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Saturday, January 22, 2011

Ethiopia: Monitoring of conflict, human rights violations and resulting displacement still problematic

January 20, 2011 - Internal Displacement monitoring Center (IDMC)

An estimated 300,000 to 350,000 people remained internally displaced within Ethiopia in late 2010. There were reported displacements related to violence and human rights violations in Gambella and Somali Regions in 2010.

Armed conflicts and localised episodes of violence have continued to cause displacement in various areas. In particular, government forces have continued to fight insurgency groups including the Ogaden National Liberation Front in Somali Region and the Oromo Liberation Front in the south of the country. In Somali region, the government has made peacemaking efforts in recent months,
but fighting has continued.

In areas affected by displacement such as Somali, southern Oromiya and Gambella, food security, health, nutrition, and access to water were all of major concern to the humanitarian community in 2010.

Despite the serious humanitarian need in areas of displacement, the government has restricted the access to conflict areas of international humanitarian agencies and the media. The government has also introduced draconian laws that restrict activities of human rights organisations and humanitarian agencies, making it difficult for independent bodies to monitor and document violations of rights.


Armed conflicts over international boundaries, internal armed conflicts between  government forces and insurgency groups operating in various parts of the country, and local conflicts over water, pasture resources and administrative boundaries, have all taken place in Ethiopia in the past decades. Ethiopia went to war with neighbouring Somalia (from 1977 to 1978) and Eritrea (from 1998 to 2000) over their shared boundaries. Ongoing internal conflicts with insurgency groups including the Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF) in the Ogaden area of eastern Somali Region and the Oromo Liberation Front (OLF) in the south of the country have continued to affect people’s lives and livelihoods (Sudan Tribune, 23 December 2010).

In the south, the OLF has fought for autonomy since 1970. The OLF has employed “hit and run” tactics and government armed forces have even pursued OLF fighters into Kenya. The government labels OLF as a terrorist group (Daily Nation, 6 August 2009).

In pastoralist-inhabited areas of southern Ethiopia near the border with Kenya, violent conflict over water and pasture resources reportedly affected communities in 2010 (CEWARN, September 2010).

There were reportedly between 300,000 and 350,000 internally displaced people (IDPs) in Ethiopia in late 2010. However, these figures are difficult to verify because of the government’s reluctance to allow humanitarian agencies to conduct country-wide assessments (Interviews with humanitarian agency staff in Ethiopia, November 2010).

Displacement in Gambella

Inter-ethnic conflicts and government interference in the local politics of Gambella Region have reportedly contributed to ethnic conflicts and displacement there (IRIN, 13 September 2010). In November 2008, police forces attempted to force villagers from Laare and Puldeng villages near the border with Sudan to move to a new area. When villagers refused, violence ensued, and police reportedly killed nine civilians and wounded 23. Police also reportedly set fire to homes and killed livestock (USDoS, 11 March 2010).

In April 2010, inter-clan clashes among ethnic Nuer groups drove thousands from their homes. Local leaders accused the government of not doing enough to facilitate reconciliation or provide protection and livelihoods. In 2009, thousands of Ethiopian Jikany Nuer were displaced from their land by Sudanese Lou Nuer groups who had crossed into the Gambella Region of Ethiopia. According
to Gambella regional authorities, some 38,000 IDPs from that incident still remained displaced in September 2010. Another 40,000 people were displaced in 2009 in Gambella as a result of recurrent clashes over land, natural resources and vendettas between local agro-pastoralist Nuer and the mainly agrarian Anuak (IRIN, 13 September 2010).

Conflict in Somali Region

Since it was outlawed in 1994, the ONLF has engaged in low-intensity armed conflict with government forces. Human rights organisations, international NGOs, and the media have reported that both the Ethiopian National Defence Force (ENDF) and the ONLF have been responsible for human rights violations and abuses, and have used violence to intimidate the civilian population. ONLF
attacks on police and military targets over the years have led to severe disruption and loss of lives (BBC News, 13 September 2010; Press TV, 18 August 2010; Bloomberg news, 19 June 2010).

In December 2010, attacks on villages by Ethiopian security forces reportedly led to the burning of villages, the death of about 20 civilians and the displacement of hundreds of families (Ethiopian Review, 20 December 2010; Sudan Tribune, 23 December 2010).

The regional conflict in Somalia that began in December 2006 spread to the Somali Region and the ONLF, reportedly aided by support from the Eritrean government greatly increased its armed activity. In 2007 another insurgent group with a limited presence in the region, the United Western Somali Liberation Front, engaged in armed violence against government forces (USDoS, 11 March 2010).

In 2007, the ENDF began significant counter-insurgency operations in the Ogaden in response to the killing of Chinese and domestic oil exploration workers. In 2008, Human Rights Watch (HRW) accused the Ethiopian government of war crimes and crimes against humanity, and reported that the ENDF had burned down villages and killed, raped and tortured civilians in its counter-insurgency
campaign (HRW, June 2008). ONLF rebels also accused the government of pursuing a scorched-earth policy in the Ogaden which amounted to collective punishment (VOA, 16 November 2009).

Since then, government interference in the economic affairs of the Ogaden population has aggravated the humanitarian crisis in the region. The government’s harsh policies have added to the marginalisation of Somali Ethiopians, who are effectively excluded from national institutions. Public infrastructure and the delivery of services in Somali Region are worse even than in Ethiopia’s
nieghbouring highlands, in Somaliland or elsewhere in Somalia (ISN, 5 October 2010; Daily Telegraph, 17 October 2008).

In 2010, the government increased peace overtures with some rebel groups in the Ogaden, but analysts expect the insurgency to continue in the absence of meaningful commitment from the government and major insurgent groups including the ONLF (ISN, 5 October 2010). Fighting continued in 2010 between the ONLF and government forces and government-affiliated militias (ISN, 5 October 2010; BBC News, 13 September 2010). Between September and December 2010, opposition sources reported that government forces had killed over 300 civilians, leading to the displacement of civilian populations in the region.

Reporting of conflict and human rights violations

Conflicts in Ethiopia have often triggered widespread human rights abuses by all parties (USDoS, 11 March 2010). Human rights groups have accused the government of fuelling conflicts in different parts of the country, but especially in Somali, southern Oromiya, and Gambella regions (ICG, 4 September 2010; AI, May 2010; HRW, June 2008) and have published credible reports of violations.
Deliveries of food and medicine were limited by military restrictions as well as insecurity and lack of capacity (AI, May 2010, p.141; HRW, 24 March 2010).

Since 2007, the government has continued to limit the access of diplomats, NGOs, and journalists to Somali Region, citing serious security concerns. The government has allowed some humanitarian access but restricted the investigation of human rights abuses. Human rights groups and others have
asserted that the government denied access to the region to prevent the monitoring of ENDF operations. Most reports of human rights violations have come from interviews with second-hand sources or alleged victims who have fled the Somali region. NGO personnel have been forced by ENDF and police forces to report ONLF activity and have faced beatings and death threats if they did not comply. Some villagers reported that local authorities threatened to retaliate against anyone reporting ENDF violations (AI, May 2010; HRW, June 2008).

In January 2009, the Ethiopian parliament enacted a law to control the work of civil society organisations. The Proclamation to Provide for the Registration and Regulation of Charities and Societies (the CSO law) has hindered independent human rights monitoring and reporting. The government has since refused to heed calls for independent, impartial and credible investigations to
prosecute those responsible for human rights abuses (HRW, 24 March 2010).

In August 2009, the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) recommended that the government consider reviewing this legislation to ensure that due consideration is given to the important role of civil society organisations in the promotion and protection of human rights (CERD, 31 August 2009).

Protection risks in areas of displacement

Food security, health, nutrition, and access to water in internal displacement-affected areas such as Somali, southern Oromiya and Gambella were of major concern to the humanitarian community in 2010 (OCHA, January 2010)

An assessment by the Somali Regional Health Bureau in July 2009 showed that malnutrition rates in Somali Region had reached critical levels. Conducted in seven woredas (districts) between April and May, the assessment found global acute malnutrition rates of 14.5 to 21.9 per cent (a rate exceeding 15
per cent reflects an emergency situation).The highest rate was recorded in Degehabour woreda of Degehabour zone. Five other woredas in the zone also exceeded the emergency threshold.

The assessment noted that acute water shortages, poor access to safe water, low immunisation coverage, high rates of childhood disease and dependence on relief food had aggravated the situation. Household coping mechanisms had also weakened after drought (OCHA, 13 July 2009).

In November 2010, UNICEF reported serious water shortages in the chronically water-insecure Somali Region (OCHA, 1 November 2010).

National and international responses

The overall leadership of the humanitarian response remains the responsibility of the government at all levels, including federal, regional, zonal and woreda. The Government is also responsible for facilitating the active participation of relevant partners, including donor governments, UN agencies, national and international NGOs, civil society organisations and affected communities.

Ethiopia is party to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and other relevant international human rights standards. The inviolable and inalienable right to life, the security of person and liberty are enshrined in Article 14 of the

federal constitution, and also in the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights. The government has signed, but not ratified or domesticated, the African Union Convention on Internally Displaced Persons (the Kampala Convention).

The national response to conflict-induced displacement has been criticised by national and international agencies operating in Ethiopia. Nonetheless, international donors and aid agencies have continued to engage with the government. In December 2009, the United States, through its Embassy in Addis Ababa, urged the government to improve on its human rights record (Bloomberg, 11 December 2009).

The UN’s Ethiopian Humanitarian Country Team, led by the Humanitarian Coordinator and comprising the heads of agencies including FAO, IOM, OCHA, OHCHR, UNDP, UNFPA, UNHCR, UNICEF, WHO and WFP, as well as the country directors of CARE, Oxfam GB, and Save the Children/UK and the national NGO consortium CRDA, have continued to work with the government to provide overall coordination of the humanitarian response.

Given the sensitivities around conflict and protection, there is no active protection cluster or government counterpart on protection issues (Interviews with humanitarian agencies, June 2010). Protection was also left out of the 2010 Ethiopia Humanitarian Requirement document.

Humanitarian access

Aid agencies have regularly reported interference and severe restrictions by the government on their work. The government requires agencies to seek military escorts to deliver food aid to conflict areas, which, they report, has hindered their access (IRIN, 24 November 2009; Reuters, 17 November 2009; Daily Telegraph, 17 October 2008).

International agencies usually face restrictions in areas of operations. The government forced ICRC to close down its operations in Somali Region in 2007, and Médicins Sans Frontières had to leave the region because of government restrictions (USDoS, 11 March 2010; MSF, 4 October 2008).

If the government does not enable improved humanitarian access, affected IDPs and other vulnerable people will continue to face a protection and humanitarian crisis (ICG, 17 June 2008). USAID reported in March 2008 that “literally hundreds of areas… have neither been assessed nor received any food assistance”, with “populations terrorised by the inability to access food” (The Times, 18 September 2008).

HRW reported in 2010 that the government had used foreign aid including food to punish regions seen to be opposition strongholds, with officials in the ruling party using their power to give or deny assistance to citizens based on their political affiliation (HRW, 19 October 2010). The government has been accused of limiting food aid to areas which it considers opposition strongholds to the detriment of its vulnerable populations (IRIN, 24 November 2009; Reuters, 17 November 2009). The British Channel 4 reported that the army had withheld food from villages in Somali Region as part of a “scorched earth” policy against the ONLF (BBC, 19 September 2008; The Times, 18 September 2008). Before the British Minister for International Development toured a hospital in the town of Kebri Dehar during a visit to Somali Region in October 2008, local officials reportedly forced starving infants out of the emergency ward and on to the street (The Telegraph, 17 October 2008).

Response to disaster-induced displacement

The government response to displacement as a result of natural disasters is more positive. A proposed disaster risk reduction policy has called for the mainstreaming of disaster risk management throughout government and greatly strengthened disaster management capacity at the highest levels of government. Debates continue within the government regarding the policy, and it is unclear if or when it will be adopted (ODI, June 2009). The policy has not been finalised or adopted as of December 2010.

It is also unclear to what degree the new policy will deal with conflict-induced displacement. A study by the Feinstein International Center in December 2009 found that the policy was heavily focused on preventing or mitigating the risk of natural disasters, particularly climatic and environmental disasters, and made no reference to conflict (Feinstein International Center, December 2009).

The new Disaster Risk Management Council is to be chaired by the Prime Minister. Humanitarian agencies are concerned that the government might downplay the impact of disasters to show the international community that it is self-sufficient. They have warned of a government habit of downplaying numbers of people in need and levels of malnutrition and disease, so as to minimise
their political and diplomatic impact (IRIN, 27 September 2010).

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

After Sudan; World should Focus on Oromo

It has never known political stability after the colonial conquest and subjugation by Abyssinia. It has never enjoyed real prosperity in spite of being one of the richest nations in natural resources in the horn of Africa with a population estimated at 33 million. It is

Africa’s longest political conflict that appears to have been forgotten by the international community including IGAD and Africa Union among others. It has won the unenviable accolade of being the cradle of the world’s largest forced mass movement from one country in modern African history, namely the current exodus from Ethiopia. Welcome to Oromia, the country of the Oromo people (375,000 square miles). In the last four decades, the Horn of Africa, with Ethiopia as an epicenter, has experienced an unprecedented wave of refugee flows, resulting in large concentrations of displaced persons. Nearly all these displaced persons are from Ethiopia. Today there are an estimated over 10 million refugees originating from Ethiopia, second only to those from Afghanistan and Iraq put together. The influx of Ethiopians fleeing their country to Kenya has always hit headlines in the local and internal press. Ironically, most are apprehended by Kenyan authorities and handed back to the Ethiopian authorities or locked up in Kenyan prisons. Some of the refugees are said to be on transit to South Africa.

The Oromo Liberation Front has for decades been embroiled in a protracted war for the liberation of the Oromia. The most striking aspect to political pundits and academics is the manner in which the international community has accorded the conflict a blind eye, and regional governments, IGAD and AU cannot explain why Ethiopians are fleeing their country in droves. Who will save the Oromo people from
institutionalized oppression and blatant abuse of basic human rights by the Addis Ababa government? What is the IGAD and the Africa Union doing to resolve the conflict? The 140 years of continuous acts of cultural genocide by successive Ethiopian regimes is a remarkable testimony to the resilience of the Oromo cultural values and democratic heritage. Even as the international community remain silent in the face of the conflict that has claimed lives of millions of people, it is is important to note that as a geo-cultural bridge between Europe, Africa and Asia, the Horn of Africa has always been embroiled in some world-historic events, since the times of the Roman empire. The Horn remains important in security considerations of the Middle East and the increasingly
competitive global economy.

It is important to observe that the current Ethiopian regime is being sustained in power by foreign western powers for imperialistic reasons. Take the case of the Tigrean People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), also known as Wayyane, which was promoted in 1991 by foreign governments, particularly that of the US, to fill the power vacuum created by the downfall of the Dergue regime. As expected, this led to replacement of the Amhara regime by a Tigrean power as was evident to those familiar with the Ethiopian political landscape.

Under the pretext of opening the country for world market and democratization, traditional supporters and partners of the Ethiopian empire used the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to pump huge amounts of money into the coffer of TPLF. During the first four years of its rule, the regime received about US$3 billion in bilateral grants. The Paris Club member countries granted significant debt-cancellations and rescheduling. The TPLF regime used the multilateral and bilateral assistance to dismantle Amhara-centre state apparatus and to replace it by institutions that are nothing more than appendages of a tightly controlled party-apparatus of the Tigrean ruling class.

Today, there  is no public institution, be it the military, the judiciary, the civil service, the regulatory agencies, and financial institutions outside the control of the TPLF and its surrogate parties. Thus, the regime cannot claim democratic legitimacy by any standard. Most disturbing are reports of Kenyan Borana Oromo near the border being harassed and imprisoned in Kenya. These incidents are violating international law regarding refugees. They could have been taken to Kenyan courts, if suspected of any crime. The human rights crisis in Ethiopia is so worrying. No one seems to understand the scale of the violations. targeted and systematic tortures, disappearances and extrajudicial killings are common
place in that country. There seems to be no hiding place for the victims of human rights violations under the current regime in Ethiopia. Peasants in certain areas are particularly targeted and expelled in broad day light from their farmlands for the sake of the officials and of TPLF-led government financial gains. “The peoples of Oromia and Kenya share a longstanding cordial relationship. In particular, Kenya, as a democratic and stable country, continues to provide safety for a significant number of Oromo refugees fleeing from persecution by the Ethiopian state. However, it is of also of grave concern that recently, a

large number of Oromo refugees have been handed over to the Ethiopian authorities by the Kenyan agents who have been recruited by the Addis Ababa spy network. More worrying is the fact that their operations are not sanctioned by the Kenyan government. These refugees are sent back to inhumane torture and certain death in the hands of the Ethiopian security agents,” says an OLF petition to Kenya’s President Mwai Kibaki.

The petition, copied to the country’s Prime Minister Raila Odinga further notes: “We believe Kenya could play a positive and constructive role in supporting a peaceful resolution of the conflict between Oromia and Ethiopia and that would make Kenya a legitimate player in the international arena. We respectfully urge you to appraise the situation and reconsider your policy and assure supporting the just cause of the oppressed Oromo people rather than assisting the bloodthirsty regime in Ethiopia." In the recent months, Kenyans authorities have been accused of illegal rendition of Oromo refugees and Kenyans to Ethiopia under the pretext of cracking down on the Oromo Liberation Front ( OLP) militias. While in Ethiopia, the individuals are arraigned before special courts where they are handed heavy jail sentences ranging from death to life in prison. The ORA has accused the Ethiopian government and some elements within the Kenyan government of gross violation of the basic human rights of
the Oromo refugees and Kenyans shipped to Ethiopia.

The Oromo Liberation Front (OLF) was established in 1973 by Oromo nationalists to promote the right to self-determination for the Oromo people against what they call "Ethiopia colonial rule." There are reports that the OLF has increased its activity following the general elections of 2005 and has offices in Washington, D.C. and Berlin.  The international community particularly IGAD and the AU ought to appreciate the
fact that the fundamental objective of the Oromo liberation movement is to exercise the Oromo peoples' right to national self-determination and end centuries of oppression and exploitation by Ethiopian colonialism. The foreign policy of OLF stipulates that it respects the territorial integrity and national sovereignty of Kenya and all neighbouring countries. Kenya, the host state to the refugees has been accused of violating the
1951 UN Convention and 1967 Protocol on the status of the refugees for handing over the  Oromos who have fled their homes to escape persecution. It was through the initiative of IGAD, AU and the EU that a protracted peace deal was negotiated between SPLM and the Khartoum government,
effectively putting an end to one of Africa’s longest conflict then. As the Southern Sudan people undertake a decision on the future of the nation through the referendum, it is important that the international community focus attention on the Oromo conflict to save the plight of the Oromia nation.

The Oromo people’s demand of self-determination is neither a question of secession from a country with whom they have willfully integrated nor a matter of a periphery struggling for decentralization or devolution of power from a central government. It is a demand by the Oromo people to restore the sovereignty taken away from them and to freely determine their own political status. This demand does not, therefore, violate the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the Khartoum government. The Oromo people have never been meaningfully represented in Ethiopian political process. There has never been a moment in the political history of the Ethiopian empire-state when the state possessed a government representing the “whole people.”Moreso, the Oromo people’s demand for self-determination is not an internal affair of Ethiopia. Many nations in the world including Kenya are shouldering the burden of refugees from the Ethiopia. UNHCR is spending millions of dollars to sustain refugees from Ethiopia. Much more too is spent on relocating some of the refugees to friendly countries in Europe. This indeed, makes the conflict a matter of interest and concern to the international community including regional bodies like IGAD, AU and relevant UN agencies. In the same vein, the liberation struggle of the Oromo people against successive Ethiopian regimes cannot be characterized as “an internal civil
strife, banditry, terrorism, or civil war.” It is a struggle of people under alien domination.

What the international community must realize is that TPLF regime constantly fabricates false accusations to criminalize and demonise Oromo political organisations as a smokescreen to conceal the regime’s acts of genocide against Oromo social and cultural life. An attempt by the regime to link the Oromo liberation movement with fundamentalism and international terrorism is a fabrication to discredit and garner international community’s sympathy.

By Kasembeli Albert

Kasembeli Albert is the Editor, Business Journal Africa, a regional business and finance magazine

Map of oromia

Map of oromia