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Human Rights Watch Says Abuses Fueling Crisis in Horn of Africa


Human Rights Watch is calling on the UN Security Council to pressure the Ethiopian and Somali governments to end what it calls grave human rights abuses. The group says those abuses are fueling a worsening humanitarian crisis in Somalia and Ethiopia’s Ogaden region.

Ethiopia denies it’s responsible for any human rights abuses in the region, and says the human rights organization is biased.

Tom Porteous is the London director of Human Rights Watch. He spoke to VOA English to Africa Service reporter Joe De Capua.

“Our concerns are that for much of this year it appears that Somalia has been an area of intense military action. But it’s at the same time been more or less a human rights free zone. There has been very little respect for international humanitarian law in the conflict of the region by the belligerents. And this is actually making matters worse, not better. We’ve seen the Ethiopian military intervention in Somalia. The conduct of Ethiopian troops, we feel, has not helped to ease the crisis there. And in fact we’ve seen a wash back of the crisis into Ethiopia with a developing humanitarian disaster in Ogaden in southern Ethiopia across the border from Somalia, which is obviously related to the insurgency in the Ogaden, which in turn is related to the situation in Somalia,” he says.

Human Rights Watch wants the Security Council to press all sides to honor international humanitarian law and the rules of war.

“For one thing, the crisis has been taking place without anyone even sort of acknowledging the grave violations that are associated with the crisis. And I think that to start with the members of the Security Council should really take note and make it clear that they understand what’s going on and condemn all sides for the human rights abuses that are fueling the crisis in Somalia and in the Ogaden region,” he says.

Human Rights Watch says key governments are ignoring the situation at their own peril. Porteous says, “The region is a strategic region. There have been reports of Islamist activity in Somalia and the region…and we believe that the source of abuses that are taking place are likely to further fuel the radicalization, which lies at the at the root of some of these problems and will make them worse. We also very concerned about the situation on the border between Ethiopia and Eritrea. The kind of abuses that are taking place in the region is leading to greater tension there.”

Human Rights Watch says abuses by both sides in the Ogaden region include “the burning of villages, summary executions, confiscation of livestock, the imposition of a trade ban on parts of the region. This has led to immense humanitarian suffering.”

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