Nairobi, April 6, 2017 – Ethiopian authorities have failed to hold accountable a paramilitary force that killed at least 21 villagers in the Somali region of Ethiopia in June 2016, Human Rights Watch said today. The government should promptly grant access to independent international monitors to investigate these killings and other reported abuses by this force, known as the “Liyu police.”
On June 5, 2016, Liyu police members entered the village of Jaamac Dubad in eastern Ethiopia’s Somali Regional State after an officer had been wounded in a dispute with local traders. The police started shooting indiscriminately, killing at least 14 men and seven women, and then looted shops and houses. Nine months later, survivors said they were not aware of any investigation into the killings and had not received any compensation.
“Liyu police killed 21 villagers in the Somali region and devastated this vulnerable community, but there’s no sign that the government is working to bring anyone to justice for these killings,” said Felix Horne, senior Africa researcher at Human Rights Watch. “Ethiopian authorities should end their indifference to the murderous operations by this paramilitary force and work with international monitors to investigate their abuses.”
Ethiopian authorities created the Liyu (“special” in Amharic) police for 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 had become a prominent counterinsurgency force recruited and led by then-regional security chief Abdi Mohammed Omar, known as “Abdi Illey.” Abdi Illey became the president of Somali Regional State in 2010, and the Liyu police continue to report to him.
The Liyu police have frequently been implicated in extrajudicial killings, torture, rape, and violence against people in the Somali region, as well as in retaliatory attacks against local communities. There has also been growing evidence of attacks by the group against communities outside of the Somali region, including in the Oromia region since late December 2016, and in Somalia.
Between December and February 2017, Human Rights Watch interviewed 31 residents of Jaamac Dubad and people from nearby villages, including 10 witnesses to the June 5 killings who had fled to neighboring Somaliland.
Survivors and witnesses to the June 5 violence said that the Liyu police entered and encircled the village with vehicles, then fired randomly at people gathered in the market and at women near their homes and shops, and directly at those who tried to flee. Witnesses said that they had not seen any of their community members using firearms in response.
“The bullets were flying all over the place,” said a 40-year-old woman. “I came out of my house, saw that many people were fleeing, and saw people in uniform shooting. … With my four children, I just left my house. The Liyu police were shooting as we fled.” She said that two women running behind her were shouting that they had been hit.
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During the shooting, many residents fled the village. The next day, the Liyu police prevented residents from returning to bury the 21people killed. Witnesses told Human Rights Watch that when they were able to return, they found that there had been widespread looting of shops and houses in the village, with food, goods, and money missing.
In the ensuing weeks, the Liyu police conducted a disarmament operation in neighboring villages, detaining dozens of residents and beating several.
Since 2007, the Ethiopian government has imposed tight controls on access to the Somali region for independent journalists and human rights monitors. Ethiopia’s regional and federal governments should urgently facilitate access for investigations by independent human rights investigators, including the United Nations special rapporteur on extrajudicial and summary executions, of the shootings at Jaamac Dubad and other alleged serious abuses by the Liyu police, Human Rights Watch said. The governments should promptly compensate those harmed and the families of those killed.
“The Liyu police’s killing of 21 people is one in a long list of serious abuses for which this force has escaped scot-free,” Horne said. “The scale of their abuses over the last decade warrants international scrutiny, and Ethiopia’s international supporters should push for access to independent investigators into the Somali region to ensure that no one else has to suffer at their hands.”
For details about Human Rights Watch’s findings, please see below.
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