Human Rights Watch: Release of ex-Somali region president, huge setback

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The Human Rights Watch has expressed disappointment in the release of Abdi Mohamoud Omar alias Abdi IIley, the former president of the Somali region of Ethiopia, who had been in prison for the last five years over crimes against humanity.

Laetitia Bader, the Executive Director of the lobby group, says the decision to release him from prison is a 'setback' to ending impunity for crimes involving senior officials. State media reported that Ethiopia’s Ministry of Justice took the action for the “sake of public interest.”

In 2018, Abdi was arrested for “violations of human rights and inciting ethnic and religious conflict in the Somali region,” and charged in 2019 for his role during his last days in office, when Somali youth groups loyal to him and Somali regional special forces, called the “Liyu police,” attacked non-Somali groups.

However, the lobby group says, Abdi's crimes against humanity committed throughout his tenure in office were not brought to the limelight during the trial. He was a regional security chief in 2006 before winning the presidency in 2010.

Human Rights Watch documented that the Liyu police frequently committed serious rights abuses against civilians throughout the Somali region during counterinsurgency campaigns, including extrajudicial killings, torture, and rape, as well as reprisals against local communities.

In 2018, Human Rights Watch reported on the abuses during Abdi Illey’s rule, notably the pattern of torture and abuse in Ethiopia’s notorious Jail Ogaden, where prisoners were denied access to adequate medical care, family, lawyers, and at times, food, the lobby group argues.

A 42-year-old former prisoner at Jail Ogaden told us: “We cannot forgive him for what he and his [Liyu] police have done to our people. He has destroyed a generation… He must face justice for what he has done.”

"By failing to hold Abdi Illey to account for the many rights violations during his rule, the Ethiopian government is sending the message that impunity remains the order of the day," she said in a statement

"With the government reportedly just weeks away from launching a nationwide transitional justice policy, the authorities need to reverse course and demonstrate a willingness to tackle accountability for serious abuses."

GAROWE ONLINE

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