Ethiopia: Probe Years of Abuse in Somali Region

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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 200EXPAND

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.

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 said today. 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 Burale.

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 Illey resigned.

“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. Scrutiny 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.