Ethiopia’s Oromo Face Increased Repression – Mathew Stein(WORLD POLITICS REVIEW)

December 10th, 2008 Print Print Email Email

Surrounded by unstable regimes and beset by national conflicts, the current Ethiopian government has long been preoccupied with containing any militant threat. In June, even as the country was gripped by its worst famine in 25 years, the government announced plans to increase its military budget by $50 million — to $400 million — just one week after appealing to the international community for assistance. (more…)

Surrounded by unstable regimes and beset by national conflicts, the current Ethiopian government has long been preoccupied with containing any militant threat. In June, even as the country was gripped by its worst famine in 25 years, the government announced plans to increase its military budget by $50 million — to $400 million — just one week after appealing to the international community for assistance.

As a result, in addition to deploying troops into Somalia for the past two years, and intermittently clashing with Eritrean troops along their northern border, Ethiopia’s military has also fought several internal conflicts in the Ogaden and in the less known Oromia regions.

Ethiopia’s ethnic Oromo people have been in conflict with the state since they were forcibly integrated into the Amhara-dominated Ethiopian empire at the end of the 19th century. However, the arrests of at least 100 Oromos since Oct. 29, including the secretary general of the Oromo Federalist Democratic Party (OFDM), without warrant or charge is an indication that the conflict is intensifying.

The 53 Oromos still being detained by the authorities also include three human rights workers, teachers, students and successful businessmen. They have all appeared in court three times since their arrest on allegations of supporting the outlawed militant group, the Oromo Liberation Front, but have yet to be formally charged. As is common practice in Ethiopia, the court keeps extending their illegal incarceration to give the Ethiopian police and intelligence services more time to gather evidence.

At their last appearance, several detainees said they had been taken from their jail cells at Addis Ababa’s Maikelawi detention center in the middle of the night and tortured.

A former Ethiopian journalist and human rights activist who endured Maikelawi for eight months, Garoma Wakessa — now a Canadian resident — still has trouble recounting the horrors he encountered.

“Even in Canada I have no relief,” he says. “I know what’s happening to those people and it’s not human.”

Garoma explains that because of Maikelawi’s special status as an interrogation center rather than a formal prison, the use of torture to extract information is widespread. Guards use electrical cables or sticks during investigations, and interrogations are conducted in rooms with varying electricity.

“In the absolute dark room there is a possibility they will kill you because you are dangerous according to them,” says Garoma.

Similar reports of abuse, often following arbitrary arrests or other forms of state suppress

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