- The Ethiopian government has presented a 47-page report "proving" allegations of war crimes and torture in the Ogaden region were false. Villages allegedly burnt down in Ogaden by the Ethiopian army proved to keep existing unharmed.
In June this year, the New York-based group Human Rights Watch (HRW) presented a much-referred to report on "war crimes and crimes against humanity in the Ogaden," referring to interviews with "more than 100 victims and eyewitnesses" to these abuses, most of whom however lived outside Ethiopia.
From June to September 2007, witnesses had described how "Ethiopian troops forcibly displaced entire rural communities and destroyed dozens of rural villages, executed at least 150 civilians" and raped and tortured civilians believed to be in support of the rebel Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF). ONLF had just killed over 70 workers in an attack on an oil installation.
The HRW report was referred to by media all over the world, and subsequent reports on Ethiopia by the group have caused further embarrassment to the Addis Ababa government.
Yesterday, authorities presented a counter-report by "an independent team" that visited the Ogaden. "Allegations of war crimes and crimes against humanity cannot be taken lightly; equally, the government, as always, remains determined to take immediate corrective measures should they prove to have any factual basis," the government said in a statement yesterday.
According to this investigation, the HRW report was erroneous. It had been "relying on hearsay and secondary sources to make extensive accusations," the government concluded.
Indeed, the investigation team had visited most of the villages HRW claim had been burnt down by the Ethiopian army. In Laanjalelo, allegedly burnt down, the investigators found the village intact, with no signs of burning and no forced relocations. The village of Malkaka was where it used to be and the khat fields, allegedly set on fire, still existed. Labiga village too, as was the case for a number of smaller villages in the Warder Zone, the report said.
Some burnt villages however were found. These were Qamuuda and Lasoole, which, according to reports from "former residents", had been burnt down by the rebel ONLF, not the Ethiopian army.
The investigation team says it has interviewed all kinds of witnesses to get to the bottom of HRW allegations. But, "people, alleged seen tortured and killed, were found alive and well. Villagers and elders alike denied allegations of extra-judicial killings, rape or torture by the security forces," the report said. "No evidence could be found of forcible recruitment into the militia; no evidence of mass detentions could be seen in any prison throughout the region," it added.
Only on one account did the investigation find proof of ill-doings by the army. An army officer was accused of torture by several witnesses. "The officer responsible had immediately been court-martialed," according to the government.
"In fact, the on-the-ground investigation found no trace of serious human rights violation let alone war crimes or crimes against humanity during the security measures taken against the ONLF," the Ethiopian team concluded. "It did, however, find a mass of evidence of further systematic abuses committed by the ONLF," it added.
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