Human Rights Watch accuses Ethiopian army of ‘torture and rape’



‘Villagization’: sounds a lot more benign that it really is (image: Shutterstock)

The Ethiopian military has been accused of conducting a campaign of arbitrary arrest, rape and torture against scores of villagers in the Gambella region of the country according to Human Rights Watch (HRW).

The accusations follow the recent death of Meles Zenawi the Ethiopian Prime Minister whose 20 year grip on power has attracted international condemnation.

Last year, a joint investigation by the Bureau and BBC Newsnight revealed how aid was being used as a weapon of political oppression.

In line with this, the international NGO says the attacks are linked to the government’s on-going ‘villagization’ policy.  The government is clearing hundreds of thousands of residents from their traditional lands to make way for commercial farms. HRW says the government has used threats, intimidation, and violence against those who resist moving.

It says that rape and torture have been used in a series of military reprisals following an attack on a large commercial farm earlier this year. On April 28, 2012, unidentified armed men attacked the compound of Saudi Star Agricultural Development Plc., a company that has leased thousands of hectares of land for rice farming in Gambella region. The gunmen killed at least one Pakistani and four Ethiopian employees.

Gambella residents who have fled to South Sudan have been interviewed by Human Rights Watch. They told the NGO that in the following days and weeks, Ethiopian soldiers went house to house looking for the gunmen in villages near the Saudi Star camp, arbitrarily arresting and beating young men and raping female relatives of suspects.

The attack on Saudi Star was a criminal act but it does not justify reprisals against Gambella’s population. The Ethiopian government should put an immediate end to abuses by the military in the region and investigate and prosecute soldiers found responsible for these heinous acts, regardless of rank.
Leslie Lefkow, deputy Africa director

Leslie Lefkow, deputy Africa director of Human Rights Watch has called for an independent inquiry. ‘The Ethiopian government should put an immediate end to abuses by the military in the region and investigate and prosecute soldiers found responsible for these heinous acts, regardless of rank,’  he says.

The Ethiopian government’s ‘villagization’ programme is a three-year plan to relocate 225,000 people in Gambella – and over 1.5 million people across four states nationally – from their existing villages into new settlements purportedly to better provide them with basic services.

Saudi Star confirmed to the Bloomberg news agency that the military has been active in the area and Federal Police have been guarding its operations since the attack. Saudi Star Chief Executive Fikru Desalegn said in a phone interview that the company has no information about the armed forces’ activities.

Ethiopia’s government routinely denies the advocacy group’s allegations of human rights abuses and says HRW is motivated by its ideological opposition to Ethiopia’s state-led development model.

The HRW report can be seen here.



#HumanTrafficking – dozens suffocated and dumped at roadside


Some of the seventy survivors. Picture: AP

Dozens of dead Ethiopian immigrants were dumped on the side of a road in Tanzania after suffocating in a container truck along with many others who survived, in the second fatal human trafficking incident in the country this year.

Up to 45 bodies were dumped along a busy forest highway on Tuesday, and a further 72 were found alive and taken to hospital.

“I haven’t seen anything like this … There were so many bodies lined up along the road. People in passing vehicles were shocked at the sight,” said Dodoma resident Fatuma Amir.

“When the driver discovered that there were people dying, he decided to throw them in the forest and run away with his vehicle,” deputy home affairs minister Pereira Ame Silima said.

Residents in central Dodoma were the first to report the deaths because of a foul smell. The deceased were taken to the hospital in Dodoma city.

“It is extremely sad and unfortunate that people die by using wrong and self-torturing means to illegally transport themselves to other destinations,” Silima said.

Survivors told officers that while they were locked inside the vehicle they had screamed to the driver to stop after several people passed out due to the lack of air, said police chief Zelothe Stephen.

When the driver finally stopped, he ordered the migrants to dump the corpses and clean the truck, but then sped off leaving the Ethiopians behind in a remote area.

“A manhunt is going on for the driver of the lorry that abandoned the Ethiopian immigrants by the roadside,” said Luppy Kung’alo, a Tanzanian police spokesman.

The east African country is a major transit route for migrants, used by smugglers to ferry Somalis and Ethiopians to Europe, and as believed in this case, South Africa.

The truck was probably on its way to the south-western border with Zambia and Malawi, officials said. Illegal immigrants are often smuggled by truckers from Tanzania’s commercial capital Dar es Salaam to border towns.

Many immigrants pay agents between $3,000 and $4,000 to reach South Africa. The illegal trip passes through Kenya, Tanzania, Malawi or Zambia, Zimbabwe or Botswana and then into South Africa. The shipping containers that the immigrants are crammed into can be changed several times before reaching South Africa.

In January, 20 Somali migrants suffocated to death as they were being smuggled in a cramped container truck through Tanzania. Their bodies were similarly dumped on the road.

At least 47 people thought to be illegal migrants from east Africa died when their boat capsized in a lake in neighbouring Malawi last Friday.

Hundreds of thousands of Somalis have fled the lawless Horn of Africa country since the collapse of a formal government two decades ago, while crippling drought hit both Somalia and Ethiopia last year.


UN #Ethiopia staff jailed for terrorism


Ethiopian UN Guards – Achive photo AP

The Ethiopian federal court Friday handed down a seven-year prison term to a UN staff who was found guilty of terrorism charges.

Abdurahman Sheikh Hassan, identified as a man of double Ethiopian and Somali nationality was accused of involvement with a rebel group, which Ethiopia categorizes as a terrorist organization.

Sheikh Hassan was said to have engaged in subversive activities with the National Liberation Front (ONLF),which is demanding the total independence of the Ogaden region of Ethiopia, known as a settlement for a Somali ethnic group bordering neighbouring Somalia.

According to the court, Hassan had used his UN staff membership as a cover to deceive the Ethiopian authorities while helping the ONLF in their campaign to destabilize the region.

Judge Mulugeta Kidane said in his verdict that since the accused had failed to advance plausible reasons to establish his innocence of the charges preferred against him, he (judge) had no option but to find him guilty and sentenced him to seven years in jail for his part in maintaining a terrorist organization.

He said Hassan was guilty of collaborating with a man called Sherif Badio, who was sentenced to life in prison in absentia after the same charges of terrorism were preferred against him.

Since Ethiopia introduced a terrorism law a year ago, two Swedish journalists have been sentenced to an 11 year jail term each while the case on terrorism charges of another 23 people and one Kenyan is languishing in an Ethiopian court.

Meanwhile, international human rights organizations and media rights concerns have accused Ethiopia of using its terrorism laws to silence political critics and the private media.

Agence de Presse Africaine :.

#Ethiopia ‘forcibly displacing’ tens of thousands


The Ethiopian government is forcibly displacing tens of thousands from their land to make way for state-run sugar plantations, a campaign group has said.

The displacements are happening in the country’s Omo Valley, according to a report by the New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW).

The valley, a World Heritage site, is also the site of a controversial dam.

The Ethiopian government has denied forcing anyone from their homes and says the project will create jobs.

HRW says that in order to make space for the plantations, government security forces are compelling communities to relocate from their traditional lands, using violence and intimidation.

In its report, the campaign group says that at the time of its visit to the area – in June 2011 – “military units regularly visited villages to intimidate residents and suppress dissent related to the sugar plantation development”. It added that “soldiers regularly stole or killed cattle”.

These allegations were denied by government spokesman Bereket Simon.

“There is no forcing out of people from their residence, if there is any reason to relocate people, then it is based on… open communication,” he told the AFP news agency.

‘No shortcut’

The sugar plantations will be irrigated in part by the Gibe III hydropower project, the group says.

The dam, which would become Africa’s largest and the fourth-biggest in the world, has provoked much controversy.

Flooding effect of dam on Omo River

At present

The Ethiopian government says that the project must be completed in order to bring energy and development to the country.

But campaigners fear it will fuel conflict over already scarce water resources, and rob communities of their livelihoods.

According to the report, previously unpublished Ethiopian government maps show plans for sugar plantations covering nearly a quarter of a million hectares.

The maps, HRW says, also show processing factories, irrigation channels and large tracts of land reserved for other forms of commercial agriculture.

The group says that if the plans go ahead they could affect at least 200,000 people in the Omo Valley and another 300,000 Kenyans living across the border around Lake Turkana, which derives up to 90% of its water from the Omo River.

The Ethiopian government has said that the dam’s impact on Lake Turkana will be negligible.

HRW describes the region as among the most ecologically and culturally diverse areas on the planet and says it is currently home to eight different agro-pastoral communities.

“Ethiopia’s ambitious plans for the Omo Valley appear to ignore the rights of the people who live there,” said Ben Rawlence, of Human Rights Watch.

“There is no shortcut to development; the people who have long relied on that land for their livelihood need to have their property rights respected, including on consultation and compensation.”

Many other African countries are reserving huge tracts of land for commercial agriculture – often leased by foreigners in order to export the crops cultivated there abroad.

Graphic of GIBE-3Gibe III would be one of the biggest dams in the world, dwarfing its neighbours

BBC News

Thousands still flee #Somalia every month


 A year after troubled Somalia was ravaged by the worst drought in decades, no end seems in sight to more than two decades of suffering and Somalis continue to flee their country to escape conflict, human rights abuses and adverse weather conditions.

In the first four months of this year, some 20,000 Somalis sought refuge in neighbouring Kenya, Ethiopia, Djibouti and Yemen. Although the levels are lower, they are significant. On average 40,000 Somalis fled their homeland each month between June and September of 2011.

In May, the Dollo Ado camps in eastern Ethiopia, which were already hosting more than 150,000 refugees, saw a significant increase in new arrivals, from less than 980 in the first half of May to more than 2,000 in the second half.

The newcomers say they are fleeing increased physical insecurity and dwindling food resources. Specifically, they cite fear of being caught in military operations, forced recruitment, poor rains and crop destruction by caterpillars as reasons for leaving Somalia. “We are working with the Ethiopian authorities to identify a site for a sixth camp in this already crowded and environmentally fragile area,” Andrej Mahecic, a UNHCR spokesman, said in Geneva.

Meanwhile, at Dadaab in north-east Kenya, more than 460,000 refugees continue to live in a precarious security environment. The threat of improvised explosive devices, shootings, kidnapping and banditry remains high. Deliveries of assistance and activities in the camps are continuing regardless.

Mahecic explained that the priority and toughest challenge for UNHCR and its partners throughout the past year has been to reduce the unprecedented mortality and malnutrition rates among Somali arrivals.

“Despite life-saving medical care and therapeutic feeding programmes in the Dadaab and Dollo Ado refugee camps, many of the newly arriving children have been beyond help – dying within hours or days of arrival. At the peak of the influx last summer, the estimated death toll was as high as 17 deaths per 10,000 people every day,” he noted.

At the onset of last year’s crisis, UNHCR and its partners set up critical nutrition programmes in reception and transit centres and in the camps. “Combined with mass vaccinations and other public health measures, these massive efforts saved lives over the past 12 months,” Mahecic said. “Mortality and malnutrition rates began to drop from record highs in September last year, but it took another six months before they fell below the levels usually seen in an emergency – less than one per 10,000 per day,” he added.

Today, Ethiopia’s Dollo Ado camps are reporting an average crude mortality rate of 0.8 per 1,000 per month and an under-five mortality rate of 2.2 per 1,000 per month. In Kenya’s Dadaab refugee complex the crude mortality rate is 0.2 per 1,000 per month, and 0.6 per 1,000 per month for children under five years of age.

“Another vital achievement has been the reduction in the high malnutrition rates, unseen in decades,” Mahecic said. Malnutrition was especially alarming among refugee children – in June and July last year, more than half of Somali children arriving in Ethiopia were acutely malnourished. That rate was somewhat lower among those arriving in Kenya, but equally disturbing – between 30 and 40 per cent.

Mahecic said the results of the most recent mass screenings show a sharp reduction of malnutrition among under fives in Dadaab (seven per cent). In Dollo Ado, the malnutrition levels among children also stabilized with all camps showing a positive trend. In the older Melkadida and Bokolomayo camps, acute malnutrition rates have fallen to 15 per cent. UNHCR is currently preparing a follow-up survey in the newer Kobe and Hilaweyn camps and expects to see significantly reduced levels of general acute malnutrition.

Massive water, sanitation and hygiene programmes went hand-in-hand with these efforts and were integral to the vast improvements in the health conditions of the Somali refugee population.

Meanwhile, neighbouring countries have been bearing the brunt of the Somali displacement and they continue to need international support. Some 300,000 people fled Somalia last year alone. Today, more than 980,000 Somalis live as refugees in Kenya, Ethiopia, Yemen and Djibouti.