Ethiopia: Special police execute 10
Human Rights Watch | May 28, 2012
NAIROBI -- An Ethiopian government-backed paramilitary force summarily executed 10 men during a March 2012 operation in Ethiopia's eastern Somali region. Detailed information on the killings and other abuses by the force known as the “Liyu police” only came to light after a Human Rights Watch fact-finding mission to neighboring Somaliland in April.
“The killing of several Liyu police members doesn’t justify the force’s brutal retaliation against the local population,” said Leslie Lefkow, deputy Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “The Liyu police abuses in Somali region show the urgent need for the Ethiopian government to rein in this lawless force.”
The Ethiopian government should hold those responsible for the killings and other abuses to account and prevent future abuses by the force.
Ethiopian authorities created the Liyu (“special” in Amharic) police in the Somali region in 2007 when an armed conflict between the insurgent Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF) and the government escalated. By 2008 the Liyu police became a prominent counterinsurgency force recruited and led by the regional security chief at that time, Abdi Mohammed Omar (known as “Abdi Illey”), who is now the president of Somali Regional State.
The Liyu police have been implicated in numerous serious abuses against civilians throughout the Somali region in the context of counterinsurgency operations. The legal status of the force is unclear, but credible sources have informed Human Rights Watch that members have received training, uniforms, arms, and salaries from the Ethiopian government via the regional authorities.
Human Rights Watch spoke to 30 victims, relatives of victims, and witnesses to the March incidents from four villages who had fled across the border to Somaliland and who gave detailed accounts of the events.
Witnesses told Human Rights Watch that on the evening of March 16 the Liyu police returned to Raqda following the clashes with the community earlier in the day that left seven police force members dead. The next morning, March 17, the Liyu police rounded up 23 men in Raqda and put them into a truck heading towards Galka, a neighboringvillage. Along the way the Liyu police stopped the truck, ordered five randomly selected men to descend, and shot them by the roadside. “It was three police who shot them,” a detainee told Human Rights Watch. “They shot them in the forehead and shoulder: three bullets per person.”
Also on March 17, at about 6 a.m., Liyu police in two vehicles opened an assault on the nearby village of Adaada. Survivors of the attack and victims’ relatives described Liyu police members going house to house searching for firearms and dragging men from their homes. The Liyu police also started shooting in the air. Local residents with arms and the Liyu police began fighting and at least four villagers were killed. Many civilians fled the village.
After several hours the Liyu police left but later returned when villagers came back to the village to bury those killed earlier that day. Fighting resumed in the afternoon and at least another five villagers were killed. The Liyu police took another four men from their homes and summarily executed them. A woman whose brother was a veterinarian told Human Rights Watch: “They caught my brother and took him outside. They shot him in the head and then slit his throat.”
For five days Liyu police also deployed outside Langeita, another village in the district, and restricted people’s movement. The Liyu police carried out widespread looting of shops and houses in at least two of the villages, residents said.
Human Rights Watch received an unconfirmed report that following the incidents local authorities arrested three Liyu police members. However it is unclear whether the members have been charged or whether further investigations have taken place.
The Ethiopian government’s response to reports of abuses in the Somali region has been to severely restrict or control access for journalists, aid organizations, human rights groups, and other independent monitors. Ethiopia’s regional and federal government should urgently facilitate access for independent investigations of the events by independent media and human rights investigators, including the United Nations Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial and summary executions.
“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.”
Liyu Police Abuses, March 2012
Summary Executions and Killings
Human Rights Watch interviewed witnesses and relatives of the victims who described witnessing at least 10 summary executions by the Liyu police on March 16 and 17. The actual number may be higher.
On March 16 in Raqda, a Liyu police member shot dead Abdiqani Abdillahi Abdi after he intervened to stop the paramilitary from harassing and beating another villager. Several villagers heard the Liyu police member saying to Abdiqani, “What can you do for him?” and then heard the shot.
The shooting ignited a confrontation between the Liyu police and the local community. The nine Liyu police who were deployed in Raqda then left via the road to the neighboring village of Adaada. A number of Raqda residents, including members of Abdiqani’s family, took their weapons, went after the Liyu police, and reportedly killed seven of them in a confrontation that followed.
The next morning, on March 17 at around 11 a.m., the Liyu police selected five men from a group of 23 men they had detained in Raqda and were taking towards Galka village in a truck. The Liyu police forced the five men to sit by the roadside and then shot them. Another detainee described what happened:
Another detainee saw the five being shot in the head and said the Liyu police threatened the remaining detainees, saying, “We will kill you all like this.”
Witnesses also told Human Rights Watch that a teenage boy was dragged from his uncle’s home, taken nearby, momentarily interrogated, and then shot. One witness heard him reciting a prayer before being killed. His body was left on the ground near a trash dump. A third victim, an elderly man, was taken from outside his home, interrogated for a short time, and then shot while standing. Several witnesses heard him pleading with the police to spare his life. The fourth victim was also taken from his home and shot shortly after.
The Liyu police seriously beat at least three women during house searches in Adaada. A young woman said that Liyu police members who had entered her home beat her after she told them that her husband was absent: “They said I was lying, they kicked me and crushed my head with the back of the gun. I had some injuries in my kidney. I lost a tooth.”
After four days in the truck they were detained for at least another four days out in the sun near the village of Langeita, where they received only minimal food and water. After that the Liyu police took them to Gashaamo, where they were released on March 25 as a result of negotiations between the regional government and clan elders.
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