The Other War in Ethiopia

By Dave Kopel, Paul Gallant & Joanne Eisen

Tech Central Station. Dec. 29, 2006

The world is watching Ethiopia's war with the totalitarian Islamist regime in Somalia. The world should also start paying attention to the campaign of genocide which the Ethiopian government has been waging against its own people, in southwestern Ethiopia, in the state of Gambella.

The Anuak people of Ethiopia, a black minority tribe, have historically been enslaved by other Ethiopians. The slavery persisted into the late twentieth century. Today, the Anuak are being exterminated, while the central government of Ethiopia tells the world to ignore the violence, claiming that it is merely an inter-tribal conflict.

Gambella is in southwestern Ethiopia, bordering Sudan. It is been the home of five ethnic groups: the Anuak, Nuer, Majangir, Opo and Komo. The Anuaks and the Nuer are the largest groups and have long feuded over the land and its resources. The Anuaks, who live atop gold and oil reserves, number approximately 150,000.

A mainly agricultural people, the majority of Anuak inhabit Gambella, although some live in eastern Sudan, and some have recently been displaced to Kenya and the US. Gambella also hosts UN refugee camps, for people who have fled the decades-long genocide in south Sudan.

The central government, in Ethiopia's capital Addis Ababa, has disarmed most of the Anuak, and even disarmed Anuak police officers. Ethiopia is among the East African nations which have promised to conduct campaigns against civilian gun ownership, as part of the United Nations-sponsored Nairobi Protocol. Like several other signers of the Nairobi Protocol (Rwanda, Uganda, Congo, Sudan), Ethiopia already had a well-established record of genocide against disarmed victims.

On December 13, 2003, eight UN workers were ambushed and killed. Although the perpetrators were never caught, the blame for their deaths fell on the Anuaks; the subsequent massacre of Anuaks was blamed on the Nuer.

The Ethiopian government vehemently and persistently denies its participation in the violence against the Anuaks. But consider the following:

With the expectation of the discovery of oil in the state of Gambella, the government in Addis Ababa has developed a keen interest in exploiting the region.

After the massacre of the UN workers, an Anuak police officer, Ojo Akway, observed tracks leading from the crime scene, yet he was not permitted to investigate. Instead, he was arrested and then shot dead.

Seven months later, another investigator was also shot and killed. The humanitarian group Genocide Watch wonders why the UN has not investigated the deaths of its own personnel. Who benefits the most from this cover-up? Have UN workers been warned that if they speak up, they will expelled?

According to a report by Genocide Watch, at an Ethiopian cabinet meeting in September 2003, government officials and military officers discussed ethnic cleansing of the Anuak, and the benefits of destroying Anuak leadership. A military official told Genocide Watch that he was present at a subsequent meeting on December 11, 2003, just two days prior to the murders of the UN personnel. At that meeting, government officials discussed eliminating Anuaks in a military campaign in Gambella, code-named "Operation Sunny Mountain."

Subsequent behavior of the Ethiopian army is consistent with a plan to destroy the Anuak. As detailed in a statement by an Anuak representative that was delivered to the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, the Ethiopian army is perpetrating extrajudicial killings, beatings, torture, rape, sexual slavery and the destruction of Anuak properties. As a result, 50% of the Anuak population has been displaced.

The pattern of rape described by the victims appears to be systematic, and designed to create pregnancies that would produce non-Anuak children; such use of rape deliberately destroy an ethnic group is considered, under international law, to be a type of genocide.

And, of course, directly killing people is also a method of genocide. An anonymous Anuak spokesperson told the UN's OHCHR that from 2003-2005, up to "15,000 Anywa [Anuak] people have been killed in different villages by the Ethiopian national defence force militaries in trying to clear the area from the indigenous Anywa people and to facilitate the ongoing oil exploration in the land of the indigenous Anywa people ...."

Government guilt became especially evident in April 2006, when there was an attempt to capture eighteen Anuak resistance leaders who had fled to a refugee camp in south Sudan. These leaders could render potentially damaging eye-witness accounts of the 2003 massacre of Anuak by the Nuer. The Ethiopian army, under the guise of a disarmament exercise (that is, gun confiscation), rampaged through numerous villages on both sides of the Ethiopia-Sudan border. The "disarmament" campaign was accompanied by rape, pillaging, and murder.

As the Ethiopian army advanced towards the Alari Refugee Camp in Pochalla, Sudan, surviving Anuak villagers warned the refugees in the camp. Then, the tribal leader of the Anuak in Sudan, King Adonga, vowed that the Sudan Anuak would protect the refugees "with whatever it takes, even spears." The refugees moved the vulnerable in their camp to a safer location, while they and King Adonga's forces prepared for a violent confrontation.

The Anuaks contacted several people in the international community and alerted them to the imminent slaughter. With the plan exposed to potential donor governments, the Ethiopian regime aborted the invasion, and denied any hostile intention.

But in August 2006, over a dozen villages in Gambella were ethnically cleansed. The villagers were suddenly ordered to leave, to just go away, by the Ethiopian National Defense Forces. The Anuak Justice Council claims that there is extreme hardship for these new refugees because of a lack of clean water, food, and shelter, and that Anuaks are killed with impunity almost daily.

Human Rights Watch accuses the Ethiopian government of "human rights abuses so severe that they may rise to the level of crimes against humanity...."

It's not surprising that hardly anyone has heard of what the Ethiopian government has been doing to the Anuak. The world has barely paid attention even to the human rights atrocities perpetrated in Ethiopia's capital of Addis Ababa and other cities, after the disputed elections of May 2005. A recently-leaked report revealed that police killed 193 protesters, injured 763, and arrested over 100 others. These opposition leaders and journalists are now on trial for treason. And oh, what else? Attempted genocide!

Ana Gomes, the European Union observer at the 2005 elections, said that European leaders remain silent because "they want to continue dealing as usual with the Ethiopian regime."

One journalist, Qeerransoo Biyyaa, who writes only under his pseudonym because of fear of retribution, told us the government has created so many enemies that he predicts the current regime will be overthrown within 3-5 years. Biyyaa added: "I am living in a country where millions live in fear and their mouths are gagged."

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