Ethiopian authorities have failed to hold accountable a paramilitary force that killed at least 21 villagers in the Somali region of Ethiopia in June 2016. The government should promptly grant access to independent international monitors to investigate these killings and other reported abuses by this force, known as the “Liyu police.”
On June 5, 2016, Liyu police members entered the village of Jaamac Dubad in eastern Ethiopia’s Somali Regional State after an officer had been wounded in a dispute with local traders. The police started shooting indiscriminately, killing at least 14 men and seven women, and then looted shops and houses. Nine months later, survivors said they were not aware of any investigation into the killings and had not received any compensation.
“Liyu police killed 21 villagers in the Somali region and devastated this vulnerable community, but there’s no sign that the government is working to bring anyone to justice for these killings,” said Felix Horne, senior Africa researcher at Human Rights Watch. “Ethiopian authorities should end their indifference to the murderous operations by this paramilitary force and work with international monitors to investigate their abuses.”
Ethiopian authorities created the Liyu (“special” in Amharic) police for the Somali region in 2007, when an armed conflict between the insurgent Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF) and the government escalated. By 2008, the Liyu police had become a prominent counterinsurgency force recruited and led by then-regional security chief Abdi Mohammed Omar, known as “Abdi Illey.” Abdi Illey became the president of Somali Regional State in 2010, and the Liyu police continue to report to him.
The Liyu police have frequently been implicated in extrajudicial killings, torture, rape, and violence against people in the Somali region, as well as in retaliatory attacks against local communities. There has also been growing evidence of attacks by the group against communities outside of the Somali region, including in the Oromia region since late December 2016, and in Somalia.