How Ethiopia Gets a Pass on Genocide

The Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia, the third most populous African country and one of the continent’s poorest, is ruled by a Marxist regime that in 1991 toppled an unimaginably cruel communist government known as the Dergue.

In recent years, the present regime’s repressive actions such as arbitrary arrests, harassment, torture, and extrajudicial executions have increased in Ethiopia, according to the U.S. Embassy in Addis Ababa. The victims are usually students, political dissidents, journalists, and minority ethnic groups.

Yet the world has taken little notice as Ethiopia has donned the mailed fist against its perceived opponents, for perhaps three main reasons.

The main reason is that in 2000 Ethiopia reached a peace accord with the breakaway state of Eritrea after a bloody 15-year war of secession that cost more than 100,000 lives. The peace has given Ethiopia a breather from intense international scrutiny. Second, the country has faced a severe famine combined with growing poverty for more than a decade, and attracts more than $500 million in aid funds, as well as significant amounts of in-kind services and sympathy annually from aid groups to combat the problems.

Finally, after 9/11 the United States has identified Ethiopia as a key partner in the war on terror. Its strategic location between Sudan and Somalia, both of which harbor radical Islamist terror groups, has caused the U.S. to look the other way as its repressive measures have greatly increased.

The Anuak genocide is one such case. In addition to more than 1,000 Anuak killed since December 13, Ethiopia has jailed more than 300 Anuak leaders in Addis Ababa, the nation’s capital, and Gambella in recent months. Many Anuak leaders including pastors, government workers, and students have been jailed without charge and tortured in the past three years.

Repression against the Oromo people of Ethiopia, the nation’s largest ethnic group, is another egregious case that some observers say may threaten the Meles regime. Peaceful protests in recent months by Oromo students have resulted in mass jailings and detentions, disappearances, killings, and torture.

These problems may point to the fallibility of the “ethnic federalism” system upon which today’s Ethiopia is based. Theoretically this system, installed by the Meles regime when it took power in 1995, gives wide autonomy to each of its ten states, including the power to raise and spend their own state revenues and even the right to secede. In practice, however, the Meles regime has shown itself to be increasingly intolerant of any such movement and its response to even small indications of dissent are often brutally violent.

Copyright @ 2004 The McGill Report