Human Rights Watch Vs Meles Zenawi’s Government: The Attempt to Whitewash Crime Against Humanity Inside the Ogaden Region of Ethiopia – Fekade Shewakena

December 8th, 2008 Print Print Email Email

A recent propaganda piece by the Ethiopian authorities masquerading as a government investigative report issued to whitewash the crimes in the Ogaden Region would have been laughed all the way to the waste basket had the issue in question not been the tragedy and suffering of a mass of human beings. (more…)

A recent propaganda piece by the Ethiopian authorities masquerading as a government investigative report issued to whitewash the crimes in the Ogaden Region would have been laughed all the way to the waste basket had the issue in question not been the tragedy and suffering of a mass of human beings. The 47 page propaganda piece entitled, “Flawed Methodology, Unsubstantiated Allegations: The Results of an Investigation by the Government of Ethiopia into allegations by Human Rights Watch on human rights in the Somali Regional State”1 is full of manufactured outrage and meant to counter the meticulously researched findings and charges by Human Rights Watch (HRW), including crimes against humanity, the use of rape and starvation as weapons of war and the burning of villages and dislocation of people, compiled in a 138 page document.2

But if you carefully examine the so called investigation report by Mr. Zenawi’s government, it gives you a window to see the amount of crime and, in fact, speaks to the opposite of its intended use, in effect corroborating HRW’s charges. It actually reminded me of the story of the proverbial goat in Ethiopia that stole and ate the wheat reserved for ecclesiastical service at the church and was in the end driven to becoming laud more talkative to the level of almost telling that she was the thief. “Megeberia Yebelach fiyel Yaslefelifatal”, so goes the saying.

Apparently, some clever Woyane thought that it is smarter to set out by questioning the methodology of HRW rather than attacking its credibility directly. Or they must have been mindful of the fact that the credibility thing with regard to investigating itself is not the best suit of Meles Zenawi’s government. Many Ethiopians including the international community has not forgotten the fait of the investigation of the post election massacres in Addis Ababa where the investigators had to flee the country with the video and written transcript of the results of their investigation to tell the truth to the rest of the world. The whitewash of the genocide against the Agnuak ethnic group in Gambella is still fresh. They seem to understand that accusing an organization of stellar global respect as HRW for credibility would not fly. The less intelligent, shoot-from-the-hip TPLF puppies at Aigaforum (the people who wrote editorials recommending death penalty on members of the opposition for testifying at the US congress) did that crazy job already by throwing the kitchen sink at HRW moments after the report was published.

The Ethiopian authorities who wrote this so called investigation report, however, do not tell us how their methodology contrasts with that of HRW or how the witness interview method, one of multiple methods used by HRW researchers, yields less valid results than the interview method extensively and almost exclusively used by Meles Zenawi’s agents on a captive population in the Ogaden, a good number of whom are prisoners accused of being members of the ONLF (Ogaden National Liberation Movement). Some of the witnesses, we are told in the report, are former ONLF fighters living in the area. And Meles Zenawi and his cronies want people with heads on their shoulders, to believe the pile of crap they compiled by interviewing them.

As an Ethiopian who prides himself of the decency and goodness of the Ethiopian people, I want many of these damning reports by human rights groups and journalists including this by HRW about gruesome war crimes, collective punishment and the use of rape and starvation as a weapon of war by Meles Zenawi’s government to be false. I have two important reasons to want HRW’s report to be false.

First, I believe these kinds of extreme and gruesome crimes reported by human rights groups do not only tarnish the image of only the government or its leaders for which I care less, but unfortunately also speak badly of all of us as a people and distort the image of the country and the people we love. Disgraceful and shameful things that happen in a country, whoever the perpetrator and at whatever scale, often become broad paintbrushes that discolor the good and the bad together and create a bad single whole image of an entire country and people. Look how a handful of extremists in the Islamic world have tarnished the good religion of Islam. The crimes of the Nazi’s still shame many good Germans who were not even born at the time. Some years ago, I was chatting with a European friend when she asked me how I managed to survive and escape the famines in Ethiopia. She couldn’t believe me when I told her that there were millions of us, more than three fourths of the population at the time, who had enough food to eat. She couldn’t let go the image she formed of Ethiopia and kept on arguing with me until she got onto my nerves. But then again I myself also almost did the same thing to a Rwandan I met recently.

Even inside our long years of civil wars in the past, these kinds of systematic collective punishments of entire people and the use of rape as a weapon, as repeatedly reported by human rights groups and journalists as under Meles Zenawi in the Ogaden and earlier in Gambella, have never been heard of. Even Mengistu’s government, whose brutality is among the worst in our history, was transporting teff and other food items with cargo planes from central Ethiopia to Eritrea at the height of the civil war in the 1980s. This stands in huge contrast to Meles Zenawi’s blocking of relief organizations such as the Red Cross and Doctors Without Borders from operating in the Ogaden and the closure of access roads to transport food to the area at a time when the region was in the middle of a grueling famine. At one time some of these humanitarian organizations were begging Zenawi’s government to let them save lives. This, in my vew, can happen only in a country that is capable of producing human beasts. I don’t want to believe this took place in Ethiopia.

Second, I find it hard to accept that some among our good, wonderful and decent people turned soldiers, are capable of doing what human rights groups and journalists tell us they do. Having been to literally every part of Ethiopia and knowing most ethnic groups, I find it hard to believe that there could be beasts among those wonderful people who are capable of raping elderly women the age of their mothers, strangle and burry human beings alive, and burn the villages of poor people. Most of you may remember the days in June 1991 when Mengistu’s government collapsed and nearly half a million soldiers and armed militia were dispersed around the country without any command and control. I have seen them with my own eyes when they beg for food with automatic machineguns hung on their shoulders and round after round of ammunition all over them. Nothing but only that heritage of common decency was between them and the rest of us to stop them from crossing the line. I remember it with pride. That was an “only in Ethiopia” moment. I don’t want to believe that these values and that longstanding fabric of our society and culture have changed in a decade and half. I don’t want to believe that the poison of hate Meles Zenawi sprays in Ethiopia has succeeded to such an extent. So, I only wish the HRW report or the scathing annual reports of the US State Department on Human Rights or the gruesome stories written about the Ogaden on the New York Times are wrong.

The Sadism, the lie and the pile of crap in the report:

Reading this so-called investigation report of the Ethiopian authorities is a torture on two levels. First, a good part of the English is so difficult to understand. Sometimes you need to translate it into Amharic to understand it. The authorities who wrote, read, approved and issued this report seem to have shed any grain of sense of embarassment and shame. For heaven’s sakes, this is a government document that, for whatever it is worth, is expected to be read widely. How difficult is it for a government that hires lobbyists in the US with millions of dollars to hire an editor to at least check basic grammar and spelling? Consider the following I randomly picked as example:

“Its [HRW’s] inclusion of irrelevant and inappropriate satellite imagery seems to have been included to add drama to its media communications”. (Page 5)

And this,

“HRW, however, merely chose to use the burning of Lasoole as another unjustified accusation against her ENDF”. (Page 24)
Or this,
“As far as I know there is nobody has been killed in our village” (Page 34)

I could have gone on and on had this been my main concern here. It is pathetic.

The second level of torture when reading this report is the sadism it is replete with. The government data was obtained almost exclusively through interviewing the local people who are traumatized by the savage war. A large number of these interviewees are prisoners. Many are women. Still many, we are told on the report, are former ONLF fighters. You can sense the terror they go through as they were trying to avoid the answers their questioners don’t want to hear. The video version of the report being spread by government media is particularly hard to watch. It is a mass manufacturing of lie. If you believe the results of this so-called investigation to be true, you should as well believe me when if tell you pigs can fly.
Here are some interesting highlights. You may remember the 23 year old Mohammed Abdi Wayd who HRW reported was strangled and killed by member of the Ethiopian Defense Forces for being one of many community members who refused to obey a deadline to vacate a village as ordered by the army. The person the government interviewers summoned to testify on this dead kid, we are told, is his next of kin. Read the following and see the sadism for yourselves. How many Ethiopians under normal circumstances do you think would say the death of their young relative is a punishment from God?

He is a close relative of mine. He died in the fighting between government forces and ONLF. This is the truth. He was a trouble-maker. He was a bandit. Upon Alah’s orders, he met his death fighting the Defence Forces. I didn’t record the exact date when he died. One day there was fighting between ONLF and the Defence Forces in the Wafdug area. In the Yuub area too. He died in that period. He robbed people of their belongings. He picked up a quarrel and attacked people. His death is a punishment fro (sic) all his wrongs.” (Page 32)

Does anybody in his right mind believe that in a traditional society where kinship means a lot more than blood relation, and of all places in the Ogaden, would say of this about his dead relative unless at a gun point? Obviously, the person must be trying his best to fend off any possible suspicion of supporting the ONLF like his dead kin. Anybody who has done research in rural Ethiopia using questionnaires knows that telling what the government wants to hear is one of many sophisticated survival mechanisms peasants and pastoralists have developed to fight the tyranny of their governments over the years. And Meles Zenawi and his cronies want us to believe the crap they collected through this bogus method and question the validity of HRW’s conclusions refined over long years of recording Human rights abuse around the world.
In its attempt to clean itself of HRWs charges of rape and sexual abuses the government report, believe it or not, says this,

It [the investigation team] interviewed people from various sectors of society and a number of women prisoners from several different prisons. All completely rejected HRW’s allegations”. (Page 37).

Now listen to what female prisoner Asmal Isal Abdi tells the investigating team:

“I am in prison here for the crime I committed. I have never encountered any problem. In prison, I am receiving proper treatment.” (Page 37)

And hear from another female prisoner Ram Ali Huyida who is reported to even have gone further in speaking for all women prisoners:

“There is nothing like this that happened to me or to the other prisoners in this prison.” (Page 37)

Another female prisoner, Amina Usman, in the town of Jijiga has a more targeted “testimony” to which the interviewers seem to have direct her – to exonerate the soldier rapists cited in the HRW report:

“No prisoner, including myself, has suffered any ill treatment from Government soldiers.”
(Page 38)

It is not even clear from the report as to why another female prisoner, Faduma Abdu Haj, had to testify saying that there were no women who were burnt alive when she was not even asked. Listen to her:

“I have never seen or heard any information regarding the raping of any woman by Ethiopian soldiers. There is no woman who was raped or burnt alive.” (Page 38)

The report also has a cascade of responses from interviewees who say that no village has been burnt by the ENDF. All of them said that any village burnt was burnt by ONLF solders who were dressed in Ethiopian army uniforms and speaking the Amharic language to make it look the Ethiopian army did it. It gets more interesting, doesn’t it? The people are so in love with the Ethiopian army that the ONLF has to do this to have them hated, and by speaking the Amhaic language without a Somali accent? Huh!

On the other hand the “investigators” tell us that they have done all their interview and research in the Ogaden. Why the investigators thought it is important to interview people to testify as to whether villages were burnt or not if they themselves see the villages intact is a mystery. HRW has given the geographic coordinates for the satellite imageries of the villages in question by providing the latitudes and longitudes of each site. Why is it difficult to present another aerial photo or a photograph taken from a higher ground and debunk it if it is a lie? Interestingly, the team has provided us with horizontally taken ground photographs that cannot by any measure show the condition of a larger settlement. Some of the photographs show two or three houses from one side surrounded by scrubland. More importantly, unless you hire a “tenquay” there is no way to attest that the picture shows the real village in question. They give you no coordinates.

The goons who prepared Zenawi’s report also want us to believe that girl HRW reported was brutally killed by the Ethiopian forces was alive by showing us a photograph of a girl who they say has the same name. They have been parading her on their TV and other media as if it is an airtight evidence to show the real girl is not dead, as if you can’t find hundreds of Faduma Hassans in the Ogaden or as if you cannot name the picture of any girl Faduma Hassan.

The investigators, in their wisdom thought that they should throw us some bones to be believable and help them sell us their pile of crap. They say they have found one case of torture among female prisoners by an army Major named Kiros. (Don’t forget most women who testified are already reported to have said that no torture of woman has ever taken place). Read her testimony paying special attention to her last sentence:

“I was arrested for being ONLF member. During the time I was in prison, I was tortured by Major Kiros, Intelligence Officer of the Fik zone 7th Regiment. This was around September 2007. During the interrogation, he strangled my neck with cloth, forced me to take off my clothes and flogged my back and feet. He tortured me by saying, out with the truth. Of course, I was ONLF member. Apart from this I do not know any other problem. I have not suffered from any wrongdoing in this prison. I confirm this.” (Page 40)

Why was the lady that went through so much torture forced to say she “has not suffered any wrong doing in this prison”? After having gone through that humanly unbearable torture how did she manage to say that? Or shall we say the Investigator Team added it to make it look like what she went though was a prank between friends. How sadistic is that? By the way, where is Major Kiros the torturer? Why is his last name withheld? Why wasn’t this criminal interviewed like the rest of the prisoners? What was the punishment he received? The investigators are mum on these. We know why. I suspect Major Kiros is walking the streets of Addis Ababa or Mekele or managing some property of EFFORT somewhere or on scholarship in the Netherlands. After all, the Agazi soldier who killed Wro Etesnesh in front of her children for asking to spare her husband lives in freedom with no questions asked. There is a lot of repugnant and sadistic material to go over in this whitewash. You can read it holding your nose, as I did.


Either out of ethnic identification or innocence or misinformation or any other reason, I believe there are many Ethiopians who want to give Meles Zenawi’s report the benefit of the doubt, as there are many who actively promote this lie. I challenge all of them and the blind supporters of the TPLF/EPRDF, including my good friend Ato Haimanot Lakew from Boston who made me laugh by referring to the crap as a “carefully researched and written report” 3 and some Molla Mitiku who tried to shamelessly fake an outrage and called the governments investigators “independent investigating team” 4, to ask the Ethiopian authorities to allow independent investigators including the UN and reexamine the case. Why fear if you are outraged that HRW manufactured its report? To ask anything less is to collaborate with the cover up of crime and injustice. Don’t forget that we will all have to answer for this crime on judgment day. I don think his day is too far.

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