Thursday, January 29, 2015

Ethiopia: Crackdown on Dissent Intensifies | Human Rights Watch

Human Rights Situation Dire Ahead of May 2015 Elections
JANUARY 29, 2015
The Ethiopian government fell back on tried and true measures to muzzle any perceived dissent in 2014. Journalists and dissenters suffered most, snuffing out any hope that the government would widen political space ahead of the May 2015 elections.
Leslie Lefkow, deputy Africa director
(Nairobi) – The Ethiopian government during 2014 intensified its campaign of arrests, prosecutions, and unlawful force to silence criticism, Human Rights Watch said today in its World Report 2015. The government responded to peaceful protests with harassment, threats, and arbitrary detention, and used draconian laws to further repress journalists, opposition activists, and critics.

“The Ethiopian government fell back on tried and true measures to muzzle any perceived dissent in 2014,” said Leslie Lefkow, deputy Africa director. “Journalists and dissenters suffered most, snuffing out any hope that the government would widen political space ahead of the May 2015 elections.”

In the 656-page world report, its 25th edition, Human Rights Watch reviews human rights practices in more than 90 countries. In his introductory essay, Executive Director Kenneth Roth urges governments to recognize that human rights offer an effective moral guide in turbulent times, and that violating rights can spark or aggravate serious security challenges. The short-term gains of undermining core values of freedom and non-discrimination are rarely worth the long-term price.

Ethiopia’s dismal rights record faced little criticism from donor countries in 2014. Throughout the year, state security forces harassed and detained leaders and supporters of Ethiopian opposition parties. Security personnel responded to protests in Oromia in April and May with excessive force, resulting in the deaths of at least several dozen people, and the arrests of hundreds more. The authorities regularly blocked the Semawayi (Blue) Party’s attempts to hold protests.

Media remain under a government stranglehold, with many journalists having to choose between self-censorship, harassment and arrest, and exile. In 2014, dozens of journalists fled the country following threats. In July, the government charged seven bloggers known as Zone 9 and three journalists under the abusive Anti-Terrorism Proclamation. In August, the owners of six private publications were charged under the criminal code following threats against their publications. The government blocks websites and blogs and regularly monitors and records telephone calls.

The authorities have been displacing indigenous populations without appropriate consultation or compensation in the lower Omo Valley to make way for the development of sugar plantations. Villagers and activists who have questioned the development plans face arrest and harassment.

The government showed no willingness to amend the Anti-Terrorism Law or the Charities and Societies Proclamation, despite increasing condemnation of these laws for violating basic rights. Authorities more rigorously enforced the Charities and Societies Proclamation, which bars organizations from working on human rights, good governance, conflict resolution, and advocacy on the rights of women, children, and people with disabilities if the organizations receive more than 10 percent of their funds from foreign sources.

“The government’s crackdown on free expression in 2014 is a bad sign for elections in 2015,” Lefkow said.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Ethiopia's women vow to turn tide of violence, rape and murder | William Davison | Global development | The Guardian

Justice for Hanna was launched after the murder of 16-year-old Hanna Lalango, who was repeatedly raped after being abducted in Addis Ababa. Photograph: JusticeForHannah

The Justice for Hanna was launched after the murder of 16-year-old Hanna Lalango, who was repeatedly raped after being abducted in Addis Ababa

Tejnesh Leweg’neh, a 15-year-old from Ethiopia’s mountainous northern Shoa region, was abducted by three men on her way to market in October. They tried to force her to agree to marry one of them. She refused, and, a day later, they pushed her off a cliff. Now Tejnesh is paralysed from the waist down.
That same month, 16-year-old Hanna Lalango, from Ethiopia’s cosmopolitan capital, Addis Ababa, was abducted by a group of men from a minibus on the outskirts of the city. She was raped over several days and died in hospital about a month later from her injuries. Five men have been convicted and are awaiting sentence for the attack. Hanna reportedly identified her assailants before she died.
Both these crimes were brought to light by an energised network of mostly female Ethiopian activists trying to advance women’s rights and reduce sexual harassment in the Horn of Africa country.
“What united us is we believe this is our problem, it’s our responsibility to change this,” says one of them, Selam Mussie. “We all are Hannas – this could have been any of us.”
Mussie, an administrator at the International Community School in Addis Ababa, is part of the Justice for Hanna campaign.
Activists view these violent attacks as a consequence of a culture that places women in subordinate positions to men, which often manifests itself in the form of the frequent petty harassment they endure on the capital’s streets.
“There are certain places that most of us are terrified of passing through because there are tens of men sitting around to purposely make a woman passerby uncomfortable,” says Mussie, 24. “It starts from common catcalls, to dissing, to a physical level where they could follow to grab or touch private parts.”

Liya Hailemariam, a 24-year-old activist who works in PR, says she frequently suffers attention on public transport. “And it’s not just words – people somehow just slide in their hands,” she says. “We sort of consider it normal, we pass it off as this stupid guy, this pervert.”
Using the momentum created by the outrage at Hanna’s death, activists want to encourage women to speak out against the routine harassment they suffer in the belief it will reduce serious abuse. “If you fail to stop the little things, you’re literally encouraging people to do this,” said Hilina Berhanu, 22, who is part of theYellow Movement fighting for women’s rights at Addis Ababa University and president of another group, Women for Change.
There is uncertainty over the rates of abuse against women in Ethiopia due to inadequate data collection and under-reporting. A 2013 government report said 50-60% of all women had experienced domestic violence. It found “the underlying cause is the low level of status given to women in society coupled with the dominant position of men further justified by culture and religion”.
The activists say the government’s attitude towards violence against women is mixed. Although the state has made strides in empowering women economically and reducing harmful practices, such as female genital mutilation, police and judges remain largely unresponsive. “Rape is not taken seriously by the police,” Ruth Bekele, another activist, says. “I was going to report one case and was told ‘we have 1,000 rape cases this week’. It’s like they don’t care.”
She also believes violence against women needs to be more severely punished. “When someone slaps a woman they should get a big sentence, but here they will probably tell you not to do it again,” she says. “Today’s a slap and tomorrow’s a murder – I think that is what’s allowing people to go out and do worse.”
The Yellow Movement was started by a law lecturer and students following the case of Aberash Hailay, a flight attendant who had her eyes gouged out by her jealous former husband in 2011. The group regularly discusses rights and sexuality with students at the university and is working to promote girls’ education by fundraising to provide sanitary items and stationery for girls who can’t afford them. “When you want to fight violence you have to empower people,” Berhanu says. “It’s not just about negative issues.”
Women for Change, which began in September 2013, holds events where successful businesswomen talk about their path to the top. Bekele, who is part of the group, is also talking to a gallery about holding an exhibition to “fight violence through art”.
Every Saturday, the Justice for Hanna campaigners visit a state school to give language lessons to poor-performing children, discuss women’s rights issues with them and develop a club to discuss gender equality.
But it is going to take more to change ingrained attitudes on the streets from some men who still think rape is a woman’s fault.
“Women are most responsible for rapes as they ask for it,” says Tadele Tagota, a married 42-year-old grocer in Addis. Provocative dressing and promiscuous behaviour from teenage girls leads to controversial sexual encounters, he believes.
Some men have questioned whether Hanna had a relationship with one of her rapists. “Now it’s been blown up, but if she hadn’t died, it would not have been a big issue,” says Zacharias Haile, a 30-year-old civil servant.
A young off-duty police officer, who asked to remain anonymous because of the nature of his work, says under-reporting adds to the problem. He says families can hide or punish young teenagers to avoid shame when they report sexual assault by relatives. “Even if you get evidence, everyone is protecting each other as they don’t want to lose social standing,” he says.
Attitudes like these show “how weak society’s awareness about gender-based violence is and its consequences”, says Mussie. “Victim blaming is very common.”
Tejnesh is now living in Addis with her aunt. Three men are now in custody for her attack. Campaigners have raised £980 for medical treatment, and a wheelchair has been purchased from the US, where they are cheaper. The Justice for Hanna group gave her a mattress so she could sit more comfortably. 
The challenge for activists now is to keep up the momentum for action. Bouts of national soul-searching following previous horrific incidents – such as that of Hailay – fizzled out quickly. This time will be different, they vow. “We all made a commitment. We said we are not going to quit,” Hailemariam says.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Stop Telling Jews to 'Check Their Privilege' | Jewish

JANUARY 21, 2015 11:21 AM 32 COMMENTS
Ethiopian children waiting to make aliyah to Israel. Photo: Judith Friedman Rosen.
“On Martin Luther King Day, Jews must acknowledge their privilege,” wrote Maital Friedman on January 14 at the JTA.
Jews have become the latest group targeted in the “check your privilege” crusade aimed at encouraging “white” people to admit that their existence is a form of racialized privilege over African-Americans. “We have to be deeply aware of racial inequality and of the daily privileges we enjoy that others cannot,” Friedman writes. While understandably there is debate about racism and privilege in the U.S., that an author would ignorantly lump all Jewish people together is offensive and reveals ingrained stereotypes about “white Jews” that must be confronted.
Let’s start with the obvious. Why are black Jewish people harangued to “have a conversation about their privilege”? When people bash Jews for their “white privilege,” they make a racist assumption that all Jews are white. However, there are hundreds of thousands of black Jews and Jews of color in the U.S. and Israel.
When Martin Luther King was fighting for civil rights in the 1960s, Jews in Ethiopia were on the brink of starvation and suffering discrimination. In the 1980s, almost one third of the Ethiopian Jews who sought to get to Israel died along the way in refugee camps in Sudan. Let’s talk about their “privilege.”
What about the many mixed black-Jewish families in the U.S. – some consisting of African-Americans who converted to Judaism or who married Jews. Why are they attacked and told to examine their “privilege”? They suffer racism alongside black people but are made to feel that being Jewish makes them “privileged”? Benjy Cannon, National Student Board President of J Street U, in a 2014 article in Haaretz claimed “Jews are among the most privileged groups in the United States.” Have the Cannons and Friedmans simply never met Jews of color?
Let’s acknowledge another type of “privilege” associated with being Jewish in the 20th century: the Holocaust. When a Jewish person sits down with an African-American to discuss race, why is it that the Auschwitz victim has to acknowledge “white privilege” but the African-American shouldn’t acknowledge his very own privilege of having not been targeted for extermination.
It’s also convenient to ignore the fact that from 1950 through today, Jews in Islamic countries have suffered untold horrors, including the total ethnic-cleansing of their people in dozens of countries. When we talk about privilege, let’s recall the Yemenite Jews, who died in the thousands on the way to Israel, who left everything behind. The Iraqi Jewish community, with a proud history of 2,000 years, was destroyed in a short decade; scattered to the winds, much of its treasures and property confiscated. There are many Iraqi Jews in the U.S. Let’s talk about privilege with them. Libya, Tunisia, Algeria, Lebanon, Egypt, Syria; Jews had to flee all these countries, and many Iraqi, Syrian, and Persian Jews immigrated to the U.S. to build new lives. Not only did they suffer anti-Semitism, but they had to start their lives over from nothing; not exactly the embodiment of “white privilege.”
There are networks of privilege and elites. Some of those are among Jews, just as some of them are also among African-Americans; but to say that all Jews “must” acknowledge privilege requires we first begin acknowledging other types of privilege as well, and show respect and concern for the Jewish suffering that has taken place even in recent memory. Lumping all Jews together as “the most privileged” is a racist insult to Jewish diversity and throws salt on the memory of what Jewish people went through in the 20th century.

Media Being Decimated in Ethiopia Since 2010 election at least 60 Ethiopian journalist fled 19 locked up -HRW

Exiled Ethiopian journalist Bentre Yacob (image grabbed from Human Rights Watch video)

NAIROBI, Kenya -- The Ethiopian government is stepping up oppression of independent journalists ahead of national elections due in May, a leading rights group said in a report on Thursday.
"Ethiopia's government has systematically assaulted the country's independent voices, treating the media as a threat," said Leslie Lefkow, deputy Africa director at Human Rights Watch.
State-owned radio, television and newspapers dominate Ethiopia's media landscape while independent journalists face threats, intimidation and harassment, said the group.
"The ruling party has treated the private media as a threat to its hegemony, and is using various techniques to decimate private media, independent reporting, and critical analysis, with drastic results," said the report, titled "Journalism Is Not a Crime".
Since the last polls in 2010 at least 60 Ethiopian journalists have fled into exile and 19 have been locked up, the report said.
"Muzzling independent voices through trumped-up criminal charges and harassment is making Ethiopia one of the world's biggest jailers of journalists," Lefkow said.
Ethiopia routinely dismisses such reports, and has previously said those arrested were not detained for their work as journalists but for "serious criminal activities".
International journalists and media houses are not spared. Ethiopia jailed two Swedish journalists in 2011 on terrorism charges and jams radio signals and blocks websites of those deemed too critical.
Internet and social media are also heavily restricted. The government has a telecoms monopoly and in 2012 banned the use of Skype.
In April a group of bloggers known as Zone 9, who write on social issues in the local Amharic language, were jailed awaiting trial on charges of terrorism and "outrages against the constitution".
Ethiopia's ruling EPRDF (Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Democratic Front), in power since 1991, occupies all but one of parliament's 547 seats and is widely expected to claim a landslide victory in May's polls.
The party adheres to a Chinese-style of authoritarian control aimed at driving economic growth of around 8.5 per cent, according to the International Monetary Fund.
Watch Human Rights Watch's video report on Ethiopia:

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Ethiopia: human rights groups criticise UK-funded development programme | World news | The Guardian

Leaked World Bank report rejects claims from the Bank’s management that no link existed between their programme and villagisation
A traditional homestead in Gambela, Ethiopia
A traditional homestead in Gambela, Ethiopia. The country's government denies driving indigenous people from their homes in order to make way for commercial projects. Photograph: Ariadne Van Zandbergen / Alamy/Alamy
A major UK- and World Bank-funded development programme in Ethiopia may have contributed to the violent resettlement of a minority ethnic group, a leaked report reveals.
The UK’s Department for International Development was the primary funder of a World Bank-run development project aimed at improving health, education and public services in Ethiopia, contributing more than £388m of UK taxpayer funds to the project.
However, a scathing draft report of the World Bank’s internal watchdog said that due to inadequate oversight, bad audit practices, and a failure to follow its own rules, the Bank has allowed operational links to form between its programme and the Ethiopian government’s controversial resettlement programme.
Multiple human rights groups operating in the region have criticised the Ethiopian government’s programme for violently driving tens of thousands of indigenous people, predominantly from the minority Anuak Christian ethnic group, from their homes in order to make way for commercial agriculture projects – allegations the Ethiopian government denies.
Many of those resettled remain in poor conditions lacking even basic facilities in refugee camps in South Sudan.
The leaked World Bank report, obtained by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists and seen by the Guardian, rejected claims from the Bank’s management that no link existed between their programme and villagisation.
According to the report, weak audit controls meant bank funds – which included over £300m from the UK’s Department for International Development – could have been diverted to implement villagisation.
The report did not itself examine whether the resettlement programme had involved human rights abuses, saying such questions were outside its remit.
However, the watchdog highlighted a series of failures in the planning and implementation of the programme, including a major oversight in its failure to undertake full risk-assessments as required by bank protocol. Crucially for the Anuak people, the bank did not apply required safeguards to protect indigenous groups.
Anuradha Mittal, the founder of the Oakland Institute, a California-based development NGO which is active in the region, said DfID was an active participant in the programme, and should share responsibility for its failings.
“Along with the World Bank and other donors, DfID support constitutes not only financial support but a nod of approval for the Ethiopian regime to bring about ‘economic development’ for the few at the expense of basic human rights and livelihoods of its economically and politically most marginalised ethnic groups,” she said.
Mittal was also critical of the World Bank panel’s draft findings, falling short of directly implicating the World Bank and its fellow donors in the resettlement programme.
“It is quite stunning that the panel does not think that the World Bank is responsible for villagisation-related widespread abuses in Ethiopia resulting in destruction of livelihoods, forced displacement of Anuaks from their fertile lands and forests.”
Disclosure of the draft report’s findings come as the UK government faces increasing scrutiny over its involvement in villagisation.
DfID is the project’s largest donor and in March ministers will face a judicial review over whether the UK’s contributions indirectly funded the resettlement programme. The case has been brought by a farmer from the Gambela region who claims he was violently evicted from his land.
Responding to the report’s findings, David Pred of Inclusive Development International – the NGO which filed the original complaint on the Anuak group’s behalf – said: “The Bank has enabled the forcible transfer of tens of thousands of indigenous people from their ancestral lands.
“The Bank today just doesn’t want to see human rights violations, much less accept that it bears some responsibility when it finances those violations.”
A World Bank spokesman declined to answer the Guardian’s questions about the report.
“As is standard procedure, World Bank staff cannot comment on the results of the inspection panel’s investigation until the executive board of the World Bank Group has had the opportunity to review the panel’s report over the coming weeks.”
In previous statements the bank’s management said there was no evidence of widespread abuses or evictions.
Asked about the findings, a DfID spokesman said: “We do not comment on leaked reports.
“Britain’s support to the Promotion of Basic Services Programme is specifically for the provision of essential services like healthcare, schooling and clean water, and we have no evidence that UK funds have been diverted for other purposes.”

Guantánamo Diary: rendition, torture and detention without charge

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Ethiopia: British MPs seek release of Andargachew Tsege, a British national on death row in Ethiopia

January 16, 2015 (LONDON) – A delegation of British parliamentarians will be in Ethiopia next month in an attempt to secure the release of a British citizen who is facing the death penalty in Ethiopia.
Andargachew Tsege, a British national who was born in Ethiopia, was the secretary-general of exiled Ethiopian opposition movement Ginbot 7, labelled by the Ethiopian government as terrorist entity in 2011.
Tsege was sentenced to death in absentia in 2009 on charges of planning to assassinate government officials and thereby to stage a coup, an allegation he denies.
He was arrested by Yemeni authorities at Sana’a airport on 23 June while he was in transit to Eritrea and was subsequently extradited to Ethiopia under a security arrangement Yemen has with Ethiopia.
The Independent newspaper, reported that the delegation of British legislators will be headed by Jeremy Corbyn, vice-chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Human Rights.
The UK government and prime minister David Cameron himself were criticised by Tsege’s family and right groups for not doing enough to secure his release.
“He is a British citizen so there is no reason on earth why the British government should not take a very robust view on this,” said Corbyn on Thursday while announcing the planned visit.
He added Tsege’s constituent is “a British national in prison with no understandable, comprehensible or acceptable legal process that’s put him there”.
Clive Stafford-Smith, director, Reprieve, who will accompany the MPs to Ethiopia, said: “I think Mr Cameron doesn’t understand how serious this is. I think that Tsege is going to be seen, as the years go by, as Ethiopia’s Nelson Mandela”
A spokesperson for the Ethiopian Embassy in London claimed that Mr Tsege belongs to a “terrorist organisation” seeking to “overthrow the legitimate government of Ethiopia.”
He is being “well treated” and “torture is inhumane and has no place in modern Ethiopia,” he added.
According to the Foreign Office, the British government is pressing authorities in Ethiopian not to carry out the death penalty.
Tsege, who recently appeared on the state-run Ethiopia Television, said he was working with neighbouring Eritrea, long standing Ethiopia’s foe, to destabilise the Horn of Africa nation.
He also confessed he has been recruiting and training people in Eritrea who will cross borders to carry out attacks in Ethiopian soil.
However, opposition sources cast doubts over the seriousness of such confessions, saying they were obtained using methods of torture.
Between 1998 and 2000, Eritrea and Ethiopia fought a two-year-long bloody border war in which over 70,000 people lost their lives.
The two neighbours regularly trade accusations of hosting and providing support to each other’s rebel groups

Saturday, January 10, 2015

State Terrorism in Ogaden, Ethiopia

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Ethiopia is being hailed as a shining example of African economic growth. Principle donors and devotees of the International Monetary Fund/World Bank development model (an imposed ideological vision which measures all things in terms of a nations GDP) see the country as an island of potential prosperity and stability within a region of failed states and violent conflict.
“Economic performance in recent years has been strong, with economic growth averaging in double-digits since 2004,”states the IMF country report. The economic model (a hybrid of western capitalism and Chinese control) adopted by the Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) government is a centralised system that denies democracy – consultation and participation in "development plans" is unheard of – ignores and violates human rights.
A willing ally in the "war on terror," Ethiopia is a strategically convenient base from which the US launches its deadly Reaper Drones over Yemen and Somalia, carrying out "targeted assassinations" against perceived threats to "national security" and the ‘American way of life’. In exchange perhaps, irresponsible benefactors – Britain, America and the European Union – turn a blind eye and a deaf ear to the human rights buses being perpetrated throughout the country by the highly repressive dictatorship enthroned in Addis Ababa.
Widespread repression
Whilst there are state-fuelled fires burning in various parts of the country: Oromo, Amhara, Gambella, and the Lower Omo Valley for example. Regions where Genocide Watch (GW) consider “Ethiopia to have already reached Stage 7 (of 8), genocide massacres,” arguably the worst atrocities are taking place within the Ogaden, where GW say the Ethiopian government has "initiated a genocidal campaign against the Ogaden Somali population."
A harsh region subject to drought and famine where, according to human rights groups such as Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, as well as first-hand accounts, innocent men, women and children are being murdered, raped, imprisoned and brutally tortured by government forces.
The region borders Somalia and is populated largely by ethnic Somalis, many of whom do not regard themselves as Ethiopian at all and see the Ethiopian military operating within the region as an occupying force. The Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF) has been engaged in a struggle for independence for the last 22 years. They were elected to power in the 1992 regional elections; however, after they had the democratic gall to propose a referendum on self-determination, the central government under the leadership of the previous Prime-Minister – Meles Zenawi, sent in the military: leading members of the newly elected regional authority and their supporters were executed and arrested and the army installed to control the region. The ONLF, branded terrorists by a government that labels all dissenting individuals and groups with the "T" word, were driven into the bush from where they have been waging armed and diplomatic resistance ever since.
Since 2007, all international media and prying meddlesome humanitarian aid groups have been banned from the area, making it extremely difficult to collect up-to-date information on the situation. The main source of data comes from courageous refugees and defected military men who have found their way to Kenya or Yemen. Most fleeing the region end up in one of the five sites that comprise the sprawling UNHCR-run Dadaab refugee camp in North Eastern Kenya. Established in 1992 to accommodate 100,000 people for 10 years, it is often described as the largest refugee camp in the world and is now home to round 500,000, although manipulated Kenyan government figures are much lower.
Maryama's story
Maryama arrived in Dadaab with her son and daughter in May 2014 after fleeing her homeland in Ethiopia. She had been the victim of terrible physical and sexual abuse at the hands of the Ethiopian military. Her shocking story echoes the experience of thousands of innocent women – many of whom are no more than children – throughout the affected parts of the Ogaden. I met Maryama in the UNHCR field office of the Dagahaley site in October 2014. She spoke to me of her life in the Ogaden and the violence she had suffered. We sat on the ground in the shade of a UN office building. She spoke with clarity and passion for over an hour, her two-year old son on her lap.
Like many people in the Ogaden, Maryama lived a simple life as a pastoralist. Tending her goats and camels, she moved from place to place with her family. She had never attended school, cannot read or write and knows little or nothing of her country's politics. Sometime in 2012, she was arrested when a large group of armed soldiers from the Ethiopian military descended on her family's settlement in Dagahmadow in the district of Dagahbuur.
"They came to us one day while we were tending to our affairs in our village and they accused us of being supporters of the ONLF as well as having relatives in the ONLF." The soldiers "called all the village people together and started carrying out acts of persecution. They took anything of value, including property and livestock, by force and burnt down homes in the process. I had just given birth seven days earlier when they came into my home and they asked me why I am inside the house [a small semi-circular wooden structure made from branches and mud] by myself [she was bathing her son at the time]. They saw footsteps near my home, which they followed and concluded that it must have been left by the ONLF" [the prints were in fact made by the military]. "All of us were taken out of our homes and questioned about the ONLF, we all denied any involvement. Our homes were then burnt."
The solders moved from house-to-house questioning people about the footprints. A young mother, who had given birth the day before and was holding her child, was interrogated; she knew nothing and said so. An elderly woman went to her aid; she was caught by the throat and questioned about the footprints – she knew nothing. They shot her dead. Two men from the village arrived and were immediately questioned. One of the men answered, denying any connection with the ONLF; two soldiers tied his hands together, threw a rope around his neck and pulled on each end until he choked to death. Maryama was ordered to hold the strangled man upright and not allow him to fall to the side. When, exhausted after two hours, she let go of the body she was "arrested with six other girls (including my sister), one of the girls had given birth that day." On the first night in captivity [in an abandoned village] "she was forced to her feet by two soldiers, one of them kicked her in the stomach – she fell on the floor, keeled over and died on the spot. They also shot my sister in front of us. I watched as she bled to death next to the other girl who had died from the beating."
Maryama told how after witnessing these atrocities, soldiers put a plastic bag over her head and tied a rope around her throat until she lost consciousness. When she came to, she found herself outside in a deep pit; she was naked and in great pain; she found it difficult to move. Her son was nowhere to be seen. Eight other people were with her, five were dead – one was a cousin, two were neighbours. These people had gone missing 10 days previously; it was assumed they were in prison. She cried hysterically.
After 28 days in the pit, her son was brought to her and they were both taken to prison. She was held captive in Jail Ogaden, in the regional capital Jigjiga, for approximately two and a half years, during which time she was subjected to torture and extreme sexual abuse. There were, she told me, over 1,000 women in the prison. At this point it is perhaps worth stating the obvious: this woman had broken no law, had not been charged with any offence or been granted any of her constitutional or human rights.
Maryama, along with other female prisoners, was routinely tortured by military personnel; stripped naked, they were forced to crawl on their hands and knees across a ground of sharp stones. Their knees would collapse and bleed; if they stopped, they were verbally insulted and beaten with wooden sticks or the butt of a rifle. Another favoured method of torture was to strip the women and take them to the latrines where toilet waste was thrown over them. At the same time they were beaten with sticks, belts and hit with the butt of a rifle. They were not allowed to wash and were forced to sleep covered in this waste.
Maryama, who was around 18 years of age when she was first arrested, was repeatedly raped by groups of soldiers while in prison. They like the women to be young – 15 to 20 – and semi-conscious when raped so the girls cannot resist and the perpetrator cannot be identified; part strangulation with a rope or a blow to the head using the butt of a rifle renders the innocent victim unconscious. Soldiers are told to use the penis as a weapon and are "trained," defected military men told me, to rape women and how to "break a virgin"; violent demonstrations on teenage girls are given by training officers. They are told to eat hot chillies before going out on patrol, so their semen will burn the women rape victims. A defected divisional commander in the Liyu Police, Dahir, related how during his five years in the force he had witnessed between 1200 and 1500 rapes in the Ogaden.
The creation of a climate of fear amongst the population is the aim of the government and the military; they employ a carefully planned, if crude, methodology to achieve their vile objective. False arrest and detention of men and women, arbitrary assassinations and torture, rape and the destruction of property and livestock make up the arsenal of control and intimidation employed by the EPRDF government.
The Ethiopian regime maintains that nothing untoward is taking place within the Ogaden region. The military and Liyu police (a renegade paramilitary group), they tell us, are safeguarding civilians against the terrorist organization operating there, namely the ONLF. Soldiers in training are brainwashed to see the population of the region, men, women and children, as enemies of the State. Accounts like Maryama's are pure fiction, government spokesmen say, and, sorry chaps, the region is unsafe for members of the international media or human rights groups and you cannot enter. And if you do, you will be arrested.
There is indeed terrorism raging throughout large parts of the Ogaden and elsewhere in the country; it is State Terrorism perpetrated by a brutal regime that is guilty of widespread criminality, much of which constitutes crimes against humanity.
- See more at: