May 16, 2004
Genocide of the Anuak
Broadens to Women, Children, and Small Villages
By Doug McGill
The McGill Report
ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia
-- A genocide in western Ethiopia that began last December with a
massacre of some 400 Anuak tribe members has broadened into widespread
attacks by Ethiopian military troops against more than a dozen Anuak
villages in the western Ethiopian province of Gambella, according
to Anuak refugees and humanitarian aid groups.
raids carried out from January through April have destroyed a dozen
Anuak villages in Gambella, refugees said. The raids have driven
more than 10,000 Anuak into refugee camps in neighboring Sudan and
Kenya, according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.
While the December
13 massacre in Gambella town, the capital of Gambella province, was
directed only at educated male Anuak, the new phase of the genocide
has seen women and children killed, hundreds of Anuak homes and fields
burned, and gang rapes of dozens of girls and women, according to
episodes of ethnic cleansing, more than 2,000 Anuak refugees have
immigrated to Minnesota since the early 1990s. The present crisis,
however, is by far the bloodiest phase of the continuing genocide
of the Anuak in Ethiopia.
More than two
dozen Anuak survivors interviewed in mid-April in south Sudan said
that on Dec. 13, several hundred uniformed Ethiopian soldiers led
the slaughter of more than 425 male leaders of the Anuak tribe in
the town of Gambella. The troops used a list of names to identify
educated Anuak men whom they dragged from their homes and shot with
AK-47 assault rifles in the streets.
also incited hundreds of ethnic Ethiopian "highlanders" living
in Gambella to go to their homes to fetch machetes, knives and spears,
and to join them in the slaughter, eyewitnesses said. Survivors said
the Ethiopian troops burned hundreds of Anuak "tukuls," traditional
mud and straw homes, and gang-raped hundreds of Anuak girls.
military broadened its attacks after Dec. 13 by dispatching troop
trucks and, in one case, allegedly a helicopter gunship, against
Anuak villages throughout Gambella state. The total casualties from
these attacks is said to be more than 1,000.
Anuak accounts have been corroborated by independent investigations
made by humanitarian groups including Genocide Watch in Washington,
DC., and the World Organization Against Torture, based in Geneva,
Switzerland. Amnesty International and the governments of the U.S.,
the European Union, Canada have all called on the Ethiopian government
to immediately investigate the reports.
People’s Revolutionary Defense Front and highland Ethiopian
civilians [have] initiated a campaign of massacres, repression, and
mass rape deliberately targeting the indigenous Anuak minority," Genocide
Watch wrote in its February 2004 report, following a research team
visit to Pochalla. "A severe escalation of violence [has] the
potential to provoke a full-scale international military confrontation
if not immediately checked."
The Genocide Watch
team documented numerous instances of attacks on Anuak as the Highlander
attackers sang or chanted slogans like "Let’s kill them
all!" and "Now is the day for killing Anuak!" Hand
grenades thrown into huts was frequently reported, as was looting
and, on February 1, the exhumation of a mass grave in the Jabjab
region of Gambella by 11 Ethiopian soldiers, apparently to remove
evidence of the massacre.
In Addis Ababa
on April 22, Barnabas Gebre-Ab, the Ethiopian Federal Minister with
statutory responsibility for Gambella state, insisted that all reports
of an Anuak genocide were "fabrications."
the region had suffered "tragic" bouts of violence in recent
months but said the killers were not the Ethiopian military but,
rather, armed revolutionary cells of the Anuak people themselves.
Anuak," Gebre-Ab said. "It’s an Anuak group which
claims to have formed a liberation front in Gambella, okay? So these
are the ones who are killing. They kill engineers. They kill health
workers. Teachers. If they are Highlanders, they kill them. Deliberately.
And we are hunting them. We have to hunt them down.
"If you want
to challenge the political order through violence, we won’t
let you go. So we are doing our job. Because we are giving them a
mortal blow, they are fabricating about this rape, and this and that,
it’s all fabrication."
According to Gebre-Ab,
it was a mob of "vagabonds" and "social scums" including
many Highlanders who precipitated the widespread killing of Anuak
on December 13. "It’s related to animosity. It’s
hatred, you know,” he said. “Why couldn’t they
control themselves? Why did they go into this emotional outburst
and start to kill? Because they are social scums.”
"In all societies
there are backward elements," Gebre-Ab said. "They are
illiterate. They are backward. They are liable to commit crimes."
On December 18,
five days after the December 13 massacre, Gebre-Ab released a statement
blaming the killings on the Oromo Liberation Front and the Eritrean
Peoples’ Liberation Front, two resistance forces fighting the
Meles regime that are based in areas far remote from Gambella state.
A few days later, the Ethiopian defense ministry announced on national
radio that inter-tribal conflicts between the Anuak and the Nuer
the governor of Gambella state last December 13, strongly disputes
Gebre-Ab’s account of the massacre. An Anuak himself, Okello
fled for his life on January 8 and today lives in exile in Europe.
gave the order to the local military,” Okello said in a telephone
interview. “I know that because I was at the military camp
when it happened. I was sitting next to the military commander in
the region, Tsegaye Beyene, when he got the call from Gebre-Ab on
they started killing people in the town,” Okello said. On the
second day of the killing, Okello said he pleaded with Tsegaye to
stop the killing. “I quarreled with him, I told him to stop
the killings,” Okello said. "He said to me, 'All Anuak
are the same, they are butchers.’"
On the early morning
of December 13, before the killings began in Gambella, an unidentified
group attacked a vehicle carrying eight Highlander government officials,
killing them all. According to Okello and other Anuak eyewitnesses,
the Ethiopian army displayed their corpses in downtown Gambella and
incited local Highlanders to their murderous fury by saying that
Anuak had killed the eight, and that the murders needed to be avenged
by killing all grown Anuak men living in Gambella.
On December 14,
the second day of the massacre, Okello said he called Gebre-Ab in
Addis Ababa to report on the killings and to plead that they stop.
Gebre-Ab’s telephone line to his military commander was not
working at the time, so Gebre-Ab told Okello to relay a message to
"I told Gebre-Ab
that the military was killing people,” Okello said. “And
Gebre-Ab told me, ‘Tell Tsegaye to increase the military force.’"
Okello also said
Gambella municipal employees had earlier reported to him that a list
of educated Anuak men marked for execution had been drawn up. Okello
said before he fled Gambella on January 8, eyewitness reports to
the massacre by Anuak women who had lost husbands and brothers were
destroyed en masse.
In an interview
last week with the Reuters news agency, the Ethiopian Prime Minister,
Meles Zenawi, called reports of the Anuak genocide a “fiction.” He
said the Ethiopian military had intervened to stop killing by armed
Anuak insurgents and that “without the intervention of the
army, the killings would have continued.” No more than 200
people have died, he said.
to Reuters was Meles’ first public mention of the violence
in Gambella since it started on December 13. Neither Meles nor Gebre-Ab
explained why a radical Anuak militia -- even if it conducted armed
attacks on the Ethiopian military -- would also kill large numbers
of Anuak farmers and herders, loot Anuak homes, and rape Anuak women.
The Anuak King,
Adongo Agada Akway, whose permanent home is in the village of Otallo,
southern Sudan, is presently living in Nairobi where he is meeting
with foreign diplomats, journalists, United Nations officials, and
other humanitarian workers to try to bring international pressure
on the Ethiopian government to stop the genocide of the Anuak people.
"What is happening
in the Anuak Kingdom is exactly what happened in Rwanda, and what
happened in Darfur, western Sudan,” King Adongo said. “Innocent
people are killed in all these cases. They don’t know why they
are being killed. And in every case it is designed by the regimes
in those countries. The Ethiopian government is the one that gave
The King estimates
that the ethnic cleansing of his tribe by the Ethiopian government
has decreased the tribe's population by 10 percent since 1991, when
the present government took power. There are about 150,000 Anuak
living both in a small portion of eastern Sudan and, primarily, the
Gambella state of Ethiopia.
the lighter-skinned Ethiopian tribes have shunned the darker-skinned
African tribes, and sometimes raided the tribes to acquire slaves.
The Anuak are one such dark-skinned African people indigenous to regions
of the lower Nile, others including the Nuer, Dinka, and Shilluk. All these
tribes are racially distinct from the olive-skinned Ethiopian tribes such
as the Tigray, the Oromo, and the Amhara.
ancestral homeland of Gambella is not only geographically remote
from the capital of Addis Ababa – it is also agriculturally
fertile, relatively sparsely poplulated, and blessed with gold and
oil reserves. This has made their land much coveted by the central government
for economic development and population resettlement.
is potentially a very rich area,” said Gebre-Ab. “It
could be the breadbasket of Ethiopia.”
Throughout the 20th century, the Anuak Kingdom has been studied by many
Western anthropologists who have lived among the Anuak for long periods,
including the famous British social anthropologist E.E. Evans-Pritchard.
The Anuak have
been admired in particular by anthropologists for their system of
dispute resolution, in which all major arguments throughout the Kingdom
are resolved by open discussion between all the disputants in front
of the King and his cabinet which holds session every day in Otallo, Sudan.
King Adongo is
now struggling to apply his culture’s ancient system to one
of the greatest crises the Anuak Kingdom has faced in its history.
up arms we want to find a democratic way,” he said. "A
way of reconciliation. We don’t want to aggress anybody. We
want to have peace talks with somebody who aggresses us. We want
to have a meeting with the Ethiopian government with the intervention
of the world community. There is no alternative unless people sit
@ 2004 The McGill Report