Opposing Genocide in the Ogaden Region of Ethiopia
MINNEAPOLIS, JANUARY 23 -- Outside the Radisson City Center hotel, hundreds of Somali people protested and drew attention to a visit by Abdi Mohamud Omar, president of the Ogaden region of Ethiopia. They demanded that human rights abuses under Omar's growing military end, while raising awareness of the US' unquestioning military aid to Ethiopia.
The Ogaden region is a place of decades-long conflict, home to nomadic Somali people and occupied by the Ethiopian military. Both the Ogaden National Liberation Front and the military are accused of human rights abuses against civilians in the region by Human Rights Watch(1) -- hangings, setting makeshift villages on fire, systemic rape as a tool of warfare, hording the food aid from the UN and NGO's in the middle of droughts, demanding that men become soldiers in order to access food and water.
The government shuts down basic aid operations as soon as they're suspected of providing material aid to the rebels.(2) Always the threat of invisible rebels lurks in the countryside patrolled by soldiers, who use any excuse to collectively punish civilians and refugees. According to the Ogaden National Liberation Front, "In 1981 the Organisation of African Unity committee mediating between Somalia and Ethiopia regarding the conflict in the Ogaden declared that the Ogaden is part of Ethiopia. That decision was based on the 1964 resolution of the OAU promulgated in Cairo regarding the sanctity of the African borders left by colonialism. That unjust resolution in no way took into account the aspirations of the people of Ogaden and wrongly portrayed the Ogaden conflict as a border dispute between two States when it is infact a conflict borne from the desire of the Ogaden people for self-determination." (5)
The pattern of violence is very similar to that of the genocide in the Darfur region of Sudan. But if there is a genocidal crisis in Ogaden, why is it not the subject of US Presidential addresses, as Darfur was even in the Bush administration? Why is it not in the news? Where are the divestment campaigns for Ethiopia? Why does the Genocide Intervention Network not list Ogaden among its areas for concern?(3) Why do we learn of actions to take regarding Darfur, but not Ogaden, when we call the Genocide Intervention Network's youth-driven hotline, 1-800-GENOCIDE?
According to the 2007 Human Rights Watch testimony on Ethiopia and the state of democracy, "the crisis in Ogaden is linked to a US-supported military intervention by Ethiopia in Somalia that has been justified in terms of counter terrorism. Because the United States has until now supported Ethiopia so closely, there is a widespread and growing sentiment in the region that the United States also shares some of the blame for the Ethiopian military's abusive conduct."
Their testimony to the US' House Committee on Foreign Affairs, Subcommittee on Africa and Global Health called Ethiopian security forces "among the most abusive on the continent." Hundreds of thousands of people have been displaced. Is this not enough magnitude of violence to merit our action?
The US government has investigated and listened to some of the protesters, here among the highest concentration of Somali people outside Somalia, in Minnesota. But our representatives seem unsure of what to actually do. One of the organizers, Sadiq, said that they're grateful for Senators Klobuchar & Franken & their attempts to keep President Omar out of the country and away from Minnesota. Regardless, Omar arrived at the hotel and kept his purposes from the press.
But his presence, and his regime's guilt, were all too evident amid the chanting crowds downtown on Sunday.
Is it time to divest from Ethiopia? Is this the year to reduce their military aid, this year that began with the surprising announcement that the Obama administration would cut the defense budget for the first time since the Cold War? (4)