Ethiopia: A hidden genocide?

A strongly worded new article about a little-known ethnic conflict in the Ogaden region of Ethiopia raises questions about the international community’s silence on the government’s possibly genocidal campaign against the country’s Somali minority.

Ogaden is a territory in Ethiopia’s Somali Regional State. Most of its inhabitants are ethnically Somali and have long felt marginalized by the Ethiopian government. In 1984 the Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF) was formally founded with the intention of securing greater regional autonomy. The group maintains both political and military wings in Ogaden that have received mixed support from the population.

Addis Ababa considers ONLF to be insurgents, and has engaged the group in periodic fighting of varying intensity. International human rights groups have accused the state of using brutal tactics that are harmful to civilians. The state’s campaign against ONLF reached a new peak in 2007, when its response to increased ONLF activity (including a slew of political assassinations, bombing of government buildings, and kidnappings) involved war crimes and crimes against humanity, according to Human Rights Watch.

Identifying rural villagers and local businessmen as the ONLF’s base of support and speculating that fighters were taking advantage of humanitarian assistance to feed and maintain themselves, the government expelled aid organizations and ordered a large-scale offensive that, according to human rights observers, targeted the civilian population. Human Rights Watch reported that Ethiopian troops, along with government-armed militias, indiscriminately attacked, executed, arrested, and forcibly removed from their land people believed to be friendly with the ONLF. Conditions were so severe that Genocide Watch wrote the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights in 2009, urging her to pursue an investigation in the area.

Mainstream news outlets have largely failed to report on the conflict, and the international community has done almost nothing to respond. Some speculate that Addis Ababa’s support for the U.S. “war on terror” has helped the regime avoid investigation. However, deteriorating conditions in Somalia, coupled with the worst drought the region has seen in decades, may exacerbate Ethiopia’s violence to the point that it will no longer be possible to ignore.

Image: bnaidarfur.org

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