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Photos: Obang Metho

For more photos of refugees, see Refugees.

The following accounts were originally published in The McGill Report. Full accounts, as well as more in-depth reports on the events that have taken place since December 13, 2003, can be found at

“About 300 uniformed soldiers marched into the town. They knocked on doors or pushed them down and pulled out all the men and the boys. Then they beat them on the street and told them to run. When they ran, they shot them. They killed my boy. He was a driver and they shot him in his car. I hid in the bush and I saw them beating people, shooting people, and burning houses. We collected 403 bodies. They are in a mass grave.”


“Emmanuel Okwier Oletho, a teenage agriculture student in Gambella who has a sister in Minnesota, was at home at around noon on December 13. His father, Okwier Oletho, the pastor at the Assembly of God Chuch, was one of Gambella’s most prominent figures. Here is Emmanuel’s eyewitness account of that day:

“‘A lot of Highlanders came, followed by Ethiopian government soldiers. My Pop opened the window and he said ‘I’m a pastor, why are you looking for me?’ They said ‘We are searching for you. You are the one we are looking for.’ He said ‘Okay, let me finish my prayer.’ At that time the house was starting to burn because they threw two bombs into the house. The furniture was burning.

“When he finished he ran out the window. They pursued after him and killed him with an axe. There were three soldiers in uniform. One guy who had come to visit my Dad, they shot him in the back. When he fell down they poured gas on him and they burned him. The guy was absolutely roasted.

“Two members of the choir were praying and the soldiers said, ‘We are going to blow up the church.’ Then when the choir members were running out of the church, the soldiers shot them in the back.

“My cousin, they shot him in the face. He was a little guy. He was really angry when he realized that his father was killed. So he came out the house really angry, and when he came out they shot him the face.

“The military used guns, the Highlanders uses machetes, spears, and axes. The Highlanders were our neighbors. We used to even share coffee together. I can’t explain it. It really hurts for me even to say it. They cut you just like a tree. A person you used to live with, they killed you like a dog. It’s unbelievable.”


“The eyewitness Anuak accounts have been corroborated by independent investigations made by humanitarian groups including Genocide Watch in Washington, DC., and the World Organization Against Torture, based in Geneva, Switzerland. Amnesty International and the governments of the U.S., the European Union, Canada have all called on the Ethiopian government to immediately investigate the reports.

"The Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Defense Front and highland Ethiopian civilians [have] initiated a campaign of massacres, repression, and mass rape deliberately targeting the indigenous Anuak minority," Genocide Watch wrote in its February 2004 report, following a research team visit to Pochalla. ‘A severe escalation of violence [has] the potential to provoke a full-scale international military confrontation if not immediately checked.’

“The Genocide Watch team documented numerous instances of attacks on Anuak as the Highlander attackers sang or chanted slogans like "Let’s kill them all!" and "Now is the day for killing Anuak!" Hand grenades thrown into huts was frequently reported, as was looting and, on February 1, the exhumation of a mass grave in the Jabjab region of Gambella by 11 Ethiopian soldiers, apparently to remove evidence of the massacre.

“In Addis Ababa on April 22, Barnabas Gebre-Ab, the Ethiopian Federal Minister with statutory responsibility for Gambella state, insisted that all reports of an Anuak genocide were ‘fabrications.’

“Gebre-Ab admitted the region had suffered ‘tragic’ bouts of violence in recent months but said the killers were not the Ethiopian military but, rather, armed revolutionary cells of the Anuak people themselves.”


“An Anuak leader in St. Paul sent a New Year’s e-mail to a dozen Anuak friends in the U.S., Australia, and Canada. The e-mail had photographs of smiling Anuak boys and girls, and the message read:

“‘No one is going to stand up for us, so we must stand up for ourselves. We all need to come together and tell the whole world, and our enemies too, that the Anuak people have a right to live in this, God's world. It is our birth place, just like the rest of the human species.’”


From Genocide Watch and Survivors’ Rights International’s report, Today is the Day for Killing Anuaks:  Read the complete report.

“Numerous eyewitnesses gave accounts of Anuak civilians being shot in the back while running away.

“Witness #1, from Gambella, reported that violence occurred in villages of Gambella, Pinyudo, Ilya and Akadin almost simultaneously. He also showed a scar on his arm caused by his being beaten by EPRDF soldiers, and he reported knowledge of a list of some 91 people to be targeted. The witness’s daughter identified two Highlander assailants. His family was also beaten. The witness was taken to the military barracks where he found 200 Anuaks under detention, many covered with blood and some hacked with knives…

“Several witnesses exposed scars on their bodies. Survivors reported that soldiers, followed by armed groups of Highlanders, systematically attacked Anuak homes. One witness who saw three people killed early on December 13 stated, ‘It was a military tactic: the military would shoot Anuaks, then have the Highlanders come and butcher these people. Two were still alive; one was dead when the Highlanders attacked.’

“…Hand grenades were thrown inside or near structures clearly occupied by women and children.

“Policeman Ojulu Omot (~35) and Pastor Okwer Olatho (~45), both Anuaks, were summarily executed at close range after they jumped out of a window of a burning hut that had been torched by soldiers. The soldiers occupied strategic posts and executed occupants as they fled. Insisting that he be the first of his family to flee a burning house surrounded by soldiers, Pastor Okwer Olatho was shot by soldiers after jumping from a window, and then he was hacked to death by Highlanders.

“Witness #2 gave the names of five people killed, including his son and Pastor Okwer Olatho, and he described in detail how the killings occurred on December 13 in Gambella town.

“Witness #4 described numerous killings in detail, in Gambella town, including the killing of his father, who was bludgeoned on the head with a rock and then mutilated by Highlanders. The witness alleges seeing a Highlander set fire to his house. He reported: a ‘gang of Highlanders… was tricking people into coming out of hiding and then killing them.’

“Some witnesses describe being taken to military barracks where hundreds of other Anuaks were being held. Surviving physical assaults, witnesses reported seeing wounded Anuaks taken from these barracks, allegedly to hospital. Detainees were apparently released within one or two days, instructed to go home, and sometimes escorted by soldiers. Witnesses offered detailed accounts of abuse and intimidation by soldiers. Survivors generally described a coordinated effort by authorities to deceive and confuse Anuaks into believing the military and police were acting to protect civilians. ‘They arrested and released us and then killed us,’ one witness testified.

“Soldiers were consistently described as EPRDF personnel in clearly marked uniforms with standard equipment. Assailants were identified by name in numerous cases. However, evidence suggests that soldiers and police were not universally involved in committing atrocities, and that some (non-Anuak) soldiers and police worked to stop or mitigate the violence and defend victims.

“Several witnesses testified to seeing trucks driving over corpses on the street.”


“In the absence of Anuak men—some murdered, many driven into exile—Anuak women and girls have been subject to sexual atrocities from which there is neither protection nor recourse. Due to the isolation of women and girls in rural areas, rapes in rural areas remain substantially under-reported and undocumented.

“All witnesses reported that rape was widespread. In one instance, for example, assailants threatened a 10-year-old girl with death for screaming, and they shouted (translation): ‘We are going to kill your men and the next generation of Anuaks will be produced by us.’

“Case of rapes are too numerous to be listed here, but a few notorious cases give a sample of the crimes committed.

“On December 20, 2003 an Anuak from Gambella told Genocide Watch that ‘more than 23 Anuak women were raped by the Ethiopian armed forces personnel in just one week.’

“On December 20, 2003, a 13-year-old Anuak girl was raped in Echway village 6 km. away from Gambella city.

“On December 21, 2003, three Anuak girls, age 18 and 15, and a 46 year old Anuak woman were raped in four different parts of Gambella city.

“On December 21, 2003, five Anuak girls, age 12, 14, 16, 17 and 20 were raped in the village Polmolea in Gambella district.

“On December 15, 2003, a 43-year-old woman from Eleya village in Gambella district was raped in front of her husband and two children by army men.

“In a locally much-publicized case, a 16-year-old student at Gambella High School was detained, and then raped.

“Ajullu Ogula was raped and then shot dead in her home in Abobo district on Monday, 22 December 2003.

“An Anuak woman from Pinykiwo village was raped on 28 December 2003. Three men of the EPRDF under the pretext of checking her house for cadres, stuffed the mouth of the husband of the victim with cloth and gang raped the victim.

“On January 28, EPRDF soldiers summarily executed a father for attempting to challenge the soldiers who that day raped his 10-year-old daughter.
“On January 28, after being raped by six EPRDF soldiers in Pinyudo, a 15-year-old girl, went home and committed suicide.”


From an interview conducted by Eisei Kurimoto, Professor of Anthropology, Graduate School of Human Sciences, Osaka University, Japan with a survivor named Omot:  Read the complete report.

“…You know, I was just standing at the gate [of his compound] and watching what was happening. I was with my wife, a son, and other two children. When things were deteriorating, I sent them away. They ran away. I remained alone standing and waiting. I even did not close the door. They shot me and I fell down. When I fell down they shot me again, and it was missed. I could not go back to shut the door. When I tried to run, they shot me again. I fell down. An old man standing behind me was shot and died. I saw his blood. While they were busy with him I ran away.

“Which parts of your body were shot?

“First I was shot at my chest. But the bullet did not hit me. It went through my T-shirt and came out by the sleeve. When they shot for the second time, I saw dust between my legs. Then I fell down. Before that they shot from a distance and the bullet hit the gate of Pastor Othwol’s house. I entered into his compound. Five or six of them came and aimed at me. From then I did not know anything. They beaten me and I remained there unconscious. After two or three minutes, I heard the sound of grenade exploded in the house of Pastor Othwol Omot. He was inside the house with other children and big boys. When I got up, the whole house thatched by grass was burning. Even the hut I entered was burning. So I could not see well except the fire and a soldier of the Defence Force. Then I tried to walk away, but I could not run. My both legs had been beaten by machete. I do not remember very well. What I remember is that a boy came and caught my hand. When I looked at him, he was shot and he ran away. They left me there. I went and fell down in the Jabjabe river. I recall that a boy pulled me out of the river, and took me to the bank. I did not know anything. It was about 1 pm. I do not know exactly. From 1 pm up to 5 pm, I did not know anything. I remained unconscious. Finally around 5 pm somebody came. Her name is Achala. She was afraid because all of my face was drained with blood. She went and called some boys. Okuny and others came and carried me to the house of my father-in-law at Addis Safar. They washed me. My wife, mother-in-law, and others were weeping beside me. They had run away and then were called back. I spent a night there.

“Next day on Sunday, I saw every thing from morning till evening. On Sunday morning it (destruction and killing) started at 8 am. I saw people running. They were looting and burning. It was very bad.

“Can you tell me how many wounds you had on your body on that day?

“Yes, I can tell you, but some of them I cannot tell you exactly because I was unconscious. First my right hand indicating finger was injured by bullet. It was broken and it is still paining. On the day, I did not feel pain. My chin was hit by machete and it bled a lot. The lower lip was also cut into two, and a lower tooth was dislodged. My nose was also hit by machete and bled a lot. On my head there are four wounds hit by machete. My left hand thumb was also hit by machete or what, I don’t know. Now it is deformed. My ring finger is also broken at the bottom. My right shoulder was badly beaten. One of my left ribs was broken. My left buttock was badly beaten. Something might have been broken, and it is still painful. Both of my legs were beaten by machete. They bled and swelled. I think that they tried to cut my legs. Maybe they wanted break my legs so that I could not run away. My left ankle is still paining. I don’t know how many wounds I got. They were killing me. I was very lucky that I did not die. It was very difficult to resist. I could not even speak because my lower lip was cut. If you had seen me on that day, you could not have recognized me. I was bleeding all over and different parts of my body swelled. It was very bad.”