One of our roles in the SMNE is to pursue cases of human rights abuses, finding out what actually happened, exposing who is behind it and then advocating for perpetrators to be held accountable. In this role, we will call upon international human rights organizations such as Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, Genocide Watch and others to conduct investigations. We will assist in the coordination of these investigations when appropriate.
Human rights violations—extra-judicial killings, rape, beatings, torture, disappearance, detentions, political imprisonment, forced starvation, destruction of livelihood and other such crimes—against the Anuak, the Oromo, the Ogadeni and countless other groups throughout Ethiopia, when investigated, meet the definitions of genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes and other human rights violations as defined by International Human Rights Law. These crimes also include acts incited by the government but committed by others, all with impunity. The current government is also accused of war crimes and crimes against humanity in Somalia, where the seriousness and scope of the violations and the resulting humanitarian crisis have been called a “silent Darfur.”
Accompanying the perpetration of these crimes is the pervasive lack of accountability. Internal investigations of such crimes are rare, but when they do occur, they are usually government controlled. Currently, International or foreign-based human rights groups like Human Rights Watch, are no longer allowed in Ethiopia. However, a number of investigations have already been completed by such groups as Genocide Watch, Human Rights Watch, Medicins de Frontier, Amnesty International and others who have documented significant violations of human rights law.
When these incidents are viewed as a whole rather than as independent events, it appears that there is a well-documented pattern of serious human rights violations being committed by the government of Prime Minister Meles Zenawi against the people of Ethiopia and Somalia. However, this regime is very sensitive to making such violations public.
In early 2009, the Ethiopian government passed a new law, the Societies and Charities Proclamation, that essentially blocks any work within Ethiopia by NGOs who receive more than 10% of their funding from foreign sources, which is the majority of NGOs. The Ethiopian Human Rights Council (EHRCO) is the only human rights organization that has been working in the country before the passing of this bill. Because they receive approximately 90% of their funding from foreign sources, they must either give up their work or reduce their funding to less than 10%, or they could face criminal sentences of up to 15 years for advocating for human rights. Other areas similarly restricted include advocating for children’s rights, women’s rights, rights for the disabled and conflict resolution between ethnicities or religions.
Groups like Human Rights Watch can no longer enter the country. Humanitarian groups like Medicins de Frontier (Doctors without Borders) and the International Red Cross have been kicked out of the country (in 2008) for reporting on atrocities and the blocking of humanitarian aid in the Ogaden, where people were at high risk of starvation. They eventually were allowed back in but were warned about speaking out. Some NGOs left their work in Ethiopia due to bureaucratic obstacles set up by this regime.
When a government, like the Ethiopian government, creates an atmosphere of impunity, while at the same time acts as a major violator of human rights and of the rule of law, it fails in its primary role of protecting the people. As a result, the people begin to defend themselves. At times, this resistance has resulted in the commission of similar human rights violations. However, the current government has used such resistance as an excuse to further clamp down on entire ethnic groups, perpetrating massive human rights crimes against vulnerable citizens under the guise of “counter-insurgency.” This has created a pervasive atmosphere of fear and insecurity throughout the country.