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Not Again has Become Not Another One: Genocide in Ethiopia

By       Message David Model     Permalink
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View Ratings | Rate It Headlined to None 11/3/09

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Rwanda and Darfur have received at least some attention in the media although the invisible culprits from Western countries, hiding their benighted insouciance behind a veil of humanitarian concern and distractions elsewhere, have managed to normatively escape public censure. But Rwanda and Darfur egregiously pale compared to the atrocities which erupted in the Congo when the CIA assassinated the new, democratically-elected leader, Patrice Lumumba in 1960 and are still being inflicted on the people of the Congo today. Although the conflict in the Congo has variously been referred to as the first world war in Africa or the worst human rights disaster since the end of World War II, the public knows very little about the iniquitous atrocities there which has resulted in over four million dead and millions of refugees.

Those responsible for the above atrocities are complicit in crimes against humanity which are either genocidal or bordering on genocidal. "Not another one" applies to the ongoing destruction of a people in the SomaliRegionalState of Ethiopia where Prime Minister Meles Zenawi has been perpetrating crimes against humanity against the people of Ogaden, a region of Ethiopia. Exempting Western leaders, and in particular, the United States, from scrutiny for their role in supporting the Ethiopian government is the absence of media coverage, the expulsion of the International Red Cross in 2007, and the nonattendance of Amnesty International.

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There has been a long history of disputes over land in the former Abyssinia culminating in a decision by the British to restore Ethiopian sovereignty over the Ogaden region in 1948. Ogaden was a territory populated to a large extent by the Somali people. The Italian military had invaded Abyssinia in 1936 but were ousted by the allied forces in 1941 when Britain established military rule over the territory. Opinion was split in the Ogaden region with some Somalis preferring to remain part of Ethiopia while Somali nationalists objected.

When Somalia gained independence in 1960, it embarked on a campaign to unite all Somali territories including Ogaden. Over the next decades, the Somalia government supported insurgencies inside Ethiopia and embarked on military incursions across the border. In 1976, with the overthrow of Haile Selassie, Somalia's President Sid Barre began supporting rebel groups in Ogaden ultimately leading to the formation of the Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF). ONLF's aggressive efforts to establish self-determination in the Ogaden Region was met by strong measures by the Ethiopian government to maintain tight security in the SomaliRegionalState over the people and the local government.

Inevitably, both sides resorted to armed warfare with ONLF guerrillas pitted against the Ethiopian army. Pursuant to an American-backed Ethiopian invasion of Somalia in 2006, warfare between the ONLF and Ethiopian forces escalated to the point where Prime Minister Zenawi announced on June 9, 2007, that he was mounting a major counter-insurgency to suppress the ONLF rebellion.

The counterinsurgency dramatically escalated when the ONLF attacked a Chinese oil installation in the Somali Region in April 2007, killing more than 70 Chinese. In justifying their actions, the rebels accused the oil companies of destroying the livelihood of the local population, causing massive starvation, and clearing their land preventing them from growing crops.

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In addition, Zenawi's counterinsurgency strategy was not only to destroy the insurgents but to destroy their base of support, the nationalist Somalis living in Ogaden. To accomplish these objectives, Zenawi cut off economic resources to the region, forced massive relocations, destroyed villages, killed civilians on a large scale, and engaged in torture and rape. Over 170,000 Ogaden refugees fled to Daadaab, a massive camp in Kenya.

Human Rights Watch have documented the atrocities in a major study which reports that:

Tens of thousands of ethnic Somali civilians living in eastern Ethiopia's SomaliRegional State are experiencing serious abuses and a looming humanitarian crisis in the context of a little-known conflict between the Ethiopian government and an Ethiopian Somali rebel movement. The situation is critical. Since the mid-2007 thousands of people have fled, seeking refuge in neighboring Somalia and Kenya from widespread Ethiopian military attacks on civilians and villages that amount to war crimes and crimes against humanity.

These atrocities are bordering on genocide, a crime against humanity defined in the Genocide Convention originating with Raphael Lemkin, who was intrigued by the Armenian genocide as a student and horrified by the Nazi holocaust against the Jews and others.

Lemkin's ideals for a world free of genocide, as expressed in the rallying cry "never again", would not be realized because of the nature of the nation-state. Nation-states almost exclusively pursue their own interests and are indifferent to the damage and suffering that arise out of exploiting a people or nation. History is littered with victims of atrocities that have been committed in the name of amelioration, security, humanitarianism, development and defense.

Today, the salient examples are Iraq and Afghanistan. But if you look over the barricades of public discourse and media coverage, you will discover that the same countries are quietly perpetrating a myriad of atrocities elsewhere as in Ethiopia.

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I have been a professor of political science at Seneca College in Toronto. I have published five books the last of which "Selling Out: Consuming Ourselves to Death" was released in May/08. As well, I have been featured in CounterPunch, Z (more...)

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