ADDIS ABABA: The ongoing violence in the Eastern Ogaden region near the Somalia border has many in Ethiopia worried over the future of the rebellious area. Activists close to the area say the government and military continue to use violence to subjugate the population in the area, and numerous reports have emerged in recent months of widespread human rights violence perpetuated by the Ethiopian military.
Human Rights Watch (HRW) has reported that the government “has tried to stem the flow of information from the region. Some foreign journalists who have attempted to conduct independent investigations have been arrested and residents and witnesses have been threatened and detained in order to prevent them from speaking out.”
Aid workers with the United Nations (UN), Medecines Sans Frontiers (MSF) and the International Committee of The Red Cross, plus journalists from a range of western papers, including The New York Times have all had staff expelled and/or detained, by the Ethiopian regime, which speaks of democracy yet does act not in accordance with its own liberal constitution and consistently violates international law, with total impunity.
Last year, An independent news website covering Ethiopia’s Ogaden region, Ogadentoday, has called for a global investigation into what they termed the “Ogaden Genocide.”
The call came in response to videos posted by Swedish National Television (SVT) concerning and detailing human rights abuses in Ethiopia’s eastern region near the Somalia border.
“The latest video is about the Mal-Qaqa massacre that took place in June 10, 2010 after when Ethiopian Paramilitary Liyu Police attacked the village and has executed an entirely population in the area,” the statement said, adding that a SVT fixer had recently visited the area.
“We, Ogadentoday Press an Information website and advocates promoting human right and freedom of media are calling for the International Community to take an urgent action about the ongoing genocide,” the statement continued.
It also called on the Ethiopian government to investigate the reports of widespread human rights abuses in the Ogaden region.
Earlier this month, the Ogaden National Liberation Force (ONLF) and the government announced they were entering peace negotiations to end the armed conflict that has seen thousands of citizens killed in nearly three decades of fighting.
10 members from both sides Ethiopia and ONLF held the meeting and the meeting took place, on September 6 and September 7 in Nairobi, according to an ONLF statement.
According to the ONLF statement, “there are the general principles agreed upon” that would be the basis for resolving the conflict. It is unclear how far the government is willing to move in dealing with the ONLF, but one government official told Bikyanews.com on condition of anonymity that “there is hope across both sides that we can compromise and begin to end the violence.”
Despite the optimism surrounding the Kenya negotiations, violations of human rights has apparently continued in the Eastern region.
Two Ethiopian women have accused the country’s military of sexually abusing and raping them while they were detained after a crackdown in the Eastern Ogaden state near the Somalia border.
Abdikarim Rabi, a human rights reporter with SVT, sent Bikyanews.com a short interview he had conducted with Rokia Muhammad, who said she and other women were repeatedly raped.
“They have raped me and many other women,” she told Rabi.
According to Muhammad, she is emotionally traumatized as well as having physical “traces of the treatment in prison.”
In an interview with SVT, she showed her head, which had areas of hair ripped out as she said she was dragged, naked, in the Ogaden jail.
Another woman, who asked not to be named, had escaped to Addis Ababa where she is receiving treatment for her injuries suffered in an Ogaden jail at the hands of the military.
“They would take me from my cell at least once or twice a day and rape me. The soldiers would take turns on me and other women. It was the worst experience of my life and I just want to forget and move on,” she told Bikyanews.com.
It comes on the heels of increased reports of military abuse and violence against civilians in the Ogaden territory in recent weeks.
According to one eyewitness, civilians were arrested in the Ogaden towns of Kebridahar, Shilaabo, Fiiq, Galaalshe and Dhagaxbuur Zone in the latest crackdown on the troubled region this month.
“The civilians are accused of supporting the ONLF, Ogaden National Liberation Front, a nationalist movement fighting for the independence of Ogaden Region,” the report stated.
The source added “that 36 individuals are arrested in different locations; some are taken to Police stations while others are taken to military camps, while still the operation is continuing.”
The arrests come after the ONLF accused the military of carrying out a massacre of civilians in Ogaden last week.
The ONLF accused the Ethiopian military of committing a massacre against predominantly women and children in the Wardher region on September 6.
At least 13 people have been confirmed dead.
The ONLF said in a statement that the killings targeted family members of ONLF rebels, including the Guuleed family.
“All the victims were collected from different parts of the region including Danood, Qorile and other areas in Wardher region, and brought to Miir-denbas and summarily executed,” Ogaden Online reported.
The ONLF statement said that one of the victims was critically wounded by the military and left on the ground to die. Another 15 civilians are reportedly missing.
One eyewitness told Bikyanews.com that family members of the victims are currently holed up in their homes for fear that they will also be attacked and killed.
“The situation here is extremely tense and people are both angry and sad at the violence against us,” the witness said.
Panic has taken hold of the area, the news report said.
“For the last two years, the Ethiopian Army and its surrogates militias has increased this exemplary killings, causing fear and destruction of the lives of innocent civilians in Ogaden,” the ONLF statement read. “Since 2007 when a UN found gross violations of Human Rights by the Ethiopian army in Ogaden and recommended a UN investigation on the violation of Human Rights, the Ethiopian Army continued their transgressions with impunity.”
The reports of the massacre come as the ONLF and the Ethiopian government met in Kenya to discuss parameters for peace negotiations to end decades of violence in the Eastern Ogaden state near the Somalia border.
The ONLF was formed in 1984 and has carried out numerous attacks against the government over what it says is neglect and human rights abuses.
“It is not the first time that the Ethiopian Army in Ogaden engaged in similar activities at times of dialogue between ONLF and Ethiopia,” the ONLF continued. “For the last two months, the intentional killing of the civilian people had increased remarkably. In 1998, when an attempt to negotiate started, the Ethiopian Army killed three of delegates of the negotiation team, while returned from a rendezvous with the Ethiopian counterparts.”
They have called on the international community to hold the Ethiopia government responsible for the continued violence perpetrated in the state. For now, it remains a tense situation in Ogaden, but without media able to move freely in the area, it is difficult to deliver adequate reporting for an area struggling to find hope through the prism of chaos and violence.