Monday August 20, 2018
A refugee woman from Imey, a town in the Gode zone of Ethiopia's Somali Region, stands outside her makeshift home in Dadaab refugee camp in northern Kenya. She and her children fled to Kenya after her husband was killed by Ethiopian forces in December 2007. © Evelyn Hockstein
The government of Ethiopia should commit to an in-depth, independent
fact-finding mission into many years of rights abuses and violations of
the laws of war in eastern Ethiopia’s Somali region, Human Rights Watch
This should include specific investigations into
the responsibility of senior Somali region officials, including the
former regional president, Abdi Mohamoud Omar, and the current head of
the region’s paramilitary Liyu police force, Abdirahman Abdillahi
On August 6, 2018, after the Somali region’s notorious
Liyu police and a youth group loyal to Abdi Mohamoud Omar (known as
“Abdi Illey”) attacked residents and burned property, in Jigjiga, Abdi
“To break with the past, Ethiopia’s government
needs to ensure justice for more than a decade of horrific abuses in the
Somali region,” said Maria Burnett, East and Horn of Africa director at
Human Rights Watch. “Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s reform agenda should
include that those responsible for serious human rights violations,
however powerful, no longer avoid justice.”
The Somali region, a
strategically important border area between Somalia and Ethiopia, has
been the site of over a decade of widespread abuses against civilians,
both by the Ethiopian army and by the Liyu police force.
of developments in the region has been severely limited since 2007.
Access for journalists, aid organizations, human rights groups, and
other independent monitors is restricted.
The abuses have been
particularly egregious since 2007, when armed conflict between the
insurgent Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF) and Ethiopia’s Defense
Force escalated. Ethiopian authorities created the Liyu (“special” in
Amharic) police, which by 2008 had become a prominent counterinsurgency
force reporting to Abdi Illey, the regional security chief at that time,
who went on to serve as the regional president for eight years.
a 2008 report, Human Rights Watch found that Ethiopian security forces
and the insurgent group had committed war crimes between mid-2007 and
early 2008, and that the Ethiopian armed forces were responsible for
crimes against humanity based on the patterns of executions, torture,
rape, and forced displacement documented.
Human Rights Watch
found that Ethiopian troops forcibly displaced entire rural communities,
destroyed and burned dozens of villages, and summarily executed more
than 150 people, some publicly to terrorize the local community.
forces also unlawfully detained hundreds of civilians, many of whom
were tortured, beaten, raped, or otherwise sexually abused.Human Rights Watch has repeatedly pressed for an independent investigation into the crimes committed in this period.
2008, Ethiopia’s Foreign Affairs Ministry initiated an inquiry in
response to the Human Rights Watch report, but that exercise lacked both
credibility and independence and primarily whitewashed the truth about
the government’s role.
A new investigation is needed and should
look into the roles and responsibilities of Ethiopian military personnel
who ordered or participated in attacks on civilians at the height of
the conflict, Human Rights Watch said.
In addition, senior
military and civilian officials who knew or should have known of such
crimes but took no action may be criminally liable as a matter of
While the military has in recent years
taken a less active role in the region, the Liyu Police force, under
Abdi Illey’s control, has pursued an abusive counter-insurgency campaign
against suspected ONLF sympathizers.
The force has over the
last decade frequently been implicated in extrajudicial killings,
torture, rape, and violence against people in the Somali region, as well
as in retaliatory attacks against local communities.
is also evidence of attacks and violent clashes by the group against
communities outside of the Somali region, including in the Oromia region
since late December 2016, which resulted in hundreds dead and
significant displacement, and in neighboring Somalia.
In a July
2018 report, Human Rights Watch documented brutal torture of prisoners
in the region’s central prison – known as Jail Ogaden – which is largely
controlled by the Liyu police.
Former prisoners described
unending abuse and torture, with no access to adequate medical care,
family, lawyers, or even, at times, food. Officials credibly implicated
in serious violations against prisoners, regardless of rank, should be
investigated and those responsible should face criminal charges, Human
Rights Watch said.
This should include specific investigations
into senior Somali region officials such as Abdi Illey and Abdirahman
Abdillahi Burale, also known as Abdirahman Labagole.To help ensure its credibility, the investigation should publish detailed findings and draw on international expertise.
international law, Ethiopia has an obligation to investigate and
prosecute those responsible for war crimes, including members of its
armed forces. Anyone responsible for crimes against humanity or other
serious violations of human rights should not be granted amnesty.
government has also carried out reprisals against those speaking out
about abuses in the region. In 2016, in one example, the Ethiopian
government arrested and detained dozens of relatives of Ethiopians who
participated in a Melbourne, Australia protest and held some for months
An in-depth, independent fact-finding mission
into rights abuses and violations of the laws of war in eastern
Ethiopia’s Somali region would be an important part of Abiy’s ongoing
reform agenda, Human Rights Watch said. Ethiopia’s international
partners, looking to support the many ongoing reforms, should offer
technical assistance to such an effort.
federal government should not sweep abuses of such a scale and nature
under the carpet in the name of political expediency,” Burnett said.
“Now is the time for the federal government’s long involvement and
complicity in widespread abuses in the Somali region to end and for
accountability to begin.”