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* Protests next month in the United States and Sweden will draw attention to alleged crimes against humanity in the Ogaden region of Ethiopia. Protesters seek to persuade the United States, the largest donor to Ethiopia, to force Addis Ababa to open the region to independent organizations so they can monitor, assess, and alleviate what protesters claim is an escalating and dire situation. The U.S. State Department’s 2010 Report on Human Rights Practices in Ethiopia details human rights abuses committed by Ethiopian security forces and government-sponsored militias. This year, four refugees from Ogaden have been killed in Kenya, including the assassination of a community leader at the IFO refugee camp, operated by CARE.

* Sudan agreed to let UN relief agencies into South Kordofan. A Western diplomat said the gesture was a “smokescreen,” observing that Khartoum still won’t allow an independent inquiry into accusations its troops have committed war crimes and crimes against humanity.

* In Libya, with the advancement of the rebel National Transitional Council (NTC) into Tripoli, the international community has grown weary of the threat of revenge attacks or reprisals on supporters of Moammar Qaddafi. Since the start of the conflict, the anti-Qaddafi movement’s human rights abuses have raised serious concerns. The NTC responded to these concerns today, as an NTC spokesman called for calm. The rebel council has also taken promising steps to ensure a civil transition process by releasing some political prisoners. However, it is still uncertain how the NTC proposes to prevent reprisals on a large scale in the future.

* The Philippines is on the brink of ratifying the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (ICC). This would make the Philippines only the third ASEAN nation to become a party to the ICC. Although the Philippines played an active role in the drafting of the treaty in 1998, and signed the treaty in 2000, it was not brought to the legislature for ratification until now. By ratifying the treaty, the Philippines commits to aid in the prosecution of crimes against humanity, war crimes, ethnic cleansing, and genocide. Senator Miriam Defensor-Santiago, a proponent of ratification, stated that among other reasons for ratifying, the Rome Statute allows for the prosecution of individuals, rather than the ICJ’s approach of prosecuting state actors only.

Images (from top): ndsu.edu, Wikimedia Commons

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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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