Anuak Justice Council
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From: Anuak Justice Council (AJC)

To: Human Rights Organizations and International Community.
DATE: April 5, 2005

RE: Ethiopian Government Again Attempts to Use Their “Bag of Tricks”

Who really are these six soldiers who are to be put on trial?
It’s happening again. In an attempt to deny their integral role in the massacre of Anuaks in the Gambella region of southwestern Ethiopia, the EPRDF government of Prime Minister Meles Zenawi has made another attempt to dupe the international community. They market their earnestness in “dealing with the Gambella problem” while deftly executing a “bait and switch” tactic.

After the US Ambassador to Ethiopia, Aurelia Brazeal, visited the Gambella region on January 28, 2005 and spoke with locals, she issued a statement calling on the Ethiopian government to bring all the perpetrators to justice.[i] Almost immediately, the Ethiopian government announced the arrest of six Ethiopian soldiers for the alleged part they played in the massacre of Anuaks in Gambella in December 2003. They have now announced that these soldiers will be going to trial.

This might seem like an encouraging step in the right direction, but according to reliable sources, these soldiers were not even assigned to the area at the time of the massacre. Nor did any of the victims ever name them in their testimonies as possible perpetrators. In fact, they were only arrested as they were trying to desert their posts in November. However, they are proving to be convenient scapegoats for the real culprits, many of who still live in the neighborhoods of the Anuak survivors. Executing real justice might have undesirable consequences. Real perpetrators, even if they are low-level ones, can start talking. Others may be implicated and there could be a backlash. There is little danger of this with these six.

According to inside sources, these men arrived in Gambella with their brigade in April 2004, approximately four months after the massacre began. Since about July 2004, numerous highlanders began deserting the army. After forty men left at the same time, the commander allegedly ordered closer monitoring to determine potential deserters. It was thereby determined that the majority of these deserters were from the Oromo ethnic group and were believed to have a destination of either the border of Sudan or the Oromo area to the east.

These men were suspected of leaving to join the OLF (Oromo Liberation Front), which is said to be currently located in Sudan. By September, checkpoints were set up on the roads most used by deserters. As a result, some Anuak, familiar with the bush, were paid to help them avoid the roads and find alternate routes. As many succeeded, it almost became a business.

During the second week of November, a group of seven highlanders and one Anuak guide, left camp. After crossing the Openo (Baro) River, close to Elaya, they were captured by defense forces that had ambushed them in anticipation of their departure. They were told to raise their hands and give over their guns. All of them reportedly did except one highlander, who refused and subsequently fought with them until he was shot and killed. Two soldiers from the defense forces were also killed in the altercation. The seven men were then brought to Gambella Regional Prison and were told to wait for their hearing. Between the first and second week of January, the Anuak man by the name Ojullu Omot was released, leaving the other six, comprised of five Oromo and another highlander from an unknown ethnic group.

In the first days of February and following US Ambassador Brazeal’s public statement concerning the Gambella massacre, Hailu, came to Gambella and called a meeting with key people. It was reported that it was at this time that the idea was proposed of accusing the six soldiers of being perpetrators in the December 2003 massacre of Anuak. It was also at this time that Tadesse Haile Selassie,[ii] one of the key executioners of the massacre and the former chief of police for the Gambella region, was released from Gambella prison. This was based on a directive from Mr. Hailu, despite the government’s public position that no one should be released from prison until after the election. (Shortly thereafter, he was again arrested, only to be released again later.)

The following day, after Mr. Hailu returned to Addis Ababa, the Minister of Federal affairs, Mr. Abeye Tsehaye announced to the media that seven persons were arrested, one had been cleared (the Anuak man) and that the six of them would be put on trial for the crimes against the Anuak.

It appears that the Ethiopian government is trying to make some cosmetic moves to address the international community’s call for justice while really not doing anything to hold those actually guilty, accountable. At the same time, they seem to be trying to convince the international community that they are the real “victims” of baseless, politically motivated reports. Tragically, these six men, who appear to be innocent of the accused crimes, are now bearing the responsibility for the real killers and organizers, some of whom may be deeply entrenched in this government.

Ethiopia’s Best Trick in the Bag------Instigating Ethnic Rivalry!
Finding scapegoats, like the six soldiers, is certainly not a new ploy for this government, but promoting ethnic conflict is one trick in their bag that has become its hallmark. It is quite effective as it gets the job done without having to dirty one’s own hands. After all, it can all be dismissed as “those ethnic rivalries” surfacing again. It can also serve as a good reason to prevent “outsiders” from entering sensitive areas where they are unwanted observers. If ethnic groups are not actually in conflict, it does not matter. It can still serve as a means to dismiss just about anything.

In the Gambella region, it is well known that the Zenawi led government has been providing guns to some groups (Nuer) while disarming others (Anuak), off and on since its inception. The December 2003 massacre of the Anuak was originally attributed to ethnic fighting between the Anuak and Nuer, a real challenge in logic in that only Anuak died. In actuality, during the massacre, many Nuer protected their Anuak neighbors.

Throughout the last year, some Nuer have stood up on behalf of the Anuak. Some have even given their lives.[iii] There has been increasing unity as the Nuer see themselves as the next possible victims. During the last year, there has almost been a total absence of any ethnically based conflict. Of course, there are others, of different character, who are more opportunistic, sensing the weakened position of the Anuak as a chance to gain more political power as well as an opportunity to encroach on Anuak land.

Since January, there has been continued fighting amongst Nuer groups in the Jikaw district. As a result, many lives have been lost. Recently, on March 15, the Ethiopian government asked the regional vice governor, a Nuer man, five other Nuer, Omot Obang Olom, an Anuak government collaborator in charge of security in the region, three other Anuak and some highlanders to go to Jikaw to meet with the Nuer in order to bring this conflict to an end. Because of the fighting, some of the Nuer had left the area and were now told they could return back to their villages. Some of those who had been involved in the killing and fighting have now started moving eastward towards Gambella and are settling in traditional Anuak areas near the Openo (Baro) River, only 30 to 40 kilometers from Gambella town. With them have come their guns. The Anuak are very uncomfortable with this incursion into their neighborhoods and wonder whether this was one of the incentives offered to restore peace amongst the Nuer.

On March 21, an Anuak farmer who was growing crops beside the river, found cattle eating his new crops. He hit the cow with a stick to chase him and others away. A Nuer man with an AK47 reportedly asked him why he was hitting his cow and the conflict ended when the Nuer man shot and killed him. The Anuak are so fearful now that the women and children have started leaving the area. The Anuak are all disarmed. Even the Anuak police only carry sticks. No one is speaking up as more and more Nuer come. Fear is rising that this will all lead to more killing. It is estimated that five to eight hundred Nuer have already arrived. Following the burial of the farmer on March 22, some of the man’s family and other Anuak went to Gambella to meet with the regional government authority, Omot Obang Olam and other federal officials to ask if they could stop them from coming and to disarm them.
The response was to wait and see, that maybe they would not kill again. Almaw Alemeraw, a high ranking official from the Ministry of Federal Affairs, who has now taken over in the regional government, responded: ‘This is one of your (Anuak) problems. This is what we have been telling outsiders that what is going on is an ethnic problem over the land. The Anuak kill people on the road. They kill Nuer, Majengir, everyone, but Anuak. The Anuak do not want to live with anyone. Let the Nuer live wherever they want.’ Anuak are very afraid that the Nuer will feel they can kill and if the Anuak retaliate, it will be used to convince outsiders that the area is not stable or safe due to ethnic conflict. If the few Anuak insurgents attack Nuer in retaliation, the Nuer will again reciprocate and ethnic fighting may escalate and may include innocent civilians, either Anuak or Nuer.

Another incident occurred on March 28, on the bank of the Openo River near Pokedi. A Nuer man began clearing an area of land right beside the hut of an Anuak man. The Anuak told him there was other available land and he need not move so close to him. In response, a fight started. Six Anuak were killed in an altercation between armed Nuers and unarmed Anuaks. No Nuer were killed. The Anuak survivors contacted the regional government officials, which included Almaw Alemeraw, Omot Obang Olom, the Nuer vice governor and Hailu. Again they were told that nothing would be done; that it was an ethnic problem and that it was in fact, ‘the same ethnic problem that has made the region unstable.’

Another concern and trigger issue is the upcoming election. Most Anuak did not register to vote, in protest to rigged elections, but now the Nuer, who may not even be Ethiopian citizens, have been given the right to vote in the election, something that could dramatically alter the political scene for the local constituency and have long range effects. Again, the rule of law has been manipulated.

The Anuaks believe that the Ethiopian government wants to again create an ethnic problem to be used for their own political advantage. The Anuaks believe the government is well aware that the issues of land and political power could trigger a serious conflict. Any resulting conflict could then be used as a ruse to tell the international community that they (the international community) should “stay out of this”, that “they told us so”, that the events of the past year have simply been part of an ethnic conflict, that they, the Ethiopian government, are the real victims of bad press, that this all along has simply been a valiant effort on their part to reestablish stability between these people who are always engaged in conflict!” Hopefully, their malevolent tricks will be figured out before it is too late and more lives are lost. Hopefully it will backfire on the guilty rather than on the innocent.

Extrajudicial Killings and Disappearances Continue to Terrorize
An atmosphere of terror continues to permeate the Anuak community as crimes of inhumanity against them are so regular that it has become part of their everyday life, changing even the most basic life events such as planting crops, looking for firewood, obtaining water and traveling between villages. On March 16, between Pochalla Aluro and Pinudo, a decomposed body was found in a large culvert. The man was an Anuak from Tatha. He had died from two gunshot wounds to his head.

In Abobo, on March 21, an incident occurred involving another local tribe, the Oduk, who had been recruited by the government from the Bonga Refugee camp who advertised for workers for a cotton plantation. Anuaks had previously worked there until most had fled to Pochalla following the massacre. Since that time, the Oduk have been working there.
On March 21, two Oduk were walking from the plantation to the road. As they approached the road, they were shot and killed by federal troops. One man was 38 and the other was 42. Both have families living as refugees in the camp. After they were buried, other Oduk went to the regional government authorities. The local UNHCR official told them they had been mistaken for Anuaks or they would not have been killed. When they confronted the local government with this, they received an apology. When the Oduk pressured for assurance that there would be no more killings and that the perpetrators would be arrested, they did not get the response they wanted. In protest, the Oduk have refused to continue to work at the coffee plantation.

On March 25, unknown assailants, possibly Anuak insurgents, killed two Ethiopian defense troops who were on the road between Abobo and Gambella. Several days later, on March 28, a minibus traveling from Abobo to Gambella, was stopped midway by approximately eight to ten federal defense soldiers. They ordered three Anuak male riders to get out. The other occupants saw the men remove their bags from the back of the minibus before the driver was ordered to depart, leaving the three Anuak men behind. Four Anuak women remained in the minibus and reported this when they arrived in Gambella. No one has seen the men since.

Now, most Anuak assume this was an act of revenge for the two defense soldiers’ deaths. At a meeting on March 29, some Anuak from Abobo went to the federal official from the Ministry of Federal Affairs, Almaw Alemeraw, who had been overseeing governance in the area since the former Anuak governor, Okello Ochalla, fled the country. They asked Alemeraw about what happened to the three men, assuming they may have been killed. He then asked how they could prove that they were killed and told to bring the proof of their bodies. They later went back and were allegedly told to first tell them him (Alemeraw) about the whereabouts of the Anuak who were assumed to have killed the two federal defense soldiers. The Anuaks then asked if this meant that the authorities actually did know about what happened to the three Anuak men? They were told that if they provided information on the soldier’s assailants, the case would be investigated, otherwise, they would consider it all baseless.

Human Rights Watch’s Report Called Baseless
On March 24, Human Rights Watch (HRW) made public their comprehensive report, “Targeting the Anuak: Human Rights Violations and Crimes against Humanity in Ethiopia’s Gambella Region.” In that report, HRW finds that “the ENDF (Ethiopian National Defense Forces) have committed murder, torture and rape in the course of widespread and possibly systematic attacks directed against the Anuak civilian population in Gambella.” They purport that these attacks bear the hallmark of crimes against humanity under international law. HRW proposes that concerned states exert pressure on the Ethiopian government “to halt the abuses and take serious steps to prosecute all those responsible.”

After the report came out, allegedly the federal government officials in Addis Ababa were angry. Hailu went to Gambella to meet with the regional authorities to question them as to how this investigation could have been allowed to take place? In a public statement in response to this report, the Ethiopian government of Prime Minister Meles Zenawi, calls HRW’s report baseless and politically motivated by those in opposition to the current government. What is of great concern now is as this information reverberates through the international community; this government, in its perpetual scheming, has pulled out one of its favorite tricks from its bag---fomenting ethnic conflict. The stakes are great. It is a time for concerned states to intervene before more bloodshed breaks out and the innocent are the victims, whether Nuer or Anuak.


[i] A significant event occurred on January 28 when the US Ambassador, Aurelia Brazeal, held a special meeting in Gambella with some Anuak, Nuer and highlanders. The local Anuak were highly encouraged by the meeting and subsequent public statement by the Ambassador where she called on the Ethiopian government to bring the perpetrators of the crimes against the Anuak to justice, wherever they are found and called the resource rich area of Gambella, the conscience of Ethiopia.

[ii] Tadesse Haile Selassie’s name is well known in the Anuak community. Victim after victim lists him as a primary organizer and one of the most brutal of all perpetrators in the December 13, 2003 massacre of 424 leaders and educated elite from the Anuak ethnic group. (“Today is the Day For Killing Anuaks”, In January, US Ambassador to Ethiopia, Aurelia Brazeal had met with Anuaks in Gambella where Selassie’s name was repeatedly brought to the forefront as a violent perpetrator of the crimes. After Ambassador Brazeal issued a public statement urging the Ethiopian government to “bring the perpetrators of these crimes to justice, even from the highest offices,” Selassie was again arrested, perhaps as “proof” of earnest efforts by the EPDRF government. On March 14, Selassie started back on the job as the Chief of Police over the entire region of Gambella, after being arrested and detained for the last month. This is the third time the government has arrested and subsequently released him for crimes against the Anuak people of Gambella, Ethiopia.

[iii] In an incident in Dimma, following an attack on highlanders by armed Surma, there was heightened fear on the part of highlanders and the ENDF that Surma were working with Anuaks. When the federal defense commander in charge of the defense forces in the area went to the chief of police of Dimma, a Nuer man, and told him to disarm all the other police, he refused. This Nuer man, Tot, had been in Gambella before and believed that if they were disarmed, the same thing could happen there. Pressure was put on this man to disarm the other police by force. Instead, he told the local indigenous police officers to get their arms ready as the commander would most likely be returning with troops and they may be killed. When the soldiers arrived about twenty minutes later, Tot was the first one shot and killed.

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