Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed

Suspected members of a separatist group in Ethiopia’s Somali region are being tortured, raped and starved at a secret prison, Human Rights Watch alleged on Thursday.

The New York-based watchdog called for an investigation by the Ethiopian government into the allegations concerning suspected members of the separatist Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF) at the prison in the southeastern region.

Rights groups have often accused Ethiopian security forces of abuse, particularly against rebel groups that have targeted the one-party rule of the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF).

Since taking office in April, Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed has sought to end these insurgencies and address rights violations.

Last month, he publicly acknowledged torture carried out by security services, describing it as a form of “terrorism”.

He has also backed legislation to decriminalise armed groups such as the ONLF.

Attacks by the ONLF have tapered off since Ethiopia launched a crackdown a decade ago after the rebels killed 77 at a Chinese oil venture in 2007.

Last year the group’s commander Abdikarim Muse was handed over to Ethiopia by Somalia, which was holding him.

HRW said the documented abuses occurred at a detention facility – known as “Jail Ogaden” – between 2011 and this year, adding that most people brought to the facility were never formally charged.

It said the government must establish a commission to investigate the allegations and hold those responsible to account.

“The scale of torture and abuse in Jail Ogaden cannot be overstated,” said researcher Felix Horne. “Abiy should continue to publicly condemn torture and take action on Jail Ogaden to show he is serious about stopping torture and ending impunity.”

Somali region is Ethiopia’s second-largest, bordering, Djibouti, Kenya and Somalia, and is one of the country’s most volatile areas.

Intense ethnic clashes, beginning last year along the shared border between Somali and neighbouring Oromia region, have so far displaced over a million people and killed hundreds.

Rights groups blame the regional security force, called the Liyu police, for being behind the worst abuses as well as instigating ethnic fighting, with the approval of the regional government.

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