by GRAHAM PEEBLES
Hidden and isolated from the world the armed conflict raging in the Ogaden region of Ethiopia goes unnoticed. The killing and raping of innocent civilians at the hands of the military and their paramilitary partners in crime the Liyu police, the false arrests, torture and imprisonment remain largely hidden and unreported. The international media, human rights groups and most aid organisations (including the International Red Cross) have been banned from the region by the ruling Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) since 2007.
Testimonies of extreme abuse and mistreatment reported by Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International and diaspora agencies have come mainly from refugees who have found their way to the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) administered Dadaab Refugee Camp in Kenya, where hundreds of men, women and children have sought safety. “I was arrested without charge in 2010 and imprisoned for two years in a military barracks, when in prison I was repeatedly beaten,” relayed Noor Sayat, a 40-year old former local government worker. Omar Abdi told me how his wife and son together with his brother had been murdered in cold blood by the military, and how he “was imprisoned for one year and two months.”
During which time he “was tortured every night…late at night we were taken to the river, a rope tied around our necks and held under the water. They pulled me out and then beat me with wooden sticks and their rifles. Sometimes they would vary the method and put a sack over my head, tie it around my throat with rope and then submerge me in the river, then beat me.” Women tell of being subjected to gang rapes in prison: “I was raped by groups of soldiers,” 27-year old Raho told me. “It used to happen around midnight. I can only remember the first three men who raped me. They would take me out and leave the baby in the room with the other women, and bring me back in the early morning… the soldiers would come every night about midnight to take some of the women out for raping.” Raho was imprisoned for two years, the first eight months of which she was pregnant. She was raped throughout with the exception of the “40 days when I gave birth and had my new born baby.” She was released after complaining of abdominal pains caused, she believes, by the relentless sexual abuse.
For many community leaders the persecution continues inside Dadaab, with life-threatening telephone calls and text messages made by members of Ethiopia’s secret service, military and Liyu police. Ogaden Online
relays that “the names, family history and even the pictures of Ogaden leaders [now living in] the Kenyan refugee camps,” have been collected by Ethiopian intelligence. The plan is “to hunt, kill, maim, or intimidate” members of the Ogaden diaspora, “especially in the Kenyan refugee camps and those present in the Kenyan capital, Nairobi.” The men who make up such so-called security services, in Ethiopia and elsewhere, live in a dark and ugly world; Ethiopia is besieged by social and economic problems and yet the government, shrouded in paranoia and hatred, spends its time and scant resources persecuting those seeking sanctuary.