Ethiopia: Somali and Gambella abuses decried

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An estimated number of 350,000 Ethiopians were forcefully displaced internally late last year owing to human rights violations and conflicts by both the Ethiopian government and rebel groups, an international group has announced.

In its latest report released January 20, 2011, the Internal Displacement Monitoring Center (IDMC), a leading international body that monitors conflict-induced displacements, states that human rights violations and conflicts are still problematic in Ethiopia.

According to the international monitoring group, human rights violations resulted in between 300,000 to 350,000 internal displacements in the late months of 2010.

Armed conflicts and localized episodes of violence have continued causing displacement in various areas of the Horn of Africa country, particularly in the Regional States of Somali and Gambella.

One of the main factors attributed to the massive displacement of residents in the Somali region, the IDMC report argues, is due to a continued fight between government forces and the Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF), outlawed since 1994 and reportedly aided by support from the Eritrean government in its bid for autonomy.

Conflicts with the Oromo Liberation Front (OLF), which has fought for autonomy since 1970, in the southern part of the country has also contributed to the country’s internal displacement.

Government and Rebels blamed

The report states that “both the Ethiopian National Defence Force (ENDF) and the ONLF have been responsible for human rights violations and abuses, and have used violence to intimidate the civilian population.”

ENDF’s counter-insurgency campaign in Ogaden in 2007, following the killing of two Chinese and domestic oil exploration workers, led Human Rights Watch to accuse the country’s government of war crimes and crimes against humanity. They reported that the ENDF had burned down villages and killed, raped and tortured civilians.

The IDMC report suggests that government interference in economic affairs, including harsh policies that have added to the “marginalization of Somali Ethiopians,” of the Ogaden population since the counter-insurgency campaign has aggravated the humanitarian crisis in the region.

The report follows another accusation by ONLF rebels in 2009, which claimed that the government had embarked on a collective punishment by virtue of “a scorched-earth policy” in the Ogaden region.

Difficult to verify

However, observers have noted that despite ongoing peace efforts embarked upon by the government of Ethiopia in the Somali region in recent months, fighting has continued exacerbating the displacement.

In what concerns the real figures vis-à-vis internal displacements, IDMC says that they “are difficult to verify because of the government’s reluctance to allow humanitarian agencies to conduct country-wide assessments.”

Whilst “the government has continued to limit the access of diplomats, NGOs, and journalists to the Somali Region” since 2007, another law — the Proclamation to Provide for the Registration and Regulation of Charities and Societies (the CSP law) — enacted by the Ethiopian parliament in 2009 “has hindered independent human rights monitoring and reporting.”

No comment has been made by the Ethiopian government following the release of the damning Internal Displacement Monitoring Center report on human rights.

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