Ethiopia (Genocide and Crimes Against Humanity)
Ethiopia is a large, multi-ethnic country located in the eastern part of Africa. It covers 437,600 square miles of land, as much as California, Oregon, Missouri and Idaho combined. Ethiopia's population in 2004 is estimated at approximately 68 million and includes about seventy different ethnic groups. The largest group is the Oromo. They live mainly in the central and southwestern parts of the country and constitute about 40 percent of the national population. The Amhara and Tigre ethnic groups are found in the central and northern highland regions of Ethiopia, and together make up 32 percent of the country's population. Minority ethnic groups such as the Anywaa, popularly called Anuak (less than 1%), Afar (4%), Somali (6%) and Gumuz (6%) make up the remaining 28 percent of the national population. Amharinya, the language of the Amhara ethnic group, is the official language of the country.
Ethiopia is one of only two African territories that were never European colonies. (The other is Liberia.) Italy's attempt to conquer and colonize Ethiopia in the late nineteenth century ended in disaster and humiliation when Italian forces were crushed in the northern Tigrean town of Adwa, on March 1, 1896. Ethiopia thus became "an insulting symbol" of Italy's failure to achieve its imperial ambitions in Africa (Bahru, 1996, p. 151).
Ethiopia's most popular and well known ruler was Ras Tafari Makonnen, popularly known as Haile Selassie I. He ruled Ethiopia as Emperor from 1930 to 1974. He was regarded as the 225th Emperor in a line of Ethiopian monarchs who claimed to be descendants of a legendary marriage between King Solomon of Israel and the Ethiopian "Queen of Sheba" in the tenth century BC (Bahru, 1996, pp 7).
The Italian Invasion of 1935-36
Italy invaded Ethiopia for a second time on October 3, 1935 with a hundred thousand troops and two hundred and fifty airplanes equipped with mechanisms for spraying poison gas. Many historians agree that this invasion was undertaken in part to vindicate Italy's national honor, which had been bruised by the Ethiopians in 1896. Another reason for the invasion was that Italy's fascist dictator, Benito Mussolini, had promised to give Italy's poor large tracts of Ethiopian land for cultivation.
The Italians launched a well-planned attack, bombarding defenseless civilians. Since Italy had ratified the Geneva Protocol of 1925 on April 3, 1928, banning the use of poison gas in warfare, the actions of Italian troops in Ethiopia clearly violated international law.
The Office of Chemical Warfare of the Italian Ministry of War had long admired Germany's use of poison gas warfare. Between 1930 and 1932, the Office of Chemical Warfare produced tons of mustard gas bombs and secretly shipped one thousand of them closer to the Ethiopian heartland. In these same years, the Italian Ministry of War authorized the shipment of "56,000 artillery shells loaded with arsine gas" to Eritrea, then the northern province of Ethiopia that Italy had controlled as a protectorate or informal colony, with the consent of Ethiopia, since the 1880s.
The shipment of chemical weapons close to Ethiopia suggests that Italy's military plans to use poison gas in Ethiopia began five years before the actual invasion. By the time the invasion began, 45 tons of C-500T lethal mustard gas, 265 tons of other poison gas as well as 7,483 gas bombs were ready for use at the Eritrean seaport of Massawa.
Mussolini's troops first used gas on October 10 and 29, 1935. Afterwards, the use of poison gas in aerial bombardment of Ethiopia became routine policy. In November, 1935 Marshall Pietro Badoglio, then High Commander of all Italian forces in East Africa, ordered Italian military planes to spray villages, livestock, pastures and all water sources with mustard gas. Badoglio prevented Ethiopian soldiers and civilians gasping for breath, under suffocating mustard and arsine gas, from fleeing to safety. Badoglio ordered Italian military pilots to bombard any fleeing or retreating Ethiopians with mustard gas.
On June 5, 1936, one month after Ethiopian forces surrendered, and Italian troops occupied Addis Ababa, Mussolini ordered his Viceroy in Ethiopia, Marshall Rodolfo Graziani, to impose a reign of terror on the country. Under these orders, Graziani waged a campaign of total destruction. About 250 Italian planes dropped poison gases in all regions of Ethiopia and targeted
Effects of Poison Gas in Ethiopia
Poison gas had a devastating effect on military morale and civilian life in Ethiopia. The mustard gas bombs contained a corrosive liquid. When they exploded, they emitted lethal vapors that penetrated the human skin and produced both internal and external lesions that ultimately killed some victims. Others were blinded by the toxic gases. Many of those who escaped the deadly rain of mustard gas on the battlefield finally succumbed to its lethal effects when they drank water from the rivers and lakes contaminated by the gas.
Even the comparatively nonlethal C 100 P bombs filled with the chemical arsine had devastating results. Exploding C 100 P bombs filled the air with thick vapors and infected the respiratory tracts of people who inhaled them. The result was instant suffocation.
Fumes from phosgene bombs were just as deadly. Their vapors choked the lungs of their victims and killed them instantly. The Italian Southern Air Command used such bombs in Southeastern Ethiopia, on December 24, 1936, to kill Ethiopian troops in desert trenches who had not yet surrendered.
Related Italian Atrocities in Ethiopia
Italy committed other atrocities in its colonial war in Ethiopia. Italian soldiers bombed Red Cross ambulances and hospitals, and targeted Ethiopian intellectuals and priests. On February 19, 1937, two Ethiopians, Abraha Daboch and Mogas Asgadom, tried but failed to assassinate the Italian Viceroy of Ethiopia, Rudolfo Graziani. After this, the Blackshirts, the Italian fascist occupation army, unleashed a ferocious terror on Ethiopia, with official backing from Rome. The atrocities included beheadings, burning down houses, and disembowelling pregnant women. The Blackshirts also targeted educated Ethiopians, especially those who occupied administrative positions, and other religious figures. The massacre of February, 191, 1937, robbed Ethiopia of one of the kingdom's finest generation of intellectuals. Some monks and priests of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church were also murdered on Graziani's orders. In one private telegram to Mussolini, Graziani proclaimed that "nothing anymore remained" of the priesthood of the medieval Debra Libanos monastery, in northeastern Ethiopia (Imani, 2003, p.18).
Ethiopian protest at the League of Nations for recognition of the crimes against humanity that they suffered at the hands of the Italians bore little fruit. On June 30, 1936, Emperor Haile Selassie gave a high profile, and now famous speech to the League, asking for international protection of small nations against the designs of the powerful. Even this, however, drew little international sympathy and brought no condemnation of Italy.
Rome worked successfully to divert attention from its aggression and crimes. It sought to direct any international condemnation toward alleged Ethiopian war crimes against Italian troops. The Italian government produced questionable pictures and eyewitness reports of alleged Ethiopian atrocities against captured Italian soldiers from the Greek Consulate at Dire-Dawa, in southeastern Ethiopia, and three members of the Egyptian Red Cross operating in Ethiopia. Their accounts claimed that the Ethiopians had tortured, crucified, and decapitated captured Italian pilots and tank drivers in violation of the Geneva Accords. In this way Rome sought to quash international condemnation of its own violations of the same accords, which banned the use of poison gas. The supposed Ethiopian barbarities turned out, upon serious investigation, to be trumpedup allegations that bore no comparison to the Italian atrocities.
Revamping Ethiopia's Military: 1941970
Unfortunately, Italy's justification of its crimes by portraying Ethiopia as a kingdom that showed no respect for international humanitarian law seemed to have worked. No serious condemnation of Italy came from any European capital. Thus, the Italian invasion of Ethiopia and its aerial bombardment with poison gas had little or no consequence internationally. Italian troops occupied the Ethiopian capital on May 5, 1936. Four days later, on May 9, Mussolini formally proclaimed Ethiopia a colony, and therefore part of Italy's East African Empire.
But the occupation was to last for only five years, the shortest European colonial experience on the African continent. On May 5, 1941, the Italians were defeated by a British-led combined force of Ethiopians and other Africans from British and French colonies under the command of Major Orde Wingate. In June 1941 Haile Selassie returned to Ethiopia from exile in London to resume his rule as Emperor. However many Ethiopians who stayed at home to resist the Italians, as well as the postorld War II generation of educated Ethiopians were not pleased to see an Emperor who had abandoned his subjects at such a critical moment in their history return to power.
The entire Italian campaign taught Haile Selassie an important lesson about military power, modern warfare and international relations. In the post-1941 period, Haile Selassie made a strong modern national army, equipped with the latest weaponry, the centerpiece of Ethiopia's foreign policy. Through various military agreements with the United States and the former Soviet Union, during the cold war period, Haile Selassie built the fourth largest armed forces on the African continent (after Egypt, South Africa, and Nigeria). The Ethiopian defense forces increased threefold in the 1970s and 1980s.
Famine in Ethiopia: 1970974
Unfortunately Ethiopia's peasant agricultural economy was not modernized at the same rate as the kingdom's military. Peasants in the central and highlands regions of Ethiopia continued to depend upon rainfall for the cultivation of their crops. Inadequate rainfall in February and March 1972 not only delayed the planting season, but also caused sprouting crops to wither. Had the June and September rains been adequate, many peasants could have grown enough food or revived withering crops, but drought in June through September caused food shortages in the northern regions.
By June 1973, as many as two million people in northern Ethiopia were in desperate need of food. The conditions of peasants in Wollo, in northeastern Ethiopia had been worsened by the outbreak of cholera. Large numbers of the nomadic Afar ethnic group, who live in the remote semi-desert areas of northeastern Ethiopia, died when drought or lack of rain killed the cattle upon which they depended for their milk diets.
The scope of the disaster was equally overwhelming in other parts of the country. More than two million people are estimated to have died of famine-induced starvation and epidemics in Ethiopia between 1972 and 1973.
In hindsight, many lives could have been saved had the Imperial Government acknowledged the famine, and imported large quantities of food, or publicly and vigorously sought international relief assistance. The Emperor's cavalier response to the famine added to the famine-related deaths in the early 1970s. The tepid official response has also raised questions about the extent of the Emperor's knowledge of the famine.
There are several plausible reasons for the failure of the Haile Selassie government to publicly acknowledge the famine and openly seek help. Acknowledging famine and seeking relief aid would have embarrassed a government that had since the 1940s spent huge public funds on military security and denied that famine was a serious problem in Ethiopia. Many Ethiopians accepted as fact the Emperor's claims, in his annual televised speeches, that theirs was a rich and fertile kingdom.
Because Ethiopians construed famines as normal occurences in a prosperous empire, this distorted the ways state officials responded to famine. Moreover, any worldwide publicity about famine and starvation in Ethiopia hurt the Emperor's personal image and Ethiopia's international prestige.
Famine and the Rise of the Dergue
Haile Selassie's indifference to famine set in motion a series of developments that eventually led to his deposition and the overthrow of his government. The famine of 1972973 provided an opportunity for discontented groups in the kingdom to rise up against the Imperial Government and to promote their quest for change in the name of protecting peasants and preserving the human rights of oppressed ethnic groups.
The conduct of some parliamentarians, between January and September 1974, highlighted a new attitude in Ethiopia that famine could no longer be accepted as natural disasters, as the Emperor often asserted. These politicians, and students, began to view famine in Ethiopia as not only a product of government indifference, but also as a crime against humanity that should be prosecuted by the courts.
On March 1, 1973, Mohammed Madawa, the Member of Parliament for Elkerre, in Bale province in southeastern Ethiopia, called for the indictment and trial of the Ministers of Agriculture, Finance and Interior for failing to respond to his January 16, 1973, appeal for immediate state famine-relief assistance to save the dying in his constituency. The lukewarm attitude of the officials, Madawa alleged, had resulted in the needless death of 50 people in Elkerre. The representatives of the pastoral Afars and Issas, in northeastern Ethiopia, joined this new spirit of parliamentary militancy.
In May 1973 the Haile Selassie I University Famine Relief and Rehabilitation Organization (UFFRO) launched the first large-scale domestic relief operation in Ethiopian history with money it had collected from students and faculty. The students and soldiers used their relief operations as a framework to voice their grievances against the Emporer's government. Encouraged by the relief efforts of the University, the Army and other organizations bypassed the state and took their contributions directly to the victims of famine in northeastern Ethiopia.
On June 28, 1974, a group of junior officers of the Ethiopian military established their own committee (Dergue, in Amharinya) to coordinate the grievances of the army, police, and air force. In keeping with the new militancy induced by the lukewarm official response to the famine, some of the Dergue's junior officers arrested government officials alleged to have concealed the famine, and delivered them to the Emperor as "enemies of Ethiopia" be prosecuted for crimes against humanity (Kissi, 1997, pp. 17677). By September 1974, these junior officers had concluded that deposing the Emperor and overthrowing his government would be the best way to address the problem of famine in Ethiopia.
On September 12, 1974, under the instigation of Majors Mengistu Haile Mariam and Atnafu Abate, some members of the Dergue entered Haile Selassie's palace, read out a proclamation of deposition to the Emperor, and whisked him away in a Volkswagen vehicle. He was later murdered in the presence of Mengistu and Atnafu, and then secretly buried in the capital city. The Dergue elevated itself, by proclamation, into a Provisional Military Administrative Council (PMAC) to take over the reins of government. Many Ethiopians saw the deposition of Haile Selassie as a necessary ending of that era in national politics in which government overlooked the plight of the famine-stricken. But a government led by soldiers, who had propped up the Emperor's regime since his return from exile, drew mixed responses throughout the country.
In its early years in power, the Dergue military government actually showed more eagerness to deal with the intractable problem of famine in Ethiopia than the civilian Imperial Government had. The soldiers reformed the semi-feudal land tenure system and improved the mechanisms for delivering state famine-relief assistance. But like its predecessor, the military government could not reconcile its political interests with public welfare. Failure to deal with famine, therefore, became a pattern in Ethiopian history that did not change with the change of government. The Dergue and its many armed opponents used famine and the control of relief supplies as weapons in their prolonged struggle for power from September 12, 1974, to May, 28, 1991.
The Dergue's most determined armed opponents included the Eritrean People's Liberation Front (EPLF), Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Party (EPRP), Tigrayan People's Liberation Front (TPLF) and the Oromo Liberation Front (OLF). Each group had a substantial, independent and organized military machinery and controlled particular regions of the country. Ultimately, it was the TPLF's and EPRP's objective of overthrowing the Dergue, and the EPLF's and OLF's ethnic self-determination and secessionist ideology, that resulted in a protracted and violent power struggle between these insurgent groups and the military regime that advocated absolute national unity. This struggle was characterized by terror and extra-judicial killings.
The White and Red Terror Campaigns
In September 1976 the EPRP, a multi-ethnic political group with Amhara leadership, initiated a systematic rural and urban campaign of assassination of supporters and sympathizers of the military regime.
The EPRP called its extrajudicial killing campaign the White Terror. That provoked the Dergue's infamous counter-campaign of assassination of EPRP members and supporters. Between February 1977 and March 1979, the Dergue ordered state security forces and the government's own trained civilian death squads to eliminate EPRP leaders and members. The military government in turn called its extrajudicial murderous campaign, the Red Terror. Thus the competitors for power in Ethiopia after Haile Selassie, sought to emulate the political murders that characterized the Bolshevik revolution and the Stalinist period in Russian history.
In its Red Terror campaign, the Dergue targeted anyone who opposed the military regime or was suspected of having any link with or sympathy for the EPRP regardless of age, religion, gender or ethnicity. To intimidate its political opponents, the Dergue's killing squads left the corpses of their victims on public streets for many hours often with notices around their necks labeling them as counter-revolutionaries. Worse still, the Dergue prevented bereaved families from mourning these so-called "counter-revolutionaries." In some cases, the families were required to participate in state-organized public demonstrations supporting these extra-judicial killings.
Both the White and Red Terror campaigns claimed between 20,000 and 30,000 lives. The terror campaigns went beyond extra-judicial killings. They also included arbitrary arrests, imprisonments without trial and torture of political opponents.
It was fashionable for the Dergue, in the face of protests from Western human rights organizations such as Amnesty International, to describe its Red Terror crimes as necessary for national security and political
However, Jean-Claude Guillebaud, and others have accurately noted the extrajudicial killing of political opponents in Ethiopia, in the mid-1970s, was "not all the work of one side" (Guillebaud, 1978, pp. 11, 13). Members and sympathizers of the EPRP and the TPLF, for instance, demonized one another and settled their ideological scores by murder. Kiflu Tadesse, a former EPRP member, has added that hundreds of EPRP members were killed by the TPLF and vice-versa, all in the name of ridding the new Ethiopia of "counterrevolutionaries," "narrow nationalists," "booklickers," and "traitors" (Kiflu, 1998, p. 259). Indeed, while the crimes of the Dergue are well documented, the comparable deeds of anti-government groups such as the EPRP and TPLF are not well-known because they have yet to be researched.
Famine and Food Relief As Weapons
While the White and Red terror campaigns continued, the famine of the early 1970s reared its head again. Unlike the Emperor's government, the military administration did not suppress information about famine during its tenure in office. In fact the Dergue publicly and vigorously sought and received international relief aid.
However, the Dergue regulated the operations of foreign relief workers, tightened visa regulations, and charged exorbitant fees for discharging relief cargo at Ethiopia's ports.
Anti-government groups also used relief aid as a military tool. The TPLF and EPLF concluded that international relief assistance provided the military government with a source of food and international legitimacy that prolonged its existence and enabled it to target its opponents. Therefore, by attacking relief convoys heading for zones under government control, as the EPLF did on October 23, 1987, the armed movement heightened starvation conditions in areas outside its control. Acute starvation in government-held areas forced many of the starving to move to rebel-held areas where their loyalties and military services were enlisted in the war against the Dergue.
Also, by providing food, shelter and medicine to many famine victims, as the TPLF did, and by encouraging and helping peasants who could not get food from the RRC to cross the Ethiopian border to the Sudan, where the relief organizations of the TPLF and EPLF operated, these two antigovernment groups successfully integrated public welfare into their military strategies. As a result, they broadened their political support, gained new recruits and kept the war going.
It is fair to state that mass death from famine and starvation in Ethiopia under the Dergue was mainly the result of war and politically motivated use of famine, starvation and relief food as weapons of war. Again, as in the White and Red terror campaigns of the mid-1970s, all sides in the Ethiopian civil war stand guilty of committing crimes against humanity. By pursuing military strategies that accentuated starvation, the Dergue, the EPRP, TPLF, and indeed all antigovernment groups violated the Geneva Conventions prohibiting the intentional use of starvation of civilians as a weapon of war.
Fall of the Dergue and the Ethiopian Genocide Trial
Ethiopia's oppressive military junta was overthrown on May 28, 1991, by the Ethiopian Peoples Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF), a coalition of anti-government groups organized and led by the TPLF. In 1994, the EPRDF established a Central High Court to try Ethiopia's former head of state Mengistu Haile Mariam, who fled into exile in Zimbabwe, thirty-seven of his top officials, and many supporters and mid-level bureaucrats of the ousted regime, for "genocide" and "crimes against humanity."
Ethiopia was the first nation to ratify the UN Genocide Convention of December 9, 1948, on July 1, 1949. Eight years after ratifying the Genocide Convention, Ethiopia incorporated the basic ideas of the Convention into its national laws. In fact, Ethiopia went further and became, arguably, the first country to redefine the legal concept of genocide broadly to include protection of political groupsn important and vulnerable group that the framers of the Genocide Convention, for political reasons, left out of the list of protected groups in the international law on genocide.
The Genocide Convention obliges its signatories to prevent and punish genocide. But the Ethiopian High Court trying Mengistu and his officials for genocide and crimes against humanity is not doing so under international law, but rather under Ethiopia's own domestic laws on genocide. Under Ethiopian law, genocide and crimes against humanity are defined as acts committed "with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnic, racial, religious or political group." Individual perpetrators or groups acting as such are guilty of genocide or crimes against humanity if, "in time of war or in time of peace," they organize, order or engage directly, in:
- (a) killings, [or causing] bodily harm or serious injury to the physical or mental health of members of the [protected] group, in any way whatsoever; or
- (b) measures to prevent the propagation or continued survival of its members or their progeny; or
- (c) the compulsory movement or dispersion of peoples or children, or . . . placing [them] under living conditions calculated to result in their death or disappearance (Ethiopian Penal Code, 1957, p. 87).
The charges against the Dergue are contained in eight thousand pages of legal documents. In them, the Ethiopian Court alleges that the Dergue jailed, tortured and ordered the killing of members of opposition political groups and caused "bodily harm or serious [physical and mental] injury" to their leaders and supporters (Transitional Government of Ethiopia, 1994, p. 8).
Ethiopian domestic law on genocide and crimes against humanity also holds criminally responsible for genocide several categories of people. First among these are higher government officials who authorize extra-judicial killings. Second are low-level bureaucrats who implement criminal orders or commit such killing on their own without state authority. Third are ordinary people who support extra-judicial killings even if they did not directly or actively participate in them.
As of June 2004, nearly 6,426 defendantsncluding Ethiopia's ousted head of state, Mengistu Haile Mariam, now exiled in Zimbabwe, thirty-seven of Mengistu's higher government officials and a large number of ordinary citizensave been charged with genocide and crimes against humanity.
Mengistu and nearly 3,000 indictees are being tried in absentia. All the defendants are answering charges that they ordered, participated in or supported the Dergue's infamous Red Terror campaign of the mid-1970s against opposition political groups. The Ethiopian genocide trial is a significant test case, in international and domestic Ethiopian law, of the prosecution of extra-judicial killing of political opponents of an ousted regime as a crime of genocide. In Ethiopia, the crime of genocide is punishable by death or imprisonment from five years to life.
Approximately 1,569 decisions have been handed down so far. Nearly 1,017 of them have resulted in convictions to various prison terms. Six death sentences have been passed. However, the trial has stirred up emotions domestically and internationally. In the course of the ten years of the trial, forty-three of the accused persons have died in prison. The trial has also proceeded at an erratic pace. It was suspended from 2002 to November 2003. The prosecutors attributed the suspension and the slower pace of the trial to the arduous task of gathering evidence on crimes committed nearly thirty years ago.
In February, 2004, thirty-three of the surviving members of the Dergue in detention and awaiting trial wrote to Ethiopia's Prime Minister Meles Zenawi, a former leader of the TPLF, requesting state funds to prepare their defense. The accused former officials pointed to the thirty-year time lapse of their alleged crimes, the deaths of some of their witnesses and the unjust fact that only "the few surviving . . . supporters of one side" in a power struggle are facing prosecution as reasons for the entire trial to be canceled (IRINnews.org, 2003; Amnesty International, 2004).
Human Rights in Ethiopia, 1998004
Since the overthrow of the Dergue, and despite the genocide trial, human rights abuses have continued in Ethiopia under the EPRDF. Three consistent patterns of violations of human rights can be discerned. One violation is in the treatment of the Oromo people. Some analysts and human rights groups have gone as far as to suggest that there is an "unfolding genocide" against the Oromo people of Ethiopia, under the EPRDF (Trueman, 2000). Second, since June 1998, the Ethiopian government has implemented a systematic policy of expulsion of Eritreans living in Ethiopia. The government has also committed or overlooked persecution of the Anuak people. Third, journalists in Ethiopia are today the targets of organized and systematic state repression.
The Ethiopian government continues to face armed opposition from the Oromo Liberation Front (OLF). Since the 1970s, the OLF has waged an armed struggle for an autonomous state of Orominya, within Ethiopia, for the Oromo people as the Eritreans had achieved. In July 2000, the Oromia Support Group, a human rights organization with its headquarters in England, recorded many instances of grave abuses of people of Oromo ethnicity by the Ethiopian government. These abuses included 2,555 extrajudicial killings, 824 disappearances of Oromo people, banning of Oromo organizations as well as "opposition to the use of the Oromo language." Though the latter may be an exaggeration of state repression by the OLF and its external supporters, it is clear, from other sources, that members and supporters of the OLF have been the main victims of state-sanctioned torture and arbitrary arrests in Ethiopia.
Eritrea, a former northern province of Ethiopia, became an independent state in April 1993. Members of the defunct Tigray Peoples Liberation Front (TPLF), now in power in Ethiopia, assisted the defunct Eritrean Peoples Liberation Front (EPLF), during the period of the Dergue, to achieve the EPLF's ultimate objective, which was Eritrea's independence.
But the war that broke out between Ethiopia and Eritrea in May 1999, over unresolved border issues, has damaged relations between the two countries which were former political allies. What is worse, between June 1998 and April 2002, the Ethiopian government expelled about 75,000 people of Eritrean nationality living in Ethiopia in what Natalie S. Klein, Solicitor of the Supreme Court of South Australia, has described as a "deliberate" and "inhumane" state-organized "program of mass expulsion" of an ethnic and national group (Klein, 1998, p. 1).
It is not only Oromo and Eritrean residents in Ethiopia who have borne or continue to bear the brunt of human rights abuses. The latest victims have been the Anywaa (also known as Anuak) people. They live in the Gambella region, in southwestern Ethiopia, and number about 100,000, in population. On December 13, 2003 eight people, all Ethiopian government and UNHCR officials traveling by car, were ambushed and killed near Gambella. Their bodies were mutilated. The Ethiopian government reportedly blamed the attacks on the Anuak who live in that region. On that day government soldiers and settlers from the Amhara, Oromo and Tigray ethnic groups living in the Gambella region descended on the Anuaks and exacted retribution in a manner characteristic of the Italian atrocities in Ethiopia in the 1930s.
Not only did the soldiers and the accompanying mobs kill 424 unarmed Anuak civilians, they also set Anuak straw-roofed homes on fire in a manner that resembles the atrocities committed by the Italians in February 1937. The perpetrators also stabbed and dismembered their Anuak victims with machetes, knives, spears, axes, clubs, and hoes, and dumped some of the dead in a nearby river in a fashion similar to what extremist Hutus did to Tutsis in Rwanda in 1994. As they sought and killed their victims, they chanted: "Erase the trouble makers!"; "There will be no Anuak land!"; "Let's kill them all"; and "Today is the day of killing Anuaks." Under strong international pressure, the Ethiopian government apologized for not preventing the killings. It remains to be seen if its apology betokens a changed policy on the ground.
Journalists join Oromos, Eritreans and Anuaks on the list of victims of the most egregious violations of human rights by government in Ethiopia today. Muzzling of the press is not new in Ethiopia. But the Meles government appears to have taken it to new heights. The Meles government insists on censoring news reporting in Ethiopia. A Press Law which the government passed in October 1992 makes the failure of journalists to report accurately on every issue in the country a criminal offense. Under the law, the government retains the power "to withhold or withdraw registration and publication" of the newspapers of libelous journalists. The government has also reserved the right to censor articles that accuse government officials of abuses and/or any other article that the government regards as endangering "peace," "security," or "patriotism." Ironically, the press laws that the Meles government has instituted are the same oppressive press laws that the Dergue used, and are based on the same arguments the military junta made, in its era, to muzzle press freedom and restrict the voices of members of opposition political groups who are now in power.
The use of poison gas in Ethiopia by the Italian Royal Air Force in 1935936 and the massacre of Ethiopia's educated elite and monks in February 1937, represent an important benchmark in the history of crimes against humanity and possible genocide in Ethiopian history. In the mid-1970s the human corpses that littered the streets of Addis Ababa constituted incontestable evidence of state and insurgent terror. That terror mirrored the massacre of Ethiopians on the orders of Marshall Graziani in 1937. The difference was that in the 1970s Ethiopians themselves did the killing and the victims were their own kith and kin. The cause was not colonial occupation by an outside power, but rather a power struggle between the Ethiopian government and its armed domestic opponents.
These crimes against humanity, some verging on genocide, have not stopped. Today human rights abuses in Ethiopia go beyond extrajudicial killings and mass expulsions of people on the basis of their ethnic background and nationality. Those abuses also involve suppression of press freedom. Their most visible manifestation is the arbitrary arrests and jailing of journalists. Historically, Ethiopia has been the first to sign international legal treaties on human rights. Ironically, though, the country has often been the last to adhere to them. Crimes against humanity, possibly involving genocide, continue in Ethiopia.
SEE ALSO Eritrea; Gas
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