Ethiopia’s dirty war – Guardian Unlimited

August 5th, 2007 Print Print Email Email

While the west agonises over Darfur, another humanitarian and human rights disaster is brewing in the Horn of Africa. (more…)

While the west agonises over Darfur, another humanitarian and human rights disaster is brewing in the Horn of Africa.

In June, the Ethiopian government launched a major military campaign in the Ogaden, a sparsely populated and remote region on Ethiopia’s border with Somalia. The counter insurgency operation was aimed at eliminating the Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF), a rebel group which has been fighting for years for self-determination for the Ogaden’s predominantly Somali population.

In less than two months, Ethiopia’s military campaign has triggered a serious humanitarian crisis. Human Rights Watch has learned that dozens of civilians have been killed in what appears to be a deliberate effort to mete out collective punishment against a civilian population suspected of sympathising with the rebels.

Villages have been attacked, sacked and burnt. Livestock – the lynchpin of the region’s pastoralist economy – have been confiscated or destroyed. A partial trade blockade has been imposed on the region leading to serious food shortages. Relatives of suspected rebels have been taken hostage. Thousands of civilians have been displaced, fleeing across the borders of Ethiopia into northern Kenya and Somaliland.

Last week, with little objection from the international community, the Ethiopian government expelled from the Ogaden the International Committee of the Red Cross, one of the few neutral observers of the crisis left in the region.

This is not Darfur. But the situation in Ogaden follows a familiar pattern of a counter insurgency operation in which government forces show little regard for the safety of the civilian population and commit serious abuses, including deliberate attacks on civilians, mass displacement of populations and interference with humanitarian assistance.

Unlike in Darfur, however, the state that is perpetrating abuses against its people in Ogaden is a key western ally and recipient of large amounts of western aid. Furthermore the crisis in Ogaden is linked to a military intervention by Ethiopia in Somalia that has been justified in terms of counter terrorism and is firmly supported by the United States and other western donors.

Ethiopia has often justified military action in Somalia on grounds of cooperation between what it calls “terrorist” groups in Somalia and the rebellion in Ogaden. The ONLF certainly has strong ethnic and political links to Somali insurgents now fighting against the Ethiopian military presence in Somalia. It may have decided to escalate its rebellion in Ogaden in response to Ethiopia’s full-scale military intervention in Somalia in December last year.

Now there are reliable reports that, as a result of Ethiopian military pressure inside Somalia, Somali insurgents including members the militant Islamist al-Shabaab have sought refuge in Ogaden where they could be regrouping. Thus instead of containing and calming the situation in Somalia, the actions of Ethiopia’s forces there may well be exacerbating the conflict and regionalising it.

The emerging crisis in the Ogaden is indicative of an increasingly volatile political and military situation in the Horn of Africa. Predictably civilians are bearing the brunt of the crisis both in the Ogaden and in Somalia where hundreds of thousands have been displaced by fighting since the Ethiopian intervention. Predictably human rights abuses and violations of the laws of war are being perpetrated by all sides. It could all get a lot worse, especially if it leads to a resumption of the war between Ethiopia and Eritrea.

So why isn’t the international community doing more to address this crisis. Hasn’t the UN being saying for years that crisis prevention is better than cure?

The EU and the United States have significant leverage over Ethiopia in the form of foreign aid and political influence. They should use it instead of turning a blind eye to abuses carried out by the Ethiopian security forces in the name of counter terrorism.

Western support for Ethiopia’s counter insurgency efforts in the Horn of Africa is not only morally wrong and riddled with double standards, it is also ineffective and counterproductive. It will lead to the escalation and regionalisation of the conflicts of the region and may well help to radicalise its large and young Muslim population.

  1. Yared
    | #1

    Do you know how many inocent civilians ONLF killed including Chineese miners a few months ago? Time to pay the price Mr.ONLF & Co. You will never ever take Ogaden from Ethiopia before killing all of us the 70,000,000 Ethiopians from Ogaden to Gambela and from Axum to Moyale!Don’t waste your time!

  2. | #2

    The Guardian’s Progressively Ugly War of Words
    6 August 2007

    The Guardian has just run unworthy diatribe against the Government of Ethiopia (Ethiopia’s Dirty War, 5 August 2007).
    Tom Porteous served Conflict Management Advisor for Africa with the British Foreign Office. He has also made a stint as a London Director of Human Rights Watch. He is now making a seemingly difficult transition into a struggling freelancer. That has led him to write unfortunately opinionated pieces full of old-wives tale and staggering claims. A freelancer without any solid publisher, his writings are all over the place. In January 2006, he wrote a piece which he titled Africa’s Newest War. That piece produced innumerable innuendoes on the conflict in Chad. Then he went on to write another piece on Somalia. This time, his article could not even make it to a mainstream media outlet. He had it on Open Democracy (May 14, 2007) wherein he accused Ethiopia and the Transitional Federal Government for committing heinous crimes in Somalia.
    The rush toward opinionated outcome results in publication of reports and opinion papers which are blatantly uneducated and erroneous. Ethiopia’s Dirty War is unmistakably written by a first timer on the region who has no clue what he or she is talking about. One may ask why this is happening. This is perhaps a result of a systematic ill-education of the personnel and staff at western media about the complex nature of peace and war in foreign countries.

    So what has Tom Porteous said about Ethiopia in his article? So many things. A major human rights and human rights disaster is brewing in Ethiopia, goes one paragraph. The Government of Ethiopia is engaged in meting out collective punishment against a civilian population suspected of sympathizing with the rebels. Villagers are attacked and their house burnt. The Government has introduced trade blocked resulting in starvation of innocent civilian. It is also claimed that the Government has expelled the only neutral observer of the conflict in the area, the International Committee of Red Cross. The measure the Government has taken has invited the Islamists from Somalia to take refuge in Eastern Ethiopia, goes another. The message is unmistakable. Ethiopia should be punished by the Western Governments.

    I am not surprised that such massive amount of rubbish has been printed in the Guardian. We have followed with amazement how this paper, with perennial interest to appeal to labour-or liberal democrat voting voters, tumbled in numerous occasions after the start of the global war on terror. There were numerous serious evidences that had suggested that the paper mightily exaggerated developments in Iraq and Afghanistan to win over those millions who are clearly against the war. This was a smart and yet unbecoming move for an honest journalism.

    The Guardian’s liberal and freedom love zeal has never been consistent. As far as we remember, it was a supporter of the World Wide Zionist Movement. Such allegiance never disturbed those who were closely associated with the paper. But now the paper has changed gear and regularly engaged in inflammatory and often misleading, and factually incorrect jab at Israel. What is of interest is not that it has started criticising Israel. But it did so with unforgivable breach of the cardinal tenet of journalism, truth. The Jerusalem Post in the past run series of articles outlining these errors and asking the Guardian to retract or correct them. Unfortunately the Guardian is not used to admitting errors.

    Another serious bump also occurred in 2005 when members of Islamists infiltrated the paper by publishing articles against the same British interest (The Guardian, 22 July 2005). Dilpazier Aslam, a 27 years old British Muslim from Yorkshire had managed to write a number of articles on the Guardian’s website. His articles, which propagated ugly and racist stances, passed the hands and minds of a number of well-qualified editors at the Guardian. When the story was out and created a huge embarrassment, the bosses at the Guardian asked Aslam to resign and finally terminated his contract. At the time it was clear that some of the top editors at the paper knew that Aslam was a member of Hizb, a group that called for Islamite caliphates and engaged in racists and unfounded propaganda. So much for the progressiveness of the Guardian.

    Now a jack of all trade is engaging the Guardian with a piece that is seriously flawed. The paper even does not even properly report on the Horn of Africa. There is no indication that it is interested. If it was, there were sufficient opportunities to correct such mishandling of the events in the Somali Regional State of Ethiopia.

    Tom Porteous is not even innovative enough. He has copied what we saw in pieces by Gettleman from New York Times. His jab against Ethiopia of course does not mention the fact that the area he calls Ogaden is located in the Somali regional state is a self-governing autonomous entity ruled by Somalis themselves. Neither does he mention the fact that the rebel group whose representatives are comfortably sheltered in places such as London has wilfully slaughtered innocent Ethiopian civilians and foreigners. They accused the Government of wilfully starving its own citizens trough economic and aid blockade. This was contradicted by WFP itself which had come out public and said that it has a presence in the region. When their position is contradicted by UN bodies themselves, they gave the government the unbelievable level of capacity to harass and coerce the UN. This is a selective journalism.

    The article also claims that the Ethiopian government has forced the only neutral observer of the crisis of the region. Since when has the mandate of the ICRC changed? The last time I checked, the mandate of the ICRC was to ensure the protection of civilians during armed conflict. It does so with utmost commitment to the principle of confidentiality. Tom Porteus has not even looked at the statement put up by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs on 31 July 2007. It states that the staff of the ICRC were engaged working as a conduit for the terrorist ONLF. The writer could have a different reading. But honest journalism and assessment require the reflection of different points of view.

    The Guardian and people who contribute to it are not even interested to ask why their country is host to organizations such as the ONLF which according to their Home Secretary Officials committed one of the most heinous crimes. Just this year, the ONLG slaughtered Ethiopian civilians and foreigners. UK’s 2000 Terrorism Act makes it illegal for the UK and its institutions including the media to support organizations that committee terrorism in any form. That has forced the Government to take, for example, serious measures against the Tamils. What explains UK’s double standard when it comes to the Horn of Africa?

    Ethiopia is not fighting anyone’s war. It is engaged in a battle that is purely its own. Nothing stands to show this with the sharpest clarity than Ethiopia’s genuine fight against terrorism which goes a way back prior to September 2001. Ethiopia had faced the attacks of terrorists who wanted to assassinate one of Africa’s senior presidents in the streets of its capital city in the 1990s. Ethiopia’s senior officials including ministers were shot by groups who prided using terrorist techniques. Its entertainment outlets and hotels were targets of bombings which resulted in unfortunate death and mutilations of its citizens. Despite the government’s serious series attempt to take constitutional measures to entrench religious freedom, the new God’s Warriors of the international jihad hasten to project Ethiopia as zealous Christian island and America’s loyal servant.

    The government of Ethiopia has supported the reconstitution of government and order in Somalia. In a bizarre manner, some uninformed pundits and journalists portrayed Ethiopia’s intervention in Somalia as Ethiopia’s jump to US’s orders. There is no mention of the lists of decisions by IGAD, the African Union and the United Nations that have validated the actions of the government. The Ethiopian government is invariably committed to the safety of its citizens and the country’s national interest. Its allegiance, often undertaken against all odds and at much cost, was also to the people and government of Somalia. Ethiopia’s effort to the reconstitution of semblance of law and order in Somalia goes long before the war on terror entered into the list of ordinary language in diplomacy. Ethiopia’s long journey in Somalis was an itinerary trodden often alone with Somalia people and forces who sought peace and peaceful co-existence. The international community, including the US are yet to give the support required for the consolidation of the gains achieved through a price, according to Ethiopian Foreign Minster, courageous Ethiopia’s young servicemen paid with their lives.

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