Wednesday, February 23

Blood, Oil and Ethnic Rule in Gambella

Often when the West questions the Human Rights practices of other countries the reaction is official protest at the ‘interference in internal affairs‘ or just plain denial. Sometimes foreign pressure can make a difference.

In situations like that detailed below a profound respect for all parties is evident in the ‘foreign interference‘. Simply put, it is reassuringly being assumed that third world governments ‘do know better’ than to hurt their own people and should be held accountable for it when they do.

One point to keep in mind when taking in the tragic events below is that the Ethiopian Consitution is based on ethnic and regional seperation with the dishonest and unworkable legal right for any 'nation, nationality or people' to become independent at will. All participation in political life is based on tribalism.

The ruling party, which is inseperable from government, uses brute force as well as local and national divide and rule - all for the sake of absolute control. The fate of the Anuak is a natural consequence of current Ethiopian governance and ethnic manipulation.

Ethiopians and interested foreigners are fed up.
The US on Tuesday [February 3, 2005] called on Ethiopia to punish those responsible for violence in its western Gambella region that claimed hundreds of lives last year.
[US Ambassador Aurelia Brazeal], whose comments came after a visit to the region, also called for greater protection of human rights by the security services in Gambella. She said the region, which is rich in oil and gold reserves, was "the conscience of Ethiopia".

Gambella’s population of 228,000 is multi-ethnic. In addition to people from the Nuer, Anyuak, Majanger, Komo and Opo ethnic groups, it includes an estimated 60,000 people from other parts of Ethiopia, who are known locally as highlanders.
The attention of the Ambassador is of critical importance for the wellbeing of the Anuak and of Ethiopians in general. We have pointed out on several occasions that without the interest of Western aid donors, even the current Potemkin Village of democracy and human rights as well as the Cargo Cult ersatz market economy in Ethiopia would be absent.

Usually there is the stunning omission in reporting on the Anuak issue that. the entire system of governance in Ethiopia today is based upon the manipulation of ethnicity at the pleasure of her rulers. It is to be expected that such ethnic violence occurs and a surprise it does not happen more. Or perhaps it does, out of the purview of dedicated Ethiopians who pursue such issues at great risk and far from the protection of Western Embassies no one really knows what is happening.

The highlanders mentioned above are ethnic Amharas and Tigrayans who have over the past two decades been resettled in Anuak territory in ill conceived resettlement schemes - all are victims of government policy such as the absence of property rights that can further inflame all manner of rivalries.

'No, we want to talk about the oil now.'

The Anuak were under the radar of government enmity until a new factor appeared in Gambela to cause state mandated violence - oil.
On June 13, 2003, Malaysia's state-owned petroleum corporation, PETRONAS, [with two Chinese subcontractors] announced the signing of an exclusive 25-year oil exploration and production sharing agreement with the EPRDF government to exploit the Ogaden Basin and the "Gambella Block" or "Block G" concession. On February 17, 2004, the Ethiopian Minister of Mines announced that Malaysia's PETRONAS will launch a natural gas exploration project in the Gambella region. Block G covers an area of 15,356 square kilometers within the Gambella Basin.

According to Anuak sources, the Ethiopian government held a public meeting in Gambella in February, even as violence against Anuak in rural areas was continuing to rise. One witness testified: "They told people about the oil and how it would benefit everyone. But the Anuak said: 'How can you talk to us about oil when people are still being killed? We don't want to talk about the oil.' But the government said, 'No, we want to talk about the oil now.'"
This all sounds distressingly like what happened in Central and Southern Sudan when oil was discovered. Trouble began
[i]n July 2002, the regional government accused the central government in Addis Ababa of flagrant interference in the day to day affairs of the Gambella region, an act which contradicts the commitment to regional autonomy and devolution of power to the regions.

In November 2002, the central government in Addis Ababa reacted swiftly and severely by overthrowing and virtually disbanding all democratically elected regional institutions in the Gambella region, including the Regional council.

The former Regional President and other council members were arrested and transferred to federal prison in Addis Ababa and remain in detention without being charged of any crime.
This despite the Constitutional mandate for decentralization of power and the right of all ‘nations, nationalities, and peoples’ to seccede at will. At a UN Human Rights Commission meeting in Geneva on April 8, 2004 the Anuak Survival Organization representative said
I speak to you as the representative of a forgotten people, the Anuak (or Anywaa) of Ethiopia. We number only 100,000 persons in the Gambella province of south-western Ethiopia. Our province is the tongue of fertile land, rich with natural resources such as oil, gold and other minerals that extends into southern Sudan. In the past four months, over 1137 Anuak have been murdered by the Ethiopian defense forces and some others from the highland.
He described how thousands have fled to Sudan and blamed government incitement of some highlanders following an ambush of eight officials by parties other than Anuaks. Over three days hundreds were killed in placed in mass graves. Noting that although
The Ethiopian government claims that ‘only’ 57 Anuak were killed and blames the murders on ‘ethnic conflict’ between Nuers and Anuak but the Nuers had nothing to do with the killings. In fact, it was Nuers and the majority of Ethiopian civilians from the highlands who helped save thousands of Anuak lives by hiding them under their beds. This is not an ethnic conflict between Nuers and Anuak or between highlanders and Anuaks.

killings and mass rape

In May of 2004, the International Secretariat of the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT) and Genocide Watch reported that killings and other acts of ethnic cleansing were ongoing
“We have interviewed numerous victims and eyewitnesses from the minority Anuak ethnic group who fled south-western Ethiopia in the wake of massive and unprovoked violence against unarmed men, women and children,” said Genocide Watch/SRI researcher Keith Harmon Snow.

“We have collected detailed testimony suggesting that acts of genocide and crimes against humanity were committed against unarmed civilians by Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Defense Forces (EPRDF) and ‘highlander’ militias.”

“There is irrefutable evidence of atrocities against thousands of civilians, and we continue to receive reports of killings and mass rape,” Mr. Snow said. “We are very concerned about rural areas where communications and access to civilians are prevented by isolation and a heavy military presence
The Ethiopian government asserted that the military presence was preventing further violence and
dismissed reports that the Ethiopian army targeted and killed Anuaks as ‘fiction’ and said that at the most 200 people had been killed in clashes in the region. He stated that the “only people who had been killed by the military in the area were armed Anuak insurgents who had staged cross-border raids from Sudan.”
However, unlike Sudan, the relative aid dependence of the Ethiopian government has made it more amenable to early Western intervention. The government appears to appreciate the need for action on the issue so the attention may already be working.
The Ethiopian government has apologised to various ethnic groups in the western Gambella region for failing to avert clashes which claimed more than 300 lives since December, reports said on Saturday.
The Reporter says that a Parliamentary Commission found that some members of the Ministry of Defense were involved in killings. However, the numbers of victims seem to be deflated from other accounts and only “some "unidentified" troops from the defence ministry had murdered 13 people“ is reported. Of the above reported population of 228,000 up to 51,000 are still displaced.

a litany of crimes ... ongoing

Cultural Survival Quarterly details some of the history of Anuak exploitation at the hands of Ethiopian government that has grown ever more brutal with time.

Historically, the Anuak were victims of slave trading. From the 1980s on the frankly murderous Dergue used every means at the disposal of its totalitarian state from helicopter gunships to brutal local rule to abuse the Anuak as the process of resettling highlanders from the north began.

Those highlanders themselves were moved involuntarily and remain victims of government policy. In the 1980s the Dergue was then conducting a campaign of death and destruction against the people of Tigray, among others, and moved thousands south in poorly planned resettlement schemes. One aim was to isolate potential supporters of Tigrayan rebel forces, who have now become the government of Ethiopia.

Amnesty International reports that Oromos, Amharas and Tigrayans were among the resettled highlanders who were incited to act against the Anuak by government officials. Next time if it serves the purposes of power and ethnic divide and rule - any number of combinations of tribes will be made to fight each other countrywide.

The Ambassador’s recent statement seems to be made in encouragement for the admission of error accompanied by pressure against the minimization of the problem. There is also an growing sense of American and E.U. wariness of and weariness with the Ethiopian government, its pronouncements and unmistakable reality. Given the parts of the American President’s State of the Union speech that touched on human rights, more of this type of pressure should be expected - and should be welcomed by all observers.

“The Minnesota media is an early warning system for this African genocide” according to the McGill Report run by Doug McGill, a journalist close to the Anuak Community of Minnesota. Anuak Genocide Watch, is a dormant blog from Bethel University whose archives and links are of value. Genocide Watch, is also following developments closely.

Events are detailed here from Genocide Watch and Survivors’ Rights International in a report titled “Today is the Day of Killing Anuaks”.

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