Remembering Ogaden Victims of Torture
On the 26th of June, 2012, the world commemorated the 25th anniversary of the signing of the United Nations “Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment” and marked “International Day in Support of Victims of Torture” the same day.
In many countries this event is commemorated by holding events in memory for the victims of torture, supporting survivors heal from the physical and psychological trauma they experience, and reaffirming the commitment made to pursue perpetrators of torture and bring them to justice.
The Convention against Torture document defines torture as “any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person for such purposes as obtaining from him or a third person information or a confession, punishing him for an act he or a third person has committed or is suspected of having committed, or intimidating or coercing him or a third person, or for any reason based on discrimination of any kind, when such pain or suffering is inflicted by or at the instigation of or with the consent or acquiescence of a public official or other person acting in an official capacity (Article I).”
The Convention instructs its signatories to “take effective legislative, administrative, judicial or other measures to prevent acts of torture in any territory under its jurisdiction (Article 2, paragraph 1).”
In this regard, the Ethiopian government which has ratified this Convention in March 1994, states in Article 18 (1) of its constitution that: “No person shall be subject to torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.”
However the reality on the ground in Ethiopia, and in Ogaden region in particular, is very different. Torture, cruel and inhuman or degrading treatment against suspects is standard procedure of the Ethiopian security forces in Ogaden.
The Ogaden Human Rights Committee (OHRC) had extensively reported on the widespread use of torture against innocent civilians in Ogaden by the Ethiopian troops. According to OHRC, the torture methods used include: beatings on the soles of the feet, joints, ankles, shinbone and the testicles; knocking detainee’s head against walls; burning cigarettes in sensitive spots; suffocation of detainees by burying them alive, which causes death in many cases; suspending from the roof upside-down; forcing detainees to drink urine or salty water; rape, molestation and sodomy, many times in front of relatives. (Ethiopia: Torture Victims in the Ogaden are Helpless. OHRC, 16th May 2011.)
Most torture victims falsely admit the charges leveled against them as they cannot endure the severe pain inflicted on them. The courts use confessions obtained through torture as evidence against victims.
Collective Punishment: War Crimes and Crimes against Humanity in the Ogaden area of Ethiopia’s Somali Region
After assembling evidence they collected from more than 30 survivors of torture in its 2008 Report, Human Rights Watch concluded that: “Almost all of the former detainees interviewed by Human Rights Watch who were detained on military bases reported severe beatings and torture during their arrest and interrogation. Detainees frequently reported being beaten and tortured to the point of unconsciousness. Sexual violence against female detainees occurs frequently at military bases, as discussed above. Torture, beatings, and sexual violence all appear to be an officially tolerated practice by military commanders, and there are incidents of base commanders personally participating in all such abuses.”
The Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi responded to these charges by saying: “We are supposed to have burned villages. I can tell you, not a single village, and as far as I know not a single hut has been burned. We have been accused of dislocating thousands of people from their villages and keeping them in camps. Nobody has come up with a shred of evidence. Nobody.”
But the visible scars on the body of victims cannot lie. The mountain of evidences, which Human Rights Watch and others had meticulously collected through interviews with victims, satellite photos showing the burned villages, cannot all be false.
Of course no one expects Meles Zenawi, the man solely responsible for these crimes, to admit them. But for him to dismiss them on the grounds of lack of evidence is absurd to say the least.
“Our victims know us by their scars and by their chains, and it is this that makes their evidence irrefutable,” wrote the late French intellectual, Jean Paul Sartre, in a preface to Frantz Fanon’s famous book The Wretched of the Earth. With these lines, Sartre was stating facts and refuting the French government’s denials of the genocide in Algeria.
Meles Zenawi’s denials cannot cover up the scars of Ogaden victims. He will have to one day pay for the pain and suffering he has inflicted on them.
We publish below disturbing evidence given by a 25 year old Maryama who had survived severe torture at the hands of Ethiopian troops in the village of Hamaro in Fik Zone in 2005:
Britta Radike: Can you tell me a little bit about prison life? How did the soldiers treat you?
Maryama: At night, they [Ethiopian troops] would take a couple of us outside the camp, beat and torture us. At about 9:00 pm, they came and brought us to a nearby hill. They raped me and placed a rope around other people’s necks before throwing them into a latrine to make them talk. If they loosen the rope, you sink. They tortured us for a long time. If you refused to talk, they might bring you back, drag out another woman, and repeat what they’d just done, over and over. The latrine was the soldiers’ toilet. It had no real liquid because they don’t use much water. Over the hole were wooden boards to stand on. They didn’t want to kill us; they wanted to torture us to make us talk.
The about quoted excerpt is extracted from a lengthy paper written by the researcher Tobe Levin and photographer Britta Radike, entitled: “A Place To Call Home: images and interviews of refugees from Ogaden.”
We commemorate this occasion of International Day in Support of Victims of Torture by calling on the international community to force the Ethiopian government to stop the widespread torture campaign it is perpetrating in Ogaden. The International community must stop its leniency to the Ethiopian regime. This regime has violated all norms and values sacred to international law. It must be brought to account for its crimes.
Finally, we take this opportunity to request from the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights to provide treatment and rehabilitation survivors of torture from Ogaden through the Voluntary Fund which was established for this reason.
Ogaden News Agency (ONA)
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