Monday, July 30, 2007

ICRC Deplores Its Expulsion From Ethiopia Somali Regional State

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said on Thursday it deplored the decision by the authorities of Ethiopia's Somali Regional State, where it has been present for over 12 years, to give it seven days' notice to leave.

It said the measure jeopardized the ICRC's work to assist people affected by the non-international armed conflict in Somali Regional State a work it carriesd out impartially and on strictly humanitarian grounds. The suspension of ICRC activities would inevitably have a negative impact on the population concerned, whose access to basic services would be reduced.

All ICRC activities in Ethiopia are conducted in strict accordance with the principles of independence and neutrality," said Daniel Duvillard, the organization's head of operations for the Horn of Africa. "That is why we regret that the dialogue with the state authorities and the security forces has deteriorated to a point where issues of contention were not discussed in depth with the ICRC before this decision was taken. The ICRC firmly rejects the accusations made against it." If confirmed, he said, the decision to expel the ICRC would heighten more than ever its concern about the fate of the people affected by the non-international armed conflict in the Somali Regional State.

The ICRC in its press release said that it stood ready to discuss those and any other matters through bilateral dialogue with Ethiopian authorities in order to continue its humanitarian activities in the Somali Regional State.

In 2007 a large portion of the Somali Regional State's population benefited from ICRC rural water and sanitation projects, including the construction and installation of hand pumps and the digging of wells and boreholes. The ICRC also conducted eight training sessions for over 200 livestock owners on animal health and livestock management. Delegates carried out 37 detention visits to assess conditions and treatment. In addition, the organization monitored the situation of civilians affected by the conflict, striving to ensure they were respected and protected in accordance with international humanitarian law, and restored family links by forwarding Red Cross messages, it said.

"The ICRC reminds all the parties concerned of their obligation to comply with international humanitarian law, in particular with that law's prohibition of attacks against people not or no longer taking direct part in hostilities and the right guaranteed by that law to civilians to receive the humanitarian assistance essential to their survival," it added.

It is to be recalled that the Somali Regional Government on Tuesday gave one week to leave the Somali Region, accusing ICRC of talking to rebels operating in the area. "They are talking to the rebel groups. We have many kinds of evidence," Jama Ahmed, vice president of the regional state, said. However, he said if they stuck to humanitarian activities they were welcome.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

'Marching for the people ... arrested back home'

Oromo people marched to the State Capitol to raise awareness about human rights violations in Ethiopia.

Two thousand Oromo people, part of the largest ethnic group in East Africa, marched Thursday to the State Capitol to raise awareness of human rights violations in Ethiopia. People came from around the United States, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and Europe to march from Dale Street and University Avenue to the Capitol in 94-degree temperatures. Last week and this week have been declared Oromo Week in Minnesota.

"We're marching for the people who are arrested back home," said Kamer Hurumo, holding a large U.S. flag and walking with marchers holding Oromo Liberation Front flags. Hundreds carried signs saying, "U.S., stop supporting Ethiopia."

Oromo people are the majority in Ethiopia but have no representatives in the Ethiopian government, which is ruled by a minority ethnic group.

Thursday's march was organized by the International Oromo Youth Association in cooperation with the Oromo Community of Minnesota and the Oromo American Citizens Council.
"Ethiopian solders who are now in Somalia are committing atrocities against the Oromo refugees in Somalia," said Gawar Mohamed, president of the youth association. "Since Ethiopia invaded Somalia, more than 30.000 Oromo refugees were deported back to Ethiopia. Many of these are in prison now."

Aduu Joba, 20, and her brother Olyad, 19, came from London for the march.

"We have so many relatives back home who cannot demonstrate peacefully like we can," she said.

"Almost every person here today has lost either a father, a mother a sibling or close relatives," said Rammy Mohamed, a student at the University of Minnesota and member of the International Oromo Youth. Her cousin was killed two months ago; he was an engineering student at the University of Addis Ababa, the capital of Ethiopia.

"He had nothing to do with politics and yet he got killed right in front of his family just because he was Oromo," she said.

Oromo people have been experiencing persecution under the Ethiopian Peoples Revolutionary Party (EPRDF) led by Prime Minister Meles Zenawi. Many fled to neighboring countries and settled in refugee camps.

"We hope this is a wake-up call for the international community," Mohamed said.

Ifrah Jimale • 612-673-4165 •

Plight of ethnic groups in Ethiopia discussed at U conference

By Abdi Aynte , Minnesota Monitor

15,000 Oromo in Minnesota include many victims of torture, persecution.
Seldom does a former head of state express remorse about crimes committed under his watch, but that's exactly what Dr. Negasso Gidada, the former president of Ethiopia, told more than 100 people Thursday evening at the University of Minnesota.

Speaking at the Oromo second annual international human rights conference, Gidada said he's "ready to be accountable for crimes I committed … and those committed by the Ethiopian government" during his tenure.

Most of the people in attendance were Oromo, the largest of Ethiopia's 86 ethnic groups. Gidada also is an Oromo, but the current regime is dominated by a minority ethnic group called the Tigre. He held the largely ceremonial post of president between 1995 and 2001.

Now an opposition member in the Ethiopian parliament, Gidada admitted that the "rule of law was enforced brutally" while he was president. But he reiterated that he couldn't stop most of those crimes, because the power lied with the Tigre prime minister.

More than 15,000 Oromo refugees, the largest anywhere in the country, live in Minnesota, according to the Oromo-American Citizenship Council, which helped organize the event.

The State Department's human rights index ranks Ethiopia, a close U.S. ally in the war on terror, as one of the worst human rights violators in the world. Oromo-Americans said they are particularly disappointed with how the United States turned its back on the protection of human rights in their country.

Ethiopia is already fighting a proxy war for the U.S. in Somalia, said Professor Abdi Samatar, a panelist who teaches geography and global studies at the University of Minnesota.

"With blessings from Washington, the Ethiopian military killed thousands in Somalia since January, displaced 450,000 and destroyed one-third of Mogadishu's infrastructure," said Samatar, who studied Ethiopia closely as a Fulbright scholar seven years ago.

A study by the Minneapolis-based Center for Victims of Torture found in 2004 that 69 percent of all Oromo men and 37 percent of women in Minnesota were victims of torture -- one of the highest percentages among refugees in the state.`Color of your passport matters'
Minnesota is also home to the largest Anuak ethnic population in the United States. When Ethiopian soldiers were in the middle of killing more than 400 Anuak people in three days in 2003, Obang Metho, executive director of the Anuak Justice Council, called the U.S. State Department.

According to Metho, who also spoke at the event, the woman who answered his 1 a.m. call told him: "'People are killed over there all the time,'" and the phone went dead. Metho, who now lives in Canada, called back five minutes later. The woman chided him but before she could take her next breath, he interjected that U.S. citizens could be among the dead. Then he hung up on her.

The woman called back with a frantic question: "'Do you know where they live? Their Social Security numbers?'" Metho supplied whatever information he had.

Less than two hours later, he received a call from the U.S. embassy in Addis Ababa, informing him that staff members were on the way to Gambella, where the massacre was under way. But they needed his help.

"At that time, I learned that the color of your passport matters," he said.Hope in legislation
Members of the Ethiopian community in Minnesota and across the nation, who organized a massive rally Thursday morning at the state Capitol, are hoping for eventual passage of a bill that cleared a subcommittee in the U.S. House of Representatives last week.

The bill, authored by Rep. Donald Payne, D-N.J., connects U.S. financial and military assistance to Ethiopia to improved human rights, freedom of the press and democracy.

U.S. Rep. Keith Ellison, D-Minn., who spoke at the Oromo human rights conference through video uplink, told the audience that he supports the bill.

"Those who committed human rights violations ought to be brought to justice," he said.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Rebel Group Urges UN to Probe Ethiopia's Ogaden Region

Ethiopia's Ogaden National Liberation Front rebels are urging the United Nations to launch a fact-finding mission in the Ogaden region to confirm mounting reports that the Ethiopian military is committing war crimes there. International humanitarian and human rights groups have already condemned the Ethiopian government for blocking food aid to large parts of the remote region and causing widespread hunger.

The Ogaden National Liberation Front appealed to U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon to send a team of investigators to Ogaden in eastern Ethiopia, where the Ethiopian military is conducting a campaign to crush the rebel movement.

The ONLF rebels accuse the Ethiopian government of Prime Minister Meles Zenawi of using tactics reminiscent of Sudan's counterinsurgency campaign in western Darfur, including allegations that government troops are burning down villages, confiscating livestock and property, making arbitrary arrests, gang-raping women, and murdering innocent people.
Earlier this month, the U.S.-based Human Rights Watch said it had credible reports that Ethiopian troops and its proxy militias are committing serious human rights abuses in the Ogaden, an oil rich-but poor, ethnically-Somali region that has long sought autonomy from Addis Ababa.

But the director of the organization's London office, Tom Porteous, tells VOA that it is still not clear whether the situation there is similar to Darfur because the Ogaden, a remote area around 200,000 square kilometers, has been inaccessible for months. In June, authorities in Addis Ababa briefly jailed several journalists working for the New York Times newspaper, after they visited the region without government permission.

"Certainly, there should be greater access because the reports that are coming out are serious enough that they do warrant careful monitoring," he said. "We do have quite credible reports that the blockade on the region is continuing. It is not total, but it is certainly having a serious effect on civilians."

Last month, the Ethiopian government banned aid convoys and cut off roads into large areas of the Ogaden as part of a three month-long crackdown on the ONLF.

The government denies all human rights abuse allegations and says the blockade is strictly strategic, aimed at preventing arms and supplies from reaching the ONLF, which has been labeled by the government as a terrorist group supported by Ethiopia's arch-rival, Eritrea.
In April, rebels killed 74 people, mostly Ethiopian guards and several Chinese workers, during a raid on a Chinese-run oil field in the Ogaden.

But humanitarian and human rights groups say the blockade has disrupted trade and put hundreds of thousands of people at risk of starvation.

Some have accused the Ethiopian government of diverting millions of dollars in international food aid and other humanitarian assistance to pay its soldiers and local militias recruited to fight the ONLF.

Ethiopia is a key U.S. partner in anti-terrorism efforts in the Horn of Africa - a region Islamic extremists have used as a haven and as a base of operations.

American officials in Addis Ababa say they are taking the reports of Ethiopian wrongdoing in the Ogaden seriously and are trying to investigate the situation.

Source: VOANews