Promises of justice to Jail Ogaden survivors but perpetrators may walk

Hundreds of critics were detained and tortured in a secretive jail, but their tormentor may go scot-free in peace deal

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Somali President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud and the president of the Somali region in Ethiopia Abdi Mohamud
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BY Fuad Abdirahman

The head of the Somali region state in Ethiopia Abdi Mohamoud Omar recently acknowledged that his administration carried out killings on its own civilians at the request of Tigrayan People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), and sought forgiveness, in the spirit of the “message of forgiveness” advanced by Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed.

Hundreds of his critics were detained and tortured in a secretive jail known as Jail Ogaden, most of whom were accused of having ties with the Ogaden National Liberation Front, a separatist group which was founded in 1984. The group was recently removed from the terror watch list by the Ethiopian parliament.

In the surprise declaration, Omar attributed his administration’s woes to the TPLF, confessing he killed on their orders.

“Our people need to forgive each other. Those who are dead will not come back. Let’s forget what they [TPLF] did to us. We also need to stop silencing dissidents with lethal force to the point of killing them. We should be able to have a dinner together while having different points of view.”

But even as reconciliation is on the air, it is a difficult pill for families whose loved ones were brutally murdered to swallow. Some have vowed they will not personally forgive him.

Omar admitted to giving cash to buy the peace of people he accused of causing the havoc in his region. He particularly fingers one Getachew Assefa, an intelligence officer he says he obtained his orders from.

“Every massacre in the region was also ordered by Assefa [he threw in a curse word for good measure]. He is also behind the Oromo-Somali conflict. Do you think that Oromos and Somalis just went to war?” he posed.

Ethiopia’s new Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed

Even as reconciliation is on the air, it is a difficult pill for families whose loved ones were brutally murdered to swallow. Some have vowed not to forgive Omar

The Ogaden Jail was recently shut down by the authorities in the Somali region following a directive from Ahmed. The facility was holding hundreds of prisoners, among them 32 females, many of whom have given birth while in jail. There, they say, they were asked to kill their children, or give them up to be killed so they don’t grow to be sympathisers of ONLF. “: None of the children born while I was there had any [professional] help, only from the women. I requested [medical care] treatment for my birth because I knew I would give birth soon. Liyu police said “put it [the baby] in the toilet, they are of no use; they will just grow up to be a sympathizer of the Ogaden National Liberation Front.

One woman narrated how a sharp piece of metal was used to cut the umbilical cord; another said he was kept in solitary confinement, “in complete darkness for most of my [three year] detention.”

A report by the human right titled “We are Like the Dead” details the torture and other human rights abuses in the jail. The report documents the “brutal and relentless pattern of abuse, torture, rape, and humiliation, with little access to medical care, family, lawyers, or even at times to food”.

Felix Horne, senior Africa researcher at Human Rights Watch says “Ethiopia’s new prime minister admitted security forces have tortured Ethiopians, but he has yet to tackle Ethiopia’s culture of impunity and ensure accountability for abuses by the security forces.”

The situation in Jail Ogaden, he submits, requires immediate and transparent investigation into the actions of the regional president, other senior Somali region officials, and the Liyu police.

Dr Ahmed has assured justice to the victims of what he called security apparatus engaging in “human rights violation”. (

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