14th June 2024  admin  Category :

Jail Ogaden: Human Rights Abuses in the Somali Region

Thousands of Somalis are arbitrarily arrested and unlawfully detained every year in the Somali region of Ethiopia. The prisoners are housed in military bases, federal prisons, regional and local prisons, and unofficial detention facilities. According to a report titled Collective Punishment published by Human Rights Watch in June 11, 2008, in Jigjiga alone, “there are a range of detention centers, four or five of which were repeatedly mentioned to Human Rights Watch by former detainees who had suffered or witnessed abuses: the Regional Central Prison known as “Jail Ogaden” (because of the large numbers of Ogaadeeni held there) which reportedly holds between 400 to 600 prisoners; kebele and wereda jails, of which the center in Jijiga’s kebele 4 is the most notorious-it holds several hundred prisoners in a range of conditions, including underground cells;  Jijiga’s military bases-Garabcase and the air defense facility called Ayer Hail; and Qumaadaha, a former police training center located in Jijiga’s kebele 5, which is reported to hold prisoners of national security interest and political detainees.”[1] Human Rights Watch was able to ascertain this information through interviews of formers detainees and confidential communications. Other human rights organizations like African Rights Monitor corroborated the reports by Human Rights Watch through sources in Jigjiga and through face to face interviews with former detainees of the Jail Ogaden that fled the Somali region and now live in the Dadaab Refugee camps in Northern Kenya. The U.S. Department has through its yearly review of human rights issues in Ethiopia reported the continue violations of the rights of Somalis and other nationalities like the Oromo. According to African Rights Monitor, the situation is getting worse everyday. This is largely due to the formation of Janjaweed like militia called Liyu “Police”. The militia is trained, financed, and armed by the Ethiopian State. It has been sanctioned to setup their own detention centers where those suspected of being members of ONLF rebels or sympathizers are interrogated and mercilessly tortured for information. The detention centers are also used to hold political opponents of the regime in power. There are countless detention centers outside of Jigjiga. These are both official and unofficial in nature. Numerous detention facilities exist in Dhagaxbuur, Shilaabo, Qabridahare, Galaadi, Qalaafe, Wardheer, Shiniile, and other towns. The Ethiopian Armed Forces setup many rudimentary jails in their barracks. Detention centers run by the military are far more brutal and notorious than the federal and regional prisons. Victims that are held in military barracks have no judicial recourse. Majority of the prisoners are nomads, traders, students and young girls and women who are subjected to rape and sexual violence. As noted the military detention centers majority of which are temporary in nature are exceptionally brutal as the Ethiopian Armed Forces operate outside of any judicial oversight.

Prisons like Jail Ogaden and other detention centers exemplify the human rights abuses committed against the Somali people. Jail Ogaden is a testimony to the brutal colonization of the Somali region and people by the successive Ethiopian governments. The human rights abuse include arbitrary arrests and detentions, torture, sexual violence and rape, extrajudicial killings, forced evacuations, scorched earthy policy, and economic war.  The extent and the severity of the human rights abuses is not known to the wider world as all foreign media and humanitarian organizations have been expelled from the region. Ethiopia keeps tight lid on the Somali region. As result, a majority of the abuses committed go unreported and unpunished. There is little or no redress for those that suffer the human rights abuses.  The Ethiopian State has essentially sanctioned the human rights abuses as the crimes are committed with impunity. In 2009, Ethiopia adopted a strict anti-terror law which empowers the government and its security apparatus to arrest and detain civilians without any cause. The anti-terror law nullifies Ethiopia’s obligations which are stipulated under the UN Charter-based and Treaty-based International Human Rights Laws including the Committee Against Torture. The anti-terror law makes a mockery out of Ethiopia’s own Constitution, Criminal Code, Procedural and Administrative Laws. Under this law, Jail Ogaden and other detention facilities around the region and the country become centers where torture and other forms of violence are the norm. In 2009, Ethiopia enacted “Proclamation for the Registration and Regulation of Charities and Societies.”  This proclamation bans charities including the religious based charities and human rights organization that receive any funding from outside the country. The proclamation prevents citizens from forming any organization that is meant to promote human rights and offer social services. The proclamation bans international NGOs including the humanitarian organizations. After the passing of this proclamation, all human rights and humanitarian NGOs were banned from operating in the Somali region. The region is cut from the rest of Ethiopia and the world. The local media is strictly controlled and the international media can visit the region with the permission and under the supervision of the Ethiopian government. As result of the anti-terror law, the anti-charities proclamation and the formation of the Liyu militia, the conditions of the Somali region have gotten worse. Conditions in the Jail Ogaden and other detention centers have deteriorated and are not fit for human habitation. With the region completely isolated from the rest of the world, it is proving to be difficult to gather information. Most of the information is now pouring from victims and former detainees of the Jail Ogaden. Information is also coming from former guards of the Jail Ogaden and former policemen in Jigjiga and other towns. These guards and policemen have either abandoned their posts or fell out of favor with the current regime in Jigjiga. The regime is highly paranoid and it is not uncommon for the regime to arrest and imprison members of its own security apparatus. A former member of the security agencies who abandoned his post and fled the region furnished the layout of Jail Ogaden (See Below). According to him, the prison was built to hold several hundred inmates but it is now extremely overcrowded as it holds thousands of detainees.

Who Are the Prisoners of Jail Ogaden?

It was the administration of Khader Mo’allim that built the Central Region Prison or Jail Ogaden in 2000. The facility became operational in 2002. The first batch of prisoners was eight academics and intellectuals including one woman Ruun Abdi Omas. The victims were all arrested in the same day and had all been accused of being members of the ONLF rebels or sympathizers. The following groups of prisoners were businessmen, contractors, members of the parliament, and politicians of the Somali region. Reasons for the arrests varied when it came to these groups. Some were accused of the usual “crime” that’s being a member or sympathizer of ONLF. Others were charged with corruption and mismanagement of the government funds and affairs. Politicians who were incarcerated in the Jail Ogaden were simply victims of political power struggle within the Somali People Democratic Party (SPDP), the ruling political party in the Somali region. The former regional president, Mohamed M Ali, his deputy, Adam Abdulahi became guests of Jail Ogaden after losing a internal fighting within SPDP. During the Government offensive in 2007, new groups were detained in the Jail Ogaden. These include students, traditional and tribal leaders, and religious leaders. The Government started shipping prisoners from other parts of the region and relocated them to the Central Regional Prison. Ever more cautious and growing more paranoid, the Ethiopian and the current regional governments turned on members of the regional parliament and politicians. Even former regional presidents were not spared. Former friends were also arrested and incarcerated in the Jail Ogaden. Notable people imprisoned in the Jail Ogaden include:


  1. Mahdi Ayub – Abdi Ilay’s predecessor to the post of security and peace head.
  2. Abdi Garad – regional Revenue bureau head and MP from Jigjiga district
  3. Abdirashid – Pastoral community Dev’t Project (PCDP) head, MP from Feer-feer.
  4. Bashir Abdulahi – Regional Finance Bureau Head
  5. Ahmed Aabi – Regional Islamic Supreme Council – Deputy head
  6. Mohamed Abdi (Hamaw) – Trade, works and urban Development coordination bureau head, MP from Cherati
  7. Idris – Regional Education Bureau – Deputy head
  8. Abdirahman M Arab – Transport, Trade and Communication Bureau – Deputy Head
  9. Faysal Hashi – Regional Environmental Protection Bureau head
  10. Abdulahi M Qalombi – Regional Investment Bureau head, MP of Sagag district
  11. Abdulahi Dheere – jigjiga zone chairman
  12. Jamil M Gaas – former regional security head, MP from Dhegah-buur district
  13. Mohamed H Faarah – Former Korahay zone, MP from Kabridahar district
  14. Rabii’ AbdiKadir – MP from Aware district
  15. Abdullahi Asad – MP from Aware district
  16. Abdikarim Qalinle – Former deputy speaker of regional parliament, businessman



  1. Ibrahim Haad
  2. Abdulahi-Nur
  3. Mohamed Burale
  4. Sheek Nur

Traditional/Clan Leaders

  1. Sh. Yusuf Fara-raan, Sh. Abdi yusuf, Gaydh Nur Sagal, Sangaab from Qabridahar
  2. Garaad Hassan Ahmed Makhtal, Abdulahi Dahir, Abdiqadir Foollow, Mahamed Dhair from Degahbur
  3. Ugas Geelle, Ugas Abdi-aziz, Haybe Osman from Fik
  4. Ugas Diiriye, Mahamud-Djibouti, Mahamud-Hawis, Mohamed ali from Afdher
  5. Ugas Abdirahman M Qani – former regional president from Godey


Ordinary citizens eventually started arriving at Jail Ogaden. The usual charge is being an ONLF member or sympathizer. Human Rights Watch and African Rights Monitor have interviewed many civilians who were arbitrarily arrested and detained in the Jail Ogaden and other detention centers without any formal charge. Here are testimonies from interviews conducted by Human Rights Watch and African Rights Monitor:


Interview with former Jigjiga prisoner, F.H.,

conducted by African Rights Monitor, July 2010.

“I was arrested by the Ethiopian State Security on June 1, 2007, and spent some time in complete isolation in a dark cell in the Garabase Military Camp which is located at Jigjiga. In the camp I suffered a lot because of the torture and various types of physical punishment adjusted to me. They used to torture me with electric wires because they wanted to forcefully make me confess that I was a supporter of the ONLF, despite the fact that I was neither supporter nor member of the said group. Later on, I was transferred to the Jigjiga Police where ICRC officials visited me on June 24, 2007; they assisted me by providing me with a mattress and various utensils as my family members were not allowed to visitme. Finally, I was released on June 15, 2008 under the condition to coordinate with State Security and Army officers, which was of course a very dangerous matter. Two days after I was released, I was informed that I would be killed if I failed to cooperate with the assigned State Security and Army officers; I immediately understood that I had to leave the country. At the time security agents were looking for me, I managed to leave my home in Jijiga; I was hiding in the same city for two nights, and then I left for Kenya. Ultimately, I arrived in Nairobi, looking for safety and hoping that the UNHCR will grant me the status of refugee, thus offering a peaceful sanctuary to live my life in dignity. Here in Nairobi, I have faced a lot of difficulties, living with terrible anxiety because of the free movement and the

unlawful activities of many Ethiopian security agents.”[2]


Interview with former political prisoner, W.G., conducted by ARM, July 2010

“In mid 2007, a massive operation against the armed forces of the ONLF and their supporters took place in the Somali administrative zone; during this process, military and security agents of Ethiopia committed gross violations against civilians in the region, involving brutal means of interrogation, arrests, accusations of civil servants, an incommunicado. Prior to these events, I had not been involved in any political activities in the region, neither had I

been member of any opposition party. I had however been arrested in Jigjiga on June 14, 2003 when I was a mere schoolboy at the Jijiga Junior Secondary School. I was then taken to the heavily guarded camp of Jigjiga town(Garabase Military Camp) where I was subjected to brutal interrogation and torture on daily basis. Scars appearing on my left shoulder to this day date back to that period of imprisonment. My torturers were constantly using threats to

oblige me to admit that I was an ONLF member until I was forced to do so. I was locked in a very small underground cell. After three months, I was finally released on September 30, 2003. As it can be easily surmised, during this 3- month period, my family had absolutely no information about my whereabouts. During the aforementioned period of

massive operations against the armed forces of the ONLF, I was arrested in my College Campus in Addis Ababa on September 1, 2007. I was taken to the Shoramere Military Camp; without any trial and legal procedure I was released on September 25, 2007. After my release I pursued regularly my studies in the College, and everything seemed to go well. Suddenly, one day, whilst I was waiting to take an exam, three men of the Security Dept (Ministry of Interior), accompanied by two men of the National Army came to the gate of university and contacted me via phone. They told me that I should go and meet them immediately, and started threatening that they would punish me if I did not. I then went to meet them, missing my exam, and I was subsequently taken to a military camp.They instructed me to cooperate with them by providing them with all necessary information about ONLF sympathizers in the College. I told them that I can’t do this job; they then gave me a deadline of 10 days to cooperate with them,warning me of the dire consequences in case I failed to do so. After this incident, I decided to leave Ethiopia and seek political asylum in Kenya. I left Addis Ababa, and I reached the immigration office at the Moyale border point on 28th December 2007, intending to ask an exit visa and proceed to Kenya. This point lies at a distance of 771 km in the southwest of Addis Ababa. There, unfortunately, as soon as the immigration officer heard my name, he confiscated all documents in my bag including my passport, my college ID, and a recommendation letter from the ICRC office in Jigjiga.Then, the immigration officer at Moyale ordered my arrest and immediate deportation back to Addis Ababa; first, I was however detained in Moyale for 2 days and then they took me, handcuffed, they placed me in a military lorry and thus I was returned to Addis Ababa. There, I was imprisoned in an underground cell of the Makalawe prison; so dark it was that I could not distinguish between day and night. In the first phase of his detainment none of my relatives had an idea about my situation and whereabouts. Later, my family came to know the details of my arrest and my situation, and they came to the prison where they were not allowed to meet me. In the Makalawe prison, I was tortured with electric wires and I was repeatedly threatened by security agents; once I was even thrown in a cell full of snakes. I was continuously handcuffed during a period of three months. My family members submitted meanwhile an appeal to the court; I was then subsequently brought before the court without having a lawyer to defend me, and the end result was that I was released with the recommendation to work closely with security agents and inform them on the activities of the ONLF.I went back to my College, but within 10 days, two security agents and four military men came again to the campus with the purpose to arrest me; as soon as I saw them coming to the entrance, I managed to escape from the backward gate, and I kept hiding myself in the city for 4 days and then I decided to leave Ethiopia for Kenya at all costs. I crossed into Kenya on 24th April 2008, via Nagelle – Dolo – Sufka – Mandera – Nairobi, without any legal document, because- as I mentioned earlier – Ethiopian security agents had confiscated all my documents in Moyale, before my last arrival to and imprisonment in Addis Ababa. Recently, I came to know that Ethiopian security agents arrested some of my relatives and even confiscated their phones; I got the information that they managed to find my telephone number in the mobile telephone of one of my relatives. As a matter of fact, on May 22, 25 and 28, two unknown people, whom I have reasons to identify with Ethiopian security agents called me from Ethiopia and they threatened me saying thatthey know where precisely I am, adding that they intended to follow me wherever I may go.”[3]


Human Rights Watch interview with (name withheld), Nairobi, September 23, 2007.

“Every night, they took all of us girls to [interrogations]. They would separate us and beat us.The second time they took me, they raped me. It is hard to talk about, a man who is more powerful than you can do whatever he wants to you, so they violated me and raped me as they wanted. All three of the men raped me, consecutively. Then we were returned to the hole.I was in a lot of pain and there was no doctor, until today I have not seen a doctor. I was held in the prison for three months, and raped on at least 12 other occasions, by different groups of soldiers. The commander of the base also participated in the rapes and beatings. We were all raped-the girls and the mothers. They brought new girls and women all the time, at least 40 girls and women were detained during the three months I was there.”[4]


The above testimonies are some of the horror stories that take place in Jail Ogaden and other detention centers scattered all over the Somali region. Citizens from all walks of life continue to being arrested and detained without any cause. Once imprisoned, the detainees are subjected to torture, sexual violence and other denigrating acts, all of which are banned under the International Human Rights Laws. Stories about the detention facilities continue pouring out from the victims that now live in Dadaab Refugee camps.  Stories of the conditions of the prisons and the ill-treatment of inmates are also coming out of the Somali region though those who communicate these stories risk their own lives and the lives of their families and friends.


Conditions of Jail Ogaden and Other Detentions


The conditions of the detention facilities are horrid to say the least. Some detention centers are not fit for human habitation. Since the Government offensive started, the number of prisoners in Jail Ogaden and other facilities throughout the region has grown exponentially. Thousands are now housed in Jail Ogaden though it was setup to hold few hundred prisoners. The sanitation in these facilities is terrible. According to former detainees, there are regular outbreaks of cholera and other communicable diseases. Many detainees died from the preventable and treatable diseases. The Prison Authorities and the Government hide the actual death toll. There is also a serious case of malnutrition in these facilities. The prison menu is solely made of Ethiopian “injero” (salty flat bread). Guards hand out the injero two or three times a day. The population of prison like the rest of the Somali people is used to eating rice, spaghetti, stew, goat and camel meat, milk, and assortment of vegetables if readily available. Injero is part of the Somali diet but it is not something consumed for every meal or everyday. The lack of proper diet contributes to the malnourishment which makes prisoners more susceptible to diseases. Apart from lack of proper sanitation and diet, prisons are centers of abuse and torture. It has been reported that detainees are regularly beaten and tortured. The forms of torture include hanging prisoners by the ankles or having them sit or stand in distressful positions. Severe forms of torture include electrocution and attaching objects or hanging heavy objects on the genitals of the detainees. Some detainees reported and others showed the scar of their torture inflicted upon them. Some victims’ fingers have been sewn together. Women prisoners have also been subjected to cruel violence. Rape is common occurrence. Some female prisoners had their breasts sliced off.  Victims whose breasts were sliced are now in Dadaab refugee camps. The Ethiopian government and regional authorities have refused the international community to inspect the conditions of the facilities like the Jail Ogaden. As more people are rounded up, the conditions of the detention centers continue to worsen.


The human rights violations in the Somali region go on unabated. Ethiopia expelled the human rights and humanitarian organizations. It is now reported that the government is forcibly relocating (euphuism for ethnic cleansing) hundreds of thousands of the Somali community. Other nationalities are also forcibly being relocated. The practice of forced relocation was perfected by Derg Leader Mengiste who ironically enough relocated the Tigray population-the very ethnic group that current Prime Minister’s once rebel movement was fighting to free. It is my hope the international community is starting to take notice of the heinous crimes being committed against the Somali nation. If the world continues ignoring the plight of the Somali, Oromo and other oppressed nationalities, Ethiopia will one day implode under its own oppressive weight as the rebel movement like ONLF begins to gain momentum and the Zenawi administration becomes more oppressive. Jail Ogaden is symbol of Ethiopian oppression, the ONLF and the Somali people will fight the oppressors till the day the Somalis can determine their own future.


N.A. Egal


N.A. Egal is  a freelance writer.


[1] Source: Human Rights Watch, Ethiopia: Collective Punishment: War Crimes and Crimes against Humanity in the Ogaden area of Ethiopia’s Somali Regional State, HRW, New York, June 2008, pp. 63

[2] Source: Submission from African Rights Monitor to the Committee Against Torture in its 45th session 1-19 November 2010, Geneva, Related to the discussion of the country situation in Ethiopia and its performance in upholding the Convention Against Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, African Rights Monitor pp. 13 http://www2.ohchr.org/english/bodies/cat/docs/ngos/ARM_Ethiopia45.pdf

[3] Ibid pp. 25

[4] Source: Human Rights Watch, Ethiopia: Collective Punishment: War Crimes and Crimes against Humanity in the Ogaden area of Ethiopia’s Somali Regional State, HRW, New York, June 2008, pp. 59

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