Cases of Forced Evacuation, Killings, and Village Burnings

The cases documented below are in general based on multiple eyewitness interviews conducted by Human Rights Watch, and offer detailed accounts of incidents in particular villages. These case studies reflect a pattern of Ethiopian army abuses that have taken place across the conflict-affected region, but this is by no means a comprehensive list. The scale of village burnings, killings, and other abuses is believed to be significantly larger than the number of cases described below.

The patterns of such attacks are strikingly similar: the Ethiopian military first issues orders to the villagers to evacuate the villages within two to seven days. When the villagers refuse to evacuate, the army returns to carry out killings and other atrocities, and burns the village. Should soldiers see villagers or pastoralists in the area after the evacuation and burning of the village, they are often beaten and detained, summarily executed or, if women or girls, raped.

For example, in late May and early June 2007, the Ethiopian armed forces and regional authorities removed much of the rural population of Wardheer wereda, in Wardheer zone, and some villages in neighboring weredas in Korahe zone towards Wardheer town and other sites including Walwal, Danood, and Qoriley. They evacuated more than a dozen villages in an approximately 60-kilometer radius of Wardheer town alone during this operation, including Daratoole, Lahelow, Neef-Kuceliye, Qamuuda, Dhurwaa-Hararaf, Ubatale, Wa’do, Aado (Caado), Arowela, Yu’ub (Yucub), and Laanjalelo. The majority of these villages were burned after their forced evacuation. Similar operations of forced relocation and occasional burnings of villages have taken place around other major towns, such as Garbo, Sagag, Dhagahbur, and Shilabo.

In addition to information from eyewitnesses, Human Rights Watch received numerous accounts from people who were not present at the time of the alleged burnings but saw the villages afterwards while traveling through the region. Sometimes their accounts could not be corroborated by other witness testimony. However, satellite imagery obtained by Human Rights Watch has confirmed that some of the villages mentioned by these individuals did show signs of significant destruction and removal of structures and indications of burning.

For example, in October 2007 a 35-year-old refugee in Kenya told Human Rights Watch researchers that when he was fleeing the attacks around Wardheer in July 2007, he observed that Dameerey village, located between Wardheer and Aware towns, was burned. Human Rights Watch was unable to corroborate this claim with other eyewitness accounts, but “before” and “after” satellite images acquired in December 2006 and March 2008 confirm a significant removal of structures and signs of burning in Dameerey village.

Dameerey— December 23, 2006 (Lat: 7.548; Long: 44.978) © 2008 DigitalGlobe.


Dameerey— March 7, 2008: Structures comprising almost the entire town (about 65 structures) were removed, possibly burned, since the collection of the previous image. © 2008 DigitalGlobe.


In another example, several refugees from Shilabo wereda claimed that Lasoole village (near Shilabo town, in Korahe zone) was burned in June or July 2007, but were not eyewitnesses to the events. Satellite imagery later confirmed their allegations.

Laasoole— March 30, 2005 (Lat: 6.233; Long: 44.754) ©2008 DigitalGlobe.


Laasoole— July 17, 2007: About 76 structures, most of the town, were likely removed or damaged since the collection of the previous image, and burning is likely on the roadway. Note that multiple new structures (not shown) also appeared in this area since the collection of the first image. © 2008 DigitalGlobe.

Ela-Obo, February 2007

In February 2007, government forces came to the nomadic settlement of Ela-Obo, a watering point in the Fiiq wereda of Fiiq zone, and ordered the civilian population to relocate to nearby Galalshe village. According to an eyewitness, an army commander gathered the population and told them, “The government has decided to move people into one bigger place. You are ordered to leave here and move to Galalshe. If you don’t move to Galalshe, we’ll remove you ourselves.”76 

When some of the villagers tried to argue with the officer, saying they didn’t want to leave their homes, the commander ordered the arrest of six camel herders, and the rounding up of the camels. In front of the gathered villagers, the commander then ordered the six men executed, and the camels shot. Five men were shot dead: Deq Yusuf Lacag, Hassan Abdurrahman Muhumed Omar, Haji Abdi Ibraahim, Khadar Keenadiid, and Waajir Sheikh Osman, while a sixth survived. Some 20 camels were also killed. After the soldiers left, the survivor was taken away by his relatives and brought to a neighboring village.

Four days later soldiers returned to Ela-Obo after receiving information that there had been a survivor of the execution. They detained and summarily executed two female and two male relatives of the survivor: Ardo Muhumed Mohamoud, 18, Hodan Muhumed Mohamoud, 20, Abdullahi Hussein Abdi, and Muhumed Hassan.77  Following the second deadly incident, most villagers fled.

In late February, a few weeks after the initial killings, soldiers followed suspected ONLF tracks into Ela-Obo. After the remaining villagers again refused to leave the area, the soldiers summarily executed another nine herders: Ahmed Nur Hussein Mataan, Abdi Aden Ahmed, Nasir Osman Aden, Mohamed Abdi Saahid, Nur Ayaanle Sheikh Mohamed Ali, Mohamed-gurey Ali Taraar, Mohamed Beddel Gaas, and two brothers from the Bashir Mukhtar family. All nine were buried in the nearby settlement of Malqaqa. Seven other men detained that day remain missing and are feared dead.78

Wardheer and Shilabo weredas, May/June 2007

In late May and early June 2007, the armed forces and Ethiopian regional authorities began to forcibly displace the rural population from villages in Wardheer and neighboring weredas towards Wardheer town and other designated locations. Many villages in a 60-kilometer radius of Wardheer were affected including Daratoole, Lahelow, Neef-Kuceliye, Qamuuda, Dhurwaa-Hararaf, Ubatale, Wa’di, Aado (Caado), Arowela, Yu’ub (Yucub), and Laanjalelo. Villagers were ordered to evacuate their villages and were warned that failure to obey the orders would lead to the burning of their villages. An elder in Wa’di (Wacdi), a village north of Wardheer town, told Human Rights Watch that on June 15, 2007, Ethiopian officials came to Wa’di and ordered the civilians to leave the village, warning that if they refused the order, their village would be burned.

Over the next weeks, many of the villages in the vicinity of Wardheer town were partially or totally burned: Daratoole was burned in mid-June; Qamuuda (in neighboring Shilabo wereda, Korahe zone) was burned on June 21; Neef-Kuceliye on June 23; Wa’di, Laanjalelo, Aado, and Jinnoole were burned in mid-July.79

Many additional villages and nomadic settlements in the Wardheer wereda were emptied of their population, either on orders of the government or because the residents feared attacks.

Some of the burnings may have been in reprisal for ONLF activity in the area. A person present in Qamuuda when it was burned by the army described the attack to Human Rights Watch, and explained that ONLF fighters had passed through the village just the evening before:

When Qamuuda was burned, I was there. It is about 30 houses. It was alleged ONLF visited the village. They entered on that morning and burned around 8 a.m. and left around 3 p.m. They used fuel they found in the village to burn by setting fire. I saw ONLF in Qamuuda several times. They were carrying guns, came out of the bush. When Qamuuda was burned, the ONLF came there just before the burning.80

Satellite images confirmed the destruction of Qamuuda.

Qamuuda— December 23, 2006 (Lat: 6.543; Long: 44.903) ©2008 DigitalGlobe.


Qamuuda— March 24, 2008: About 85 structures were likely removed or damaged when compared with the previous image. © 2008 DigitalGlobe.

About a week after the burning of Qamuuda, government soldiers entered the nearby village of Jaleelo, also in Shilabo wereda, apparently following the tracks of suspected ONLF fighters operating in the area. A witness told Human Rights Watch that the soldiers stayed in the village for two days, slaughtering and eating some of the goats of the villagers. During their time in the village, the soldiers shot dead two unidentified young men who approached the village and then tried to run away when they saw the soldiers. After two days, the soldiers told the villagers to leave Jaleelo, and burned the homes in the village before departing.81

Labiga and Faafan Valley, June 2007

Among the worst killings of civilians by the Ethiopian army were those that occurred during an army operation in the Faafan Valley in June 2007. Soldiers allegedly willfully shot and killed at least 25 civilians, including men, women, and children. The Faafan Valley and the Gohdi basin are located southwest of Dhagahbur town in Dhagahbur zone, and are an ONLF stronghold.82

In mid-June 2007, pro-government militias known as tadaaqi came to the Gohdi basin surrounding Labiga town, and began ordering nomads and residents of the smaller settlements to move immediately to Labiga town. When the villagers refused to move, the tadaaqi began rounding up and confiscating the villagers’ camels.

According to an eyewitness:

Initially, the [tadaaqi] told the villagers from the area to move to Labiga. The villagers refused. Labiga is located in a long valley know as Gohdi, and there are 14 small villages in this valley. All the people from these villages were ordered to relocate to Labiga, which lies on the main road. When the villagers refused, the [tadaaqi] came and confiscated their camels. The [tadaaqi] was holding the camels in an enclosure near Koracelis. They gathered hundreds of camels confiscated from the villages along the valley over several days.83

Following the confiscation of the camels, the camel owners sent a delegation of elders to meet with the tadaaqi to try and get the camels released, but the tadaaqi refused the request. The camels were kept in eight traditional xero enclosures (each xero can hold up to 200 camels) in Koracelis town. After failing to negotiate the release of the camels, the camel owners decided to attack the tadaaqi camp and get their camels released by force, according to two eyewitnesses interviewed separately by Human Rights Watch: “The owners of the camels organized themselves, took their weapons, and attacked the [tadaaqi] camp to release the camels.”84

During the attack on the tadaaqi camp to free the camels, at least four armed camel owners (Wayel Abdi Iman, Asad Yusuf Iley, Mohammed Abdi Yare, and Miyir), two local residents, and an unknown number of tadaaqi militia members were killed.85

Following the attack by the armed camel owners on the tadaaqi camp and the freeing of their camels, the Ethiopian army deployed a large force to the area, burning down the villages and willfully killing at least 20 civilians. A woman living in Diyaar village at the time it was attacked told Human Rights Watch that the soldiers shot dead her husband, Mohammed Abade Hassan, 30, and her father-in-law, Abade Hassan Omar, 70, during the attack:

The soldiers arrived from all corners. They went into every village and set it on fire, and they were shooting as they burned them. They started burning Diyaar, Hunjurri, Koracelis, Labiga, and Gohdi. It was early in the morning.

There are lots of farms around the area. We owned a farm. My husband was killed that morning, around 5:30 a.m. He was hit by the bullet in front of the house. We were new to the area, I was only there for 13 days when the attack happened. My children were staying with their grandmother who lived in the same area and they fled with them. My husband’s father was also killed in that morning after he was shot. I also saw the bodies of others.86

A second eyewitness from Diyaar, a 28-year-old man, was himself shot in the shoulder by the soldiers as he stood in the doorway of his home. Soldiers shot and killed his wife Fadumo Ibrahim, 28, and two young children, Abdinasir Mohammed Farah, 1, and Halima Mohammed Abdi, 2. He told Human Rights Watch:

When the fighting happened around Labiga, I was in Diyaar. [The army] launched a [military] operation around 2:30 a.m. The people in the villages confronted them. The soldiers shot me in front of my house. My wife and two children died ten meters away from me. She died in the shooting along with my two children. The bullet hit me in the shoulder and they left me for dead.87

At least six other civilians were shot dead during the army attacks on Diyaar and Koracelis, including Sharaf Moallim Abdi Dagaal, 35, and her two children aged 2 and 3; Mohammed Abdi Qara-yar, 63, and Hassan Mataan Moallim Abdi, 25.88

Satellite images of Labiga confirm accounts of burning and destruction.

Labiga— September 26, 2005 (Lat: 8.118; Long: 43.391) © 2008 DigitalGlobe.


Labiga— February 28, 2008: Almost the entire town (about 40 structures) was likely removed or damaged subsequent to the collection of the previous image, and the grey/white areas are possible evidence of burning. © 2008 DigitalGlobe.

Another 12 civilians were killed around Labiga and Hunjurri villages, according to other eyewitnesses. During the first army raid, soldiers reportedly shot nine civilians in Labiga and Hunjurri, most of them in their farms, their homes, or while trying to run away from the army: Muhumed Yusuf Omar, 23, his brother Muhuyadin Yusuf Omar, 21, and their brother-in-law Ahmed Abdullahi Adan, 41; Abdullahi Muhumed Mataan, 61; Sheikh Mohammed Hassan Wahar, 65; Farhan Ali Shide, 13; Abdullahi Ahmed Af-da’un, 14; Qorgab Ali Abshir, 19; and Moallim Ahmed Mohammed Hashi, 30, a Koranic school teacher. Three days later, soldiers returned to Labiga and killed another three civilians as they attempted to return to their homes: Sheikh Ahmed; and Yusuf Abdi “Adhi-fool” and his young daughter.89

Lahelow, June 2007

In June 2007, the military commander of Wardheer came to Lahelow, a nomadic settlement of some 1,000 families located southwest of Wardheer town, near the boundary between Wardheer and Korahe zones, and ordered the population to gather for a meeting. He informed the population that the government ordered them to leave the area within seven days and relocate to Wardheer town. Since most of the population of Lahelow consisted of pastoralists who needed grazing land for their livestock, many residents refused to relocate.

When the seven-day deadline expired, a military force of some 200 soldiers returned and detained five civilians: Mohammed Abdi Wayd, 23; two sons of Sheikh Hussein Abdi Gaye, 8 and 19; Bashir Jama Abdullahi, 16; and a girl who used to work in a local vegetable shop. The first night they killed Mohmmed Abdi Wayd by strangling him, and threw his body outside their base. The next day, the villagers found the bodies of the other four detainees, shot to death. Following the summary executions, most of the population of Lahelow fled the area, and soldiers burned some of the homes.90  The army brought 10 commandeered civilian trucks to move the remaining civilian population of Lahelow to Wafdug town.91

The army continued to summarily execute civilians who were found in the “closed” zone of Lahelow. A few weeks after the killing of the five civilians, soldiers shot dead a local official from Lahelow, Sulub Mohammed Elmi, when he tried to return home to the village.92  In mid-September 2007, soldiers allegedly shot dead a group of five young camel herders near Lahelow, including Abdulrahman Hassan, 19, and confiscated their camels.93

Malqaqa, June 2007

In June 2007 soldiers came to Malqaqa, a settlement of 40 farms in the Fiiq wereda of Fiiq zone, and ordered the villagers to relocate to the neighboring, larger village of Galalshe, where there was an army base. After removing the residents, the soldiers burned all of the farms in the village and destroyed the crops. Soldiers dug up the khat plants, which were the mainstay of the farms, to ensure that villagers would not return to their homes. An eyewitness from Malqaqa told Human Rights Watch that many of the young men from Malqaqa were detained by the army at their base in Galalshe, where they suffered beatings and abuse.94

Warandhaab, June 2007

According to a witness, in late June 2007, soon after ONLF fighters ambushed an army convoy near the village of Warandhaab, located on the main road between Kabridahar and Sheygoosh, in Korahe zone, soldiers burned the village:

Usually, the soldiers leave their camps [in the main towns] to carry out [counterinsurgency] operations. If the soldiers are ambushed [by the ONLF], then the villages near the ambush are burned. This is what happened in Warandhaab. The soldiers came into the village and told all the villagers to leave and move to Galadiid village. Then, Warandhaab was burned down. Warandhaab had about 40 houses.95

Wardheer town, July 2007

Residents of urban centers have not been spared forced resettlement during 2007. After residents of small rural settlements in Wardheer wereda were ordered to move to Wardheer town and had their villages burned down (see above), the Ethiopian army began ordering residents living on the outskirts of Wardheer town to move towards the center of town. Soldiers then began to burn some kebele (neighborhoods) in the town itself. According to two separate eyewitnesses, the army burned parts of kebeles 1 and 4, and Qoddobaha kebele in July.96 One of the residents removed from kebele 4 told Human Rights Watch:

I had an iron sheet house and an adjoining hut in neighborhood 4 of Wardheer town. The soldiers came one morning in July, and said, “[name removed], get out of here.” They were removing residents from three [kebeles], 1, 4, and Qoddobaha, and telling people to move deeper into town.97

A second eyewitness confirmed that the three neighborhoods had been partially burned and destroyed, adding that “all of the suburban neighborhoods of Wardheer had their residents moved deeper into town.”98

Reprisal Killings

In addition to the forced displacement, village burnings and killings associated with the government’s systematic campaign to remove civilian populations from rural, conflict-affected areas, Ethiopian forces have also carried out a large number of reprisal killings and other serious rights violations.

In most of the several dozen incidents involving willful killings or summary executions investigated by Human Rights Watch, the armed forces carried out reprisal attacks against civilians after clashes between ONLF fighters and government soldiers near their villages, or after receiving information that ONLF fighters had visited particular villages (often by tracing presumed ONLF tracks). The military has also sought to pressure the relatives and village elders to produce ONLF members, and has detained or killed those who are unable to comply with the order. This is a form of collective punishment. The laws of war do not permit belligerent reprisals during internal armed conflicts,99 and collective punishments are prohibited outright.100

Dalal, February 2007

In mid-February 2007, ENDF soldiers came to Dalal village, near Qorrahey village (in Korahe zone), and ordered the civilian population to gather for a meeting. At the meeting, the soldiers accused the residents of supporting and feeding ONLF forces. Sheikh Mohammed and two other village elders told the soldiers they were wrong, saying that their own children were starving and it would be impossible to provide food to the ONLF. The soldiers then accused Sheikh Mohammed’s eldest son of having died fighting for the ONLF, when in fact he had died fighting for the Ethiopian army in Badme during the Ethiopia-Eritrean conflict. Sheikh Mohammed and the two other elders argued back, and the soldiers took them away and summarily executed them.

When the soldiers returned the bodies of the three elders to the village, the remaining crowd became enraged. The soldiers began beating and detaining some of the women. Among those detained was the 22-year-old daughter of one of the elders, whom the soldiers beat and raped before releasing.101

Gurdumi, April 2007

In early April 2007, an ENDF force came to the village of Gurdumi in Aware wereda, Dhagahbur zone, and the military commander ordered the population to gather at the center of the village, near the administration office. In his speech, the commander ordered the villagers to bring back their ONLF relatives from the bush. The military commander then held lengthy talks with the village elders, who explained to him that they had no power to order ONLF relatives to return from the bush, let alone arrest them. The commander allegedly threatened the elders, saying that those who failed to bring back their “sons” would be killed.

A few hours after the meeting, the commander ordered the arrest of the elders. Four or five elders, including Abdullahi Qabille, a local official, and Hiiray Farah were brought to the village center and summarily executed. The army displayed their bodies, and refused the villagers immediate permission to bury them. Several others, including village elder Sheikh Yusuf Abdullahi, were detained and remain unaccounted for.102

Gudhis, June 2007

In June 2007 heavy fighting occurred between ONLF insurgents and government troops in the area around Gudhis town, in the Gudhis wereda of Gode zone. A week after the fighting, ENDF soldiers entered Gudhis early in the morning, confiscated five goats, and returned to the nearby bush to slaughter and eat them. The same afternoon, the soldiers returned to Gudhis and detained eight men and a woman. The woman, Fadumo Hashi Aden, and one of the men, Abdiwahad Hassan, were released unharmed. The other seven men were shot near the village, according to a resident whose relatives were among the dead. Those killed were Rashid Gamadiid Abdurahman, Mohammed Mawsar Adan, Ibrahim Geed Abdiweli, Mohammedweli Shukri, Daabuul Mohammed Shukri, Mohammed Good Aden, and Ibrahim Hashi Abdi.103

Aleen, July 2007

In early July 2007, fighting took place between government forces and ONLF fighters near the village of Aleen (also known as Caleen), northeast of Shilabo town in Korahe zone. Following the fighting, ENDF soldiers entered the village of Aleen with their wounded. The soldiers, angry because of their losses, began killing civilians in and around the village, accusing them of supporting the ONLF. Among those killed that afternoon was Fatumo Abdi Hussein, 80, the mother of ONLF fighter Nur Faalug Mohamoud. Also killed were two boys, one of them Fatumo’s grandson, Abdullahi Yare Mohamoud Faalug.104

As the village was burying the dead the next day, the soldiers returned and opened fire on the mourners, killing at least two and as many as four village elders, including Sheikh Ibrahim Farah and Mohammed Abdi Muse. After the shooting, most of the villagers fled in fear, and soldiers set the village on fire. According to an eyewitness: “They burned Aleen village on this very same day. The people fled the village because of the army’s entrance and the killings that took place. But in the afternoon we saw from a distance the smoke from the burning village.”105

A second eyewitness who was present in Aleen during its destruction recalled that the army commander had ordered the village evacuated before the burning:

I fled with my wife and children [from Lahelow] to Aleen, which is closer to Shilabo. In Aleen, there is a motorized borehole. We went there to look for water. The soldiers came to Aleen, after they burned down Lahelow. Then they burned Aleen. We were there at the time. The soldiers arrived and ordered the people out of their homes. They gathered all of the people together. Then the commander ordered the village burned. The commander told us, “I have told you already to leave these small villages,” and then they forced us out. Then they burned down all the homes. The houses are just huts, so it is easy to burn them.106

Qoriley, July 2007

One of the more gruesome summary executions by Ethiopian forces took place on July 24, 2007 near Qoriley village in Wardheer zone. During the early morning hours, approximately 400 soldiers from the military base in Danood arrived in Qoriley, and then gathered the villagers together for a speech by the military commander. According to an eyewitness:

The soldiers entered some houses and took money, food and clothes as they made their way to an old [abandoned] army base in Qoriley. At around 1 p.m., they came out of the base and gathered people around a number of large trees in the village. There were three Somali men who were guiding the army [names withheld]. These Somali men talked to the people, translating the speech of the army commander [name withheld].107

Human Rights Watch interviewed two additional witnesses who gave very similar accounts of the commander’s speech. He accused the population of Qoriley of supporting the ONLF, and of not doing enough to bring their ONLF relatives back from the bush, reportedly telling the civilians, “We’ve been very patient with you, but today our patience has run out.”108 The Somali interpreter then read out a list of nine men and two women to be detained. Those detained were Hassan Burale Elmi and his brother Ali Burale Elmi, who had another brother in the ONLF; Ahmed Gani Guled; Hassan Abdi Abdullahi; Farah Hussein Halosi; Abdi-hiis Sheikh Mohamoud Umar; Ilmoge Beddel; Kifah Rage; Bogos Shukri Mataan; and two women, Ayan Ali Good and Ridwan Hassan-rage Sahid, who were accused of being the wives of ONLF members.109

Following their arrests, the nine men and two women were taken to the Qoriley military camp, which the soldiers had reoccupied that morning. During the night, the soldiers severely beat the two most senior elders in the group, Farah Hussein Halosi and Hassan Burale Elmi, breaking Hassan Burale Elmi’s hand. The two detained women were also beaten (but not raped), and accused of being married to ONLF members.110

The next morning, the soldiers released the youngest of the detainees, Kifah Rage, and ordered him to walk a flock of goats to the Danood army base. The remaining 10 detainees were walked to Babaase village, about an hour’s walk from Qoriley, where they spent a second night in detention.

Several eyewitnesses interviewed by Human Rights Watch described how the villagers found the strangled bodies of the 10 detainees a few days later outside Babaase village. A businessman from the Qorile area told Human Rights Watch what he had seen: “All the [detainees] were taken to Babaase where they were strangled with ropes. I saw the ropes on their neck when we arrived [at] the scene. I saw the bodies of Ahmed Ghani Guled, Farah Hussein Halosi, and Ayan Ali Good.”111

One of the detainees, Ridwan Hassan-rage Sahid, survived the strangulation, and later told Human Rights Watch what she had experienced.112 She explained that the soldiers and the detainees had left the army camp in two groups, and the detainees were strangled soon after they left Babaase. Wounds on her neck appeared consistent with the attempted strangulation she described:

It was still early morning, before day break, and we were in a forested area. After a while, the soldiers stopped us under some trees, next to a water-well. The soldiers undressed all the men before they strangled them. They took away their sarongs, watches, and shoes. The women were not undressed.

They took away two men, Ilmoge Beddel and Abdi-hiis Sheik Mohamoud Umar. They put a rope around the neck of each of them as we stood watching. Then, they hanged Ilmoge from a tree, after a soldier climbed into the tree and put the rope around a branch. But they did not hang Abdi-hiis. Instead, they put the rope around his neck and two soldiers pulled in opposite directions, strangling him.

Then I was taken away with two men, Hassan Abdi Abdullahi and Ahmed Gani Guled. First they pulled ropes around the necks of the two men and pulled in opposite directions, and both fell down. They put me in a ditch while they were strangling the other two. One soldier tried to strangle me with the metal stick used for cleaning the gun [by pushing it down on my throat], but I twisted his finger until he released me. Then two other soldiers came and they put a rope around my neck and started pulling.

That is the last thing I remember, until I woke up still in the ditch. A naked body was on top of me, it was Ahmed Gani Guled, who was dead. I couldn’t move out of the ditch until I was found by some women who came to the waterhole.113

All other nine detainees were found strangled to death.

Speaking on condition of anonymity, a regional government official confirmed to Human Rights Watch that the Ethiopian army had strangled up to 12 detainees in Qoriley. According to the official, the attack on Qoriley occurred shortly after ONLF forces destroyed a commercial truck belonging to the Marehan clan outside Qoriley, and the elders of Qoriley refused to provide compensation to the Marehan clansmen. The regional official told Human Rights Watch that the actions of the army had outraged some civilian officials, who had gone to complain to the military about the Qoriley killings, but no soldiers had been arrested or punitive action taken by the army.114

Galalshe and San-Xaskule, August 2007

After forcing most of the rural population to relocate to the larger village of Galalshe which was home to an ENDF military base (see above), soldiers in August 2007 burned many of Galalshe’s 400 civilian homes. The burning of Galalshe and other villages in the area was apparently in retaliation for heavy fighting between government forces from Galalshe and ONLF fighters in the nearby Daakhato Valley, four hours’ walk away. As the soldiers began burning homes in Galalshe, the inhabitants tried to stop them. In response, the soldiers opened fire on the civilians, killing between eight and 15 civilians, including Mohamoud Rage Egal, 60, Abdulkadir Rage Egal (Mohamoud’s brother), Aydid Muhumed Egal, Sheikh Abdullaahi Omar Egal, Farah Abdi Bade, Omar Faruk Mohammed, Fadumo Mohamoud Rage, and Dalha.115 

San-Xaskule, another village in the area, was also burned around the same time by army forces, and five civilians were reportedly killed there, including Mohammed Abdi Samad, Fadumo, Mohammed Abdi “Arab,” and Halimo Sharif Mohammed.116

Bukudhaba, August 2007

Around August 17, 2007, fierce fighting took place between the army and ONLF forces near the villages of Bukudhaba, Milmil, and Haahi, in Aware wereda, Dhagahbur zone. Afterwards, ENDF soldiers entered Bukudhaba village on August 18, killing at least eight civilians, including six elders, and burned down Bukudhaba and other villages in the area.

Bukudhaba was a large village of some 200 households located south of Aware town, and is famous for its large water reservoirs, which serve the pastoralist communities in the area. According to the villagers, Bukudhaba was also regularly visited by ONLF forces.117

Several witnesses recounted to Human Rights Watch how the soldiers came to Bukudhaba the morning after the fighting and executed a group of elders at the village mosque before burning down the village. One man told Human Rights Watch:

The soldiers came early in the morning, they were looking for men. They went to the mosque and found elders who were praying at the mosque, and shot five elders inside the mosque, including some guests to the village. They killed a sixth man outside the mosque.118

Several others gave Human Rights Watch similar accounts of the killings at the mosque. Although she was not in Bukudhaba at the time of the attack, a relative of Hiis Sulub Dagaal, an elder who was partially blind, told Human Rights Watch that he had been shot and killed during the attack on Bukudhaba:

He had left Dhagahbur because the army had confiscated all of our properties, so he went to stay […] in Bukudhaba. [During the attack,] only the elderly were left in the village; they found [Hiis Sulub Dagaal] and six other men at the mosque. They shot them. I don’t know whether they killed them in the mosque or outside the mosque, I was only told they were shot. He is buried in the village.119

The soldiers returned the next day to burn down the village, and killed two more men, Yusuf Dhiriq and Abdullahi Mohammed Ismael, as well as a woman, Fadumo Ahmed Ali, accusing them of belonging to the ONLF.120 “They shot people and started burning the village,” said a 42-year-old man who described the burning of Bukudhaba to Human Rights Watch.

When they were burning Bukudhaba, I was in Baarta village which is less than a kilometer away, and I could see the smoke. The army proceeded to Baarta and burned that village also. Bukudhaba is a big village of about 200 houses with two water reservoirs. They damaged the water reservoirs by blowing up the wooden walls with explosives. This happened on the same day they burned Bukudhaba.121

76 Human Rights Watch interview with (name withheld), Nairobi, September 22, 2007.

77 Human Rights Watch interview, Nairobi, September 22, 2007.

78 Human Rights Watch interviews in Nairobi and Dadaab refugee camp, September 22 and October 5, 2007, respectively.

79 Confidential information on file with Human Rights Watch.

80 Human Rights Watch interview with (name withheld), Dadaab refugee camps (Kenya), October 6, 2007.

81 Human Rights Watch interview with 40-year-old refugee woman, Dadaab refugee camp (Kenya), October 6, 2007.

82 The area may have been specifically targeted after ENDF officials viewed video and other materials confiscated from journalists who visited the area. In May 2007, a New York Times team visited the Faafan Valley, accompanied by ONLF fighters, and noted the strong support enjoyed by the ONLF in the area. On May 16, 2007, Ethiopian authorities detained the New York Times reporters in Dhagahbur, and their videotapes were confiscated, including scenes of villagers showing support for the ONLF. See “Ethiopia Releases Detained Times Journalists,” New York Times, May 23, 2007.

83 Human Rights Watch interview with (name withheld), Dadaab refugee camps (Kenya), October 5, 2007.

84 Human Rights Watch interview, Dadaab (Kenya), October 5, 2007. A second witness told Human Rights Watch: “Two days before the fighting started, the army took away camels from the villages, lots of camels. The camel herders fought to defend their camels. They succeeded to get their camels back.” Human Rights Watch interview with (name withheld), Hargeysa (Somaliland), September 25, 2007.

85 Human Rights Watch telephone interviews, October – November 2007.

86 Human Rights Watch interview with (name withheld), Hargeysa (Somaliland), September 25, 2007.

87 Human Rights Watch interview with refugee, Nairobi, September 24, 2007.

88 Human Rights Watch telephone interviews, October – November 2007.

89 Human Rights Watch telephone interviews (names and locations withheld), October – November, 2007.

90 Human Rights Watch interview with (name withheld), Nairobi, September 23, 2007, and follow-up interview by telephone, October 30, 2007.

91 Confidential information on file with Human Rights Watch.

92 Human Rights Watch interview, Nairobi, September 23, 2007.

93 Human Rights Watch interview with (name withheld), Garissa (Kenya), September 20, 2007.

94 Human Rights Watch interview with (name withheld), Dadaab (Kenya), October 5, 2007.

95 Human Rights Watch interview with (name withheld), Garissa (Kenya), September 20, 2007. A second eyewitness confirmed the burning of Warandhaab to Human Rights Watch, but did not know the circumstances of the burning. Human Rights Watch interview with (name withheld), Garissa (Kenya), September 21, 2007.

96 Human Rights Watch interview with (name withheld), Dadaab refugee camps (Kenya), October 6, 2007; Human Rights Watch interview with (name withheld), Dadaab refugee camps (Kenya), October 6, 2007.

97 Human Rights Watch interview with (name withheld), Dadaab refugee camps (Kenya), October 6, 2007.

98 Human Rights Watch interview with (name withheld), Dadaab refugee camps (Kenya), October 6, 2007.

99 See ICRC, Customary International Humanitarian Law, rule 148, citing common article 3 to the Geneva Conventions, and Protocol II, art. 4.

100 Collective punishment is prohibited under Protocol II, art. 4(2)(b).

101 Human Rights Watch interview with (name withheld), Nairobi, September 17, 2007.

102 Human Rights Watch interview with (name withheld), Garissa (Kenya), September 21, 2007.

103 Human Rights Watch interview with (name withheld), Dadaab refugee camps (Kenya), October 5, 2007.

104 Human Rights Watch interview with (name withheld), Dadaab refugee camps (Kenya), October 5, 2007.

105 Human Rights Watch interview with (name withheld), Dadaab refugee camps (Kenya), October 5, 2007. 

106 Human Rights Watch interview with witness from Aleen (name withheld), Nairobi, September 23, 2007.

107 Human Rights Watch telephone interview with Ridwan Hassan-Rage Sahid, location withheld, October 30, 2007.

108 Human Rights Watch interview with (name withheld), Dadaab refugee camps (Kenya), October 5, 2007. A Koranic teacher from Qoriley who also attended the military commander’s speech summed it up for Human Rights Watch: “The commander threatened, ‘We will kill you and we will arrest you. We will make an example of this village, because you support the ONLF and not the government, so we will burn this whole village. If you are not working for the government, there will be no camels moving around, and we will not allow you to access the water well. Only those who work with us will be allowed to have access to the water.’  He was trying to recruit new militia members. He spoke for up to three hours or so.” Human Rights Watch interview with (name withheld), Nairobi, September 23, 2007.

109 Human Rights Watch interview with (name withheld), Nairobi, September 22, 2007; Human Rights Watch interview with (name withheld), Dadaab refugee camps (Kenya), October 5, 2007; Human Rights Watch telephone interview with Ridwan Hassan-rage Sahid, October 30, 2007.

110 Human Rights Watch telephone interview with Ridwan Hassan-rage Sahid.

111 Human Rights Watch interview with 35-year-old businessman, Dadaab refugee camps (Kenya), October 5, 2007.

112 Human Rights Watch telephone interview with Ridwan Hassan-rage Sahid. Ridwan Hassan-rage Sahid also told her story to the Los Angeles Times in 2008. See Edmund Sanders, “Ethiopia War Gets Little Attention,” Los Angeles Times, March 23, 2008,,1,5787043.story (accessed May 23, 2008). 

113 Human Rights Watch telephone interview with Ridwan Hassan-rage Sahid.

114 Human Rights Watch telephone interview with regional government official (name and location withheld), November 6, 2007.

115 Human Rights Watch interview with (name withheld), Garissa (Kenya), September 21, 2007.

116 Human Rights Watch interview with (name withheld), Garissa (Kenya), September 21, 2007.

117 Human Rights Watch interview with (name withheld), Nairobi, September 17, 2007.

118 Human Rights Watch telephone interview with (name withheld), November 14, 2007.

119 Human Rights Watch interview with (name withheld), Nairobi, September 22, 2007.

120 Human Rights Watch interview with (name withheld), Dadaab refugee camps (Kenya), October 5, 2007.

121 Human Rights Watch interview with (name withheld), Dadaab refugee camps (Kenya), October 5, 2007.