May 28, 2012 (PARIS) – Ethiopia’s Special Paramilitary Forces, in abuses in March executed 10 civilians after engaging in a dispute with villagers in the country’s remote Eastern Somali region, Human Rights Watch (HRW) alleges in a report released Monday.
According to HRW, on March 16, a Liyu (meaning “special” in Amharic) police member fatally shot Abdiqani Abdillahi Abdi, a resident of Raqda village, in the Gashaamo district of the Somali region, after the victim attempted to stop police abusing a fellow resident.
Shortly after the incident villagers from Raqda, including members of Abdiqani’s family, retaliated by killing seven members of the Liyu police force, triggering a fierce reprisal from Ethiopia’s special forces.
On March 16 and 17 dozens of the Liyu police returned to the villages and carried out a retaliation operation during which the forces summarily executed at least 10 men who were in their custody, killed at least 9 residents in ensuing gunfights, abducted at least 24 men, and looted dozens of shops and houses, according to a HRW fact finding mission.
The US-based watchdog interviewed witnesses and relatives of the victims who fled to neighboring Somaliland in fear of the violence.
One witness told Human Rights Watch that three Liyu police forces randomly selected men among those abducted and shot them three times in the forehead and shoulder”.
Ethiopian government officials have not commented on the incident.
Leslie Lefkow, deputy Africa director at Human Rights Watch, condemned the abuses and urged the Ethiopian authorities to bring those responsible to justice and prevent future abuses by the so called Liyu Police force.
“The killing of several Liyu police members doesn’t justify the force’s brutal retaliation against the local population,” said Lefkow.
“The Liyu police abuses in Somali region show the urgent need for the Ethiopian government to rein in this lawless force.”
Ethiopia’s Somali region has been the site of a low-level insurgency for more than a decade by the Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF), an ethnic Somali separatist movement seeking greater political autonomy for the region.
The horn of Africa nation doesn’t allow access for journalists, aid organisations, human rights groups, and other independent monitors to the region.
“For years the Ethiopian government has jailed and deported journalists for reporting on the Somali region,” Lefkow said. “Donor countries should call on Ethiopia to allow access to the media and rights groups so abuses can’t be hidden away.”
Human Rights Watch’s investigations in 2008 indicated that Ethiopian Defense Forces and the ONLF had committed war crimes during conflict between mid-2007 and early 2008 and that the Ethiopian armed forces could be responsible for crimes against humanity based on the patterns of executions, torture, rape, and forced displacement.