Canada denies entry visa to Gambella Genocide suspect
Ethiomedia | June 7, 2008
Omot Obang Olum
Omot Obang Olum
Exiled Anuaks
Flags from Ethiopia's western Gambella region hang over the door as members of Ethiopia's Anuak community-in-exile gather for a meeting Saturday, May 31, 2008 in Minneapolis. (AP Photo/Jim Mone)
SEATTLE, Washington - The government of Canada on Saturday denied an entry visa to a senior Ethiopian government official heavily implicated in the Gambella Genocide in which 424 Anuak were massacred in 2003, a press statement has said.

Omot Obang Olum, governor of Ethiopia's southernmost Gambella region, was on June 7 scheduled to speak to Canadian Ethiopians in Calgary, the Anuak Justice Council (AJC) reported on Saturday.

On May 31 Mr. Olum met with the Anuak in Minnesota but most questions fielded were related to his involvement in the gruesome massacre of the Anuak people, which he denied strongly.

US officials were alerted of the crimes of Mr. Olum but they couldn't go beyond detaining him briefly because the genocide suspect was carrying a diplomatic visa that offered him immunity from any action, AJC said.

Meawhile, AJC acknowledged the appropriate action taken by the Government of Canada, and cited in its statement how the victims of Mr. Olum would at least get a brief respite that it was a matter of time before Mr. Olum and his seniors in Addis were brought to justice.

High-ranking officials of the government in Addis were never held accountable for their actions, the statement said, highlighting Canada's actions as one taken in the right direction. AJC pleaded that "Western nations don't have to be havens for perpetrators of crimes against humanity."

"Mr. Olum, who was the chief of security for the region at the time of the massacre, had been identified in testimony from witnesses given to human rights investigators from Genocide Watch, Survivors Rights’ International and Human Rights Watch (HRW) as the individual responsible for compiling and handing over the list of Anuak leaders who were later targeted and killed," the statement said. "Mr. Olum later was appointed as governor of the Gambella region in a suspected payoff for his loyalty."

A political observer monitoring the events in Ethiopia said the government in Addis, which itself is ultimately responsible for the crimes, sent Mr. Olum to North America as a litmus test whether Canada and US would tolerate visits by individuals already known among human rights watchdogs.

"Zenawi was virtually using Olum as a 'guinea pig' whether his visits to North America would pass unnoticed, or would provoke legal actions of both governments and the Ethiopian Diaspora," one analyst told Ethiomedia.

AJC on its part said the West's 'War on Terror' has contributed to the willingness of donor countries such as Canada and the United States to turn a blind eye to the horrific violations of human rights and oppression in countries such as Ethiopia whose partnership in the War on Terror has given them impunity.

"Yet, on the home front, the prime minister of Ethiopia, Meles Zenawi, is terrorizing the Ethiopian people. Canada’s partnership with Meles Zenawi, also seen by many Ethiopians as complicity with a dictator, is putting Canada’s own future relationship with Ethiopians in jeopardy," the press release said.

AJC urged for more actions, and said extending support to criminals in whatever form means extending a helping hand to those who perpetuate crimes against humanity.

For further details, download the
AJC Press Release


Ethiopia's Gambella Genocide suspect in Minnesota

MINNEAPOLIS, MN — The burning question in the days before the tense meeting held here last Saturday was: How would the traumatized survivors of an accused mass killer greet the very person who had planned their doom?

Omot Obang Olom has been named by human rights groups as a key architect of a genocide against the African Anuak tribe of western Ethiopia.  

Last Saturday, that same man met face-to-face with more than a hundred Anuak survivors of the genocide who now live in Minnesota, which is home to the largest Anuak diaspora population in the world.  

The Minnesota Anuak and Olom confronted each other in an otherwise plain conference room at a Minneapolis Sheraton. The Anuak sat in rows before a dais where Olom perched watchfully if impassively for a full six hours, flanked by two stony-faced Ethiopian officials on his either side.

Reluctant Speakers

The dais was draped with the red, green and yellow flag of Ethiopia, with bunches of white cut flowers and brightly painted Anuak gourd bowls.  

Olom today is the governor of the Ethiopian state of Gambella, the ancestral homeland of the Anuak tribe and ground zero of the genocide. The declared purpose of his visit was to assure the Anuak of Minnesota, who fled here to escape likely death in Ethiopia, that their homeland is now peaceful enough that they may return to raise their families, to do business, and to invest. 

A microphone stood in the center aisle of the audience for anyone brave enough to address Olom publicly. An Anuak moderator however began the session by declaring that if anyone was too afraid to speak – many Anuak had said they feared for the lives of families members still in  Ethiopia -- they could write down their questions instead on a piece of paper.  

In Jesus' Name

The Anuak of Minnesota who attended the Saturday meeting were dressed as if for church, and sat respectfully as if in pews.  

The Anuak men were immaculately groomed, wearing handsome suits and patent leather shoes, sometimes with subtle silver ear studs and stylish eyeglasses. The women likewise were tastefully turned out in flowing long colorful dresses, bright gold-and silver-bangled jewelry and sweeping headscarves covering long braided hair. 

The meeting began with a vigorous prayer from Omot Aganya, a Minnesota Anuak pastor.  

“We must be sure that there are absolutely no hard words, no fighting today!” Aganya thundered, jabbing the air with his fist. “We thank God for this opportunity to meet together and to talk. We REBUKE ALL EVIL SPIRITS that might enter this room. We CAST THEM AWAY so this meeting will have a positive outcome, IN JESUS’ NAME!” 

Intense Stares

Olom, the reputed killer, was a baby-faced man only in his mid-30s. He wore a powder blue suit and wire-rim glasses, and spoke in the flat tones of a technocrat, not the impassioned tones of an ideologue.  

“It’s been too long since we have talked,” he told the crowd in his opening statement. “We need to all be in conversation today because Gambella needs you. You all need to become a part of a new democratic Gambella. We are peaceful today and there are chances for development. If the Anuak of America don’t become a part of that, we won’t make any progress.” 

When he was finished, about half the audience applauded weakly.  

Then, during the Q&A, the positive-to-negative comment ratio veered sharply negative. All but a handful of the audience questions were sharply critical of Olom.  

Sorrow and Fury

The most poignant comments came from Anuak women who fixed Olom with intense glares and lashed him with words mixing sorrow and fury.  

One woman began by sternly uttering a single word, “Okichi.” It was Olom’s childhood nickname which was known to everyone, and when she said the word a ripple of nervous laughter spread throughout the room.  

Another woman leaned into the microphone and said to Olom: “Thank you for being here, for not running away from us. We want to tell you what we have in our hearts. We will say good things and bad things. But the first thing is, you should have started your speech with an apology. We want to hear your apology. Yet you still have not yet apologized. Will you now apologize?” 

The apology the Anuak woman sought was for the gruesome events of December 13, 2003 and for the years that have followed – the period of time that a major 2005 Human Rights Watch report says that Olom was involved in “crimes against humanity” against the Anuak.  

"Exceptionally Hard-Line"

On December 13, according to those reports and to a journalistic account, more than 100 soldiers entered the Anuak town of Gambella, where they led a rampage that ended in the deaths of 425 Anuak men, the destruction of hundreds of  Anuak homes, and the rape of Anuak women and girls.  

Two reports by the human rights group Genocide Watch cite witnesses saying that Olom, who was Gambella's security chief during the massacre, gave lists of educated Anuak men to the Ethiopian army to be targeted for execution. 

In the years following 2003, Olom “has taken an exceptionally hard-line approach to stamping out the threat to regional security,” the 2005 Human Rights Watch report said. “Unarmed young men have been frequently shot at and in many cases killed while traveling between villages. Many [Army] patrols seem to view any Anuak civilian who runs away from them a legitimate target.” 

The Living Dead

In the six-hour Saturday meeting, Olom never apologized. To the contrary, he flatly denied having passed a death list of Anuak names to the Ethiopian army, and he blamed the massacre of December 13 on his predecessor as governor of Gambella, whom he called weak and cowardly. 

“It is wrong that people point to me as the bad guy,” Olom said, even though he was Gambella’s security chief during the 2003 massacre. “I was only trying to calm the situation.”  

During the Saturday meeting, members of Olom’s delegation said that lists of the Anuak dead that are published on the Internet are inflated and inaccurate.  

“I have seen people on that list walking around in Gambella,” the official said. Some names on the list also were double-counted, he said. 

Blaming Victims

In many cases it was Anuak troublemakers who caused the killing on December 13, one Ethiopian official told the crowd. Olom said that dozens of Anuak men in prison today in Ethiopia are still suspects in the killings. 

My translator, an Anuak named Magn Nyang, offered a bitter comment after translating those words.  

“Is he saying that we killed ourselves on December 13?” Magn asked. 

“He is blaming the victim,” Magn said. “Omot Olom is not answering the most important question, which is who has been found guilty of the crimes? We want that question answered and we want those who are guilty to be arrested.” 

Legal Hearings

Many Anuak refused to attend yesterday’s meeting on ethical grounds. Some of them contacted the U.S. State Department and the Department of Homeland Security, to try to deny Olom a visa or even to have him arrested.  

One of the boycotters was Obang Metho, a prominent Anuak activist and writer who lives in Saskatchewan and travels frequently to Minnesota.  

Last Wednesday, Metho, the director of the Anuak Justice Council, published an article explaining why he would boycott Saturday’s meeting: “It should take place under some other venue -- a legal hearing in a court, a truth-and-reconciliation hearing, or at least an Anuak traditional approach where there is accountability for what one has done and the truth is held in high regard,” Metho wrote.  

The traditional Anuak approach mentioned by Metho is a prominent feature of Anuak culture called “gurtong,” in which aggrieved parties meet, the facts of a case are painstakingly determined, accountability is established, and a mutual settlement is reached.

Blunt Spears

Literally translated “to blunt a spear,” gurtong has been studied by anthropologists and proposed by some human rights groups as a model peacemaking process. 

Another boycotter of Saturday’s meeting was Obang Kono Cham, an Anuak from Rochester who sends money regularly to a brother who has lived in a refugee camp in Kenya since he fled the massacre of December 13, 2003. 

“I’m still suffering because of my brother, and every Anuak does the same thing because of Omot Olom and his crimes,” Cham said. “I didn’t want to go to the meeting and see him deny all of that in front of me.” 

Yet, Cham added, “Olom also has suffered from the violence. He’s been forced by the Ethiopian government to kill his own people. When you look into his eyes, you see there is nothing there. He also is a victim.”

Douglas McGill can be reached at

See an earlier story, A Genocide Planner to Meet His Minnesota Survivors

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