The biggest development in a story I broke in December 2003, about a continuing but mostly unknown genocide in Africa, is happening tomorrow.
I hope this development finally propels the story into international headlines where it belongs.
Human Rights Watch tomorrow will release the results of a six-month investigation into the genocide of the Anuak people of western Ethiopia.
This is a story I first wrote about on December 22, 2003, a week after a massacre of some 425 Anuak tribe members by Ethiopian soldiers occured in the western Ethiopian town of Gambella.
I was able to break this international story right here in southeast Minnesota because the world's largest community of Anuak refugees, who have been fleeing ethnic cleansing of their tribe for more than a decade, lives here in towns including Rochester, St. Paul, Minneapolis, Austin, Winona, and Mankato.
On Sunday, December 14, while at my home here in Rochester, I started getting phone calls from distraught Anuak immigrants living here.
They had spent the entire previous day and night talking on their telephones with relatives and friends in Gambella. Their friends and relatives were describing with panic and horror the massacre as it was actually happening.
The Minnesota Anuak could literally hear guns going off in the background of the telephone calls, as well as shrieks and cries for help.
Several Minnesota Anuak told me how they'd been on a phone call with a relative or friend in Gambella, and then suddenly heard the sound of a door in the background being beaten down, followed soldiers yelling and screaming to "put the phone down!," and then hearing a crash and the line go dead.
Within a couple of weeks, Anuak survivors in Gambella had counted 425 bodies of Anuak men and boys on the streets and in a hastily dug mass grave.
In April, I travelled to Ethiopia and to Sudan, where some 10,000 Anuak refugees fled the violence to relative safety in a desert refugee camp.
In interviews with dozens of survivors of the Gambella massacre in Pochalla, Sudan, and in interviews with Ethiopian government officials, I was able to report that the December 13 massacre was the worst day of violence in ethnic cleansing incidents by the Ethiopian government against the Anuak that stretched back more than a decade.
The December 13 massacre was led by uniformed Ethiopian troops who killed Anuak men and boys with their assault rifles, and who incited mobs of local Ethiopian highlanders to attack Anuak men and boys with spears and machetes.
Here is what Human Rights Watch says in the announcement for tomorrow's press confrerence, when the full report will be made public. The report is titled "Targeting the Anuak: Human Rights Violations and Crimes Against Humanity in Ethiopia's Gambella Region" (my italics):
Following the December 2003 massacre of some 400 Anuak civilians in a Gambella town by mobs and soldiers, the Ethiopian military launched a series of attacks on Anuak villages that have forced several thousand Anuak civilians to flee their homes. Since then, the Ethiopian military has committed the widespread abuses of murder, rape and torture against the Anuak population that could amount to crimes against humanity. The report details the continuing pattern of abuse of Anuak communities, and urges concerned states to pressure the Ethiopian government to halt the abuses and prosecute those responsible.
This is the story of a Darfur-like genocide on a smaller scale, carried out against a tiny African tribe that for a variety of reasons stands in the way of the Ethiopian government's intentions in the remote western part of the country.
In years past, the Ethiopian government could get away with mass murder in Gambella, precisely because the region is so remote. Today, however, thanks to cellular telephones and the Internet, the Ethiopian government has been unable to hide the fact of its ethnic cleansing, i.e. genocide, against the Anuak.