FigTree Header 10.14



Review all 2022 Benefit videos

To advertise in print or online
Click here
Share this article
Search The Fig Tree's stories of people who make a difference:

Anuak Justice Council persists in efforts for Anuak

By Deidre Jacobson

Two years after the December 2003 massacre of 424 Anuak educated leaders in Gambella, Ethiopia, no perpetrator has been brought to justice, but an international agency has filed a condemning report, and leaders of some nations are taking action.

Anuak family

John Frankhauser, treasurer and webmaster for the Anuak Justice Council (AJC) and member of First Presbyterian Church in Spokane, learned from CNN that Great Britain has decided to cut off aid to Ethiopia because of the human rights abuses. 

He remembers a call he received the day after the massacre.

Ariet Oman, a refugee sponsored by First Presbyterian in 1989 and friend, called in a panic.  John and others went to her home, hugged and prayed. 

“It was a bonding moment,” he said.   

 This led him to become more involved with the Anuak and help form the non-violent, non-political AJC, an international organization founded in Spokane in September 2004.  The council seeks to restore peace, justice and the rule of law to the Gambella area where many Anuak live.   Behind the scenes, it pressures the Ethiopian government.

John said that an international humanitarian agency recently completed an investigation.

“Its report is so conclusive and damning that it has not been released immediately so it can be used as leverage,” he said.

Representatives from 12 nations met with Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi on Jan. 12. Annoyed at the pressure, he asked, “How bad is the report?” and learned of its seriousness.

“The representatives said one requirement for support from their countries was removal of troops from the Gambella area.  He thought that was impossible, but agreed to meet again and give his response,” John said.

Obang Metho of Saskatchewan, who heads international advocacy for the council, is promoting a world conference of Anuak.

“If Meles is to compromise, the Anuak must be organized and prepare their strategy,” John said. 

Some Anuak are frustrated because the AJC opposes violence. It denounced actions of a local resistance movement, the Popular Defenders of an Ethnic Enclave, which took over the Gambella police station on Oct. 30.  They released 63 inmates detained without trial or representation. They also tried unsuccessfully to take over the Gambella prison to release thousands of others being held illegally, John said.

Sixteen people were killed, including 12 Anuak, mostly police officers who refused to give up their guns or shot at the gunmen.  One was the Anuak state commissioner of police. 

After their release, Anuak leaders visited graves of those massacred in 2003 and early 2004.

The Ethiopian government claims the AJC does not represent the Anuak people in Gambella, who they say are not complaining and expatriots are inflaming the world press, said John. 

“Anuak there are afraid to complain, fearing retaliation. We hear that Anuak in Ethiopia look to our website for news of what is happening in Gambella, because they do not have free access to news.  They are encouraged that AJC is working to represent them.  We have also received word from Anuak citizens that Gambella officials are intimidated, knowing atrocities that they thought were secret have been published on our website,” John said.

He believes efforts of the AJC are beginning to see results.  Sixteen Anuak leaders, including the former Governor Okello Nigilo, were released from the Gambella prison after a federal judge in  Addis Ababa called them to court on Dec. 2, 2005.  They were among 44 arrested in October 2002 and held without trial.  Six died in prison.  Trial dates have not yet been set for the other 22 leaders. 

The African Union Commission on People’s and Human Rights accepted the case of the human rights crimes against the Anuak by the Ethiopian government. The International Human Rights Clinic in Washington, D.C. is providing pro bono legal work on the case.

“Much of the conflict in the traditional Anuak area relates to oil reserves on that land.  Nearly 3,000 Ethiopian troops returned to the Gambella area since the rainy season ended,” John said.  “They accompany oil company workers, returning to start the next phase of oil extraction from large reserves which are located in the area.

“They want to do that without interference from Anuak.  Troops are there to ‘ensure stability.’ With the presence of Ethiopian troops, Anuak fear a return of daily killings, rape, harassment, torture and disappearances of Anuak, who may be ‘found’ by troops in the ‘wrong place at the wrong time’ while they go about their daily lives,” he continued. 

The main oil company, Zhongyun Petroleum Exploration Bureau, is a subsidiary of China’s second largest national petroleum consortium, the China Petrochemical Corporation.  It is under subcontract to Malaysia’s national oil company, Petronas, John said.

The government and the oil company have pushed Anuak aside, moved onto the Anuak’s indigenous tribal land, set up their camps, installed electricity and dug wells for clean water, he reported. 

In nearby Anuak villages, there is no clean water. Wells have been destroyed from overuse by troops, he added.  Schools are in disrepair after troops used them as barracks.  Health care is non-existent.

“Other locals are hired for jobs in the company.  Anuak are excluded,” he said.

A delegation from First Presbyterian Church postponed a trip they planned to Gambella in November to address needs of orphans, because of dangers. 

“The Anuak Justice Council is a source of hope for Anuak,” John explained. “I praise God for opportunities to act and connections with people in power.”

In a recent phone conversation, Obang related a message from an Anuak leader in Ethiopia thanking people of Spokane, the birthplace of AJC, “for their tireless work on behalf of the Anuak.”

A video on the Anuak, “Operation Sunny Mountain, the Killing of the Anuak,” produced by the University of Saskatchewan, will be shown at 7 p.m., Monday, Feb. 27, at 1830 S. Upper Terrace Rd., and at 7 p.m., Tuesday, Feb. 28 at 9115 N. Mountain View Ln.

For information, call 448-0805.


The Fig Tree - © February 2006