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Pastor Oletho Okwier, one of the first killed
Anuak man, Dec 13, 2003
Pastor Okwier's grave days after his death
Homeless Anuak children
Burned out neighborhood

Burned house

Obang Metho
Doug McGill
Keith Snow
John Frankhauser

On December 13, 2003, members of the Ethiopian military and militias formed from non-Anuak minority groups entered Gambella town in southwestern Ethiopia. Over the course of three days, they sought out, tortured and killed 424 men, burned houses, and scattered families. Since that time, the genocide and crimes against humanity have continued, raising the death toll between 1,500 and 2,500, and causing more than 50,000 Anuak to flee.

Previous to the December 13 massacre, tensions and small skirmishes related to land issues and regional autonomy did exist between minority groups and between the Anuak and the Ethiopian government. Because of this, the Ethiopian government has claimed that the killings have been a result of tribal warfare. However, never before has the scope of fighting been so cruel or large-scale, and through several separate investigations, it has become clear that the Ethiopian government not only authorized the attacks, but planned them as well.

A report by Genocide Watch and Survivors’ Rights International on the one-year anniversary of the first massacre includes this description:

“On the first anniversary of December 13 – 16, 2003… the terror continues. Meanwhile, petroleum operations – heavily guarded by troops from the EPRDF (Ethiopia’s current regime in power) -- are rapidly moving forward.

“The Gambella region is under total military occupation. Estimates of the number of Ethiopian troops vary, but GW/SRI sources say between 18,000 and 80,000 EPRDF troops have been deployed in the area, where they commit daily atrocities on the pretext of “counter-terrorism” and “national security.”

“At least 1500 and probably as many as 2500 Anuak civilians have died, with intentional targeting of intellectuals, leaders, and members of the educated and student classes. Hundreds of people remain unaccounted for and many are believed to have been ‘disappeared’ (murdered) by government forces.

“Poor rural villages, where Anuaks and other ethnic minorities live on the margins of subsistence, have been attacked, looted, and burned. EPRDF soldiers have burned thousands of Anuak homes…

“Anuak women and girls are routinely raped, gang-raped and kept as sexual slaves. Girls have been shot for resisting rape, and summary executions of girls held captive for prolonged periods as sexual slaves have been reported. In the absence of Anuak men—killed, jailed or driven into exile—Anuak women and girls have been subject to sexual atrocities from which there is neither protection nor recourse. Due to the isolation of rural areas, rapes remain substantially under-reported. EPRDF soldiers prey upon defenseless women and girls as they pursue the imperatives of daily survival, such as gathering firewood and water or trips to market.

“Some 6000 to 8000 Anuaks remain at refugee camps in Pochalla, Sudan; and there are an estimated 1000 Anuak refugees in Kenya… Displaced civilians are subject to arrest, torture and extrajudicial execution if they are encountered by EPRDF troops…

“Some 500 to 600 Anuak men have reportedly been imprisoned without charge or trial and live under harsh confinement in Gambella and rural jails. They are reportedly subjected to torture. At least 44 of these prisoners are held in Addis Ababa (Ethiopia’s capital). The majority of the detainees are suspected supporters of the Gambella People’s Liberation Front (GPLF), and are students, elders, farmers, politicians and businessmen.

“Anuak traders are afraid to sell goods, and vendors in towns have been forced to close shops and stores. Farmers not killed or driven off are afraid to farm their fields. Crops, food stores and communal milling equipment have been destroyed. EPRDF soldiers have expropriated schools in remote villages and rural towns for use as makeshift barracks. While the educated class has been intentionally targeted, Anuak children are denied all basic education.”

Other investigations include reports from women saying their rapists told them that they hoped to impregnate them with non-Anuak children in an effort to wipe out the Anuak race, and rapists who chanted “Today is the day to kill Anuaks,” “From today forward there will be no Anuaks, “ and “Let’s kill them all” while they held women at gunpoint.

The Public International Law and Policy Group continues this narrative in their December 2004 report and examination of the actions of the Ethiopian government in light of the definitions of genocide and crimes against humanity in the Rome Statutes of the International Criminal Court. They list the requirements as such:

“The Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court establishes the three elements that constitute crimes against humanity: 1) the perpetration of an enumerated act, 2) committed as part of a widespread or systematic attack directed against civilians, 3) with the perpetrators having knowledge of the widespread or systematic attack. Although Ethiopia has not ratified the Rome Statute, crimes against humanity constitute customary international law and are thus applicable to, and enforceable upon, all states. Based on a careful application of international legal standards to the crimes committed, it appears that a prima facie case exists against the Ethiopian government for committing the crimes against humanity of murder, deportation or forcible transfer of a population, rape, and persecution of a group.

“If the Ethiopian government continues its abuses against the Anuak people, a determination of genocide on the part of the Ethiopian government may also be found. The criteria for genocide are 1) The perpetration of one of five enumerated acts, 2) with the intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnic, racial, or religious group. It appears that the Ethiopian government has committed three of the five crimes enumerated in the Genocide Convention: 1) killing members of the group, 2) causing serious bodily or mental harm, and 3) deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part. If the actions of the Ethiopian government can be found to be systematic in nature and directed against the Anuak with the intent to partially or wholly eliminate the group, the requirements for genocide will be fully satisfied.”

In light of these requirements, they summarize their findings:

“The acts committed in Gambella are perilously close to satisfying the definition of genocide. It is evident that the Anuak are a distinct group as recognized by the Ethiopian government and other ethnic groups in the area. In addition, several acts enumerated in the Genocide Convention have been committed against the Anuak. The only element as to which any ambiguity remains is intent, and the case for the presence of genocidal intent has gained credibility as more information is made known to the public.

“Evidence has emerged which implicates high Ethiopian officials in a planned campaign against the Anuak. If this information can be substantiated, the intent element, and therefore the definition of genocide, will be satisfied. In addition, the gravity of the situation can be taken into account to determine intent. To this point, up to 2.5% of the entire Anuak population has been killed in recent violence.”