Sunday, December 23, 2007
The Crime of Innocence
It is often said that truth is stranger than fiction. The grotesque prosecution of Daniel Bekele and Netsanet Demissie is much stranger than the grim and chilling fictional story of Joseph K., in Franz Kafka’s The Trial. The first sentence in Kafka’s book reads, “Someone must have been telling lies about Joseph K., for without having done anything wrong he was arrested one fine morning.” K., is ordered to stand trial before judges who do the bidding of their invisible masters. His trial is delayed time and again. He can not defend himself because he is never told what crimes he has committed. He is denied access to the evidence allegedly proving his guilt. His lawyers are incapable of defending him in an irrational and severely crippled legal system that relies on arbitrary and capricious procedures.
Like Joseph K., “Someone must have been telling lies about Daniel B., and Netsanet D., for without having done anything wrong they were arrested one fine morning in November, 2005.” They have no idea what crimes they have committed. Buy they are “charged” with a hodgepodge of nonsensical “crimes” that allege “outrage”, “obstruction”, “incitement”, and “impairment”. They are brought before an all-powerful political “court” with robed political hacks sitting as judges.
Like Joseph K., Daniel B., and Netsanet D., are told they are guilty. But when they protest their innocence, their persecutors relentlessly interrogate them: “Innocent of what? Protestations of innocence are themselves a sign of guilt”, they are lectured. They tried to seduce them, “Confess and you will be pardoned like the others before you. Sign an admission of guilt, and you’ll be set free.” But they refuse to confess to trumped up political charges. Today, for their crime of innocence, Daniel B., and Netsanet D., are languishing in the squalid and overcrowded cells of Kality prison, going into their third year. If “convicted”, they face possible life sentences. The “verdict/judgment” in their case has been postponed repeatedly due to a contrived and unspecified “illness of a judge”.
Even Kafka, the master storyteller of inexplicable guilt, could not have written a more nightmarish story of a totalitarian state that is completely out of control. The story of Daniel B., and Netsanet D., is an account of a police state that criminalizes innocent citizens, and coddles torturers and the killers of 193 unarmed protesters, and many thousands more. It is a microcosmic story of a nation played out in the persecution of two young and innocent captives of a ruthless regime that thrives on the dehumanization of an entire population; and sustains itself by denying its citizens basic human rights, and by crushing their spirit of freedom and liberty.
Daniel B., and Netsanet D., are part of a new and dynamic breed of young Ethiopian patriots. They are in the same honored league as Frehiwot Samuel, Teshome Mitiku, Woldemichael Meshesha and Alemayehu Zemedkun, those great patriots who shone the flashlight of truth on the June and November, 2005 massacres of unarmed protesters in Ethiopia. Daniel B., and Netsanet D., like the others, value principle above expediency. They place duty, honor and country above their own personal advantages. They are not politicians, religious leaders or sycophants with ambitions for power. They are the tip of the spear in an emerging group of Ethiopian social pioneers called “civil society activists”, a fancy phrase used to describe people who stand up for the poor and downtrodden, for democracy, for human rights and the rule of law.
Daniel B., managed a branch of ActionAid International in Ethiopia, an organization committed to fighting poverty and injustice. ActionAid helps poor people in urban slums and rural areas with the basic necessities of life. It also promotes anti-poverty public policies. Netsanet D., founded and directed the Organization for Social Justice in Ethiopia. His organization is dedicated to fostering democracy through education and advocacy. Daniel B., and Netsanet D., helped coordinate the Civil Society Election Monitoring Initiative in May, 2005 in the Addis Ababa area. Neither has ever used nor advocated the use of violence or force to bring about social or political change in Ethiopia. Amnesty International has listed both of them as prisoners of conscience, and called for their immediate and unconditional release.
The Persecution of the Innocents
Daniel B., and Netsanet D., were arrested during the ruling regime’s November, 2005 “sweeps”, which resulted in the arbitrary arrest and detention of 131 opposition leaders, journalists, civic society leaders and human rights defenders. The trumped up charges against Daniel B., and Netsanet D., are nonsensical by any civilized legal standard. They are accused of committing the unintelligible and weird crimes of “outrage against the constitution or constitutional order”, “obstruction of the exercise of constitutional powers”, “inciting, organizing and leading armed rebellion”, and “impairing the defensive power of the state.” No one knows what these silly “charges” mean. They mean whatever Zenawi wants them to mean.
The testimonial “evidence” against Daniel B., and Netsanet D., is simply laughable. The “government” called a total of seven witnesses in its case-in-chief. Four offered eyewitness testimony of the alleged crimes. One woman testified she was present at a civil society training of election observers when Daniel B., and Netsanet D., called EPDRF a “thief” that will rig elections. The two cautioned trainees to be vigilant against EPDRF shenanigans. They even handed out flashlights in case power is mysteriously cut to the location where the trainees were assigned to do the election monitoring. Her major complaint was that she was assigned to a monitoring location far away from her home. She testified that she could not tell apart Daniel from Netsanet.
Another woman testified that during a meeting to discuss whether the elected parliamentarians should take their seats and what civil society groups could do in the post-election period, she heard Daniel B., and Netsanet D., criticize the government for being oppressive, and the election board for not being independent. At this meeting, the two complained that the May, 2005 elections had been rigged and the parliamentary procedures changed to disadvantage opposition members. The two shared their conclusion that under such circumstances it would be difficult for the newly elected candidates to join parliament. This witness testified that she had heated exchanges with Daniel B., but at no time did either one threaten to do anything violent or unlawful.
One man testified that Netsanet D., told him to organize the youth in the neighborhood because the EPDRF had stolen the elections. Netsanet D., gave him flyers to distribute, and directed him to organize anti-government activities. As a result, the witness organized youth to burn tires in the streets, and talked to people in the bars and tea rooms and stopped taxi drivers and buses to tell passengers that the May, 2005 elections had been stolen. The witness also damaged some fencing in the course of his activities. This witness did not tell anyone of his subversive activities, including his family members and friends. Another man testified that Netsanet D., gave him 200 birr and flyers in a tea room, and told him to organize youth. The witness stopped people in the street and tried to organize them. He did not remember the names of any of the persons he met in the streets.
Three other eyewitnesses were called to corroborate the proper execution of search warrants to obtain evidence from the residences of certain individuals supposedly connected to Daniel B. and Netsanet D. None of these witnesses actually saw the so-called search warrant. Their testimony as to what they observed was confused and contradictory. They had more “I don’t recalls/I don’t knows” than Alberto Gonzalez at a Congressional hearing.
The documentary “evidence” is equally laughable. A prime piece of “government” evidence was a doctored email allegedly showing Daniel B., and Netsanet D., as Kinijit contact persons. Other documents admitted into evidence included a civic society conference report, a notice of public meeting and flyers describing the difficult situation in Ethiopia after the May elections. No evidence was presented to show the two participated in any demonstrations or engaged in any violent or potentially violent activity.
This is the corpus delecti, the whole body of the crime, for which Daniel B., and Netsanet D., have been in jail for more than two years now. As a technical matter of law, the critical question is whether the foregoing evidence is sufficient to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Daniel B., and Netsanet D., committed the alleged “crimes”, or any crimes at all? The obvious answer is: NO! No reasonable person with common sense anywhere in the world, let alone impartial and neutral judges, could possibly find sufficient evidence to convict Daniel B., and Netsanet D., of any crimes on the “evidence” presented against them. The totality of the so-called evidence is perfectly permissible political activity under the ruling regime’s constitution, and other universally recognized human rights conventions.
But beyond the laughable testimonial and documentary evidence, there were numerous not-so-funny and egregious procedural and ethical violations by the so-called prosecutors. The defense was denied important discovery (evidence legally required to be turned over to Daniel B., and Netsanet D's., lawyers to prepare their defense); and illegally obtained evidence was admitted at “trial”, as was fabricated, hearsay, irrelevant and immaterial evidence. The prosecution was allowed to call witnesses whose identities were concealed from the defense. Defense lawyers were denied the opportunity to investigate prosecution witnesses and prepare effective cross-examination. Prosecutors were given preferential treatment in court proceedings. But let’s not be sidetracked by real issues of law and procedure. After all, we are talking about a monkey trial in a kangaroo kourt.
The Defense of Innocence
The funny thing about a kangaroo trial is that it’s a judicial circus performed with smoke and mirrors. In “prosecuting” (more accurately, persecuting) Daniel B., and Netsanet D., (and the other 129 victims of arbitrary prosecution), Zenawi sought to put on a “dog-and-pony” show for the international community. He wanted to use the “trials” to project an international image that he is a liberal democrat who believes in the rule of law, and practices due process in his courts. But like the best laid plans of mice and men, his scheme went completely awry over the past two years. His show proved to be a farcical kangaroo court complete with hacks robed to look like judges, sleazy henchmen masquerading as prosecutors, and two innocent young men sitting in the dock facing a low-tech legal lynching for nonsensical crimes based on fabricated evidence.
The fact of the matter is that Daniel B., and Netsanet D., do not have to present a “defense” in kangaroo court. They have committed no crime to defend against, and the ultimate verdict in their illegal prosecution has already been rendered. They have been found innocent (not “not guilty”) of all charges in the hearts and minds of their countrymen and women, and in the court of world opinion. Amnesty International has declared Daniel B., and Netsanet D., are innocent prisoners of conscience. So has Human Rights Watch and the other international human rights organizations.
Even Richard Morgan Chambers, the U.N. official assigned to advise the chairman of Ethiopia's “election board” in 2005, testified to their innocence in kangaroo court. He said Daniel B., and Netsanet D., had “performed in accordance with the constitution and the legal framework of the country... Their report on the election was balanced and contained the negative and positive aspects. They performed an impressive job as election observers despite the difficult situation.” The defense rests!
There is no need for the rest of us to play a game of charade guessing when the “court” will render a “judgment/verdict”. In kangaroo court, there is no fair trial, and no fair judgment/verdict could be expected. “Conviction” is a foregone conclusion in the mistrial of Daniel B., and Netsanet D., as it was for the 129 or so other victims before them. If truth be told, they were all “convicted” long before they committed, or even thought of committing the alleged crimes.
On May 6, 2005, a week and half before the elections, and seven months before the November demonstrations, Reuters quoted Zenawi accusing the CUD leaders and the others of trying to cause a “Rwanda-type genocide” by spreading ethnic hatred and strife, and by organizing a violent uprising aimed at overthrowing the government. Congressman Chris Smith stated during the mark-up of H.R. 2003 a couple of months ago in the House International Relations Committee that in August, 2005, Zenawi told him that he had “big dossiers” on all of the victims and could throw them all in jail at will. He merely used the November, 2005 demonstrations as a pretext to implement his long-hatched plan to incapacitate and intimidate the opposition by incarcerating their leaders.
The Triumph of Innocence
The inevitable “conviction” of Daniel B., and Netsanet D., presents Zenawi with two problems. First, what can he really do after convicting them? He has several options: 1) “sentence” them to the maximum, which would be life in prison, 2) impose a determinate sentence of a term of several years, 3) impose a suspended sentence with probation, 4) release them by giving them “credit for time served”, 5) offer them the same bogus pardon which they rejected back in July, or continue to play the “oh-the-judge-is-sick-today” charade and delay final action. Of course, none of these options give him bragging rights to smugly claim “they admitted their guilt and I pardoned them.” Second, his credibility, if he has any left, will completely evaporate if he does anything other than acquit them outright.
Zenawi probably feels that he is in one of those “damned-if-you-do, damned-if-you-don’t” situations. That is, if he sentences Daniel B., and Netsanet D., to a prison term, he will surely make them larger-than-life Heroes of Ethiopian Human Rights. They will be the international “poster boys” for human rights abuses in Ethiopia, and a cause célèbre of the Diaspora. Their cause will galvanize and energize the Ethiopian Diaspora’s human rights struggle in Ethiopia. On the other hand, he may wrongly conclude that that if he just lets them go, he may risk “losing face”.
Zenawi can save himself from his colossal folly and “put his money where his mouth is” by simply acquitting them outright. He could tell the world that he truly believes in the rule of law, and in this case he lost “fair and square” in a real court. He just could not prove his case beyond a reasonable doubt. There really is nothing shameful in losing a court battle where the ends of justice are served. For instance, Thabo Mbeki of South Africa had his deputy prime minister Jacob Zuma falsely charged with a heinous crime so that he could remove him as a candidate for the next president of South Africa. A real judge acquitted Zuma, and Mbeki accepted the ruling of the court, as he had to accept the ruling of his African National Congress a few weeks ago when it elected Zuma as its leader, ensuring Zuma’s election as the next President of South Africa.
The fact of the matter is that Daniel B., and Netsanet D., are factually innocent of any criminal wrongdoing, and there is nothing wrong in saying to them, “We made a big mistake in making false accusations against you. We are very sorry.” Better yet, make a judicial finding of factual innocence (that is, issue a court order declaring that there is no reasonable cause to believe Daniel B., and Netsanet D., committed any crimes alleged in the charges, and that they are factually innocent of the alleged crimes) and move on! It is never wrong, and never too late, to do the right thing! Zenawi could also take the high road and free the thousands of other political prisoners, and prove to skeptical court of world opinion that he truly believes in the rule of law, and not just enjoy yakking about it in the international media.
But there is a greater lesson to be learned from an outright acquittal of Daniel B., and Netsanet D. Zenawi and his regime should know better than anyone else that the table can one day turn. It did on the Derg. As Scripture teaches, “The arrogant one will stumble and fall with no one about to raise him up.” Scripture admonishes the arrogant: “Woe to those who enact unjust statutes and who write oppressive decrees, depriving the needy of judgment and robbing my peoples’ poor of their rights, making widows their plunder, and orphans their prey.” And those who sit in judgment should heed the Word: “In the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.” Those who inflict injustice today should beware that they are schooling others who will inflict injustice upon them tomorrow.
Personal Reflections on Innocence and Injustice: We Must Take A Moral Stand
Hannah Arendt in her 1963 book Eichmann in Jerusalem used the phrase “banality of evil” to explain how great evils in history, including the Holocaust, were not committed by maniacs and psychopaths, but by ordinary people who believed their actions were normal because the state had legitimized and authorized it. She argued that torture, murder, arbitrary detentions and other inhuman and degrading practices become routine and accepted as “the way things are done” because ordinary people fail to express moral outrage in the face of great evil.
There is, I believe, a “banality of tyranny” in the world today which seeks to justify and normalize tyranny and dictatorship as “the way things are done”. The “banality of tyranny” nurtures the idea that it is necessary to destroy democracy in order to save it; the rule of law must be rooted out of society in order to create a just society; that totalitarianism is morally justified against the threat of terrorism; and state violence, crackdowns, arrests and repression are moral imperatives to save society from itself.
Consider the recent actions of Pakistani dictator Pervez Musharaf. He jailed thousands of lawyers, social, human rights and political activists, independent journalists, union members, opposition party leaders and activists, judges, religious leaders and students throughout Pakistan in an a desperate effort to cling to power. He declared martial law, or Musharraf’s law, to make it all possible. The people of Pakistan are forced to accept this as “the way things are done”.
Robert Mugabe has made Zimbabwe a basket case of poverty and human rights abuses. Human Rights Watch reports as many as 3 million Zimbabwean refugees have fled into South Africa. Zimbabwe has an inflation rate of 7,000 percent! According to the World Health Organization, Zimbabweans have the shortest life expectancy in the world. The average life today is 35 compared to 69 in 2000! The African Human Rights Commission has condemned Mugabe for widespread human rights violations. And the people of Zimbabwe are forced to accept this as “the way things are done”.
In Ethiopia today, Zenawi has banned the political opposition from organizing (or even using the lobby of a private hotel to have a press conference about internal party matters), decimated the independent press and is currently ramming through his rubberstamp parliament a bill to criminalize financial contributions to opposition parties from outside of Ethiopia. All expressive freedoms are suppressed. Thousands of innocent Ethiopians languish in prison. Peaceful protesters are gassed, beaten, arrested and/or shot. Must the people of Ethiopia be forced to accept this as “the way things are done”?
We Must Take A Moral Stand!
As Ethiopians we must all take a moral stand against injustice, and those who victimize the innocent. Laura Bush did. She took a principled moral stand on human rights violations in Burma. On December 10, 2007, on the occasion of International Human Rights Day, Laura Bush said the people of Burma “are denied nearly every right” enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights adopted by the U.N. General Assembly in 1948. “For nearly 20 years, Burma's military regime has crushed peaceful dissent and jailed thousands of political prisoners. President Bush and I call on all nations, especially Burma's neighbors, to use their influence to help bring about a democratic transition. Members of the junta have promised to engage in serious dialogue with democratic representatives of the Burmese people. If Than Shwe and the generals cannot meet these very basic requirements, then it's time for them to move aside and make a clear path for a free and democratic Burma.”
Laura Bush, where art thou? Light the way in Ethiopia, too! Daniel B., and Netsanet D., need you, now! Tell Zenawi that if he “can not meet the very basic democratic requirements, then it’s time for him to move aside and make a clear path for a free and democratic Ethiopia.”
Daniel and Netsanet in the “Lions’ Den”
Scripture teaches that the Prophet Daniel, whose name means “God is my judge”, was thrown into the den of hungry lions because of false accusations by his enemies in the court of the Persian king Darius, and for his refusal to betray his God and worship Darius instead. But the lions did not touch Daniel. Darius asked Daniel in amazement how he had managed to survive the mouths of the hungry lions. Daniel told Darius, “My God sent His angel, and shut the lions’ mouths. They have not hurt me because I was found innocent in His sight. And also toward you, O king, I have committed no crime."
Netsanet is a most unusual name in Ethiopia. It means “freedom/liberty”. Netsanet’s parents must have named him so because of their deep love of freedom and liberty. Perhaps they dreamt that one day their son will become an instrument to bring freedom to Ethiopia. Perhaps they dreamt in the lifetime of their son, all Ethiopians will enjoy freedom of speech, and of religion, and of the press, and association and assembly; and undergo the exhilarating experience of freedom from fear of their government, and from arbitrary arrest, detention and persecution, and ultimately, freedom from dictatorship and tyranny. Perhaps…
Just as the Prophet Daniel was thrown into the lions’ den because he refused to betray God and for refusing to lie and cheat, Daniel and Netsanet are in captivity in the squalid and overcrowded cells of Kality prison because they refused to betray truth, democracy, freedom, human rights, and ultimately, themselves. But no harm will come to them because they are “innocent in His sight. And they have committed no crime” against any earthly king!
Free Daniel B., and Netsanet D., NOW!
 The defense closing argument in the kangaroo trial of Daniel B. and Netsanet D. is available in Amharic at: http://www.ethiopolitics.com/pdfiles/final%20statmentDanielandNetsanet.pdf
Friday, November 16, 2007
Note to the reader: It was a year ago today, November 16, 2007, that Frehiwot Samuel, Woldemichael Meshesha and Mitiku Teshome briefed the United States Congress on the findings of their Inquiry Commission. Because of their extraordinary courage in revealing the truth to the world, we are here today to commemorate the victims of the 2005 massacre in Ethiopia. To these three brave sons of Ethiopia, we can only express our eternal debt of gratitude: “Never have so many owed so much to so few. Thank you!”
“For the survivor who chooses to testify, it is clear: his duty is to bear witness for the dead and the living. He has no right to deprive future generations of a past that belongs to our collective memory. To forget would be not only dangerous but offensive; to forget the dead would be akin to killing them a second time. The witness has forced himself to testify. For the youth of today, for the children who will be born tomorrow. He does not want his past to become their future.” Elie Wiesel (Nobel laureate and Holocaust survivor), Night (2006).
Do You Remember the Patriots of June and November?
On March 21, 1960, apartheid security forces in the township of Sharpeville, South Africa fired 705 bullets in two minutes to disperse a crowd of protesting Africans. When the shooting spree stopped, 69 black Africans lay dead, shot in the back; and 186 were severely wounded. The Sharpeville Massacre drew international attention to the plight of Africans in South Africa; and annually, it is commemorated as a watershed event, a turning point in the modern history of South Africa.
In November, 1938, the Nazis burned thousands of Jewish synagogues and businesses throughout Germany, killing nearly 100 and arresting and deporting over 30,000 to concentration camps. That was Krystallnacht (Night of Broken Glass). It was the forerunner to the Jewish Holocaust. Every November, Jews commemorate Krytallnacht.
In June and November, 2005, 193 unarmed men, women and children were massacred by paramilitary police units in Ethiopia as they engaged in ordinary civil protest. Many thousands before them had suffered the same fate. The massacre of these unarmed protesters seared the consciences of Ethiopians, and laid bare to a candid but silent world the utter moral depravity of the ruling regime.
But two years later, the silence of the lambs from their mass graves echoes faintly among us, the living. But our own silence in the Diaspora is deafening. And we have turned mute and deaf. Why aren’t we commemorating the sacrifices of these martyrs? In our churches and mosques? In our homes among our families? At our social gatherings with our friends?
Shouldn’t we remember the martyrs of June and November, 2005?
The Silence of the Lambs
On November 16, 2006, three courageous Ethiopians appointed to an Inquiry Commission by the ruling regime to investigate the post-2005 election massacre of innocent protesters delivered their report in exile in a briefing to the United States Congress. Commission Chairman Frehiwot Samuel, Vice Chairman, Woldemichael Meshsha and member Mitiku Teshome did something that no one with authority and power has ever done in Ethiopia before them: They refused to whitewash government-sponsored crimes and atrocities committed against innocent citizens.
The documented facts of the June and November, 2005 massacres are shocking to the conscience as they are incontrovertible. The Commission examined 16,990 documents, and received testimony form 1,300 witnesses. After analyzing this mountain of evidence, the Commission concluded that none of the protesters possessed, used or attempted to use firearms against the paramilitary forces. None of them possessed, used or attempted to use any type of explosives. No protester was observed carrying a stick or a club to use as a weapon. No protester set or attempted to set fire to public or private property. No protester robbed or attempted to rob a bank.
The paramilitary government forces used firearms, batons and tear gas. Their sharpshooters massacred 193 protestors in cold blood. Almost all of the victims were shot in the head or upper torso. Another 763 protesters suffered severe gunshot wounds. Over 30,000 civilians were arrested without warrant, and held in detention without due process of law. On November 3, 2005, during an alleged disturbance in Kality prison that lasted 15 minutes, prison guards fired more than 1500 bullets. The body count from this shooting spree left 17 detainees dead, and 53 others severely wounded.
Do you Know the Martyrs of June and November?
Who are the martyrs of June and November? Thanks to the Inquiry Commission, they are well known to us, and to the world. There was ShiBire Desalegn, a beautiful young high school graduate shot in the neck and killed as she and her friends tried desperately to block passage to a torture camp in Sendafa. Then there was Tensae Zegeye, age 14. And Debela Guta, age 15. And Habtamu Tola, age 16. Binyam Degefa, age 18. Behailu Tesfaye, age 20. Kasim Ali Rashid, age 21. Teodros Giday Hailu, age 23. Adissu Belachew, age 25; Milion Kebede Robi, age 32; Desta Umma Birru, age 37; Tiruwork G. Tsadik, age 41. Admasu Abebe, age 45. Elfnesh Tekle, age 45. Abebeth Huletu, age 50. Etenesh Yimam, age 50; Regassa Feyessa, age 55. Teshome Addis Kidane, age 65; Victim No. 21762, age 75, female. And there was Victim No.21760, male, age unknown. And there is a complete list of innocent citizens murdered by paramilitary troops. 
We will never know for sure why ShiBire, Tensae, Debela, Habtamu, Kasim, Tiruwork, Etenesh, Victim No.21760 and the others went out to protest. Perhaps they felt they had a right to protest, to have their grievances heard. Perhaps they were driven out into the streets by an overpowering passion for liberty. May be they were surfing the tidal wave of the spirit of freedom that swept out the EPDRF and floated in Kinijit. May be they went out to protest as a gesture of defiance, to show the world that they can and will stand by to tyranny. May be it was all of the above and more. Certainly, before they went out to protest, all of them must have felt that they could never live down the shame of standing by idly as the first democratic election in Ethiopia’s history is stolen in a barefaced daylight robbery.
But we know other things for darn sure about these martyrs. They were ordinary people of humble origins and modest means. They did not have political connections. We know they set out to protest because they felt and believed that they owed their country a duty of citizenship to stand up to those who flex their muscles to crush the democratic aspirations of the people and trample upon the people’s civil liberties and human rights. We also know for sure that their motive for protesting was not personal gain or ambition. We know for sure that in their sacrifices, these martyrs scattered the seeds of freedom and democracy in Ethiopia, and the Ethiopian Diaspora. We can testify today that the sacrifices of these champions of liberty and human rights burns like an eternal candle in the hearts of all who believe and struggle for human rights and the rule of law not only in Ethiopia, but also throughout the world where the darkness of tyranny reigns.
In Memoriam of Fallen Patriots
Elie Weisel has taught us that it is our duty to bear witness for the dead and the living so that our past will not be the future of our children. To this end, it is our duty to commemorate formally and solemnly the sacrifices of those men, women and children who gave up their lives in the cause of democracy and liberty in 2005. Though they were massacred in the streets, we must believe in our hearts that they sacrificed their lives at the holy altar of democracy and liberty. They sacrificed their lives out of a sense of duty to country, honor to their countrymen and women, and righteous obligation to God. They died as patriots, heroes and heroines fighting peacefully and nonviolently in the cause of freedom and democracy. We must remember them and honor them, not in sorrow, but with grateful pride and joy.
For future generations, the sacrifices of these martyrs will tell not only a story of personal bravery and courage, it also exemplifies the abiding and unflinching faith they had in democracy and the rule of law. Through their ultimate sacrifices, children yet to be born will gain a deeper understanding of their history, our times and what it means to be Ethiopian.
In commemorating these great martyrs, we must also think of the widowed heart, the father who lost his son or daughter, or the daughter or son who lost a father or mother. We must think of the families of those nameless victims who are known to Man by their numbers, and to God as his own children. We should thank their families. We should HELP them materially, and uplift their spirits. We should tell them we know. We know that when Ethiopia sweltered under the yoke of tyranny, it was your son, your daughter, your husband, father, mother, brother, sister, aunt, uncle who stood up and sacrificed their lives. We should comfort them that their loved ones did not die in vain, and shall forever live in our hearts. We should assure them that they will be immortalized in our collective conscience as Ethiopia’s most honored and virtuous children.
The Stuff of Ethiopian Patriots
There is a tie that binds all patriots and champions of liberty across the ages and cultures. That tie is moral courage. It is courage armored with righteous audacity which sustain them to stand unafraid in the face of oppressive tyranny. The true patriot challenges injustice, despotism, dictatorship, brutality, cruelty and subjugation. We have many great patriots who resisted oppression, occupation and subjugation by force of arms. Alula Aba Nega, Balcha Aba Nefso, Belay Zeleke, Hailemariam Mamo, Abreha Deboch and Moges Asgadom, Takele Welde Hawariat, Abebe Aregai, to name just a few.
But resistance to tyranny and oppression need not be violent or require the use of arms. Civil disobedience is a mighty weapon of patriots everywhere as they confront the repressive state, be it foreign or domestic. Gandhi defeated the mighty British army not by swords or guns, but through peaceful resistance, civil disobedience and non-cooperation. His “Quit India Movement” was the greatest challenge to British colonial rule. Martin King helped America realize the true meaning of its creed that all men are created equal through mass nonviolent civil disobedience.
And if we look back into our own history, we will find a contemporary of Mahatma Gandhi, and Great Soul in his own right, Abuna Petros, who practiced nonviolent resistance and civil disobedience. He was executed for no other reason but preaching mass civil disobedience and non-cooperation with the fascist army that had occupied and terrorized Ethiopia. Before his execution in 1936, Abuna Petros exhorted his countrymen to resist the fascists by engaging in the tactic of non-cooperation, and counseled them “never to accept the bandit soldiers who come from far away and violently occupy a weak and peaceful country: our Ethiopia.” His last words were, “May God give the people of Ethiopia the strength to resist and never bow down to the Fascist army and its violence.”
In June and November, 2005, ShiBre, Tensae, Debela, Habtamu, Kasim, Tiruwork, Etenesh, Victim No.21760 and the rest them walked in the footsteps of Abuna Petors. They chose peaceful protest over violent confrontation. They refused to cooperate in the theft of an election. They confronted the agents of tyranny armed with rifles and bayonets, barehanded. Imagine that! Abuna Petors would have been so proud!
In the horrific deaths of the martyrs, we draw some timeless lessons about sacrifices and remembrance. If we had forgotten Abuna Petros, we would also have forgotten about the odious crimes of fascist Italy. If we forget these martyrs, we will not only forget the monstrous crimes that were committed against them, we would have killed them a second time, as Elie Weisel said. By honoring the martyrs, we declare to the world, and to their killers who sneer at justice, that they did not die in vain; and we have not forgotten. We will never forget. Never! Never! Never again will we stand idle in the face of such barbarous crimes.
The Indomitable Spirit of Freedom
In 1982, Ronald Reagan told the following story about the ordinary people’s struggle for freedom in El Salvador. It is instructive in our situation. He said:
And then one day those silent, suffering people [of El Salvador] were offered a chance to vote, to choose the kind of government they wanted. Suddenly the freedom-fighters in the hills were exposed for what they really are — Cuban-backed guerrillas who want power for themselves, and their backers, not democracy for the people. They threatened death to any who voted, and destroyed hundreds of buses and trucks to keep the people from getting to the polling places. But on election day, the people of El Salvador, an unprecedented 1.4 million of them, braved ambush and gunfire, and trudged for miles to vote for freedom.
They stood for hours in the hot sun waiting for their turn to vote. A woman who was wounded by rifle fire on the way to the polls, refused to leave the line to have her wound treated until after she had voted. A grandmother, who had been told by the guerrillas she would be killed when she returned from the polls, told the guerrillas, “You can kill me, you can kill my family, kill my neighbors, but you can’t kill us all.” The real freedom-fighters of El Salvador turned out to be the people of that country — the young, the old, the in-between.
In 1988, Reagan in a speech to the American People summed it all up:
In these last several years, there have been many such times when your support for assistance saved the day for democracy. The story of what has happened in that region is one of the most inspiring in the history of freedom. Today El Salvador, Honduras, Guatemala, as well as Costa Rica choose their governments in free and open democratic elections. Independent courts protect their human rights, and their people can hope for a better life for themselves and their children.
In 2005, the real freedom-fighters of Ethiopia “turned out to be the people of that country — the young, the old, the in-between.” There will also come a time for them soon “to choose their governments in free and open democratic elections, to have independent courts protect their human rights, and for the people to hope for a better life for themselves and their children.”
Remember, June and November, Forever!
November should be a month of remembrance for all Ethiopians. It should be a month when we take a moment to pause and contemplate, in silent prayer and meditation, the 193 individuals that were massacred in those few days, the thousands of others killed and lost forever without a trace and the hundreds of thousands that remain imprisoned to day. It should be a month when we should reflect on the impact of our actions and inactions today on generations yet to come. November should be our time to bear witness for the dead and the living. Unless we preserve this dark history for future generations and permanently store it in our collective memories and conscience, it will be repeated. It we do not bear witness today, our legacy “for the children who will be born tomorrow will be our past.”
Let Us Do a Few Simple Things in the Month of November to Remember …
Let us do a few simple things to honor the memory of the martyrs in the month of November. Let us have memorial services in every church and mosque.
Let’s have candlelight vigils for them, and light a few candles in our homes in their honor.
Let’s join Amnesty International, U.S.A. and Human Rights Watch, and make contribution to the extent of our financial abilities to these great organizations in the name of one or all of the martyrs.
Let’s write a letter or an opinion piece on human rights abuses in Ethiopia in our local newspaper.
Let’s make presentations on human rights abuses in Ethiopia in our local high schools, college and universities.
Let’s give a talk at the local Rotary Club, Lions Club and women’s clubs.
Let’s get on local radio and TV and talking about human rights in Ethiopia.
Let’s send emails to our friends, relatives, co-workers and others and tell them about the martyrs and their sacrifices.
Let’s visit the district office of our member of Congress, our Senator and tell them about the martyrs.
Let the poets write inspirational poems about the martyrs.
Let the artists depict the passion of the martyrs in their paintings.
Let’s teach our children the meaning of sacrifice.
Let’s think of simple and creative ways of honoring the memory of the martyrs.
How about installing a screensaver of 193 candles with the images of the martyrs blended in the background on our computers. That way we can remember them everyday, forever. [You will find it here.]
The Last Words of the Martyrs
We all know the last words of His Holiness Abuna Petors before his execution:
“May God give the people of Ethiopia the strength to resist and never bow down to the Fascist army and its violence.”
As to the 193 martyrs, I am sure their last words before they touched the Face of God were, “I only regret that I have but one life to lose to save my country from tyranny!”
Will our last words be silence, once again? Will our past be the future of our children yet to be born?
 These victims were documented by the Inquiry Commission in its investigation of shootings of unarmed protesters in Addis Ababa on June 8, and November 1-10 and 14-16, 2005 in Oromia, SNNPR and Amhara regional states. For full report, see, http://www.qalitiqalkidan.org/commission/Testimony_Frehiywot_Samuel.pdf
Tuesday, October 30, 2007
Mission to America
They came on a mission to America. It was mission blessed by the Ethiopian people. It was a simple mission: “Go share the gospel of democracy, freedom and human rights among Ethiopians in America. Thank them for all they have done for us, and tell them to keep hope alive. We shall overcome!”
But the official mission statement was more solemn: “Express Kinijit’s appreciation and gratitude to Ethiopians in America who worked tirelessly to secure the release of the people’s leaders. Engage them in a conversation on the future of democracy in their homeland. Mediate disputes among Kinijit supporters and help bring organizational cohesion and harmony. Engage in conversations with American policy makers and help them understand the urgent need for freedom, democracy and human rights in Ethiopia. Ask Ethiopians to lend a helping hand in advancing a democratic agenda in Ethiopia.”
And on September 9, 2007, we received five missionaries of democracy from Ethiopia. Birtukan Midekssa, Berhanu Nega, Hailu Araya, Gizachew Shiferraw and Brook Kebede. For nearly two months now, they have been toiling at their mission, day and night, rain or shine; and without respite. Everyday we piled upon them one set of demands over another; one set of to-do list over another set of requests. We taxed their patience. We consumed their time. We burdened them with our problems. And we even forced them to navigate a perfect storm of controversy along the way.
The facts speak for themselves. For nearly two months, we worked this Delegation to the limits of their human endurance. Never gave them a day off completely free from responsibility. We shuttled them to 12 American cities. In each location, they made themselves available for questioning. No question was off limits. They spent countless hours mediating. They walked the halls of Congress.
In all of this, they never complained. Not once. When we shuttled them from coast to coast, they never protested. When their planes were delayed for hours, they took it in stride. When they were told they’d stay one night here, and another night across the country, they readily agreed. They never asked for a day off. They never asked for time to rest. When they got weary, they made sure it was not obvious. When they did not feel well, they did not make excuses. They showed up at every event. They were always ready to perform their mission. They were on the job. Even when we asked them to be in two places at once, they never objected to the request on the grounds that it violates the laws of physics. They just split into smaller groups and showed up.
Can We Say, “Thank You” to the Delegation? In the ordinary course of things, it would be proper and fitting to say “THANK YOU! THANK YOU VERY MUCH!” But they chastised us when we tried to thank them. They challenged us, “Why should you thank us for doing our duty to our country?” Come to think of it, they are absolutely right! Why should we? We will not thank them for doing their duty to their country and people with dignity, honor and pride.
But we will thank them for what they have done above and beyond the call of duty! That we will! We must.
So, we will thank them for being on the clock exactly 24 hours after they landed at Dulles Airport on September 9, 2007. We thank them for pulling double shift, and often more, during the entire time they stayed in the U.S. We thank them for standing with us in the streets and parks, in the baking summer sun and sweltering humidity, as we made our voices heard. We thank them for hoofing it up and down the halls of Congress with us as sought to build support for democracy, human rights and freedom in Ethiopia. We thank them for lending their voices in the international media, and for telling the truth every time. We thank them for always being ready to perform their duty, day or night. We thank them for so many other things they have done above and beyond the call of duty.
The bottom line is: Did they succeed in their mission? There is no doubt in our minds they did. They came to spread the gospel of freedom, democracy and human rights among Ethiopians in America. They did that evangelical work dutifully. They were tasked to engage us in a wide ranging conversation on democracy in Ethiopia. Not only did they engage us, they thrilled us. That is the truth.
They challenged us to take our best shots. “Ask any questions you want. We will not leave the meeting hall until every question is answered adequately,” they said. And we obliged. We asked them all sorts of questions, from the silly to the sublime. They answered all of our questions. No evasion. No fabrication. No falsehood. No smooth talk. No B.S. Straight talk. Clear thinking. They gave it to us raw and unadulterated. In the process, they earned our confidence with their honesty and integrity. They earned our respect. They earned our love.
So what did they do in Congress? They did what they had done all along, and even when they were in jail. They talked about the rule of law, the need to build democratic institutions, peaceful resolution of disputes, national reconciliation, democratic liberties and human rights. Everything they said in Congress was what they had been talking about in the 8-point Kinijit principles. No surprise there. They were jailed for defending these principles in 2005. But they were honored in the U.S. Congress with an invitation to tell their story. That their story is the story of all freedom-yearning people merely affirms the fact that they are on the right side of history, and at the center of the universal movement for human rights and justice.
How did the “mediation” go? That was the first order of business when they arrived in the U.S. They met and conferred with the disputing factions. They held private discussions over a period of time. Mostly they listened and asked questions. They remained impartial and neutral. They sought the middle ground where opposing factions could build harmony, trust and unity. And they did their best to replace strife with harmony, restore trust where there is suspicion, and use reason to enhance understanding and achieve clarity. They did their best, but sometimes the best may not be good enough. Time will tell if they succeeded in this endeavor. But as the old saying goes, "Our best success comes after our greatest disappointments."
They were told to explain the financial hardships of the organization, and seek a helping hand from us if possible. They laid the facts before us. Many of us gave to the extent of our desires, if not our abilities. We gave because we believed in a democratic future for our homeland. Whether they are judged a success in their fundraising mission is ultimately a judgment on our generosity, not their efforts or diligence. If they succeeded, it is because we made it happen. If not, it’s because we could not spare that extra dime.
But we believe they succeeded magnificently in their fundraising mission. But opening our wallets on one or two occasions is not as important as opening our hearts and minds permanently. And we have opened our hearts and minds to them. We will support them all the way in their mission to bring democracy to Ethiopia.
They told us they came to thank us and tell us how much they appreciated what we had done for them. And they thanked us profusely. But why should they thank us? Like they said, you don’t thank someone for doing their duty. It was our duty to seek their release during their unjust imprisonment. It was our duty to champion the cause for which they sacrificed their liberties. It is our moral duty to stand up against injustice and to defend the rights of the downtrodden and the dispossessed. But we do understand. As Birtukan said, “Yes, we were imprisoned in body, but you and millions of our supporters were imprisoned with us in spirit.” True. But we all know there is One Spirit that no one can ever imprison!
Bumps in the Road
Like any tour, bumps in the road are unavoidable. This Delegation withstood the slings and arrows of outrageous accusations along the way. But they took it all in stride. They never overreacted. But they reacted with facts, analysis and reason. When some fanned the flames of discord, they held their peace. They never played the blame game. They never cast aspersions on anyone. But they stood their ground. They set the record straight, with the truth. In the end, they arrived at their destination with their heads up high and their spirits uplifted.
What Makes This Delegation Tick?
It is remarkable how much one can learn from just observing. And I tried to figure out what makes this Delegation tick? I think I know.
Team Work. The first thing one notices about these five individuals is that each one of them left one large piece of luggage at Bole Airport, distinctly marked “EGO.” When you see them at work, one thing stands out prominently: team work. They work like fingers on a hand. They work independently of each other, but come together like a fist when they have to. They work as a single unit. They share and discuss ideas, ask each other tough questions, and listen to each other intently and with sincerity. They seem to follow the old adage: “It is amazing how much you can accomplish when it doesn't matter who gets the credit.” No one in this bunch is out for individual glory. One rarely hears them using the nominative singular pronoun “I”. It is really unusual for individuals in the political arena to have so much team spirit and team action. That is why, I think, there is so much trust among themselves.
Collegial Respect. Another obvious fact about this Delegation is the collegial respect they have for each other. They show respect for each other not only in public, but in their private moments as well. They exchange views and ideas while showing respect to each other and the ideas expressed. One does not hear them undercutting each other or trying to outwit one another. The younger members accord the older ones due respect, and the older members respond in kind. The head of the Delegation, though younger in age, is given respect commensurate with her official responsibilities. For the outside observer, such collegial respect is a clear indication of good faith in the intentions of each other, and a prerequisite for effective team work.
Magnanimity. For most of us, it is easy to fall prey to pettiness and to seek revenge for real and imagined wrongs. But it takes a certain cultivation of mind, an elevation of the spirit to see the forest for the trees, to look at the big picture and restrain oneself. When they came to Los Angeles, they were asked why they did not come out and “attack” those who spread vicious rumors and lies about them. Dr. Berhanu said, “What does one gain by calling another a liar. You hold a person in high regard for so long, and then for one reason or another turn around and belittle him. What does anyone gain from that?” That is magnanimity, a principled refusal to be petty and mean-spirited. It is the ability to take the moral high ground when gravity pulls you to the gutter.
Courage. These individuals carve out five profiles in courage. They have a special kind of courage, what one might call civic or moral courage. It is the kind of courage that empowers you to refuse to give in even after 21 months in jail. Because they are armed with such courage, they refuse to abandon their principles or retreat from the truth no matter what. They continue to stand up and speak truth to power. They refuse to be intimidated. They were asked, “What security do you have against the possibility of being thrown in jail when you go back?” They answered matter-of-factly. The only security they have are the Ethiopian people, and the rest us in the Diaspora. They said the alternative is seek asylum. “That will never happen,” they said. They will go back no matter what. Now, that is COURAGE that is borne of moral certitude to do the right thing, every time.
Patience. Most of understand how difficult it is to show tolerance, compassion, understanding, and acceptance toward those who tax our patience. We often respond harshly to those who may not agree with us, or try our coping abilities. It is rare to see these individuals showing impatience with each other, or others. They did not show anger or annoyance to manifestly provocative and falsely-premised questions. They are not upset by unintelligent comments. They plugged along with a great sense of humor.
Honesty. It is said honesty is the best policy. These five individuals practiced this policy very scrupulously. No deception. No evasion. No doubletalk. No mendacity. No lies. Straight talk. That’s the way it ought to be!
Humility. These are five unpretentious and modest individuals. They are quite remarkable. When one expresses sympathy for their prolonged detention, they respond by pointing out the suffering of millions. When they are showered by words of appreciation for their sacrifices, they point out the ultimate price paid by so many others in defense of democracy. When they are congratulated for their efforts in trying to defend democracy, they pass the credit on to the people of Ethiopia. Just ordinary folks with extraordinary love for their country. They show no arrogance or boastful pride. They don’t proclaim themselves to be the “Leaders”. They are just the salt of the earth, ordinary people with deep convictions.
A Personal Tribute to Champions!
It's been an honor and privilege to meet members of this distinguished Delegation. I have never met anyone of them before their arrival in the U.S. I knew very little about them. But I am mighty glad I had the chance to make their acquaintance and friendship.
And now they must return home after successfully completing their U.S.A. Tour. How do I feel? As Shakespeare wrote, “Parting is such sweet sorrow.” Like most Ethiopians who had the privilege to meet them over the past weeks, I have been enriched and inspired by their passionate commitment to democracy, freedom and human rights. I am thankful for their brief presence in America.
History will remember their tour for a few things. Their presence in our midst validated our basic belief that the power of ideas and truth combined with the courage of ordinary men and women will always triumph in the end. Ronald Reagan said, “No weapon in the arsenals of the world is so formidable as the will and moral courage of free men and women”. And Marian Wright Edelman, on the opposite side of the ideological spectrum said, "You just need to be a flea against injustice. Enough committed fleas biting strategically can make even the biggest dog uncomfortable and transform even the biggest nation."
They have proven to all of us that when you get enough committed and courageous fleas biting in the cause truth and justice, no weapon in the arsenal of the world can defeat them. This will be the lasting legacy of this Delegation’s U.S.A. Tour.
This Delegation has also proven to us all that democracy is not about individual personalities or political parties or ideology. It is really about defending and practicing certain principles. It is about the rule of law, and about accountability and keeping government and leaders honest. It is about building institutions to administer justice, and to bring to the bar of justice those who have committed injustice. It is really about giving everyone a chance to be heard, and a chance to make a difference.
The mere presence of the Delegation in America was a lesson in patriotism to many of us. The kind of patriotism which says you can be proud of your Ethiopian heritage, and your American citizenship. You can love America and love Ethiopia too because both countries are bound by the same cord of liberty. Their presence amongst us made a difference. They made us stronger. More determined. More committed. More involved in the destiny of our homeland. We are mighty glad to have them.
When they return home, no doubt they will remember the political discussions and debates, and questions and answers and the long flight delays, the whole life-out-of-a-luggage bit, the bland cuisine and all of the other inconveniences and aggravation. And I secretly hope they will not begrudge us for not giving them time off, for not taking them on the tourist circuits, and for not giving them a break. They want to go home. We understand. They have much business to do there.
I am confident that after they return home and think of the weeks they spent with us, they will remember not only the hard work and the hardships, but also the thousands of people who greeted them at the airports and the meeting halls and in the streets. I am sure that when they think of the overwhelming love, the deep gratitude and genuine appreciation they received from their fellow countrymen and women, their eyes will well up in tears because there is no bigger gift we could give them to take home. We have given them our hearts, and kept theirs with us. It is an even and fair exchange.
Farewell, Champions! If anyone should ask you, “How was your trip to America?”, just tell them flat out: “We Came! We Saw! We Conquered!” Godspeed! You are all welcome back anytime, Friends!
Tuesday, October 23, 2007
Senator James Inhofe
453 Russell Senate Office Bldg
Washington, D.C. 20510
FAX: (202) 228-0380
Dear Senator Inhofe:
I am writing to demand an apology for the racist, scurrilous, truculent, degrading, offensive and manifestly untruthful statements you made on the floor of the Senate on October 17, 2007.
I. Ethiopians Demand An Apology For Your Racist, Slanderous and Defamatory Statement That They Are Baby Killers, Child Abusers and Immoral People.
In your statement reported in the Congressional Record1, your own website and on Youtube2, you stated,
“Ethiopia takes great pride in being the oldest independent country in Africa.”
But this “old and independent country” should hang its head in shame because, if you are to be believed, it is a land of baby killers, child abusers and immoral people. You boldly stated:
In Addis 6 years ago, we found a little baby. The little baby was 3 days old. The baby was almost dead. It was not unusual. In some countries in Africa, they throw away mostly young baby girls. Then after about 3 days, when they die, the dogs get them. We were there before the dogs got there." (Emphasis added.)
You proceeded to reinforce your outrageous statement by implying that not only are Ethiopian parents savages that throw their baby girls to the dogs, but other African children are monstrous fiends as well. You stated:
You have heard about the children soldiers. Those soldiers are taken over by these people and trained to fight at ages 10, 11, and 12. Then once they learn to be soldiers, they have to go back to their villages and murder their parents and family. If they don’t do that, they dismember them.
Your statements are not only racist, mean-spirited, hurtful and offensive, they are also unsupported by any fact. In your statements masquerading as social concern for Ethiopians, you are spreading racist propaganda from the floor of the United States Senate. Your comments reflect your own deep-seated racist belief that Ethiopians and other Africans are savages who still live in the Dark Continent. Your comments open a window into your soul and lay bare your fundamental belief in the social, if not genetic inferiority of Africans, and of all black people as being animalistic and uncaring for their children. Ultimately, your statements provide a pseudo-cultural rationale for the racist beliefs held by extreme groups in the United States and elsewhere that Ethiopians in particular and Africans in general are a hopeless lot condemned to perpetual savagery and barbarism. Your statements are no different than similarly hurtful and deeply offensive comments made about African American families in the United States.
It is regrettable that you have chosen to use your unique position in the United States Senate to promote your personal vicious brand of racism. Nonetheless, we challenge you to produce a single documented case in Ethiopia where a parent has fed their baby girl to the dogs. ONE SINGLE INSTANCE!
We will not debase ourselves by defending against your racist remarks. Let it be known to you, and to a candid world that Ethiopians, poor or rich, young or old, love their children beyond measure, boys and girls equally, and will do everything, like all other human beings in the world, to protect and care for them.
Human Rights of Children: Convention on the Rights of the Child
We know from your statement that the regime of Zenawi, which you support and defend blindly, observes human rights fully. But did you know that it is a violation of international human rights laws, the Convention on the Rights of Children and the “Ethiopian Constitution” to feed babies to dogs? As a responsible U.S. Senator, and just as a decent God-fearing human being, it is your moral, if not legal, duty to report such outrageous and inhuman action to the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights for violations of the Convention on the Rights of the Child which provides under Art. 6:
1. States Parties recognize that every child has the inherent right to life. 2. States Parties shall ensure to the maximum extent possible the survival and development of the child.
It is also your moral duty to report to the regime in Ethiopia which you defend so energetically the occurrence of such inhuman practice, and condemn them for failing to protect the lives of Ethiopian children under Article 36 of the “Ethiopian Constitution”:
The Rights of the Child
1. Every child shall be entitled to the rights enumerated here under:-
(a) the right to life
In either case, you had, and continue to have, a moral duty to report such inhuman and illegal conduct to the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights and to Zenawi’s regime so that the offending parents could be brought to justice for such barbarous acts. Minimally, you have a duty to introduce a Senate Resolution, which will no doubt be supported by 100 per cent of all U.S. Senators, condemning such practices and revealing to the world such unspeakable crimes committed against children. Senator Inhofe: Have you done any of the above? Are you prepared to do any or all of the above? Is there any reason whatsoever why you can not, or will not, do the foregoing at the present time?
Rescuing a Dog or a Baby From the Animal Shelter?
You indicated that 6 years ago your daughter Molly adopted an Ethiopian baby “just before the dogs got there.” We regret that you had to implicate your daughter Molly in your irresponsible statements, but having done so, we must challenge your motives and your daughter’s motives in this adoption. You stated:
I have 20 kids and grandkids of whom I am very proud. My daughter Molly had nothing but boys. She always wanted a girl. So we were able to take this little girl from Ethiopia and nurse her back to health. She had several very close calls. She is healthy and has now been here in the United States and is my adopted granddaughter.
In light of your statements, we are not sure if your daughter Molly adopted Zegita out of a genuine concern for the baby, or if she felt she was on a rescue mission to the dog shelter to pick up a pet dog for the family before it is put to sleep. You even displayed a poster size picture of that child on the Senate floor for reasons we can not comprehend.
Were you trying to show the world the trophy you rescued from the shelter just before it was euthanized?
II. We Demand an Apology From You For Lying and Misrepresenting to the American People That Zenawi, the Regime Leader in Ethiopia, “has taken significant steps again to regain a democratic process that is fair and respectful of human rights.” In your Statement, you told the American people:
In Ethiopia, recently, I met with Prime Minister Meles, his wife. I met with members of the Parliament and with all the individuals there who are trying to do a good job. While there, I saw firsthand their democratic progress and commitment in fighting terrorism. Although I appreciate the increased attention being given to Africa, particularly Ethiopia, I believe the bill is misguided and takes the wrong approach by placing demands on a friend and ally that has made obvious advancements in democracy and human rights. While I continue to agree that the violence and intimidation that took place after the 2005 election was an unnecessary use of excessive force, the Government of Ethiopia has taken significant steps again to regain a democratic process that is fair and respectful of human rights. (Emphasis added.)
In denouncing H.R. 2003 (Ethiopia Democracy and Accountability Act of 2007), you stated:
“punitive actions [in the bill] could damage the bilateral relationship between the United States and the Government of Ethiopia, as well as derail progress Ethiopia has made in furtherance of democracy and supporting human rights. I fully support the State Department’s assessment. Quite often I am criticized for coming down here and opposing the State Department. More often than not, that is the case. But in this case they are exactly right.” (Emphasis added.)
Senator Inhofe: Are you aware that your claim that the Ethiopian regime has taken “significant steps again to regain a democratic process that is fair and respectful of human rights” is contradicted by U.S. State Department and every other international human rights organization in the world?
In your Statement, you made a special point to underscore your general disagreements with the State Department on most issues but that you “fully support the State Department’s assessment [that punitive actions in H.R. 2003 could damage the bilateral relationship]. Quite often I am criticized for coming down here and opposing the State Department. More often than not, that is the case. But in this case they are exactly right.” (Emphasis added.)
Do you also agree with the following State Department assessments and conclusions set forth in the most recent human rights report on Ethiopia (April 5, 2007):
The [Ethiopian] government’s human rights record remained poor in many areas. Human rights abuses reported during the year included the following: unlawful killings; beating, abuse, and mistreatment of detainees and opposition supporters by security forces; poor prison conditions; arbitrary arrest and detention, particularly of those suspected of sympathizing with or being members of the opposition; detention of thousands without charge and lengthy pretrial detention; infringement on citizens’ privacy rights; restrictions on freedom of the press; arrest, detention, and harassment of journalists for publishing articles critical of the government; restrictions on freedom of assembly and of association; violence and societal discrimination against women and abuse of children; female genital mutilation; exploitation of children for economic and sexual purposes; trafficking in persons; societal discrimination against persons with disabilities and against religious and ethnic minorities; and government interference in union activities.
Do you further agree with the following specific findings on Ethiopia in the same State Department report?:
On torture, infliction of cruel, inhuman, degrading treatment/ punishmentAlthough the [Ethiopian] constitution and law prohibit the use of torture and mistreatment, there were numerous credible reports that security officials often beat or mistreated detainees. On arbitrary arrest and detention Although the [Ethiopian] constitution and law prohibit arbitrary arrest and detention, the government frequently did not observe these provisions in practice…. Authorities regularly detained persons without warrants and denied access to counsel and family members, particularly in outlying regions… The independent commission of inquiry… found that security officials held over 30,000 civilians incommunicado for up to three months in detention centers located in remote areas… Other estimates placed the number of such detainees at over 50,000.
On the denial of fair trialWhile the law provides for an independent judiciary, the judiciary remained weak and overburdened. The judiciary was perceived to be subject to significant political intervention.
On the lack of freedom of speech and press
While the [Ethiopian] constitution and law provide for freedom of speech and press, the government restricted these rights in practice. The government continued to harass and prosecute journalists, publishers, and editors for publishing allegedly fabricated information and for other violations of the press law. The government continued to control all broadcast media. Private and government journalists routinely practiced self censorship.
On condition of Political Prisoners
The 200 political prisoners on trial in the Addis Ababa federal system were held in two separate prisons, Kaliti and Kerchele, often under harsh conditions. In March CUD Secretary General Muluheh Eyoel was placed in solitary confinement at Kerchele prison. In August fellow CUD member Andualem Arage, along with journalists Sisay Agena and Eskinder Nega, were placed in solitary confinement.
On Freedom of Assembly
The constitution and law provide for freedom of assembly. Prior to the May 2005 national elections, there were numerous opposition rallies, including one that occurred in Addis Ababa that was attended by nearly one million persons the weekend prior to the elections. However, immediately following the elections and throughout the year, the government restricted this right in practice. From May 2005 to year’s end, the government granted only one permit allowing a public demonstration to take place.
On Freedom of AssociationAlthough the law provides for freedom of association and the right to engage in unrestricted peaceful political activity, the government in practice limited this right. The Ministry of Justice registers and licenses NGOs, and there was some improvement in transparency of the NGO registration process. The government continued to deny registration to the Human Rights League (see section 4).
III. With All Due Respect, Have You Read H.R. 2003?We find it remarkable that your statements in substantial part recapitulate verbatim statements found in the public relations and lobbying materials disseminated by the D.L.A. Piper lobbying firm, and in the press releases of the Ethiopian Embassy. You lift so many phrases from such materials that we are left to wonder if you have actually read the bill itself in making your statement. Therefore, we respectfully question your reading, understanding and veracity of statements you made concerning H.R. 2003.
False Statement #1: H.R. 2003 undermines and threatens U.S. counter-terrorism efforts in the Horn of Africa.You made the same argument in your Senate statement that D.L.A. Piper has repeatedly made in its lobbying materials, namely that H.R. 2003 threatens U.S. national interests by undermining the strategic counter-terrorism partnership with Ethiopia by imposing onerous sanctions and limiting U.S. security assistance. You stated that terrorist activity that has taken place in the Middle East and how it is now coming down through the Horn of Africa, through Djibouti and that area into the Uganda-Ethiopia area, it is a very significant area right now… Our country’s strong support of Ethiopia during this significant time is imperative… These punitive actions [in H.R. 2003] could damage the bilateral relationship between the United States and the Government of Ethiopia…
Your statement is patently false and contradicted by Section 5 of H.R. 2003, which makes a major exception on counter-terrorism efforts in the Horn:
SEC. 5. ENSURING GOVERNMENT SUPPORT FOR HUMAN RIGHTS, DEMOCRACY, AND ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT IN ETHIOPIA.
(B) EXCEPTION- Subparagraph (A) shall not apply with respect to peacekeeping assistance, counter-terrorism assistance, or international military education and training for civilian personnel under section 541 of the Foreign Assistance Act of 1961 (commonly referred to as `Expanded IMET’). (Emphasis added.)
False Statement #2: H.R. 2003 is misguided and takes the wrong approach by placing demands on a friend and ally that has made obvious advancements in democracy and human rights.
The “demands” that H.R. 2003 “places” on a “friend and an ally” involve compliance with the following provisions under Sec. 5 (3) of H.R. 2003, which shall remain inoperative unless:
(A) all political prisoners and prisoners of conscience in Ethiopia have been released, their civil and political rights restored, and their property returned;
(B) prisoners held without charge or kept in detention without fair trial in violation of the Constitution of Ethiopia are released or receive a fair and speedy trial, and prisoners whose charges have been dismissed or acquitted and are still being held are released without delay;
(C) the Ethiopian judiciary is able to function independently and allowed to uphold the Ethiopian Constitution and international human rights standards;
(D) security personnel involved in the unlawful killings of demonstrators and others, including Etenesh Yemam, and Kaliti prisoners are held accountable;
(E) family members, friends, legal counsel, medical personnel, human rights advocates, and others have access, consistent with international law, to visit detainees in Ethiopian prisons;
(F) print and broadcast media in Ethiopia are able to operate free from undue interference and laws restricting media freedom, including sections of the Ethiopian Federal Criminal Code, are revised;
(G) licensing of independent radio and television in Ethiopia is open and transparent;
(H) Internet access is not restricted by the government and the ability of citizens to freely send and receive electronic mail and otherwise obtain information is guaranteed;
(I) the National Election Board (NEB) includes representatives of political parties with seats in the Ethiopian Parliament and the NEB functions independently in its decision-making;
(J) representatives of international human rights organizations engaged in human rights monitoring work, humanitarian aid work, or investigations into human rights abuses in Ethiopia are admitted to Ethiopia and allowed to undertake their work in all regions of the country without undue restriction; and (K) Ethiopian human rights organizations are able to operate in an environment free of harassment, intimidation, and persecution.
HR 2003 further provides $40 million to strengthen democratic institutions and promote respect for human rights.
Senator Inhofe: What is “misguided” about these “demands”? What is so unreasonable and “wrong” about them? Are these “demands” not based on the very same timeless principles and ideas in the American Constitution?
Your claim of “obvious advancements in democracy and human rights” in Ethiopia is contradicted by the U.S. State Department as shown above, and by ALL other international human rights organizations.
False Statement #3: “These punitive actions [in H.R. 2003] could damage the bilateral relationship between the United States and the Government of Ethiopia, as well as derail progress Ethiopia has made in furtherance of democracy and supporting human rights.” (Emphasis added.)
You stated that H.R. 2003 will “derail progress Ethiopia has made in furtherance of democracy and supporting human rights”. You produce no evidence to support this false claim. You point to the fact that “on July 20, 2007, following convictions and sentencing, 38 opposition leaders were granted full pardons. All remaining members of the opposition were pardoned and released on August 18, 2007.”
Your statement suggests that Ethiopia’s problems are limited to the imprisonment of a few dozen opposition leaders. You ignore entirely the massive human rights violations in the country, the brutal repression of dissent, the tens of thousands of innocent political prisoners still in detention the ruthless suppression of democratic liberties and institutions, among others. Indeed, you seem satisfied that the release of 38 opposition leaders addresses all of the political issues in the country.
Senator Inhofe: Are you aware that there are tens of thousands of prisoners still in detention in Ethiopia by the regime you so blindly defend? Are you aware that hundreds of individuals are detained every day on suspicion of political opposition? Are you aware that there is no independent free press in Ethiopia? Are you aware that human rights organizations are not allowed to function? Human rights violators, including the those who caused the deaths of unarmed citizens (whose deaths you said you regretted) are not prosecuted and still walk the streets free? That there is no independent judiciary? And so on…
You further stated that “reforms have been made to the election process.” Could you tell us exactly what reforms have been made to the elections process? Have you spoken to the Delegation of opposition leaders currently touring the U.S. about the so-called elections reforms and their opinions on it? They can certainly tell you about “elections reforms”. After all they served 21 months in prison defending the integrity of the electoral system. They are still in town. Would you like to meet them and learn the truth about “elections reform” first hand?
We challenge you to produce a shred of evidence to support your false claim of “electoral reforms” that actually promote democratic participation by ensuring free, fair and competitive elections with a level playing field, good governance based on representative, transparent and accountable institutions, independent courts and legislative bodies operating under the rule of law, that promote robust civil society institutions, and above all, ensure the existence of an independent media that can keep government honest and citizens engaged and involved in the democratic process.
Assuming that the regime you defend so blindly has made “reforms to the election process”, there is no logical, financial or legal reason for it to oppose H.R. 2003 because the bill reward the regime with $40 million to help strengthen the democratic reforms they are allegedly implementing!
False Statement #4: “A lot of people [lawmakers in Congress] couldn’t find Ethiopia on a map.”You stated: “I think we have to oppose H.R. 2003. I have talked to several people who didn’t know any differently. They didn’t object to this. I think it went through on a UC over there. But a lot of people couldn’t find Ethiopia on a map.” Your demeaning remarks towards your colleagues are not only patently false and vulgar, they are also disrespectful of the institution of Congress and irreconcilable with rules of Senate decorum. Senate Rules of Order, Rule 6.2 provides:
Every member shall confine himself to decorous language in addressing the Senate and shall make no personal or derogatory remark to or about any member.
Obviously, you do not appear to be familiar with Senate Rule 6.2, or you would not have insulted the intelligence of members of Congress in such a mean and contemptuous manner. Nonetheless, we will defend all members of the Subcommittee on Africa and Global Affairs, House Foreign Relations Committee that unanimously passed H.R. 2003, the entire membership of the Black Caucus, and all members of the House of Representatives and the Senate against your scandalous statement. We affirmatively state, without reservation, that ALL members of Congress, save one, can place Ethiopia on the map, and intelligently discuss U.S. foreign policy in the Horn of Africa. If knowledge and facts are important in public policy discussions, as you seem to suggest, perhaps you should look at your own Senate record before you point an accusatory finger at others.
False Statement #5: American Troops are Fighting Alongside 100,000 Ethiopian troops in Somalia.
You made the following patently false statement:
We need to understand the significance of what is going on right now. We made a decision about 6 years ago to help the Africans establish five African brigades… It happens that Ethiopia is the headquarters for the East African Brigade…. Our idea is, as I mentioned, there is a squeeze in the Middle East. As terrorism starts going down through Djibouti and the Horn of Africa into northeastern Africa, this is an area where if they are prepared to take care of themselves, we would not be sending our troops there… [Ethiopia] is helping us, fighting with us side by side, sending 100,000 troops with American troops down to Somalia and working on our side.
It is obvious that you have confused the number of refugees that left Moqadishu and the surrounding areas (in excess of 100,000 persons) with the number of Ethiopian soldiers stationed in Somalia. Additional fact checking on your part would show that the regime in Ethiopia has never stated that it has 100,000 soldiers in Somalia. In fact, it has never given an estimate of more than several thousand troops in Somalia; and those troops were supposed to have been withdrawn within less than 6 months of the initial date of intervention. On March 12, 2007, Zenawi stated that all Ethiopian troops would be withdrawn from Somalia within weeks. But Zenawi’s troops are still bogged down in Somalia. Your statement that there are currently 100,000 Ethiopian troops fighting in Somalia is a manifestation of your own ignorance and reckless disregard of the facts, or an extraordinary piece of intelligence unknown to any person or government in the world.
The other allegation in your statement that “American troops are fighting side by side” with Ethiopian troops is not a matter to be taken lightly. As you may know, the War Powers Resolution of 1973 ( Public Law 93-148) is very particular about introduction of U.S. troops into hostilities or combat. Section 3 of this Resolution provides:
The President in every possible instance shall consult with Congress before introducing United States Armed Forces into hostilities or into situation where imminent involvement in hostilities is clearly indicated by the circumstances, and after every such introduction shall consult regularly with the Congress until United States Armed Forces are no longer engaged in hostilities or have been removed from such situations.
You have presented no evidence to support your claim that American troops are fighting in Somalia side by side with Ethiopian troops. If your claim is true, the President would be in clear violation of the War Powers Resolution; and you and the other Senators would in dereliction of your constitutional duties for not acting to bring him into compliance with the law. We challenge you to prove the truth of your statement that American troops are fighting in Somalia by themselves or in support of Ethiopian troops!
You stated further that the U.S. has “helpe[d] the Africans establish five African brigades” in the fight against terrorism. That is a patently false statement. The only U.S. “African brigade” (or American military base) that exists in sub-Sahara Africa is in Djbouti at Camp Lemonier, a former French Foreign Legion base outside the capital, and houses approximately 1,800 American personnel. Again, it is important for you to check your facts before you state them in public.
III. “I have been to Africa more than any Senator in the history of America.”
In proclaiming your special concern and commitment to Africa you stated:
I think I am safe to say that I have been to Africa more than any Senator in the history of America. I have been really tied to that continent and recognize the significance in the future of our country as well as their country. It is an area of strategic importance globally to this Nation.
You claim that you “have been to Africa more than any U.S. Senator in the history of America.” Though that may be a fact, it is also true that you have done very little, if anything, to help Ethiopia or Africa despite your boastful claim of concern. You served in the House of Representatives from 1987 until 1994, and in the Senate from 1994 to present. For a Senator who claims to have “been to Africa more than any Senator in the history of America,” have you sponsored a single piece of legislation that is relevant to Africa? Ethiopia?
Have you ever served, or requested to serve on the Senate Subcommittee on African Affairs? Have you made any efforts to establish a Senate Caucus on Ethiopia, comparable to the House Caucus on Ethiopia?
Have you ever contacted Donald Payne, Chairman, House subcommittee on Africa and Global health, to discuss H.R. 2003, or any matters or issues affecting Africa? Have you ever contacted Republican Christopher Smith, the former Chairman of the Subcommittee on Africa, Global Human Rights and International Operations Africa who introduced an earlier version of H.R. 2003 (H.R. 5680) to discuss any matters affecting Africa or Ethiopia?
Of course, you have done nothing for Ethiopia or Africa when you were in the private sector. When you became president of the Quaker Life Insurance Company, and before that company went into receivership and liquidation in 1986 under your leadership and management, you had done nothing to help the people of Ethiopia or Africa.
The incontrovertible fact of the matter is that you have as much interest in helping the people of Ethiopia or Africa as you do in protecting the people of America from the scientifically-establsihed negative effects of global warming.
Senator Inhofe: You pontificate, moralize and preach about Ethiopia and Africa but you have done absolutely nothing to alleviate the suffering of Africans. In fact, you have come out to champion the very tyrants and dictators who have inflicted great suffering and pain on the people of Ethiopia. You have become the mouthpiece of oppression, and you have demonstrated that you will lie, cheat and deceive the American people to accomplish your ignominious defense of tyranny in Ethiopia.
FOR THE LIES, SLANDEROUS AND DEFAMATORY STATEMENTS YOU HAVE MADE AGAINST ETHIOPIANS AND THE PEOPLE OF AFRICA, WE DEMAND AN IMMEDIATE APOLOGY!
Alemayehu G. Mariam, Ph.D., J.D.
Professor and Attorney at Law
Coalition for H.R. 2003
Phone: 323-988-5688 Fax: 323-924-5563
Cc: U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee
U.S. Senate Leadership
House Subcommittee on Africa and Global Health
House Foreign Relations Committee
House of Representatives, Black Caucus
Oklahoma, Print and Electronic Media, seriatim
NAACP, national and Oklahoma
Oklahoma Faith-based Institutions, seriatim
Network and Cable News Outlets, seriatim
Full list available at www.hr2003.org
Monday, October 15, 2007
“It is a great day for America! It’s a great day for Ethiopia!” Congressman Donald Payne
Passage of H.R. 2003 on October 2, 2007 in the U.S. House of Representatives marked a great day for Ethiopia as did the lunar landing of Apollo 11 for humanity on July 20, 1969. When astronaut Neil Armstrong first stepped on the lunar surface, he said: “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.” That was the spirit of Payne’s message when he stepped out of the Foreign Affairs Committee hearing room on September 26, 2007and said, “It is a great day for America. It is a great day for Ethiopia”. But we all know what he meant: “H.R. 2003 is one small step for the U.S. Congress, one giant leap for Ethiopians on their long walk to freedom, democracy and human rights.”
Two dates in Anno Domini 2007 shall forever live in glory in the history of Ethiopia: September 26 and October 2. On these dates, the American Congress sent a message of hope, redemption and salvation to the Ethiopian people, “Hold on! Hold fast! Hold tight! Your Freedom Train is coming!”
The U.S Congress also addressed another stern message to the ironfisted, cruel and pitiless dictators in Ethiopia: “America will not give you guns, tanks and bombs to wipe out the people of the Ogaden. America will not be your partner in crime as you slaughter unarmed demonstrators in the streets. America will not stand with you by your prison gates as you keep hundreds of thousands of innocent citizens behind bars. The American tax payer will not bankroll your wicked decimation of the democratic liberties and human rights of your citizens. Americans will not allow their tax dollars to oppress the Ethiopian people, massacre, maim and mistreat them. No, America will not befriend tyrants who pervert and corrupt justice for private gain and disfigure it in the pursuit of partisan politics. America will not conspire with election thieves and rob the Ethiopian people of their democratic voices.”
On October 2, 2007, the U.S. House of Representatives made its final declaration, unanimously and without objection: “Enough is enough!” In the pithy words of Congressman Chris Smith, “No more American tax dollars to support a vicious dictator and his henchmen!” And Congressman Dana Rorabacher could barely contain his fury when he said: “No military aid to the thugs and gangsters that are running Ethiopia today and profiteering from the confiscated property of American citizens of Ethiopian descent!” But the imperturbable Donald Payne just laid out the plain case to a candid world: “Our aim in H.R. 2003 is to foster accountability and transparency in Ethiopia, and strengthen its institutions of democracy.”
Donald Payne’s Long Road to Deliver a Gift of Freedom to Ethiopians
On October 2, 2007, at precisely 12:58 p.m., Donald Payne stood in the well of the House of Representatives as the Speaker Pro Tem thundered: “H.R. 2003 is passed by the House without objection.” Many of us had waited to hear those words for a mighty long time. And those words resonated in our ears like sweet musical lyrics, and reverberated across the globe wherever Ethiopians live scattered by the winds of tyranny. And all freedom-loving Ethiopians the world over let out a crescendo of joyful noises for God to hear!
But on that fateful day, Don Payne stood in the well of the House like a captain standing on the bridge of a ship that had just emerged on the horizon after a long night on the savage sea. There he stood calm, collected, deliberate and with an air of quiet dignity and self-assuredness. That brief moment masked the years of hard work and toil he had exerted to get this bill to the floor. But how many of us really know the trials and tribulations of the lone captain of the H.R. 2003 in getting the bill to the House floor?
Encircled by 3,500 ferocious predator sharks from the lobbying firm of D.L.A. Piper, our captain did not flinch. When Armey’s Army marched on the Hill to lay siege to his office, he held his ground. And when D.L.A. Piper, engorged by millions of lobbying dollars, bombarded members of Congress with the slings and arrows of falsehoods, half truths and distortions in an effort to defeat H.R. 2003, Payne stood there and said, “I shall not be moved!” When he saw Ethiopian brokers of tyranny skulking in the halls of Congress to spread their lies and mislead lawmakers, he must have shaken his head in dismay: “How can men sell their souls and their people for thirty pieces of silver?” In the end, he was told, “You will never make it against the mighty D.L.A. Piper. You are up against George Mitchell, Richard Gephart, Richard Klien, Richard Armey and 3,500 of the cleverest and most cunning lawyers in the world. There is no way you can win against a regime that has mined the legislative sea with millions of dollars. Back off Payne! Give it up!”
But Captain Payne would have none of it. He called out: “All hands on deck. Damn the torpedoes! Full speed ahead!”
On that glorious October day, Don Payne pried open the locked jaws and serrated teeth of the D.L.A. Piper sharks and snatched H.R. 2003 to safety. As he had promised long ago, on October 2, 2007, Payne delivered to us on a golden platter the most precious gift any human being can offer another — the gift of freedom, democracy and human rights.
Donald Payne and the Struggle for Human Rights and Democracy in Ethiopia
Why did Donald Payne toil so much for democracy and human rights in Ethiopia? Why did he put up with those insufferable and provocative ignoramuses? Why did he say passage of H.R. 2003 marked a great day in the history of America and Ethiopia?
Payne’s concern for human rights is nothing new, and certainly, his commitment to human rights in Ethiopia is above and beyond the call of duty. For the past two years, he toiled relentlessly to pass a bill that sought to improve the human rights situation in Ethiopia. He had traveled to Ethiopia on a number of occasions, and he spoke with regime officials, opposition leaders, independent journalists and just common folks. He visited Kality jail and uplifted the spirit of the prisoners of conscience. He welcomed the Inquiry Commission members, and invited them to brief Congress on the massacre and wholesale incarceration of innocent citizens. He met and spoke with hundreds of Ethiopians in his office, at community events, panel discussions, on radio and television. Payne has been there for us, the whole time! But how many of us really know that?
Payne, like all of the other members of Congress who support H.R. 2003, did not get involved in Ethiopia human rights to get recognition, credit or applause. No, he got involved because of the outrageous abuses of human rights. “The people of Ethiopia have suffered for decades,” he said “and millions live in abject poverty.” He reminded everyone, “Human rights have been abused not only in the capital, but in other part of the country such as the Somali and Ogaden regions.” He got involved because he felt he ought to do something to alleviate the suffering of the Ethiopian people both as a ranking member and later as Chairman of the Africa subcommittee. His colleagues on the Foreign Affairs Committee recognized his efforts at the mark-up hearing and commended him for his tenacity and hard work in trying to improve human rights in Ethiopia.
None of this should come to us as a surprise. Payne is no stranger to human rights advocacy or promotion of democratic institution-building in Africa. In 2004, he authored the resolution that condemned the genocide in Darfur, the Sudan. He has traveled to Chad and other locations in the region time and again to learn first hand the conditions of refugees. In 1994, President Clinton appointed him to head a delegation to Rwanda to bring the warring parties to a negotiated settlement of that country’s humanitarian and political crises. He has served on the board of directors of the National Endowment for Democracy (the premier NGO that supports pro-democracy forces throughout the world) and TransAfrica (the premier African American lobbying group that made decisive contributions to bring an end to apartheid in South Africa). He has worked actively to support the Northern Ireland peace process.
But Why Is It a Great Day for America?
In the general scheme of Congressional legislation, H.R. 2003 is not an earthshaking bill. It is by no means a bill that “locks the horns” of the great institutions of American government in policy conflict. It is not a bill that weighs heavily in the debate between the great powers of the world. It is just a little human rights bill that aims to help a small and very poor country in the northeast corner of Africa. In the words of Donald Payne, H.R. 2003 is a simple bill with “strong bipartisan support” intended to “send a clear message that transparency, accountability, rule of law and respect for human rights are paramount for the United States.”
H.R. 2003 marks a great day for America because it shows America does strive to live out the true meaning of its founding principles. As the U.S. State Department Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor aptly put it:
The protection of fundamental human rights was a foundation stone in the establishment of the United States over 200 years ago. Since then, a central goal of U.S. foreign policy has been the promotion of respect for human rights, as embodied in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The United States understands that the existence of human rights helps secure the peace, deter aggression, promote the rule of law, combat crime and corruption, strengthen democracies, and prevent humanitarian crises.
The pursuit of human rights in U.S. foreign policy remains paramount. For three decades, the U.S. Congress has legislatively mandated human rights certification for recipients of U.S. aid. In section 502B of the Foreign Assistance Act (1976, as amended), the American Secretary of State is required to transmit to Congress “a full and complete report” every year concerning “respect for internationally recognized human rights in each country proposed as a recipient” of U.S. security assistance. Specifically, this section requires accountability information on specific areas such as: torture, arbitrary arrest, denial of fair trial and invasion of the home and extra-judicial killings. The Leahy Amendment (2001) prohibited funding to the security forces of any country involved in gross violations of human rights.
Why Is It a Great Day for Ethiopia?
The history of Ethiopia has been a history of a long train of abuses of its people by a motley syndicate of autocrats, despots, dictators and tyrants. It is great day for Ethiopia because in H.R. 2003, for the first time since the elections of 2005, we have an opportunity to purge the miasma of tyranny and dictatorship that envelopes Ethiopia today. It is an effective tool to promote and institutionalize freedom, democracy, human rights, accountability and transparency in Ethiopia. H.R. 2003 helps Ethiopia live up to the true meaning of its own constitutional guarantees and international human rights obligations.
Passion of Don Payne, Chris Smith, Dana Rorabacher and…: Is it “Vendetta” or Passion That Gave Birth to H.R. 2003?
On the occasion of the state visit of German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Zenawi
accused Donald Payne and the U.S. Congress of exacting a “vendetta” against him in passing H.R. 2003. Zenawi said, “If this man [Payne] is really concerned about human rights issues, he should talk about human rights violations in Eritrea, not Ethiopia.” He complained, “It is an unfair decision. It is the result of a vendetta… If it was about the human rights situation, they should have looked at Eritrea first.”
Why would Payne wage a personal vendetta against Zenawi? Where is the evidence of a vendetta?
But here is conclusive proof that H.R. 2003 is NOT a vendetta. The bill was co-sponsored on a bipartisan basis by 85 members of the House of Representatives. It first passed unanimously in the Africa subcommittee (11 members), then passed unanimously again in the Foreign Affairs Committee (50 members) and finally passed unanimously on the floor of the House of Representatives (435 members). It was not passed by one man. Does Zenawi mean to suggest that 435 democrats and republicans were assembled by Don Payne in a secret location, and conspired to exact a vendetta on him and his regime when they passed H.R. 2003?
Assuming, arguendo, H.R. 2003 is an act of vendetta, what is the harm done? What harm is done by requiring observance of the rule of law in Ethiopia? Or establishing independent and professional judicial institutions? Or allowing an independent and free press to function? Or guaranteeing democratic liberties such as freedom of speech, association, assembly and due process of law? Or… Or…
But even more wacky is Zenawi’s claim that Payne and the U.S. Congress should have scrutinized Eritrea before turning their attention to his regime. By why begin with Eritrea? Why not clean up Burma, the Sudan, Chad, Congo, Rwanda, Burundi, Algeria, Sierra Leone, North Korea, Iran, Zimbabwe, East Timor, Uzbekistan, Kazakhistan, Kyrghistan…. before knocking on the doors of Ethiopia. Zenawi says, “There are worse guys than me out there. Deal with them first before you train your flashlight on me. Turn a blind eye and deaf ears to what I do because I am helping you fight Al-Qaeda.”
This is the kind of reasoning logicians call ignoratio elenchi; or in common vernacular, the argument that misses the point. The point is that there are massive human rights violations in Ethiopia, not that more massive or severe violations of human rights are not occurring in neighboring countries or elsewhere in the world. The fact that other countries violate the human rights of their citizens at a greater level offers neither moral absolution nor legal immunity for human rights violations or other criminal acts by the regime in Ethiopia. It certainly does not preclude accountability to a legislature that shells out $500 million a year to support that regime!
While we are on the subject of “vendetta”, let’s ask a few of our own: Was vendetta the cause of the massacre of the 193 unarmed protesters and shooting of 763 others in 2005? Or the mass incarceration of 30,000 innocent persons? Or the 20-month imprisonment of opposition leaders? Or jailing of independent journalists? Or continued detention of thousands of ordinary citizens? Or…. Or…
Why are House democrats and republicans familiar with the human rights situation in Ethiopia so passionate about doing something to improve it? What would drive ordinarily genteel members of Congress — who rarely, if ever, use abrasive language in their proceedings — use such word and phrases as “thugs”, “gangsters”, “vicious dictators”, “petty tyrants” to describe Zenawi’s regime? Surely, anyone who has viewed the video stream of the mark-up proceedings will attest to the passionate and bipartisan advocacy on behalf of human rights and democracy in Ethiopia.
Why should any of them care about Ethiopia? Don Payne does not have relatives in Ethiopia. It is doubtful that any other member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee has an extended network of family, friends and relatives in Ethiopia to care so passionately about Ethiopia. The answer is simple. They love Ethiopia and its people. They care about their Ethiopian American constituents. Talk to any member of Congress who is familiar with the human rights situation in Ethiopia and you will understand what I mean. Talk to Payne, Smith, Honda, Rorabacher, Royce, Jackson-Lee, Lantos, the whole bunch. Ask them how they feel about Ethiopia and Ethiopians. Only then will you truly appreciate the passion behind the words.
But behind the passion stand great principles. “The protection of fundamental human
rights was a foundation stone in the establishment of the United States over 200 years ago. A central goal of U.S. foreign policy has been the promotion of respect for human rights, as embodied in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.” In the memorable words of Jimmy Carter, “America did not invent human rights. In a very real sense human rights invented America.” Exhibit A: The Declaration of Independence.
What Can We Learn From Members of Congress in Advancing Ethiopian Human Rights?
Passion, More Passion
What we saw in the Committee room on September 26 is something that we rarely see in our community: deep, passionate commitment to a cause which forces us to overflow with the truth. If members of Congress can be so passionate about human rights in Ethiopia, why can’t we? When these members of Congress and other supporters advocate on behalf of the cause of democracy and human rights in Ethiopia they do not hide their emotions or hide behind cute pseudonyms and fearsome-sounding pen names. Unlike many of our invisible, nameless and faceless cyber-warriors, they do not launch missiles of barbed words comfortably ensconced behind their keyboards. They don’t conceal their message in scholastic arguments or pedantry. They stand up in public and say what they mean, and mean what they say! That is what we should learn from our members of Congress. Saying it like it is!
But why can’t we say it like it is? Could it be because we really do not believe in what we say, and say what we believe. How can anyone expect to offer an intellectually respectable view or analysis when that person is afraid to reveal his/her identity? Who would accept a soulless message or believe in it? If one is afraid of public scrutiny, ridicule or castigation, then one ought to remain silent. We must not be paper tigers willing to shout and criticize the adversary only when he is not looking, or when he does not know our names. If the people for whom we struggle can risk their lives and liberties everyday and put everything o the line, we must not fear standing up in public for them in our own names, in our own persons, and say it like it is.
Infuse Your Passion With the First Amendment
Living in America and as American citizens, we have something that few people on earth have, and the vast majority would kill to have: The right to free speech. This most precious of our civil liberties was placed for safekeeping in the Constitution so that we, the people, will NEVER fear anyone, any official or any government, when we want to say our peace.
Since 1791, the First Amendment has served as the peoples’ impregnable shield against censorship. Many great Americans have stood up and exercised their right to free speech in times of peace and war, in hard times and good times. Paul Robeson stood against the withering persecution of McCarthy’s communist witch hunt. Thousands of ordinary American youth challenged their government and brought an end to the Vietnam War exercising their First Amendment rights. Even the brash young man, Gregory Johnson, could feel wholly confident in his right to freedom of speech that he burned Old Glory, the American flag, with impunity in a public place as thousands of patriots looked on heartsick.
Let us use our right to free speech to hold government accountable, to demand answers from public officials, to challenge them and to keep them honest. Let’s use our powers as American taxpayers to make sure “vicious dictators” do not use weapons of war which paid for by our tax dollars to be used against civilians, our brothers and sisters. IF WE DOT NOT SPEAK OUT AND SPEAK UP AS TAXPAYERS AND ALLOW AMERICAN HUMVEES AND MACHINE GUNS TO BE USED AGAINST THE CIVILIAN POPULATION IN ETHIOPIA, WE ARE GUILTY OF MORAL COMPLICITY IN ANY CRIMES COMMITTED. On this question, there is no opportunity for fence sitting, and for indifference. You have to take a stand, or stand trial in the court of your own conscience.
But let us not misuse our constitutional right to free expression. When we misuse the First Amendment to insult, demean, belittle, dishonor, disrespect and humiliate each other, not only do we squander and dishonor our precious right, in our verbal slugfest, we let those tyrants and dictators off the hook. We end up becoming their laughing stock.
We Must Act Out of A Sense of Duty, No Place For Moral Indifference
Members of Congress passed H.R. 2003 out of constitutional duty under Art. I, sec. 8 of the U.S. Constitution and in exercise of their “power of the purse”. Of course, we do not have a constitutional duty to help our people, but we do have an equally compelling moral duty to act. That moral duty arises from the moral imperative to stand up against evil. As Edmund Burke said, “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.” Let’s not forget, the good women as well.
Why do we have a moral duty? Many reasons, but let’s start with Zenawi’s recent statement in Time Magazine. He said, “We represent the greatness of Africa’s past. We also represent the worst of Africa’s present, in terms of poverty.” Both statements are absolutely true, and the latter is supported by independent economic assessments. On the Corruption Index, Ethiopia ranks 138/179 countries in the world. The prestigious Committee to Protect Journalists ranked Zenawi’s regime as the most repressive in the world in terms of press freedoms. In its Special Report 2007, the CPJ stated, “Ethiopia, where the government launched a massive crackdown on the private press by shutting newspapers and jailing editors, leads CPJ’s dishonor roll.” And on and on…
There is no question that Ethiopians need help, big time. It is our duty to do what we can to ease suffering, spread freedom, and to lay the foundations for a robust democracy for generations yet unborn. When our homeland is filled with despair, resentment, violence, repression and there is no place for moral indifference that paralyzes us from taking affirmative action to help.
Commitment to Democracy, Human Rights Principles and Advocacy
Advocates of human rights are driven by an unshakeable belief in the fundamental dignity of the individual. They are distrustful of government – any government – that is not restrained by law. They believe government must be under the constant watch of the people. Even when the people sleep, they must do so with eyes wide open, because government, if given the opportunity, will snatch liberty from the people at the blink of an eye. That is why the universal motto of human rights advocates is, “The price of liberty is eternal vigilance.” That’s why human rights advocates believe in the principle of the rule of law – a rule that binds the naughty hands of government tightly enough so that the people can sleep in peace, talk to each other without fear, walk the streets without looking over their shoulders and live in their homes without dread of the midnight knock.
Every Man, Every Woman A Human Rights Leader
Human rights advocacy is one area of human struggle where anyone, whether educated or uneducated, rich or poor, man or woman, can play a decisive role. Every man and every woman can be a leader — a leader to enlighten the people on the rule of law, to help them assert their God-given rights, to help them realize the greatness in themselves. These leadership qualities do not require a Ph.D., an M.D., of some other badge of formal learning. One does one have to be a professor or a lawyer, a democrat, republican or anything else to stand up for human rights. All you have to be is YOU. All you need is a sincere belief in the dignity of the individual, a healthy distrust of government, an uncompromising commitment to the rule of law, and unwaivering commitment to democratic principles. The key to effective Ethiopian human rights advocacy is to make every Ethiopian man and woman a a human rights leader in his/her own right. No power on earth can defeat a human rights movement built on these simple principles.
Improving American Foreign Policy While Improving Human Rights in Ethiopia
From time to time, some people ask how H.R. 2003 helps America. “It is just an Ethiopian human rights bill,” they say. It does not really help America.” But they are mistaken. In advocating for human rights in Ethiopia and in passing H.R. 2003, we are transforming, albeit in a small way, the basic structure of American foreign policy itself.
The U.S. is often criticized for being hypocritical in its foreign policy, for being inconsistent on its basic values by supporting dictatorships out of political expediency. H.R. 2003 helps America reconnect to its founding principles, and reaffirm a basic tenet that human rights define the core of American foreign policy. We are helping shape a foreign policy that is familiar to the American people, a policy they thoroughly understand because it is a thread pulled from the very fabric of their cultural ethos and the pathos of their everyday experience. America as the land of immigrants is as diverse as the world. But what draws Americans together, more than anything else, is a universal belief in human freedom. That is exactly what H.R. 2003 does: Spread freedom to the arid political landscape of Ethiopia.
One Giant Leap for Ethiopian Human Rights, And Many Bold Strokes
In less than a generation, it is possible to bring about dramatic transformations in Ethiopia. It is possible to heal a society besieged by the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse — war, famine, pestilence and death — and divided by manufactured ethnic conflict. It is possible to address sincerely felt historical grievances and rebuild a new national identity based on a robust human rights ideology and principles of social justice. As we begin the New Millennium, we must develop a new paradigm, a new way of looking at ourselves and the world; new approaches to old problems and new methodologies and strategies to navigate the brave new world of the New Millennium. But we must start with a new unshakeable confidence in the future, in the dignity of the human being, in freedom and liberty and in timeless democratic principles. We must accept some basic truths:
I. Make a Clean Break With the Politics of the Old Millennium. We should avoid preoccupation with the failures of the past Millennium not only because we do not want to be prisoners of history but also because such preoccupation prevents new ideas from appearing. Such preoccupation makes the task of changing to a new paradigm of government, politics and society more difficult and less unattainable. The old political culture of ethnic antagonism and fragmentation and distrust must be replaced by a new one that emphasizes respect for the rule of law, observance of human rights and acceptance of democratic principles.
II. The New Millennium Requires a New Paradigm, New Strategies and New Methods of Governance. We must resolve and accept the fact that the old methods and strategies of “governance” are unworkable in the New Millennium. It is no longer possible to beat, intimidate and terrorize a population into submission. People know their rights, as demonstrated in the 2005 elections, and they will NEVER accept a government based on coercion or force. In the New Millennium, there can only be a government based on consent of the governed. To be successful, such a government must harmonize issues of good governance, accountability and transparency with issues of justice, equity, fairness and human rights. In advancing these values, there is no place for violence. Consent necessarily implies the absence of coercion, and withdrawal of consent when government no longer serves its just ends should require nothing more that the electoral judgment of the people.
III. Lead by Inspiration, not Deception and Recrimination. We must demand of our leaders to lead by inspiration, not by deception and recrimination. Leaders need to inspire by the democratic principles and values they uphold and practice, and their boundless optimism and clear vision of a better future. Of late, we have suffered the prevailing winds of recrimination and acrimony, and this has pushed some of us to the verge of despair. Many discouraging words are uttered by those we respect the most. We seek uplifting words, but we do not get them. We ask for a vision, but are left to feel our way in the dark. We ask for direction to the future, and we are told any road will get us there. We ask for a message of unity, we receive words of rancor and acrimony. Our confidence has eroded and our faith in the future shaken. If they are listening, they should know: “We need leaders who can empower us with the truth, convince us with the cogency of their logic and persuade us by the power of their arguments.” Lead by inspiration!
IV. Believe in the Power of Ideas. Ideas Always Defeat Guns, Always. We must believe in the power of ideas. The power of ideas will always, always overcome the power of gunpowder. Mahatma Gandhi’s ideas of nonviolence led to the liberation of 350 million Indians from colonialism. He opposed violence because it created more problems than it solved, and often left a legacy of hatred and bitterness that made genuine reconciliation and long term harmony nearly impossible. He said, “An eye for an eye leaves the whole world blind.” Martin Luther King transformed the arid American political landscape pockmarked with segregation, discrimination and injustice after 350 years, without firing a single shot. Read his “Letter From Birmingham Jail” to understand the power of his ideas. As Victor Hugo observed, “One can resist the invasion of an army, but one cannot resist the invasion of ideas whose time has come.” The time has come for the ideas of freedom, democracy, human rights and accountability in Ethiopia. We must believe in the power of ideas!
V. Change Human Hearts and Minds Before Changing Human Actions. Before we change human actions, we must change human hearts and minds to rekindle the divine. Gandhi, saddened by the bloody carnage of WW II said, “Because these acts of terror and bloodshed appall man’s conscience; because he knows that they are evil; because, in his innermost heart and mind, he deplores them. And because, when he is not misled, deceived, and corrupted by false leaders and false arguments, man has in his breast an impulse of kindness and compassion, which is the spark of the divine, and which one day, I believe, will be brought forth to the full flowering that is inherent in it.” If we clear our hearts and minds of hatred, fear and distrust and hold onto the Truth (satyagraha), we will also be able to experience the “spark of the divine.”
VI. Act Out of a Sense of Duty, Not Craving for Credit. In whatever political act we engage in, we should act out of a sense of duty and not out of craving for credit or acclaim. We should undertake human rights advocacy to make a practical difference, not to posture for fleeting credit and public recognition. Human rights advocacy and activism means just that: We should actively advocate for the cause of human rights because as human beings it is our moral duty to do so. It is immoral and illegal to imprison, torture, maim or kill another because of political differences, ideology or perspectives. We all have a moral duty to take reasonable steps to prevent human rights violations, and to use all available means to speak out against such violations, to identify those responsible whenever we can and to seek justice for victims of human rights abuses.
VII. Never be Afraid to Lose. In October, 2006, a year ago, we were licking our wounds after House Speaker Dennis Hastert stonewalled H.R. 5680 from getting to the House floorafter it had passed the International Relations Committee. D.L.A. Piper and Dennis Hastert knocked us to the ground, and thought we were down for the count. The enemies of freedom threw a party and wrote the epitaph to an Ethiopia human rights bill in the U.S. Congress. But we got right up and took the fight to Hastert’s congressional district in Illinois. We were welcomed on the airwaves, newspaper editorial boards, in the churches, civic organizations, colleges and universities in his district. But it took only two weeks when Hastert himself found out that he was down for the count. He was knocked out permanently by a left hook delivered by the American voters. A year later, D.L.A. Piper was out for the count as H.R. 2003 passed the House unanimously. We know D.L.A. Piper is working triple overtime in the Senate today, but we will fight them tooth and nail, day and night. We know we will win in the end. How can we lose when God and Truth are on our side? Because we are certain of the righteousness of our cause, we are never afraid to lose!
VIII. Learn to Say, “We Messed Up! We Sincerely Apologize!” As the old Ethiopian saying goes, “One will always find rust on iron and mistakes from Man.” There are some who say that in Ethiopian culture it is considered a sign of weakness, an admission of shame, to say, “I am sorry. I messed up. I was wrong.” There is a kernel of truth in that opinion. But it is actually an act of courage to say, “I am sorry. I made a mistake.” We should publicly acknowledge our faults and shortcomings. The average person is more compassionate and understanding when we admit our mistakes; but there is nothing that destroys the confidence of fellow human beings than calculated deceit and deception.
IX. Believe, “This Too Shall Pass.” We must always reaffirm our basic optimism in the future of the democratic system. We should always work to spread our spirit of confidence in the democratic process and conviction in our cause of freedom, democracy, human rights and accountability. It is written that, “The righteous shall never be removed, but the wicked shall not inhabit the earth.” This too shall pass.
With Malice Towards None… Let’s Finish the Job
Abe Lincoln in his Second Inaugural Address said: “With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation’s wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.” With malice towards none, let’s keep our eyes on the prize and finish the job of H.R. 2003. Let’s join hands and sing the old civil rights song:
Keep Your Eyes on the Prize
The only thing that we did wrong,
Stayed in the wilderness a day too long.
Hold on, hold on,
Keep your eyes on the prize,
Hold on, Hold on.
But the one thing we did right,
Was the day we started to fight.
Hold on, hold on,
Keep your eyes on the prize.
Hold on y’all! Keep Your Eyes on the Prize!!!
2) See Art. 13 of the “Ethiopian Constitution”; Ethiopia has ratified, is a signatory to or has adopted the following major human rights conventions, among others: Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948), International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (1977), International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (1992), Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (1994) Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (1980) Convention on the Rights of the Child (1995). 3) http://uk.reuters.com/article/worldNews/idUKL049165020071004?pageNumber=1