Addis Abeba – The recent report by Human Rights Watch (HRW) uncovering the killing of hundreds of Ethiopian migrants by the Saudi Arabia border guards at the Yemen-Saudi border, which was also corroborated by credible investigative reports by media organizations, is yet another shocking revelation of Saudi Arabia’s continued flagrant disregard for human lives manifested through the brutal killings, maiming, and dismembering of vulnerable victims with impunity.
Over the past years, despite credible evidence, Saudi Arabia categorically denied this gross human rights violation, including the systematic killing and inhumane mistreatment of vulnerable migrants at its borders and inside the country’s notorious prison facilities which are more concentration camps.
The country’s blatant denials of these well-documented crimes that the latest HRW report said could amount to “crimes against humanity” are the direct outcomes of lack of accountability through global mechanisms.”
In October last year, a letter addressed to Saudi authorities by the UN’s Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, revealed that the UN had received reports of the “systematic” killing of 430 migrants at its border between January 01 and April 30 of the same year was strongly refuted by Riyadh. Similarly, it denied the latest reports.
The country’s blatant denials of these well-documented crimes that the latest HRW report said could amount to “crimes against humanity” are the direct outcomes of lack of accountability through global mechanisms, which is encouraging the practice to continue without consequences.
Equally appalling is the apathy from the Ethiopian government towards the killing of hundreds of its own nationals in such a manner and attempts by the international community to remain indifferent under the pretext of insignificant calls for independent investigation.
The Ethiopian government’s delayed statement on 22 August in response to the report by HRW appeared to be more concerned about the report’s impact to taint the “excellent long standing relations” between the two countries, and even went as far as advising for “utmost restraint from making unnecessary speculations until investigation is complete.” Like the rest of the word, it also repeated the usual empty rhetoric that it “will promptly investigate the incident in tandem with the Saudi authorities.”
Diverting the country’s meager resources to improve the lives of its people rather than investing it to finance wars should be the government’s top priority.”
At the very least, a strong statement showing sympathy for the victims, denouncing the killings, and calling for immediate independent investigation involving the UN and other international partners would have only been fair.
Through its inaction to hold the government of Saudi Arabia accountable for these crimes, the Ethiopian government is failing its nationals multiple times. To begin with, hundreds of thousands of young men and women are forced to flee their country faced with the grim reality of hopelessness in the face of the government’s failure to create economic opportunities and to ensure the safety and well-being of its nationals. Tragically, the majority of these young men and women who are killed at the border by the Saudi border guards hail from war-ravaged regions of Oromia, Amhara and Tigray, where poverty, coupled with instability, is pushing everyone to the brink.
Way before the battle to get justice and accountability from a powerful foreign state, the government’s priority should have been to settle political differences and militarized violence that are contributing to the mass exodus of the youth through desperate routes by pursuing peaceful means. Diverting the country’s meager resources to improve the lives of its people rather than investing it to finance wars should be the government’s top priority.
In the early days of Abiy Ahmed’s ascent to premiership, his administration received widespread acknowledgement for its accomplishment to bring back thousands of Ethiopian migrants who were stranded in harrowing conditions across many countries including from inside Saudi Arabia’s notorious prison cells. But once the attention for public relations traction receded, the reality appears to be that for the government, the safety and well-being of its vulnerable citizens abroad hold little value compared to buttressing diplomatic relations with Riyadh or other countries where Ethiopians are trapped in equally harrowing conditions.
Lack of meaningful measures from the international community including the UN to hold Saudi Arabia accountable for its actions have now set a dangerous precedent that the country continues to kill and inhumanely mistreat migrants with impunity.”
Unfortunately, the response from the UN Office of High Commissioner for Human rights’ (OHCHR) to the HRW report on 22 August was no less shocking than that of the Ethiopian government’s statement, and reveals the distressing lack of genuine concern from the international community.
So far, the international community’s action could not pass a mere call for independent investigation despite repeated calls in the past barely translated into meaningful actions to restrain Saudi Arabia from its egregious hostility towards Ethiopian migrants.
Lack of meaningful measures from the international community including the UN to hold Saudi Arabia accountable for its actions have now set a dangerous precedent that the country continues to kill and inhumanely mistreat migrants with impunity, which will have dire implications for the global values of respect for human rights.
It is therefore imperative that both the Ethiopian government and the international community take a solid, urgent, and extraordinary stand to end more migrants from being killed at the Saudi border, and bring forward accountability including by bringing onboard Saudi Arabia to investigate and ensure justice for the hundreds already killed.
Many more lives are at risk, and those who are already the victims of this heinous crime cannot afford the indifference of the Ethiopian government and the world at large. AS