Wednesday, July 24, 2024
SocietySaudi’s shoot, dismember, deny

Saudi’s shoot, dismember, deny

Almost five years ago, the beheadings of dozens of Ethiopians en route to Europe across the Libyan Desert shocked the world. Ethiopia mourned the loss of its people as they faced dangers in search of a better life. The grief from those tragic deaths still weighs heavy on many Ethiopians’ hearts. But new revelations uncovered in a Human Rights Watch (HRW) investigation are even more disturbing.

Through interviews with survivors and witnesses between March 2022 and June 2023, HRW has exposed a grim reality unfolding on the Yemen-Saudi border. According to the report released on August 15, Saudi border guards are engaged in a systematic campaign of violence against Ethiopian migrants trying to cross over.

Fleeing conflicts, poverty and persecution at home, these migrants face unimaginable horrors at the hands of Saudi officials. Survivor accounts describe shocking scenes of mass executions, torture, sexual abuse and arbitrary detention along the border zone.

Many victims were Ethiopian, subjected to cruel abuse including severe beatings, electrocution and outright execution by Saudi guards, according to the report. Witnesses told of guards opening fire without warning on crowds of migrants, killing and wounding dozens at a time.

Some survivors said guards forced them to choose which limb they preferred to be shot in before firing at close range. Guards also used explosive weapons against migrants attempting to flee back to Yemen.

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“Spending billions buying up professional golf, football clubs, and major entertainment events to improve the Saudi image should not deflect attention from these horrendous crimes,” Nadia Hardman, refugee and migrant rights researcher at Human Rights Watch.

In a grim revelation, a 26-year-old Ethiopian man has told Human Rights Watch that he witnessed Saudi border guards gun down over a dozen of his countrymen in a single incident. Speaking anonymously, the man said guards opened fire on migrants attempting to cross the border, leaving bodies “strewn all over the ground.”

“Bodies are everywhere. It is like a graveyard,” the HRW report disclosed in striking language. According to accounts, guards attacked 23 more people with explosives as they attempted to enter Saudi Arabia in large groups. Some witnessed another group being shot the day before, amounting to a documented 24 mass incidents.

In search of better economic prospects, the migrants crossed the Red Sea aboard overloaded vessels with insufficient food and water. They then traversed Yemen on multi-day overland treks to reach Saudi Arabia, facing immense hardships along the way.

Berhanu, an interviewee in the HRW report, witnessed the dangers travelers face firsthand. He described smugglers beating passengers mercilessly during a boat trip from Puntland, Somalia.

“If anyone so much as moved, they were beaten on the spot,” Berhanu recalled, according to the report’s findings.

His account highlights the physical risks endured even before migrants reach the Yemen-Saudi border, where further atrocities allegedly await them.

“There are some people who you cannot identify because their bodies are thrown everywhere. Some people were torn in half,” said another witness.

The deaths have sparked outrage in Ethiopia.

Opposition member Mulatu Gemechu condemned the “heinous” acts, saying it is “disgusting” that Ethiopians continue to face such dangers abroad. “It’s like a deja vu effect,” he remarked grimly on the ongoing targeting of Ethiopian migrants.

Ethiopia’s foreign ministry acknowledged HRW’s findings while maintaining their country’s relationship with Saudi Arabia. They pledged to investigate hundreds of citizen deaths along the Yemeni border in a statement that also struck a conciliatory tone: “Despite the unfortunate tragedy, the two countries maintain good relations.” The Ministry hopes this balanced approach will allow them to press Saudi Arabia for answers while preserving critical economic and diplomatic ties.

As distressing details emerge of Ethiopians killed in what witnesses call border “graveyards,” their countrymen demand accountability for violent acts against vulnerable people simply seeking a better life.

When over 70 Ethiopians were brutally beheaded in 2018, the nation entered a state of mourning. Flags flew at half-mast as officials expressed solidarity in commemorating the victims.

But this time, facing claims of over 100 deaths, the ministry’s response was more muted – urging caution until investigations conclude. For many Ethiopians, this muted reaction contrasts starkly with the horror of witness accounts from the Yemeni borderlands.

Dubbed “massacres” by rights groups, the latest reports follow years of allegations against Saudi border agents. According to witnesses, roving bands of guards gun down unarmed migrants without warning, leaving bodies to pile up in what survivors call “graveyards.”

Megabi Bluey Abraham, president of the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Party (EPRP), said the report is a “wake-up call to the international community to prioritize protection of migrants and uphold human rights.”

“A thorough investigation must be conducted to hold those responsible accountable,” he said.

Ethiopia has felt the brunt of Saudi’s mass deportation campaigns for long time.

Since 2017, over 260,000 of its citizens have been expelled from the kingdom on average 10,000 per month, according to IOM estimates.

And while the ministry acknowledges investigations are needed, opposition leaders see the response as lacking.

“An immediate end to these atrocities and justice for victims is required,” says Mulatu of Oromo Federalist Congress.

As distressing new details emerge of beatings and abuse endured by migrants on the perilous journey, Ethiopian rights defenders demand concerted international action.

As Yared Hailemariam, Executive Director of the Ethiopian Center for Human Rights Defenders, asserts, “Everyone’s rights should be respected, regardless of status.”

The world watches for Saudi Arabia to finally deliver the accountability and justice its people demand. Yet according to recent reports by state media in the Arab country, the authorities in Saudi preferred to deny the report.

In response to the HRW report, a Saudi official stated: “”These allegations are unfounded and are based on untrusted sources.”

The official, speaking to the Saudi Press Agency on Thursday, claimed the allegations were “part of a media campaign that had been launched for suspicious goals and objectives.”

Necessary medical care was provided to groups injured by gunfire from “armed groups who were trying to push them into Saudi Arabia by force,” according to the official.

“The kingdom is committed to the principles of human rights stipulated in its regulations, international human rights law and international humanitarian law,” the unnamed official concluded.

While the denial from Saudi authorities, the brutal killings only reinforce calls for increased international scrutiny of and accountability for human rights violations in the country. Noticeably absent in response, however, were statements from important global powers like the United States – a country that vocally advocates for human rights abroad yet said little here. Their deafening silence implies the lives of vulnerable migrants, particularly those from the developing world, may not factor greatly into strategic political calculations with strategic allies. A disappointment and sad indictment of how geopolitics can ignore injustice.

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