Ethiopia is slowly moving in the right direction after the reformist PM Abiy Ahmed took power over 100 days ago. But unless PM Abiy tackles justice, the rule of law, and impunity; a culture of abuses, combustible tribal violence, and rebellion would foster in Ethiopia.
For the past two decades, it is unfortunate for the Ethiopian justice system to keep a blind eye on the massive human rights abuses that have plagued the country.
This failure has encouraged more human rights abuses to take place in Ethiopia’s ethnic based regional states. But the ground zero of all those abuses is in the Somali regional state.
The Ethiopian citizens in the region are still suffering under the tyrannical rule of the thug Abdi Mohamoud Omar, aka Abdi Illey, the un-elected president of the Somali region. For example, when thousands of Amhara and Oromo prisoners were released have from federal prisons, many Somali prisoners were still languishing in one of the most notorious detention centers in Ethiopia, Jail Ogaden in Jigjga, the seat of the Somali regional government, and other prisoners are not accounted for, according to a report Human Rights watch released last week.
Abdi Illey commands the prison guards and a notorious para-military force the Liyu (Amharic for “First”) police. The Ethiopian military and intelligence services set up the Liyu police, funded by western donors, as a proxy counter insurgency force, against the Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF), a group fighting for self determination for the Somali region.
Most of the units of the force are recruited from his own Sub-clan. Since the Liyu police was instituted, Abdi Illey has been using that force to terrorize the civilian Somali population in the region with impunity, under the guise of fighting ONLF or terrorism in Somalia proper.
To foment ethnic tension, last year, the marauding Liyu police attacked Oromo villagers under the pretext of a border dispute between the Oromia and Somali regional states. As a result, innocent Somalis were slaughtered in the Oromia region, and forced displacement and thousands of civilians of both communities, which co-existed peacefully for centuries.
The Liyu police’s “scorched-earth” tactics include: “Mass killing, torture, kidnappings, rape, looting livestock, destroying wells, and razing villages to the ground,” according to the Human Rights Watch. But so far, no one has been held accountable for those atrocities, some of which may constitute war crimes or crimes against humanity.
The Ethiopian state should not be complicit in the torture and slaughter of its citizens.PM Abiy must fight the culture of impunity for torture that has prevailed in Ethiopia for so long. He must hold accountable, the belligerent Abdi Illey, and his enablers in the Ethiopian army and the intelligence services, who are complicit, commissioned, or abetted in these heinous crimes.
Ethiopia’s Prime minister should also open up the country for the United Nations human rights rapporteurs to conduct an independent investigation of the massive human rights abuses at the notorious Jail Ogaden, and the scorched – earth policy against civilians by federal and regional security forces in the Somali region.
It is time to end the impunity for torture and the reign of terror of the Liyu police: In fact, it is time for PM Abiy to disband the Liyu police for good and to replace it with an inclusive professional regional police force recruited from all Somali clans in the region, and trained by the donor nations, if the Ethiopian state lacks the resources to do so.
Enough is enough. What the beleaguered civilian population in the region desperately deserve is justice and accountability: Any individual with blood on their own hands, like Abdi Illey and other perpetrators, who committed crimes against humanity, have to be held accountable for the unbridled atrocities that took place in the Somali region.
As one 42-year old former prisoner of Jail Ogaden told Human Rights Watch, “We cannot forgive him for what he and his Liyu Police have done to our people. He has destroyed a generation. His police killed my brother, my mother died in jail, and my other brother has disappeared. My family is gone….We will never forgive him. He must face justice for what he has done.”
Today, the era of de-facto dictatorship is on the wane, it is urgent for the Ethiopian state to address the prevailing impunity and the lack of accountability for the human rights abuses and the crimes in Jail Ogaden. That is not only vital for the victims, survivors and their families, to get the truth, justice and accountability and to move on, but also to set an example to powerful government officials that torture does not pay.