March 24, 2005

"Widespread Murder" of Anuak by Ethiopian Troops, Rights Group Says

By Doug McGill
The McGill Report

ROCHESTER, MN -- The Ethiopian army “has committed widespread murder, rape, and torture” against Ethiopia’s minority Anuak tribe, many of whom have fled as refugees to live in Minnesota, according to a chilling report released today by the human rights group, Human Rights Watch.

Some 1,500 Anuak immigrants live in southern Minnesota, having fled their homeland as a result of ethnic cleansing of their tribe which has escalated in recent years and reached a bloody peak on December 13, 2003.

More than 400 Anuak were killed on that day alone by Ethiopian soldiers who together with mobs of ethnic Ethiopians targeted Anuak men and teenage boys for execution by gunshot or stabbing, the rights report said.

Every Anuak immigrant who lives in Minnesota has relatives or friends in Ethiopia who perished or were made refugees on that day or during subsequent massacres and destruction of Anuak villages throughout 2004.

Crimes Against Humanity

More than a dozen Minnesota churches in the past year have raised funds for Anuak victims in Ethiopia, organized letter-writing campaigns, held prayer services, and offered other support in the past year. Most Anuak are Christians and attend Baptist, Lutheran, and other Christian churches here.

The 57-page rights report says that Ethiopian army units continue to this day to maraud through the western Ethiopian countryside burning down Anuak villages, killing Anuak farmers in fields, raping Anuak women, and smashing emergency supplies of corn and other grains.

“The Ethiopian military has committed murder, torture and rape in the course of widespread and possibly systematic attacks directed against the Anuak civilian population,” the report says. “These attacks bear the hallmark of crimes against humanity under international law.”

“In many areas, abuses are ongoing and frequent,” the report says.

50,000 Displaced

On December 13, 2003, a convoy of nine Ethiopian army trucks arrived with more than a hundred uniformed soldiers in the western Ethiopian town of Gambella. There the soldiers disembarked and incited mobs of Ethiopian citizens to help them slaughter 424 Anuak men, explode 440 Anuak homes with hand grenades, and entirely raze several Anuak neighborhoods.

Ironically, the news of the massacre was first made public not in Africa where it occurred but rather here in Minnesota. On the weekend of December 13-14, 2003, Anuak immigrants here spoke with their relatives and friends in Ethiopia on the telephone as the massacre was happening.

Many Anuak in Minnesota heard screams for help and gunshots going off in the background of these phone calls. Some heard soldiers beat down the door of the homes of their relatives, then heard soldiers yell for the telephone to be put down and a crash before the line went dead.

Endangered Culture

More than 50,000 Anuak lost their homes and became “internal refugees” within Ethiopia following the December 13 massacre, according to the report. Another 7,700 are still living in a squalid refugee camp in the south Sudan desert and in a slum neighborhood of Nairobi.

The tiny tribe of some 100,000 Anuak and its distinct language are on the verge of extinction as a result of ethnic cleansing, according to Cultural Survival, a rights group based in Cambridge, Mass.

The New York-based Human Rights Watch, started in 1978, is the largest human rights advocacy group in the United States. Each year it publishes reports based on intensive field studies designed to create international pressure to stop abuses such as ethnic cleansing, land mines, child soldiers, torture, and police abuse.

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