Part Two – (Cont’d from June 22, 2014)
By Mekuria Bulcha (Prof.)*
DEPORTATION AND DEATH IN THE DHIDHEESSA CONCENTRATION CAMP
In the first part of this article, published on this website on June 22, 2014 under the title “The Name of the Abominable Crime is Politicide: The Mass Massacre and Imprisonment of ORA Orphans – Wallaga 1992-93,” I described the humanitarian activities of the Oromo Relief Association (ORA) among Oromo refugees in the Sudan in the 1980s, and discussed the repatriation of some 1700 orphans, who were taken care of by the association, to Oromia in 1992. As I mentioned in the article, the initial TPLF onslaughts on the fleeing ORA children and their guardians took about three months. The different sources that I consulted indicated that between 170 and 200 children were hunted down, and killed or drowned in flight. In addition, an unknown number of their guardians—as well as inhabitants of the districts through which they passed who helped during their flight—were killed during the onslaught. At the start of the onslaught, about 300 children were captured and sent to the Dhidheessa concentration camp.
Deportation, torture, and political indoctrination
As mentioned before, most of the children were either placed in the care of the people or were sent away to look for relatives before their teachers and caretakers scattered to hide or flee back to the Sudan to seek refuge. However, the TPLF search for ORA children continued for more than a year after the initial onslaught came to an end. Apparently, many of the children who escaped the TPLF-forces’ bullets, and who were not arrested during the onslaught were traced, arrested and sent to jail. One of the survivors H.S. (who lives in a country neighboring with Ethiopia) told me:
I was about eight [years] old when the TPLF attacked us. I fled with the other children and adults in our camp. After sometime, we smaller children, who were unable to keep pace with the rest in the flight, were given to families in different villages along the route. I was placed with a family in a village called Gaara Arbaa. Two of my shelter mates, Kuusaa and Dingata, were also placed in the neighborhood in the same village. However, after a few weeks, the TPLF found and captured us and took us first to Begi town, and then to the Dhidheessa prison camp.
Consequently, the number of the ORA children who ended up in the TPLF jails and died whilst kept captive remains unknown. The limited information I could gather confirms that, generally, the children were treated with cruelty in the concentration camp. In his letter to ORA (see the first part of the article), Raagaa mentions the names of some of the friends he left behind in the Dhidheessa concentration camp grieving that,
The fate of those children mentioned in this note, many hundreds of them, is that they were accused by the TPLF that they were brought up by the OLF and as such need to go through “re-education programs” of the TPLF. Can anybody imagine the children would fight the EPRDF/TPLF back? The truth is the children did not understand anything about the war.
Concerning the TPLF “re-education program,” another informant has also reported that “frequently the children are asked about their attitude towards the EPRDF” and that their “hands are fettered behind their backs” during the interrogations and that “the children’s skin was cut and wounded around their wrists from the rope” with which they were tied. To change their “political attitude,” the TPLF forced the children to participate in a “political education.” The OLF was demonized and the participants (prisoners) were instructed about the “crimes it had committed” and were made to shout anti-OLF slogans at the top of their voices.
The so-called political education was forced not only on the ORA children who were detained in the Dhidheessa concentration camp, but also on the tens of thousands of Oromo prisoners kept in the numerous open and secret prison camps run by the TPLF regime in the early 1990s. One of the prisoners forced to experience the TPLF “political education” was Jamal. He was imprisoned in the Hurso concentration camp, outside of the eastern Oromo city of Dire Dawa. Jamal escaped from Hurso and fled to Djibouti in 1993. In August 1997, whilst in Djibouti, he met the two Swiss journalists Bruna Bossati and Peter Niggli as well as the late Lydia Namarraa of the ORA (UK) and told them about his own experience of the “political education” that was given by the TPLF cadres to Oromo prisoners as follows:
The lessons [were] given by the OPDO [and] were supervised by armed TPLF soldiers. The prisoners were instructed that the OLF was a criminal organization with a misguided anti-democratic program directed against the people. The teachers measured the success of their efforts by the enthusiasm with which their ‘pupils’ shouted slogans, such as: “The OLF kills and slaughters the people” and “We will destroy the OLF.”
Jamal said “Whoever didn’t agree with the slogans was forced to stand up and repeat them at the top of his voice.” Those who showed insufficient enthusiasm were punished. They were beaten. Any resistance, according to Jamal, would have risked death (see Bruna Fossati, Lydia Namarra & Peter Niggli, The New Rulers of Ethiopia and the Persecution of the Oromo Frankfurt am Main: Evangelischer Pressedienst, 1996, Nr. 45e, p. 25). The treatment of the imprisoned ORA orphans followed the same pattern. However, reports indicate that there were those among the ORA children imprisoned in Dhidheessa who resisted the intimidation of the TPLF “political educators,” thus risking their lives. Tarfa Dibaba notes that one of the survivors of the Dhidheessa concentration camp whom he met in Khartoum in 1998 told him about one of the ORA children who was hung upside down during one of the sessions of the TPLF political education, and was ordered to tell its other participants to “give up” the idea that “Oromia shall be free.” But the boy was not intimidated into following the order. He refused to tell his prison mates anything nor did he repeat anti-OLF slogans. He paid with his life. He was tortured and left hanging upside down, and died in the same position in the evening. According to the same source, the boy was about 13 years old. An OPDO-TPLF militia participated in his torture. Another report (Dhaabaa, January 7, 2014) indicates a boy called Simeesso was also killed in the circumstances similar to the above. The report also mentions the names of two other ORA children, Soreessaa and Asabo, who were tortured for showing similar resistance. It is reported that these two adolescents were separated from the other children and were taken away. Nobody knows what happened thereafter.
When a prisoner is “taken away” by the security agents of the TPLF regime, it can mean two things: either execution or solitary confinement in another section of the prison camp, or transfer to another prison in another part of the country. As noted by a former prisoner, Magarsaa Dame who escaped from a firing squad in March 1995 (see the Amharic Weekly Urjii Newspaper, March 1995), prisoners were taken out of the Dhidheessa concentration camp, executed and their bodies left in the open to be devoured by wild beasts. According to another former inmate (see Schmitt & Taera, “An EPRDF Prison Camp from Inside”, Oromo Commentary IV (1), 1994), the Dhidheessa camp constituted several prisons, some of which were open for inspection by international human rights organizations, such as the Red Cross, while others, such as the so-called Korea Sefer, were secret. He said that some of the ORA children were kept in a secret prison “separate from others.” He reported that,
In December 1992, for instance, about 40 children were locked up in a very narrow dark room [and] those kids, who become ill, physically or psychologically, due to the hot climate of the Dhidheessa lowlands and torture, are not given medical treatment (Taera & Schmitt, as above 1994: 25).
According to the same source, the argument of the camp authorities for denying the children medication was that the children were not ill but that their problems were “related to their political attitude towards the EPRDF” (Taera & Schmitt, as above 1994: 25). “Political attitude” stands here for affiliation with the OLF and animosity toward the EPRDF (TPLF).
In the “Korea Sefer” and the other sections of the camp, untreated wounds caused by torture inflicted by the TPLF thugs and their OPDO prisoners of war, thirst and hunger, and above all, contagious diseases which flourished in the overcrowded filthy prison rooms, also caused the death of many prisoners. In the interview he gave in 1993, a former prisoner from Dhidheessa (as above Taera and Schmitt 1994: 25) explained,
In the so-called Korea Sefer section of concentration camp where the ORA children were kept, the prisoners are not allowed to go out to urinate, they do not get water to drink, and are not allowed to wash themselves and their clothing. They are not allowed to go out to get fresh air. On a very narrow space, many people are locked up with almost no possibility to move, heavily guarded from outside. As the consequence of the abhorrent sanitary conditions that prevailed in the concentration camp, there were cases of typhoid fever. Since there are few facilities for washing, many prisoners are also suffering from lice.
However, there is no information whether the two boys mentioned above were taken to a firing squad or to another prison within or outside of the Dhidheessa concentration camp. Describing (in his letter mentioned in the first part of this article) the barbarisms to which he was exposed in the Dhidheessa concentration camp, Raagaa wrote:
I escaped from one oppressor and fell into the hands of another oppressor. When one oppressor is replaced by another oppressor, life begins to be miserable. To adjust oneself from an Amhara military oppressor [the Dergue] to a crueler regime of a Tigre oppressor is not an easy case.
Obviously, it was not. It is impossible to expect human being to adjust to the cruel treatment which the ORA children received in the hands of the agents of the current regime. As Raagaa’s description of the prison conditions suggests, it is plausible to assume that many of them might have not survived imprisonment in Dhidheessa.
“Many have pains in their hearts and their feelings …
Some died like insects”
The words in the sub-title, above, are from Raagaa’s letter. The horrendous atrocities which, according Raagaa and the other sources cited here, the ORA children and apparently Oromo prisoners in general, were made to endure in the Dhidheessa prison camp, are painful even to imagine. However, no information is available about the exact number of those who died from diseases, hunger and torture in the filthy concentration camp. Malaria, in particular, seems to have taken its toll. In the letter, Raagaa expressed the inhumanity he saw and the pains he felt as follows:
Those of us who were detained were between 10 and 16 years of age. Many of us became ill from malaria and lack of food. Many of us were sick from diseases that affect children. Many have pains in their hearts and in their feelings. The worst sight which I will not forget is when the kids got sick from malaria and became crazy and talked nonsense. When their condition became serious their hands and legs were tied and they were made to lie on bare ground to keep them silent. During these hours nobody attended them and gave them medicine. Some died like insects. I do not know how many. I can only remember few of the names of the children I stayed all those days, weeks and months. I and these children have nothing to do with the political and military problems [of the TPLF and OLF]… How can they do such things to children? Nobody can imagine this (Translated from Afaan Oromoo by Tarfa Dibaba. Emphasis mine)
Phrases such the “children became insane,” “have pain in their hearts” and “died like insects” indicate the excruciating pain felt and the unspeakable suffering the children experienced in the prison camp. Raagaa mentions with grief Maritu (female), Waanca (female), Burqaa Nagaasaa (male), Guutuu Injigu (male), Iddoosaa Ammayuu (male), Saloome Abdiisa (female), Galaanee Taariku (female), Aster (female), Almash (female) and Mitiku Abdallah (male) as some of the many former friends and playmates he left behind in the Dhidheessa concentration camp in the conditions described above. The camps in which the TPLF regime incarcerated tens of thousands of Oromos, irrespective age, were death camps. According to Susan Pollock (see “Ethiopia: A Tragedy in the Making”, Oromo Commentary, Vol. VI, no.1, 1996), 3000 men, women and children had died in four of the TPLF regime’s concentration camps from malaria, diseases and lack of food. Dhidheessa was one of these camps. A former prisoner from the Dhidheessa concentration camp has described the conditions that resulted in the death of inmates in the following words.
Many prisoners had lost their lives or become mentally ill as a consequence of illness or maltreatment in the camp. Extremely bad is the situation of the OLF fighters who were disabled in the fight against the Dergue and in the conflict with the EPRDF. Among them, there are many who are blind, and some have lost their arms and legs. They are not offered any support although they are in the most terrible conditions in the camp since they are not able to wash themselves or their clothes or to go to the latrine without help of others. They suffer from unimaginable dirt and lice. (Taera & Schmitt, 1994: 25)
The horrific maltreatment described above was not limited to the inmates of the Dhidheessa prison. Similar conditions prevailed in the many hidden and official concentration camps which had been erected all over the Oromo country by the TPLF in 1992 and after.
Rape crime against imprisoned children
In an article published on Gadaa.com on May 28, 2013 I described that rape has been one of the dehumanizing torture-methods that are routinely used against Oromo detainees in the TPLF-run prisons in Oromia. The Dhidheessa concentration camp was no exception. One of my informants, Dhaabaa (December 4, 2013), gives the names of 10 of the ORA female children (the names are withheld here) who became pregnant in Dhidheessa prison after being raped by TPLF prison guards. These, it seems, were only some among the many children who were exposed to this outrageous crime in prison. According to the same source, the father of one of the girls (name withheld) committed suicide on hearing that his child had been raped by guards in the concentration camp. The sources also indicate that some of the adolescent girls were forced to marry TPLF soldiers.
“Where are Sagantaa Useen, Tolina Waaqjiraa and Duulaa Tafarra …?”
As indicated above, nobody knew what exactly had happened to the ORA children and their guardians once they were back in their homeland. Therefore, the story described in this article is sad news to everyone who knew them or was involved in helping them. The inquiry “Where are Sagantaa Useen, Tolina Waaqjiraa and Duulaa Tafarra and the others?” which was raised by the teachers and pupils of Heinrich-Gobel-Realschule of city of Springe in Germany in their letter reproduced below was not answered. They were the only people who tried to find out what had happened to the children after they returned to their homeland in the spring months of 1992. They appealed to the German Minister of Foreign Affairs, the German Commission for UNESCO, and the UNCHR Branch Office for Germany, to speak for and protect the ORA children. The following is the content of their letter addressed to Dr. Claus Kinkel the German Minister of Foreign Affairs dated November 2, 1992. I have reproduced its content unabridged in order to give the reader a grasp of the concern of the letter writers and the relations that existed between them the children in question.
Dear Dr. Kinkel,
We are deeply concerned about the fate of 1,600 Oromo orphans in Kobor near Begi in West-Wollega/Ethiopia. We have not received any information from the children’s camp there since July of this year, when Ethiopian government troops marched into West Wollega and also Begi. The ‘Oromo Relief Association’ (ORA) in Addis Ababa, which has been looking after and feeding these children for many years, was unable to establish contact to the camp.
In February 1985, our school organised an African Day with the Ethiopian teacher Terfa Dibaba. In this context we got to know about the starvation and civil war in his homeland and about the work of the indigenous refugee relief organisation ‘Oromo Relief Association’ (ORA). Since that time our school has continuously traced the work of ORA for parentless refugee children. We received oral and written reports and photographs regarding the opening of the refugee settlement in Yabus/Sudan, the opening of the children’s camp in Damazin/Sudan in early 1988, the day-to-day, medical and educational care for the orphans by the devoted and unpaid work of the ORA staff. The pupils, their parents and the teaching staff of our school have organised relief shipments with clothing, school material, toys, sports equipment and musical instruments since 1988.
The number of children in Damazin was increasing, and therefore, ORA opened another camp in Bikore/Sudan in 1990. The last time we received photographs, a letter and some children’s drawings was in August 1991. Duula Tafarra, a 12-year-old boy, closed his letter with the words: “Nagaa nu hundaaf haa tahu GARA JERMANII“. It means “To Germany: Peace be with us all” (emphasis mine).
In spring 1992 the children from Damazin and Bikore could return to their homeland Ethiopia. Our last relief shipment included, amongst other things, 200 notebooks, into which our pupils wrote – in view of the return: “I wish you peace and a good future in your homeland.” “Yeroo biyyakeetti galtu, nagaa fi hegeree gaarii akka argattun siifi hawwa”.
In the meantime, we have received information about several incidents of brutal attacks by Ethiopian government troops (EPRDF) against the Oromo population. The election observers, who were assigned to the regional elections in the Oromo regions of Ethiopia by your Ministry in June this year , told us that they had been asked by the parents of arrested children [not ORA’s] to speak up for their release. Now we heard that in July minors from the ORA camp in Kobor have been arrested [also] and deported to the EPRDF camp in Didessa. Is this information correct? Are they 250, as we heard, or are they more?
We appeal to you to do all you can to shed light upon the fate of the more than 1,600 children from the ORA camp in Kobor. Where are Sagantaa Useen, Tolina Waaqjiraa and Duulaa Tafarra and all the others? Please take action to protect these children. Please try to arrange for the 1,600 Oromo orphans to be returned to the care of their previous guardians and teachers and make sure they can be supplied by the relief organisation ORA as before.
For the teaching staff of the Heinrich-Goebel-Realschule: J. Brennecke, Headmaster, and [14 signatures of teachers], Representing the pupils of the Heinrich-Goebel-Realschule [5 Signatures]
(The letter is translated from German by Kathrin Taera, November, 2013)
Duulaa and his group returned to Oromia in May 1992 and their camp was attacked in June that year. He wrote the letter (below) on behalf of the ORA children in Damazin.
From the [ORA] School in Damazin,
To pupils [of Heinrich-Gobel-Realschule, Springe) in Germany,
First of all we send you our greetings. How are you? We are well. We who are greeting you are the Oromo children at the school in Damazin. We will like to inform you that we have received the gifts such as balls and other sport materials you sent us and that we are using them. We are happy with the gifts and thank for your generosity. [We] the Oromo children who fled from [our] country and are in Damazin in the Sudan are given the opportunity to learn [and we are happy about that]
We urge you to write to us. He who wrote this letter is Duulaa Tafara. He is in grade five and is 12 years old. May peace be with all of us!
(The letter is translated from Afaan Oromoo by the author)
Regrettably, Duulaa and his friends were deprived not only the peace which he wished for all, but also of the right to life. As I have mentioned in the first part of this article, Duula and his two school (camp) mates mentioned in the letter by the pupils and teachers of Heinrich-Gobel-Realschule, were among the victims of the TPLF assault on the ORA orphans. Tolina Waaqjiraa was killed on the first day when the TPLF forces opened fire on their camp in June 1992. Duula Tafarra and Saganta Usen were killed by the same force in the Carphaa forest where they took shelter with other children after their camp was attacked (Dhaabaa, December 9, 2013).
Notwithstanding, the praiseworthy efforts of the pupils and teachers of the Heinrich-Goebel-Realschule, it seems that, neither the German Ministry of Foreign Affairs nor the officials of the two UN organizations who had received their appeal letters, took the initiative to confront either the late Mr. Meles Zenawi or his regime to find out the whereabouts of the ORA children in 1992 or after. It is unlikely, therefore, that the authors of the letter were informed about what had happened to the children. To my knowledge, this article is, regrettably, the first response to the enquiries they raised twenty-two years ago.
Photo (Right): This photo is said to be that of Duula Tafarra, Saganta Usen, and Tolina Waaqjiraa. The person (Dhaabaa) who sent it me did not identify who is who in the photo. The only thing he said he knew is that the photo is that of the three boys taken together. I have included the picture here hoping that someone who knew them can help us to identify them.
The case of Duula, Saganta and Tolina reflects not only the fate of many of the ORA children, but also of the numerous other unnamed Oromo children who perished inside and outside the TPLF regime’s concentration camps during the last two decades.
A case of politicide
The sources indicate that the ORA children were very conscious of their identity and were, above all, eager to repatriate and live in their homeland in peace. An Oromo scholar who knew the ORA children in the Sudan (mail communication with Asafa Dibaba, July 4, 2014) wrote,
I lived in Damazin two and half decades ago, and together with Nagaasaa [killed in 1992 in a battle with the TPLF], I used to visit the children in Bikoree from time to time. The children were, as far as I remember, between 7 and 15 years, and most of them had passed the Gammee age group (0 to 8 years). Their knowledge of Oromo history and culture was beyond expectation. Their knowledge of makmaaksa (folktales), riddles hibboo (riddles), and the flora and fauna of Oromia was also remarkable. The children narrated their family histories and genealogy as if they were growing up in family homes with their parents and grandparents. Although their education was based on a curriculum that followed by schools in Ethiopia, it reflected the cultural and education programs laid down by the OLF. They used to tell me that their hope was to return to an independent and Oromia to grow up and serve their people (freely translated from Afaan Oromoo by the author).
Once they started an open war with the OLF, the TPLF leaders did not want to leave the ORA children in peace. The fact that the said children were brought up by an organization which was associated with the OLF was enough for the TPLF to see them as potential enemies and persecute them. Its argument about “political education,” mentioned above, indicates that the ORA children were seen as “carriers” of Oromo nationalism, a “problem” which the TPLF leaders associate with the OLF. In his letter to ORA mentioned above Raagaa noted,
We [the ORA children] were accused by the TPLF of being brought up and educated by the OLF. Can anybody imagine the children would fight the EPRDF/TPLF back? The truth is the children did not understand anything about the war.
The three-month long pursuit of the fleeing children by the TPLF troops in the summer of 1992 and the search for children who were entrusted to the local households in western Wallaga by their guardians indicates that the children were, as indicated above, seen as bearers of the seeds of Oromo nationalism and the OLF aspiration of establishing an independent state. Therefore, I will argue that the TPLF believed that their best course of action was to exorcise the ideas and inspirations with which they believed the Oromo children were imbued (through their association with the OLF) before these spread among the Oromo youth at large. The so-called political education was, for example, to brainwash and make them subjects loyal to the TPLF-led regime. Those who were resistant to the process were eliminated physically.
In general, the intention behind the atrocious massacre committed by the TPLF-led regime against the ORA children, and the murderous crackdowns which it has been conducting currently against Oromo high school, college and university students during the last fifteen years can been seen as a policy of politicide with the aim of nipping Oromo nationalism in the bud. As the comments which were repeatedly made on many occasions by the late Meles Zenawi reflected, the TPLF saw in any and every socially and politically conscious Oromo, a potential member or sympathizer of the OLF. It is common knowledge that tens of thousands of Oromos who were labelled as such have been in one way or another victimized by the TPLF-led regime. Therefore, its criminal actions against the ORA orphans in the 1990s and against Oromo students during the last fifteen years are hardly surprising.
Children labelled “terrorists” and killed by the TPLF
Associating and killing of Oromo children by the TPLF-led regime did not stop with the assault on the ORA orphans in western Oromia. Many Oromo children were detained and killed in other places for the same reasons. The Oromia Support Group (OSG Press Release No. 13, 1996) notes that in 1996 the government forces killed Usen Kaallu, aged 12, Badiri Shaza, also aged 12, Awal Saani, aged 13, and Awal Idire, aged 16 years old, in Tukaana village near the town of Gasera in Bale in the southeast. Their “crime” was tattooing the initials “ABO” (the Oromo version of OLF) on their hands. It seems that, not knowing the consequences, schoolchildren have been tattooing the initials on their bodies or embroidering them on their caps and clothes in many places throughout the Oromo country. The same report indicates, for example, that seven other children between the ages of 12 and 14 years of age were imprisoned, accused of committing similar “crimes” in the nearby Dabool village at the same time. The report gives their names and ages as Muyidin Haj Useen (14), Kaliil Useen (13), Eliyas Haj Abdo (12), Idris Aman (13), Qadiro Useen (12) and Shitta Usman (12). However, the report does not indicate how long they were imprisoned nor any details about what had happened to them in prison or afterwards.
After the al Qaida 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center in New York in 2001, the TPLF-regime changed the characterization of its “Oromo enemies,” including schoolchildren, from members or supporters of the “OLF” to “terrorists.” The Human Rights Watch (HRW, 2005) wrote that “In early 2004, police in Dembi Dollo, arrested a twelve-year-old schoolboy and imprisoned him after discovering that he had tattooed ‘ABO’, the Afaan Oromoo acronym for ‘OLF’, onto his hand.” His father told HRW that,
They [the police] said he was a terrorist. They said he was a supporter of the OLF. The child’s family petitioned the local authorities and secured his release after two weeks of detention, but the police continued to follow and harass the boy until the family was forced to send him to live with relatives in Addis Ababa.
The HRW notes that between 2001 and 2005, “At least twenty other children under the age of fifteen have been imprisoned for similar reasons in Dembi Dollo alone” (emphasis mine). Furthermore, a relative of a boy who was arrested in 2003 told a HRW reporter, “I had an eleven-year old relative who wrote ‘ABO’ on the blackboard at school. He was dragged off to the police station and imprisoned there. They released him after several days because there was “too much noise about it” from the local people who were affronted by the imprisonment of an 11-year-old child. However, the HWR writes that the “child also experienced problems with the police after his release and eventually left [home] to live with relatives in Canada.” The TPLF regime did not see the 11 year old boy as a child but as an enemy—a terrorist and a supporter of the OLF.
There are international conventions signed by the UN member-states to prevent genocide and other crimes against humanity of which the 1948 Human Rights Convention was the first. Regrettably, however, the conventions did not end the evil which was the cause for the origins of the convention—the evil which is epitomized by the acts of Adolf Hitler and his cronies.As mentioned in the first part of this article, the telling metaphor “hunted like kurupé” (used by Oromo peasants to describe the predicament of the fleeing children they had witnessed) reveals not only the physical movement called forth by the existential instinct to escape from life-threatening danger, but also the horror and angst the children felt as a consequence of the unconcealed vicious intentions of the armed units who were chasing them from one district to another, shooting at them and wounding or killing them. Notwithstanding the size of the affected population, the cruelty reflected in the assault on the ORA children brings to mind the evil deeds of the Nazis against Jews, and in particular, incidents which Serge Klarsfeld (2010) describes in his book French Children of the Holocaust — a Memorial concerning deportation to death camps. In his descriptions of some of the incidents, Klarsfeld reveals how Jewish children who attempted to escape deportation were callously shot down by the Gestapo as though they were not human beings. Even the TPLF action against the local peasants who helped the fleeing ORA children and their guardians was reminiscent of what Nazi thugs did to those who tried to rescue the European Jews and their children from deportation to the concentration camps. The nature of the evil, the intent to harm their victims with impunity which underpinned the actions of the TPLF forces, reflects a shocking similarity with the murderous behavior of the Nazi criminals. Nothing is as evil as treating human-beings as wild game as the TPLF forces did to the ORA children.
Disturbing silence over crimes against humanity
As noted by the famous physicist Albert Einstein “The world is too dangerous to live in – not because of the people who do evil, but because of the people who stand by and let them” (cited in S. Bruchfeld & P. Levine, Tell Ye Your Children: A Book about the Holocaust in Europe 1933-1945, Revised Edition, 2012, p. 14).
It would not be an exaggeration to construe that today the world has become too dangerous for the Oromo to live in. Whether it is at war or at “peace” with the Oromo and the other oppressed peoples in Ethiopia, the TPLF regime has been committing crimes against them and “against humanity” during the last twenty-three years.
A crime against humanity targets a given group and is carried out as a “widespread and systematic” violation of their human rights. By definition, a crime against humanity differs from a war crime in that it occurs not only in the context of war, but also in times of peace. Under international law, examples of war crimes include, among others, the persecution and deportation of the civilian population of an occupied territory, and the murder or ill-treatment of prisoners of war. (See for example Gary Solis, The Law of Armed Conflict: International Humanitarian Law in War (2010: 301: 3). By and large, all the crimes mentioned here have been committed against the Oromo children. The crimes which were committed against Oromo prisoners in general (see my articles from May 28 and July 31 in Gadaa.com or Ayyaantuu.com) are acts that appear in the definition of crimes against humanity in the ICC Statute of 1998 and in other international conventions on human rights. In short, one can say that the characteristic elements of war crime and crime against humanity overlap clearly in the persecution of the Oromo children by the TPLF. A war situation prevailed between the OLF and the TPLF forces when the children were attacked and killed. The children were unarmed and non-combatants. However, the TPLF forces chased and killed or captured the children with the intention of harming them. The TPLF associated the children with the OLF and attacked, captured and incarcerated hundreds of them in a concentration camp. Many of them were denied the right to life. The ORA, an internationally known and supported humanitarian organization, was banned, and its properties were confiscated. The foundation it had laid for the physical and intellectual development of the orphans was destroyed. Consequently, as I will describe in the third and last part of this article later, the life chances of those who survived the assault and imprisonment were shattered.
Regrettably, there is an ominous silence, not only over the less known massacre of the ORA children described in this and the first part of this article, but also on the many well recorded crimes committed by the TPLF-led regime against humanity during the last two decades. In August 1943, Fl. Hällzon, editor of the Swedish newspaper Hemmets Vän, frustrated by the continued silence over the holocaust, wrote that,
The mass graves of Jews cry out to the world; yes, they scream, and the screams pierce the skies up to God in Heaven. Woe betide Germany and those responsible when the bloody crops are harvested. Woe betide the world, which through its sins has participated in this blood-soaked crime being committed in our days (F. Hällson, Hemmets Vän, August 1943, cited in Bruchfeld & Levine, as above, 2012: 60).
Implicit in Hällson’s frustration was that the silence over the Holocaust was not because of lack of information, but his country’s lack of the will to save the Jews. As reflected in the heroic deeds of Raul Wallenberg between July and December 1944, the Swedes finally acted to save the Jews, but it was too late. By then, millions of Jews had been killed. The Nazis were defeated by the allied forces in 1945, and the leading holocaust criminals were also brought to justice.
Whether it could have been possible for the international community to intervene and save more Jews before 1944-45 or not remains a controversial issue. However, the type of problems that could have hindered international intervention against the Nazi onslaught on the European Jews do not exist today. The UN was established to end human rights violations. The purpose of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which the UN member states signed, is to safeguard the right of every human being to life, liberty and security of person. Therefore, the silence of the international organizations over the atrocities committed against the Oromo is as frustrating— if not more so—than that over the fate of the Jews in the early 1940s. I am not saying that the Oromo are being killed on the same scale or at the same speed as the Jews were in the 1940s, but that the plight and fate of the tens of thousands Oromos who were incarcerated in the prison camps bear similarities with that of the millions of Jews who perished in the Nazi concentration camps. The congestion, the lice and the rats, the filth and diseases, the dearth of medical care and the lack of food and water which the Oromo prisoners (including the ORA children) suffered and died of in the outrageous concentration camps run by the TPLF regime bear striking similarities with the conditions associated with the Nazi concentration camps. As the recent excavation by a Turkish construction firm near a previous site of the TPLF concentration camp Hamaressa revealed, mass graves of Oromo victims bear signs of the crimes committed by the present regime. As it was with the Jews in the 1930s and 40s, the Oromo are being persecuted today because of their ethnic identity. The policy of the TPLF regime regarding the Oromo reflects elements of the Nazi policy of destroying a group based on race or nationality. The difference is that the Nazis believed they would solve what they called the Jew problem with the annihilation of the entire population of European Jews while the TPLF leaders intend to solve the Oromo “problem” with elimination of the politically conscious class of the Oromo population. Hitler’s policy was to rule a Europe “free” from Jews. He conducted genocide. The TPLF policy is to destroy current and future Oromo leaders, and to become the rulers of the Oromo people. They have been committing politicide. As stated in the Hizbaawi Adera (The People’s Trust), the official quarterly of the ruling party TPLF/EPRDF, their policy is to eliminate Oromo intellectuals and businessmen who are labelled as the “enemy of Revolutionary Democracy.” They argued,
Higher echelon intellectuals and big business people are narrow-minded. Their aspiration is to become a ruling class only to serve their own self-interests. They are so greedy that they want to “eat” alone. As they are desperate, they can be violent. … Unless the narrow nationalists are eliminated, democracy and development cannot be achieved in Ethiopia (see Hizbaawi Adera, Vol. 4, no. 7, 1996, emphasis mine)
Tens of thousands of Oromo intellectuals, journalists, teachers, students, businessmen and their families have been the victims of this policy. One may argue that the crime against the ORA children was committed in a remote part of the country and was unknown. But, in general, the silence over the crimes committed against the Oromo was not due to lack of information. There are numerous, reliable reports by local and international human rights organizations such as the Human Rights League of the Horn of Africa (HRLHA), the Oromia Support Group (OSG), Human Rights Watch (HRW) and Amnesty International (AI) which indicate that the TPLF leaders and their security forces have been serial abusers during the last twenty-three years. The crimes which have been committed against the Oromo were systematically conducted and widespread. In other words, we are not talking about sporadic cases of rape, rare cases of mass killings, or occasional disappearances of few individuals, but crimes that have been consistently committed all over the Oromo country for more than two decades. The extra-judicial killings which the TPLF forces carried out in Oromia have involved not just a few men and women, but thousands of individuals. They have been the outcomes of an official policy which has been systematically implemented to terrorize and subjugate the entire Oromo nation of more than thirty-five million members.
The atrocities described in this article constitute what the international human rights statutes define both as war crimes and as crimes against humanity. Yet the international organizations and governments of democratic states have continued to conduct business with the TPLF-led regime as usual. I will say more on the role of bystanders regarding the violations of human rights by the TPLF-led regime in the third part of this article. It suffices to note here that, in general, the international organizations’ silence over the crimes committed by the Ethiopian regime is alarming. It is alarming because it makes the UN and its conventions irrelevant in the eyes of millions of people. It is important to note that the silence over the April-May 2014 massacre of Oromo students is particularly shocking to many observers, particularly among the Oromo. This is particularly so because the students were killed while participating in peaceful demonstrations to oppose the government plan to expand the city of Finfinnee (the indigenous Oromo name of Addis Ababa), thereby forcibly displacing hundreds of thousands of Oromo families. In addition, Finfinnee, which serves as the capital city of both Oromia and of the Federal state of Ethiopia, is also the diplomatic headquarters of the continent of Africa. The headquarters of the United Nations’ Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA), the embassies of UN member states, and the headquarters of the African Union (AU) are located in the city. Given the proximity of the “place of crime” to the seats of the representatives of international organization and states, the total silence over the atrocities committed by the Ethiopian regime is both astonishing and offensive to many people worldwide. Regrettably, the Oromo predicament is being repeatedly ignored by the entire diplomatic community their city is hosting.
By and large, the situation created by the recent mass massacre and widespread persecution of Oromo students has led to a new development in current Oromo affairs. The incident has made it clear to every Oromo that the survival of his/her community is under serious threat. This new insight has brought Oromos together everywhere to protest against the anti-Oromo policies of the Ethiopian government. This is a positive sign. It is also encouraging to witness that in some places like Minneapolis in U.S. and in Canberra in Australia, Oromo communities have been able to solicit the support of important politicians and national political institutions to voice their protests against human rights violations in Oromia. These international responses will help considerably, and should be stepped up and continued. However, it is not enough by itself to solve the Oromo problem or remove the regime from power. It is a deadly illusion to expect that foreign pressure would bring down the TPLF-led regime. We know that there is no interest among the great powers to do that. The Oromo themselves must do that. Therefore, there is the need for a strong Oromo organization that can strengthen the Oromo struggle for freedom at all levels, both at home and abroad, to ensure the survival of the nation. Needless to say, the recent reunification of the two OLF factions can be seen as a promising development in this regard and it is expected that other Oromo organizations will follow suit.
 My gratitude is to the long-time Chairperson of the German ORA Support Committee to Rüdiger Jentsch and Obbo Shorroo Gemechu for sending me copies of this and other documents regarding the ORA children)
* Mekuria Bulcha, PhD and Professor of Sociology, is an author of widely read books and articles. His most recent book, Contours of the Emergent and Ancient Oromo Nation, was published by CASAS (Centre for Advanced Studies of African Society), Cape Town, South Africa, in 2011. He was also the founder and publisher of The Oromo Commentary (1990-1999). He is an active member of the OLF and has served in the different branches of the national movement since the 1970s.