Human Rights Watch research found that the Ethiopian armed forces have been responsible for numerous instances of sexual and gender-based violence against women and girls in conflict-affected areas of Somali Region. Women taken into military custody as suspected ONLF spies or for providing the insurgents military support are frequently raped or otherwise sexually assaulted while being transported to or held in military camps. Soldiers have also assaulted and raped women and girls in urban areas as well as when they are collecting firewood, water, and other vital supplies in rural areas that the ENDF considers closed. Human Rights Watch is unaware of any instances since 2007 in which soldiers have been disciplined or punished for committing acts of sexual violence.
Rape and other sexual violence is prohibited under the laws of war and is a war crime.122 When committed as part of a widespread or systematic attack on a civilian population, it is a crime against humanity.123
Human Rights Watch has documented cases of rape of female detainees by government soldiers at military bases in Wardheer, Dhagahbur, Kabridahar, Jijiga, Shilabo, Duhun, and Fiiq towns, and many smaller military bases in the conflict-affected zones, indicating that rape is a widespread abuse in the region. According to many of the women and men interviewed by Human Rights Watch, rape of female detainees regularly occurs in military custody and often involves senior military officials, including base commanders, and interrogators.
In June 2007 a 38-year-old woman was detained by soldiers as she entered Dhagahbur town from her home in Kariir to sell some goats. She was taken by the soldiers to the brigade headquarters. She told Human Rights Watch that during her 25-day detention, soldiers had raped her on five separate occasions before she was transferred to a police station.124
In June 2007, soldiers arrested a 17-year-old student from her home in Duhun, in Duhun wereda, Fiiq zone, accusing her of being an ONLF supporter. The nine soldiers took her to the Duhun military base, where she was detained together with about 15 other female students in a dark hole in the ground. The soldiers beat her on the first night of her detention, and then beat and raped her the second night. During her three-month detention, she was raped at least 13 times. According to the student, most of the 40 or so women who were detained at various times during those three months were raped, and the camp commander himself participated in the rapes:
On May 23, 2007, the day after fighting in the area between the army and ONLF forces, the soldiers detained some villagers, including two women and a 16-year-old girl from Toon-Eli village in Korahe zone and took them to the Dhuumo-Dhumodle army base in Kabridahar. The two women and girl were detained there with another nine women, many of them relatives. Soldiers raped at least seven of the 12 women. On the night of May 29-30, soldiers executed Sahan Hussein and Khadar Ali Hussein in front of the other female detainees by strangling them with ropes after forcing them to confess to being ONLF members.126
In addition to these cases, based on victims accounts, many other former detainees reported witnessing rapes or seeing strong evidence of rape, such as women and girls who returned to their cells with ripped clothes, and bleeding from their private parts. A 19-year-old university student studying in Addis Ababa who was detained in Dhagahbur town in May 2007 when he returned home for a holiday, and kept for two months at a military base there, witnessed several such cases. During his detention, he saw a severely injured 23-year-old woman who was suffering from a swollen belly and an injured right arm after soldiers apparently raped her. She died from her injuries while at the base.127
A 30-year-old shopkeeper from Wardheer town was detained from early May until July 28, 2007 at the Transport Tanks military base in Wardheer town, accused of providing economic support to the ONLF. He told Human Rights Watch of several cases of rape of women detainees that he personally witnessed:
In mid-May 2007, patrolling army soldiers detained a group of women and men from a small, unnamed nomadic settlement about two kilometers south of Shilabo town. The group was divided into several groups and told they would be taken to the military base in Shilabo for questioning. One of the women described how soldiers had taken her and another 10 women into a nearby forest, where they were beaten and raped before being left for dead:
On May 8, 2007, army soldiers detained a 20-year-old charcoal seller from Kabridahar town while she was collecting wood near the military base in the Bam Burat area. The soldiers accused her of spying for the ONLF, and immediately began beating her with the wood she had collected and jumping on her body. At least three soldiers raped the woman. She lost consciousness from the beatings and the repeated rapes, and woke up nine days later at the military base in Kabridahar. After she was detained a month, her uncle managed to secure her release from the military base. She required extensive medical treatment for her wounds.130
In July 2007 patrolling soldiers from the Garbo base raped two young women on consecutive days as they went to fetch water from wells located a days walk from their homes in Fiiq zone. The first woman was detained by the soldiers around noon as she left the wells; two soldiers raped her and threw her off a cliff, causing her serious injuries. The second woman, who had just given birth to her first child, was detained around the same time the next day, and raped by three soldiers. Angry villagers protested by throwing stones at the army encampment. When the soldiers responded with gunfire, the villagers fled.131
122 Protocol II, art. 4(2)(e). See ICC Statute, art, 8(2)(e)(6).
123 See ICC Statute, art. 7(1)(g).
124 Human Rights Watch interview with (name withheld), Hargeysa (Somaliland), September 25, 2007.
125 Human Rights Watch interview with (name withheld), Nairobi, September 23, 2007.
126 Human Rights Watch interview with 26-year-old woman refugee, Dadaab refugee camps (Kenya), October 5, 2007.
127 Human Rights Watch interview with 19-year-old student, Hargeysa (Somaliland), September 27, 2007. After his release, the witness was also informed that his mother, aged 63, had been raped while being detained in a separate cell at the kifletor base in Dhagahbur.
128 Human Rights Watch interview with 37-year-old shopkeeper, Garissa (Kenya), September 20, 2007.
129 Human Rights Watch interview with 22-year-old refugee, Nairobi (Kenya), September 17, 2007.
130 Human Rights Watch interview with (name withheld), Hargeysa (Somaliland), September 27, 2007.
131 Human Rights Watch telephone interview with (name withheld), Bossaso, September 14, 2007.