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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.


Sudan: Genocidal escalation?

Military operations by the Sudanese Army continue in the state of South Kordofan in a resurgence of violence that many fear is indicative of a return to genocidal conflict. Attacks by government troops have so far been concentrated in areas accused of having been friendly to Southern rebels during the decades-long civil war.

Reports have surfaced that government soldiers are carrying out house-to-house arrests and executions based on individuals’ ethnic affiliation, and purposely targeting civilians during military operations. There have also been unconfirmed reports of mass graves around the South Kordofan capital of Kadugli.

The UN peacekeeping force in the area has proven too small to adequately protect civilians. The UN estimates that more than 100,000 people have already been displaced, and that if the fighting continues, aid organizations will be unable to reach at least 400,000 people reliant on them for food and other necessities.

President Bashir has said the government attacks are in response to Southern aggression against Northern forces. But many believe that Bashir initiated the fighting to prevent the oil-rich disputed border region from seceding along with the rest of the South come July 9, when the country is due to split into two independent states.

Libya: New documentation of crimes

The Guardian reported that dozens of files pulled from police stations and army bases in Misrata directly implicate Muammar Qaddafi and other senior Libyan officials in war crimes. In response to the discovery, the International Criminal Court’s lead prosecutor called for arrest warrants for these individuals.

Qaddafi denies accusations that he has violated international human rights law in attempting to squelch the revolution in Libya. But the recently unearthed documents include direct orders from him and other high-ranking military and government officials sanctioning illegal actions against both civilians and combatants during the siege of the city.

In one instance a command was given to stop all supply trucks from entering Misrata, effectively leaving its inhabitants without food, water, or fuel. In another, an order was given to hunt down wounded enemy combatants, violating the rules of war laid out in the Geneva Conventions.

The documents were only saved thanks to a few young Libyan lawyers who persuaded protestors to protect the buildings against arson. According to the Guardian, this “represent(s) a landmark in international justice because no significant war crimes trial in the short history of international courts has had access to documents directly implicating the lead players in the commission of war crimes.”

Photo: ENOUGH Project

Sudan: U.S. calls for ceasefire and investigation of alleged war crimes

On Friday, the White House condemned the resumption of violence between Sudanese forces and the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) in South Kordofan state of Sudan. Calling for an immediate ceasefire and a political resolution to disputes between the two sides, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said attacks based on “ethnicity and political affiliation” could be considered war crimes or crimes against humanity. Carney asked for the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement to be respected and called on the UN to investigate the alleged crimes so perpetrators could be held accountable. According to the UN, airstrikes by Sudanese forces have been concentrated in disputed territories along the proposed north-south border, endangering civilians and preventing effective humanitarian aid. As many as 40,000 people have fled South Kordofan, an oil-producing state, and a report by the Sudan Democracy First Group accused Sudanese forces of pursuing genocide in South Kordofan.

Libya: Moreno-Ocampo says Qaddafi ordered rape of hundreds

International Criminal Court Chief Prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo said last week that the Qaddafi regime had raped hundreds of women “to spread fear of his regime and curb dissent.” The Christian Science Monitor said it was unclear exactly how many women had been raped, citing an NGO official who said the stigma of rape prevents many women from speaking out. Moreno-Ocampo said new evidence made it certain that Qaddafi himself ordered the rapes. The original ICC arrest warrants for Qaddafi, his son Saif al-Islam Qaddafi, and Libyan security official Abdullah el-Sanussi, which cited crimes against humanity, did not include rape as a charge, but it may be added if the warrants are approved by the ICC judges. According to Moreno-Ocampo, the use of rape is a new tool of oppression for the Qaddafi regime. The Libyan government called the accusation “the same old nonsense.”

Côte d’Ivoire: UN investigation accuses both sides of crimes against humanity

A report commissioned by the UN Human Rights Council (extract here) says that war crimes and crimes against humanity were perpetrated by both sides following a hotly contested election last year. Forces loyal both to former president Laurent Gbagbo and to his successor, Alassane Outtara, committed murder, rape, and torture “through generalised and systematic attacks against the population targeted on the basis of their assumed political sympathies,” the report said. Approximately 3,000 people are estimated to have been killed during the clashes. The UNHRC investigators voiced concern that forces loyal to Outtara are still committing violence, and asked the Ivorian government to carry out its own thorough investigation to bring the perpetrators to justice.

Image: Africa Confidential

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