disappearances of Oromo civilians suspected of supporting groups opposing the government. Scores of thousands of Oromo civilians have been imprisoned. Torture and rape of prisoners remains commonplace.

Gambela region of Ethiopia (2003)

Dubbed “Operation Sunny Mountain” by Meles Zenawi’s regime, the plans to procure Annuak territory, a zone coveted by corporate interests for its oil and gold, were laid out at a top-level cabinet meeting in Addis Ababa led by Meles Zenawi on September 2003. At that meeting, “the militant ethnic cleansing of the Anuaks” was openly discussed and a coordinated military operation to systematically eliminate Anuaks began on 13 December 2003. On that fateful day, members of the Ethiopian military and militias formed from non-Anuak minority groups entered Gambella town in southwestern Ethiopia. Over the course of three days, they sought out, tortured and killed 424 men, burned houses, and scattered families. The regime willfully burned villages, massacred hundreds of Anuaks and Nuers and caused over 50,000 inhabitants of Gambela to flee to neighboring Sudan and Kenya.

Ogaden region of Ethiopia (ongoing)

Satellite images taken from devastated villages and towns revealed crimes committed by Ethiopia’s troops. Ethiopian troops burnt 40 villages in the Ogaden region between 2006-2010, causing civilian deaths and leaving many families homeless. In October 2007 Steve Bloomfield of the Independent in his 17 October report, “Ethiopia’s ‘own Darfur’ as villagers flee government-backed violence” wrote:

“…Early one June morning, in Kamuda, a village of 200 families in the remote Ogaden region in eastern Ethiopia, 180 soldiers announced their arrival by firing guns in the air. The village, they said, had been providing food and shelter for the Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF), a separatist rebel group. As the villagers froze in horror, the soldiers plucked out seven young women, all aged between 15 and 18, and left…The following morning the youngest girl was found. Her body, bloodied and beaten, was hanging from a tree. The next day a second girl was found hanging from the same tree. A third suffered the same fate. The others were never seen again…”

Human rights investigators gathered evidence of widespread use of rape, with women reporting gang-rapes by up to a dozen soldiers. In some villages, men have been abducted at night, their bodies dumped in the village the next morning.

A UN team was allowed into the Ogaden to investigate allegations of abuse by Ethiopian troops. Its report was not made public but the team called for an independent inquiry. But while Khartoum’s counter-insurgency in Darfur has been described by the US as “genocide” and by the UN as “crimes against humanity”, international condemnation of Ethiopia has, so far, been limited. The UN Human Rights Commission has remained conspicuously silent.

Omo Valley (2011-2012)

The Lower Omo valley located in South-west Ethiopia is inhabited by several ethnic groups known as the Omo tribes.  The Omo tribes are agro-pastoralist and nomadic. They are self-sufficient tribes that rely on land and water for survival.  Many of the tribes are currently facing extinction.

On 6 March 2012, Genocide Watch reported the following:

“…According to testimonies collected by Survival International and the Oakland Institute, gross human rights violations are occurring in the Omo Valley.  The Ethiopian Peoples Defense Forces are using a systematic policy of intimidation, rape, assault and detention against women, children, and the elderly, and are arresting and detaining men.  There are also reports of male tribesmen who have been raped by the Ethiopian forces, a traumatic dehumanization from which many never recover.  The lower Omo valley is surrounded by roadblocks that ensure that the eviction plans and other human rights abuses stay out of the spotlight.  It is practically impossible for any news media to get permission to travel there…”

These crimes against the people of Ethiopia have been ignored by the US State Department and its incompetent junior diplomats at the Bureau of African Affairs who wrongly believe cuddling dictators is in the best interest of the United States. Advancing US interests in the Horn of Africa is somehow easier if there is a genocidal, criminal regime in place to lord over the long suffering Ethiopian people.

The above listed crimes against the people of Ethiopia have been repeatedly reported by various human rights groups and a report by the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission (EHRC) says that there are 120 prisons throughout Ethiopia, housing 80,974 prisoners, of which 2,123 are women and 487 are children. The EHRC also reported the following in its report:

  • “…prisoners at Benishangul prison reported unusual forms of punishment such as beatings, suffocation by immersion in barrels of water, forcing inmates to roll on wet mud, sprinkling water on inmates’ bodies prior to beatings, cuffing, and humiliating insults… the sanitary services in most of the correctional facilities in our country do not fulfill the appropriate conditions for the humane treatment of inmates…
  • “…In many facilities inmates use containers as toilets at night, and consequently the crowded sleeping quarters are “permeated with a fetid odor.” According to article 36(3) of the constitution, juvenile defenders should be kept separately from adults. However, in all prisons except Jima juvenile offenders share bedrooms with adults, sometimes even with adults serving a death sentence…”
  • Etc. etc.

The UN Human Rights Council should not be used as a bully pulpit from which the United States and its mercenary surrogates advance their foreign policy agendas. If the UN Commissioner is truly concerned about the human rights of the people living in the Horn of Africa, it should address the criminal war mongering, genocidal minority regime in Ethiopia and call on its handlers to stop providing it with the diplomatic, financial, political and military shied and support as it flouts international law and commits international crimes against the people in the region.

The rule of law must prevail over the law of the jungle!