Appeal to International Community to help the innocent Anuak People in Gambella Western Ethiopia.

By Obang Warajang
December 18, 2003

Ethiopia is one of the African countries that suffer from grave human rights violations, extra-judicial killings, arbitrary detention and torture. Such human rights violations in Ethiopia have been increasing in recent years. Since 1991, the Melese led government of Ethiopia has detained and executed many innocent Ethiopians. The special police and armed forces ruthlessly suppress peaceful groups that request their constitutional right to self-administration and self-expression.

The Anuak people are one of the nationalities in the Gambella regional state. When the present government came into power in 1991, the traditional lands of the Anuak people were renamed as Gambella People National Regional State (GPNRS). The Anuak People strongly opposed the EPDRF interfering in the regional affaire and repeatedly appealed for the right of self-administration. Many Anuak people who peacefully objected the government's actions to their constitutional rights were either killed or arrested by the intervention force (Tigrean Special army), which was deployed into the region. The killers of these people have never been brought to justice.

The December 13, 2003 genocide in Gambella city in the south western Ethiopia is the most recent example of the government's harsh policies and the lack of justice in the region. The genocide in Gambella city broke out after a car was ambush roughly 20 kilometers from Gambella city, on the road leading to Jikawo district and when the car arrived in the Gambella city carrying the bodies of seven local Ethiopian and one Anuak who had been killed.

At 12 pm, several Ethiopian troops together with the civilian’s Ethiopian “Highlanders” who were armed with guns, clubs, spears and machetes took to the streets of the city in a genuine manhunt, beating and striking dead all Anuak who crossed their path but their target were educated Anuak men. The Ethiopian government troops began approaching those Anuak that were previously identified as "troublemakers". This list of Anuak has been well-publicized and is made up of those that are sympathetic to the former regional government, those that hold positions in the present regional government, and those that are outspoken against the federal government's policies in the region. Of the Anuak on this list, some were arrested with no charge, but the majority were shot and killed in cold blood.

This mass killing, which followed - more than 400 people are thought to have died - was carried out by the government's special police force. By the order of the federal government the security men and women were instructed to mix with the civilians Ethiopian or Highlanders and chant anti-Anuak slogan from today forward no Anuak, No Anuak land and create chaos. They massacred and burned Anuak houses and properties. This created the mixed communities, which coexisted for centuries to go after each other and kill. Then the government security pulled out and blamed one side or another. This was a calculated murder aimed at divide and rule principal.

According to the constitution of Ethiopia, the army is under the control of the federal government and has no administrative connection with the regional and local authorities. The special police force, which is used to clampdown on any opposition within each area, is under the control of each regional government and operates according to the orders and in the full knowledge of the central government.

 

Our joint campaign, with other concerned groups, on behalf of the indigenous people of the Gambella region, successfully encouraged the European Union (a major donor to Ethiopian government) to request the Ethiopian government to carry out public inquiry in December 13, 2003 into the events at Gambella city. We were very encouraged by this inquiry and hoped justice would be seen to be done. However, the government of Ethiopia has dragged its feet and is doing everything it can to impede progress towards justice. It established a committee to investigate the genocide in Gambella city and to investigate who was responsible for the deaths of 400 innocent Anuak people. This committee showed surprising independence and came up with findings and recommendations that were not palatable to the ruling party.

The findings were that:
• The Anuak people of Gambella region have suffered immensely.
• Unlike other ethnic regions, the Gambella region was neglected and had no proper infrastructure and none of the services that other Ethiopians take for granted. They had to walk 60 kilometers to the nearest health clinic.
• The people are subjected to a regime of corrupt bureaucratic practices, which leads to many grievances.
• The Anuak people are forced to learn foreign languages to obtain education and the most basic social services and, as a result, are losing their own language and culture.
• The Anuak people should have representation and impoverishment.

The government was shocked by these findings and reacted aggressively, as the recommendations were against their system of divide and rule. The committee could not make an independent investigation into responsibility for the deaths and the government does nothing - indeed, actively discourages - attempts to establish who ordered the army to carry out the mass killings in the Gambella city.

Annoyed at the findings of the committee, the government of Ethiopia is currently trying to re-write history by appointing a second investigative committee which will stick more closely to the government's agenda. The government clearly wants to divert the responsibility for the deaths from central and regional government leaders to lesser local authorities. The government of Ethiopia cannot be trusted - it has ignored the demands of the international community to carry out a fully independent public inquiry on this atrocity. The government's investigative approach and its procedures are quite blatantly subject to political interventions by regional officials and the prime minister's office.

The second investigative committee has also been assigned to arrest members of opposition parties and those individuals who opposed the mass killing in the Gambella. There is a great fear among the people because government is stirring up further inter-ethnic clashes in order to create instability in the area, so that it can continue to delay bringing the authorities responsible for the atrocities to justice. We accept and welcome the inclusion of some local government officials in the list of those detained, as there is considerable evidence that they were involved in numerous killings in the Gambella region over the last 10 years. However, the new investigative committee, far from properly investigating who was responsible for the atrocities, has also detained many innocent people who opposed the atrocities!

What is given with one hand is snatched away by another! We call upon the Canada, the EU, the USA, the UK and other governments to act now and demand that the Prime Minster of Ethiopia should institute a genuinely independent enquiry into recent events and that he should be prepared to take responsibility for events that have taken place in the Gambella region at the direct initiative of the central government.
It is tragic that, in the name of justice, the new government investigation committee has brutally attacked innocent farmers in Pinydio town. More than two hundred Anuak men have been detained in Gambella town, and 44 more are in federal prison in Addis Ababa.

Currently the Anuak towns are under tight military curfew. The people live under continuous fear and uncertainty. The people view the army as an army of occupation and as a government tool that is there to harm them. As a result many people are leaving their land, fleeing into exile or becoming internally displaced. This has allowed the government to bring subservient people and allies into the area, to be settled on the lands that have been abandoned because of this climate of fear.

As a result people from other regions are populating this conflict stricken, but fertile land area. The government's policy closely resembles the practice of gradual 'ethnic cleansing' practiced by the Russian Soviet government towards their subject peoples during the Cold War. Such government intervention in the Gambella people's affairs is the violation of the Ethiopian government's own constitution, which grants to all Ethiopian ethnic groups self-administration in their area. The army and the security forces continuously harass the majority of the Anuak community - the only individuals who feel safe in Ethiopia are those who are prepared to be 'yes-men'.

Action:
We request - with all our heart - that the international community to put pressure on the Ethiopian government:
• To establish a truly independent public inquiry into the atrocities carried out in the Anuak land, both recently and in the past.
• To bring to justice those individuals from the federal and regional governments who are responsible for the death of more than 400 innocent Anuak people in the Gambella region.
• To pull out the politically motivated security forces from Gambella and to respect the people's constitutional right to self-rule.
• To acknowledge the findings of the first investigative committee, who made some attempt to get to the roots of the problems in the region.

We ask the EU, the Canadian government, the British government, the US government and other peace loving nations and individuals to put pressure on the Ethiopian government to bring justice to the Anuak people.