The following is a statement from Resolve Ogaden Coalition, a national non-profit organization dedicated to saving and helping the Somali Ogaden people in East Africa, regarding Mr. Meles Zenawi’s invitation to Columbia University.
September 17, 2010
Dr.Lee C. Bollinger, President, Columbia University
University Programs and Events
Office of the President
Columbia University in the City of New York
202 Low Library, 535 West 116th Street, New York, NY 10027
Dear President Bollinger, Mr. Stiglitz, respected faculty and students of the University of Columbia:
On behalf of the Ogaden population and concerned citizens of the United States, Resolve Ogaden Coalition would like to express our grave concern over the University of Columbia’s recent invitation to Prime Minister Meles Zenawi to present the keynote address on the topic of Ethiopia and African leadership. In addition, Resolve Ogaden Coalition would like to bring to the University’s attention the inconceivable harm, injustice and hardship faced by the inhabitants of the Ogaden.
Although the university is free to invite who they please, it is important to note that by inviting a leader accused of war crimes and crimes against humanity, the university does irreparable damage to its reputation, and brings into question its core values.
Situated in eastern Ethiopia, the Ogaden region is challenged by conflict and war between the Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF) and the Ethiopian armed forces. In recent years the conflict in the Ogaden has escalated to unprecedented levels as it affects the lives of the civilian population and contributes to the endless suffering of millions. The escalation of violence is largely due to the Ethiopian governments “anti-insurgency” campaign which has been directed towards the civilian population as an approach against the ONLF, and their struggle for self determination.
Prime Minister Meles Zenawi obtained power in 1991, and over the years he has been accused of resorting to force to maintain his position. Unfortunately, this force has been heavily concentrated on the Ogaden region. According to numerous and credible humanitarian and human rights organizations such as Human Rights Watch, under the leadership of Zenawi, the Ethiopian armed forces perpetrated countless human rights abuses, war crimes and crimes against humanity that include, but are not limited to, mass detentions; rape; the destruction of property; mistreatment of detainees; force relocations; the deliberate deprivation of resources; and various genocidal acts the international community has yet to acknowledge or advocate against these crimes. Satellite images by the American Association for the Advancement of Science confirm reports that the Ethiopian military burned entire villages in remote areas of the Ogaden. Under the Rome Statute such actions are considered war crimes and crimes against humanity.
The systematic oppression and genocidal massacres occurring in the Ogaden region have gone unnoticed by the international community and prevented international relief organizations from providing medical and humanitarian aid to the millions who are affected by the conflict. This is largely due to the Ethiopian government’s decision to expel all humanitarian and human rights organizations from the region. The Red Cross, Doctors without Borders and Amnesty International have all been forced from the region after voicing numerous concerns over the human rights abuses in the Ogaden, leading many advocates of human rights to conclude that the Ethiopian government is indeed concealing its crimes in the Ogaden. Furthermore, the Ethiopian government has managed to establish Janjaweed like militias called Liyuu police that have been created solely to terrorize, intimidate and further destabilize the region.
Columbia University is a respected and an internationally recognized institution with a historical reputation of advocating against injustice, inhumanity, and oppression. It was among the first American universities to denounce the apartheid regime in South Africa, and has always been the first to advocate and promote human rights in many different regions and nations around the world. Hence, it is a fundamental and a moral obligation for the University of Columbia to act upon its governing principles and address the plight of the Ogaden people.
It is essential for the University to promote human rights in the Ogaden by sending a clear and unmistakable message to the Ethiopian government and the rest of the world that signifies the heinous human rights abuses and the prolonged conflict in the Ogaden will not be welcomed nor tolerated by the University. Finally, it is imperative to raise questions and challenge Prime Minister Meles Zenawi regarding the human rights violations committed against the inhabitants of the region by the Ethiopian National Defense Force (ENDF).
As advocates for human rights, we support the pursuit of justice, peace and self-determination in all parts of the world. Although we are sensitive to the University’s position and acknowledge that it is too late to withdraw its invitation, it is essential that the University of Columbia takes this opportunity to urge the Prime Minister to engage in comprehensive talks with the Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF) headed by Admiral Mohamed Omar Osman. Such talks could dramatically impact the dire humanitarian situation and could lead to the development of a just and lasting solution to the ongoing conflict in the Ogaden
Recognizing that the greatness of the United States is due to its commitment to freedom of speech and tolerance, Resolve Ogaden Coalition respectfully requests that representatives of our organization be permitted to partake in the event so that we can respectfully and peacefully address the Prime Minister. We believe Mediating between members of Resolve Ogaden Coalition and Prime Minister Meles Zenawi is the first step the University can take to smooth the progress of peace and stability in the Ogaden region. We are confident once the invitation to engage in comprehensive peace talks with Admiral Mohamed Omar Osman of ONLF is extended to the Prime Minister; we will be a step closer to ending the suffering and bringing to fruition peace and democracy to the people of the Ogaden.
Lastly, we believe that safeguarding the dignity and core values of this great University is in the best interest of every student and faculty member, by granting our request and allowing us to be the voice for the millions of voiceless victims who have been silenced by years of conflict and suppression; you will succeed in doing so.
Thank you for your time and consideration of this request; we look forward to hearing from you.
Resolve Ogaden Coalition
E-mail: email@example.com Website: www.resolveogadencoalition.org
Resolve Ogaden Coalition is a national non-profit organization devoted to developing and maintaining a just and lasting solution to the long standing conflict in the Ogaden region through the implementation of comprehensive policies that ensure the development and protection of the socioeconomic, political, and human rights of the region.