December 16, 2003

Mr. Colin Powell
Secretary of State
U.S. Department of State
2201 C Street NW
Washington, DC 20520

Dear Mr. Powell,

RE: Killing of US Citizens in Gambella, Ethiopia by government troops

It has become apparent that Ethiopian government troops have been rounding up and killing civilians in large numbers, mainly from the Anuak ethnic group in Gambella, Ethiopia, a region bordering southern Sudan. Among the dead is one United States citizens (Oriem Agda Akwai, Minneapolis MN. The whereabouts of 1or 2 other United States citizens are unknown (Okwa Omot, Washington DC, left Oct 4, 03, supposed to return to US Dec 8).

We are writing as individuals who are directors of a non-political, non-religious, non-ethnic NGO based in Canada that presently conduct water management programs in Gambella, Ethiopia. Our leadership is made up of ex-patriate Gambellans and as such we have extensive contact with various individuals in Gambella. The information contained in this letter was obtained from a wide variety of sources within the region, and we simply want to get the word out about what we hearing is happening in the region. It is our understanding that the US Embassy in Ethiopia has been made aware of the situation. Furthermore, we have discussed the situation verbally with the Overseas Citizens Division, US Department of State. We will be pleased to provide you with any assistance you may require from us including regional contacts, at skobang@hotmail.com (306)955-7549.

The attack is apparently in response to an attack on a vehicle on December 12, 2003 near Itang, Gambella that resulted in 8 Ethiopian Highlanders and 1 Anuak being killed. While it has subsequently been found out that those carrying out the attack were in fact another ethnic group (as identified by a survivor of the attack), this did not stop the Ethiopian military from attacking a nearby Anuak village in revenge. This attack resulted in casualties on both sides (believed to be 11 Ethiopian defense personnel and 1 Anuak) and led to the Ethiopian military attacking civilian Anuak in Gambella town in revenge for the deaths. This follows approximately 18 months of ethnic violence in the region between the Nuer and Anuak, which resulted in the October 2002 imprisonment of senior regional government officials who were imprisoned without charge (24 are presently in Addis Ababa federal prison and 44 are in Gambella regional prison), the abolition of the regional police force, an increased presence of Ethiopian troops, and the removal of democratically-elected regional government leaders followed by the installation of a federally appointed regional government (ignoring the democratic process required under Ethiopian law). Conflicts between the Anuak and federal government troops have steadily been on the increase ever since as government troops exert their control on the area and its people.

 

 

Reports from the region indicate that following the December 12th vehicle attack, 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.

On December 13, 2003, following the first day of violence, 44 Anuak civilians were buried in mass graves at the insistence of government forces in Gambella town, 38 of which had died from bullets to the head from point blank range. The American casualties were among those buried there. Any attempt to document the massacre by regional government officials or concerned citizens was met with beatings and intimidation. Killings in the days since have continued (as of December 16, 2003, 151 Anuak have been killed and buried, more than 200 are in hospital and many more are missing and presumed dead), the military has blocked road access to the region, the hospital is substantially over capacity, up to two thirds of the Anuak homes in Gambella town have been burned to the ground, and all flights have been cancelled.

The massacre of the Anuak continues by Ethiopian troops with no end in sight. Reports from the Ethiopian Ministry of Defence suggest that the conflict is a land dispute between different ethnic groups (presumably Oromio and Anuak) in Gambella. This quite simply is false-Ethiopian troops are systematically annihilating the Anuak population, including Anuak foreign nationals, and blaming others for the atrocities. Given the present scale of the conflict, the reported movement of "rebel" troops, the presence of the Oromio Liberation Front (OLF), and the region's close proximity to the civil war in Sudan the need for immediate action is imperative before the intensity of the conflict dramatically increases.

We urge the United States Department of State to strongly condemn this unlawful and immoral act, and to urge the government of Ethiopia to ensure that the conflict is halted and that the appropriate steps are taken to punish those responsible for the atrocities. Furthermore, we request the United States government to undertake an independent enquiry into the conflict in Gambella, including but not limited to, the deaths of United States citizens, and that the United States puts pressure onto the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia to live up to its human rights obligations as outlined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and other international treaties.

Sincerely,


Obang

Cc: Mr. Meles Zenawi, Prime Minster, Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia
Bill Graham, Minister of Foreign Affairs, Government of Canada
Hillary Home, Amnesty International Canada
Amnesty International UK
African Human Rights Watch
UN Human Rights Commission