Let Me Defend Your Honor and Ravish Your Woman: The Unchecked Rape-Tale of Ethiopian Army from Eritrea to Gambella and Dollo-Ado
By Amsale Getnet Aberra
We all have witnessed over the years that the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia has no democratic attributes to show for in the national and international arena. Countries such as United States, United Kingdom and Human Rights advocacy groups such as Human Rights Watch have issued countless reports exposing the lack of human rights and fundamental freedoms in the country. For instance, the 2012 Human Rights Watch report states that the Ethiopian government continues to curtail freedom of expression, association and political participation and dissent. The report also went on to state that citizens, due to their ethnic identities are continuing to be persecuted by the government including the Amhara and Oromo.
The Human Rights records of the government being as clear as it is, I would like to devote the following short article to show the rarely talked about violation committed by the government, violation of the right to be free from sexual violence in Ethiopia, Eritrea and Somalia. The writer would, however, like to mention that these are a few instance of sexual violence against women committed by the Ethiopian military personnel and this, by no means is an exhaustive list of such atrocities.
Sexual violence against woman which reinforces the inequality of women touches upon the Human Rights of the victim, including her right to health, dignity, autonomy and security. And when the same act committed on women in internal or international armed conflict settings, it can be a violation of Customary International Humanitarian Law as reflected in the Geneva Conventions.
Rape against Eritrean Women
The Ethiopia-Eritrea border conflict, shaped by its historic complexities received attention from the international community to obvert the two year boundary conflict running from 1998 to 2000. The continued peace negotiations culminated into the signing of the Algiers Peace Agreement that is hailed by many as the “comprehensive peace settlement”, governing, among others, the establishment of an independent boundary commission to delimit the contested boundary of the countries. The agreement has also established the Ethiopia-Eritrea claims commission to adjudicate claims for loss, damage and injury resulting from the conflict.
The Ethiopia Eritrea claims Commission has been vested with passing an arbitration awards on claims relating the Ethio-Eritrean conflict arising from the violation of International Humanitarian Law. Accordingly, among the set of claims presented by both Ethiopia and Eritrea to the commission, there were several cases of rape committed against civilian populations. That is, Eritrea presented a claim to the commission that Ethiopian troops have committed numerous rapes against Eritrean civilian women in Senafe town. Eritrea corroborated its evidence through several eye witnesses, medical professionals including the testimony of Médecins Sans Frontières physicians.
Despite Ethiopia’s claim that rape allegations were followed up, that soldiers were investigated and arrested to rebut Eritrea’s claims, the commission found Ethiopia liable for failure to take effective measures to prevent rape from occurring against innocent Eritrean civilian women.
The current case is, therefore, a clear example that perpetrators of violence against women are not held accountable for their acts. Moreover, the fact that sexual violence is committed by state agents, the lack of investigation into the crime and failure to punish violators makes the state the one condoning the act and also perpetrating the same violence.
Sexual Violence against the Somali Women in Somalia
Somalia has been under clan-based conflict since 1991, when warlords overthrew the longtime dictator Mohamed Siad Barre. When the Islamist militants took control of most of Southern Somalia, including Mogadishu, the troops from the neighboring Ethiopia were deployed from 2006–09. The role of the Ethiopian troops then resulted in removing the Islamic Courts Union (ICU) from power in Somalia’s southern half.
Human Rights Watch in its 2008 report disclosed that the involvement of the Ethiopian troops in Somalia resulted not only in helping to eject Islamic extremism from the tip of the horn of Africa but also in indiscriminate bombardment of urban areas resulting in civilian deaths but also rape and other forms of sexual violence against innocent civilian Somali woman.
After the presence of the Ethiopian troops in Somalia which led to their withdrawal in 2009, they again went into Somalia in 2009 to attack Al-Qaeda affiliated Al-Shabab insurgents and captured towns like Bidoa in the early November 2011. According to the new Prime Minister of Ethiopia, the Ethiopian troops will remain in Somalia this time until African Union forces fighting Islamists can take over.
The question that comes to mind then is, has anything happened to the military forces who did involve in the violation of International Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law?
Leslie Lefkow, deputy Africa director at Human Rights Watch summarized the rooted culture of impunity among the Ethiopian armed forces that have violated International Human Rights and Humanitarian Law as “given Ethiopia’s track record in Somalia, and notably the complete impunity granted to its forces in the past, their formal return on Somali soil [in 2011] raises significant concerns.” The deputy director also stated that they are investigating numerous allegations of rape and other forms of sexual violence committed by the Ethiopian troops in Baledweyne.
Sexual Violence against Somali Women in Ogaden
The Ethiopia’s army in its fight to dismiss the rebel group, ONLF has been committing gross violation of human rights accounting for war crimes and crimes against humanity against the Ogaden community of ethnic Somali nomads.
According to the Human Rights Watch report “collective Punishment: War Crimes against Humanity in the Ogaden Area of Ethiopia’s Somali Regional state” published in 2007, rape and sexual assault against Somali women and girls are a few instances of human rights violations committed and perpetuated by the Ethiopian army in Ogaden. Thus, Ethiopian troops who have participated in the civilian attacks including sexual violence against women and girls should be accountable for war crimes. Again, the systematic nature of the violence against civilian population including rape, torture and killing is an indication that the Ethiopian government is responsible for crimes against humanity for the atrocities that it has been committing in Ogaden.
Although systematic rape has been committed by the Ethiopian government targeted women who have been under military custody on the suspicion that they have supporting ONLF and civilian woman under urban areas and rural parts of the Ethiopian Somali region alike, there has not been any instance wherein any military personnel were held accountable for committing any form of sexual violence against women.
Thus, despite the extensive report disclosing systematic rape, other forms of sexual violence indicating that crimes against humanity and war crimes are being committed by the Ethiopian regime, the government is still upholding its culture of complete impunity indicating that the government is accountable for the violation of internationally recognized right of women to health, security and bodily integrity.
Sexual Violence against the Somali woman as Refugees in Ethiopia
The escalating conflict in Southern Somalia between forces allied with the Somali Transitional government and the Islamist extremist group, Al-Shabab has resulted in huge increase in the countless number of civilian casualties and displacement within and outside of Somalia since 2010. Thus, the past couple of years have seen a dramatic rise in the number of displaced Somalis who continue to flee conflict and drought into the neighboring countries like Ethiopia, Kenya and Djibouti. Taking into consideration the dire need of Somali civilians fleeing persecution including sexual violence in their countries, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) calls the situation in Somalia the “worst humanitarian crisis in the world today” in 2010.
The UNHCR spokesman Andrej Mahecic said that Dollo Ado in Ethiopia is now the world’s biggest refugee camp after Dadaab in Kenya, accommodating refugees and asylum seekers feeling persecution and insecurity in their country Somalia. As of 31 of December 2012, Ethiopia hosted a total of 376,410 refugees, 223,243 Somalis, the majority of whom are based in the five camps located in Dollo-Ado area.
To illustrate the human rights violation of the Ethiopian police and army, I would like to recount my own experience. I worked in the legal protect unit at the UNHCR Representation in Ethiopia and also with Johns Hopkins University School of Public Health and Human Rights which conducted a joint study with UNHCR Ethiopia from 2010-2012. The project was to design a screening tool among refugees in Ethiopia who have experienced sexual and gender based violence. While participating in the study, I have spoken with numerous refugee women and asylum seekers, including those from Somalia who were raped and sexual assaulted by Ethiopian police and military troops within refugee camps and in urban areas. The unfortunate truth, however, is that none of the perpetrators have been held accountable, even when the information comes to light.
Thus, despite the fact that Ethiopia has ratified numerous international and regional human rights conventions and also the 1951 UN Refugee convention which protects refugees from torture and sexual violence, the government still continues to commit such atrocities without any check from the judiciary, which as it has been commented by many is no different from the executive branch of the government.
Torture and Rape: Gambella as a Case Study
The Ethiopian government under its villagization program has been forcefully resettling thousands of indigenous communities in western Gambella into new resettlement areas with no basic health, education, agriculture services to say the very least. The resettlement program has been put in place to make room for commercial farms without prior consultation or compensation set in place to the indigenous communities. The government hopes to continue with its resettlement program in four regions, Gambella, Afar, Somali and Benshangul Gumuz in 2013 moving close to 1.5 million people.
According to the Human Rights Watch Report “Waiting Here for Death: Forced Displacement and “Villagization” in Ethiopia’s Gambella Region” published in 2012, government has continually used means to intimidate people who have resisted to move including rape, other forms of sexual violence and forced marriage.
The sexual violence against women has also occurred as a weapon of military reprisal following an attack by unidentified men on Saudi Agricultural development Plc, one of the commercial farms set up in the area. The Ethiopian troops, as way to find suspects who have committed the attack, they arbitrary arrested, assaulted and raped who they thought were responsible and also the relatives of the suspects. Even here, the Ethiopian government has done nothing to investigate into the alleged violence but rather, continue to breach the human rights and fundamental freedoms of women and girls while silencing any sort of dissent and allegations of human rights violations.
To conclude, the above case studies showing the violation committed by the Ethiopian government are simply tip of the iceberg. The Ethiopian troops who have been committing crimes against humanity, war crimes and continuous human rights violations targeting the right of a woman to be from sexual violence need to be accountable for the atrocities they continue to commit. It is also worth mentioning that the culture of impunity that shields the military and/ or the government from according responsibility makes the government equally accountable for the violation of long-recognized international human rights and humanitarian law.
* Amsale Getnet Aberra is LL.M student at the University of Washington and may be reached at email@example.com