Thank you all for coming this afternoon. And thank you Seattle Ethiopian Millennium Celebration Committee for inviting us to join you here today. And Happy Ethiopian New Year to all of you!
It is a great honor and privilege for me to be here with you today. This is my third time to be back in Seattle this year. The last time I was here, we celebrated the prodigious achievements of the Inquiry Commission in the cause of truth and justice. Judge Frehiwot Samuel, Attorney Teshome Mitiku, and Judge Wolde Michael Meshesha, and the former deputy attorney general, Alemayehu Zemedkun, were here with us.
You will recall the Commissioners spent months traveling from one prison to another dungeon, from one hospital morgue to another graveyard in search of the truth about the citizens who were massacred and imprisoned following the May 2005 elections. They documented and revealed to the world the monstrous crimes of Zenawi’s regime: 30,000 political prisoners held without due process of law, 193 innocent men, women and children massacred in the streets, and 763 individuals shot and grievously injured. That was just the tip of the iceberg!
And every time I think of Seattle, I think of these courageous young men and the heroic welcome you gave them; and the love, honor and respect you showed them. They remember it all, very fondly even today.
I mention these individuals not only because of their heroic deeds in exposing the truth about Zenawi’s killing machine and killing fields, but also because they brought us a strong and unified message of legal accountability. That message was pretty straightforward: The killers of innocent citizens and abusers of human rights must be held to account before the bar of justice. Today, these murderers walk the streets as free men; and the souls of the martyrs cry out for justice!
The Commissioners urged us in the Diaspora to be united and to make sure the lives of those victims of human rights abuses will live in history as a glorious testament of the Ethiopian peoples’ yearning for democracy and freedom. They asked us to work tirelessly to find ways of institutionalizing human rights safeguards in Ethiopia so that no man, no official however high, no government, however powerful, will ever have the arrogant confidence to go out into the streets and mow down its people like blades of grass; or sweep innocent citizens off the streets and dump them in corrals that pass off for prisons and jails.
Just this past week, we celebrated the arrival of the official Kinijit Delgation in the United States. W/zt Birtukan Midekssa, Dr. Berhanu Nega, Eng. Gizachew Shiferaw, Dr. Hailu Araya and Ato Brook Kebede received a welcome unprecedented in the history of Ethiopians in America. Yesterday, Eng. Hailu Shawul arrived in Washington to a very warm welcome. We are truly blessed to have them all here, together. And we should do everything in our power to keep them together.
And in a couple of weeks or so, I believe, you will have an opportunity to meet and greet the Delegation.
Like the members of the Inquiry Commission, the Delegation, I believe, will bring you a unified message of political accountability, national unity and reconciliation, and peace.
We should all rejoice in the message of the Delegation. All Ethiopians of goodwill, like yourselves, want to hear a message of hope, accountability, reconciliation, unity and peace in Ethiopia. We all believe those who hold the reins of power should be held accountable for their malfeasance and crimes in office.
All of us want to hear a message about the end of the era of tyranny, and the beginning of the epoch of democracy in Ethiopia. We want to know how we can overcome artificially created divisions in our society, and strengthen our common bonds of family, culture, religion and tradition. We want democracy and human rights to reign supreme in Ethiopia so that we may pass on to the next generation a legacy of hope and harmony. These are the things that are on the minds of the good people of the Ethiopian Diaspora. And the Delegation is prepared to have a conversation with you.
I should let you know that everywhere I go, people tell me they want to see the House of Kinijit become a Light House that guides the Ethiopian ship of state away from the dangerous shoals of ethnic strife and political instability in the New Millennium, and help the people find their way out of the House of Darkness that Ethiopia has become today. We shall all gaze at the Light House with great expectation!
So get ready to welcome the Delegation! It is a very long way from Kality jail to Seattle.
Welcome them, and make them feel at home, away from home.
But please, don’t welcome them into a divided house. Because as Abe Lincoln said, “A house divided against itself can not stand.”
Ethiopia’s Children in America
This a good place for me to segue to my brief remarks. I was asked to reflect on Ethiopian Diaspora politics in America, and suggest ideas about what we can do better or differently. I will try to do that in the next few minutes by touching upon some of the main issues.
I have been in this country now for over three decades; and if you were to believe my daughter, she’d tell you that I arrived at Plymouth Rock with the first pilgrims on the Mayflower. That’s not quite true, but most Ethiopians like myself came to the United States over the past three decades.
Though we have lived in America for years, many of us still show the equivalent of a post traumatic shock syndrome, which could be called Ethiopia Separation Shock Syndrome. Far too many of us remain preoccupied, traumatized and tormented by politics in our homeland. When we meet each other on the streets, we talk about Ethiopia. We talk about Ethiopia in the restaurants. We organize panel discussions such as this one, and talk about Ethiopia. And every day we spend hours circumnavigating the internet for information about Ethiopia. For so many of us, neither the narcotic of materialism and consumerism nor the comforts and amenities we enjoy in America have succeeded in severing our primal attachment to our homeland; and we are wistfully nostalgic about our birthplace.
This may appear rather odd to the outside observer because many of us came to America fleeing political persecution. We found refuge in America, and we managed to avoid not only the grinding daily realty of poverty, disease and repression that challenge so many of our brothers and sisters in Ethiopia, we also achieved a good measure of material prosperity and success.
Many of us acquired American citizenship; and as citizens our rights are protected by the American Constitution. Our liberties in America are, by and large, secure. But we do not live in a perfect society. Not by a long shot. But, thank God, we thrive in a society where none of us lives in fear and loathing of our government; and none of us is afraid to speak truth to power.
But therein lie some big questions. When life is such a bowl of cherries for many of us here in America, why should we be concerned with the pits in Ethiopia?
Who are we really in America? Are we Americans in America? Or Ethiopians who happen to be living in America? Are we Ethiopian Americans? Or are we Diaspora Ethiopians who are living in the U.S. until it is time to pack up and go back home?
I would like to touch upon these questions because the answers may help us better understand our place in America, define our identity, crystallize our political attitude and focus our activism so that we can become effective political participants and advocates of the Ethiopian cause in the American policy process.
Ethiopian Diaspora Identity
First, let me say that many of us feel a bit uncomfortable about our identity in America. I know some people shy away from labeling themselves as “Ethiopian Americans” even though they have acquired U.S. citizenship and have lived here for decades. I guess they feel a sense of betrayal in accepting such a “hybrid” identity, Ethiopian by birth and American by citizenship. The fact of the matter is that we are both Ethiopians and Americans. And in the Land of Immigrants, the Land of the Melting Pot, that’s just the way it is!
But linked to our dual sense of identity is our adjustment to the American landscape, the American reality.
Many of us, I believe, have fully embraced the American Dream, and made it part of our dream. We toil everyday to maintain that dream. Some of us have had difficulty becoming part of that dream, and we keep chasing it as it recedes and fades over the distant horizon. But we struggle mightily to keep up with the faint signal of that dream. And some of us, unfortunately, are barely aware that there is such a thing as the American Dream. We maintain a bare existence on the outer fringes of American society. But we do not lose hope. We keep on keeping on because we believe, in the Land of Opportunity, that someday we can rise up above our circumstances and become part of the great American Dream.
What is a bit disappointing about most of us who have adjusted reasonably well to American life is the fact that we live and work in America, but we don’t really understand how America works.
We don’t know very much about the inner workings of American political institutions, the essential nature of its great Constitution, the Bill of Rights that guarantees our individual liberties, the processes of national government or the role of political and civic organizations in American democracy.
As a result, for a very long time, we have excluded ourselves from becoming part of the mainstream of American life. Many of us do not vote regularly even though we are citizens; few of us participate in party politics, and even fewer engage in grassroots political advocacy. The effect of this self-imposed detachment has been self-marginalization, political fragmentation, and self-consignment to immigrant life on the periphery of American society.
By default, we have sought support and comfort in our own small communities where we speak our own language, eat our ethnic foods and enjoy our own entertainment. Of course, there is nothing wrong with any of these except for the fact that by wrapping ourselves tightly in an ethnic band, we have been unable to develop the skills and attitudes that will enable us to impact mainstream American institutions to help ourselves in America, and our brothers and sisters in Ethiopia.
Stranded and Fragmented?
There are a few facts that are noteworthy in our social and political adaptation in the U.S. The vast majority of us who came to America in the early 1970s and did not expect to be around much beyond the completion of our educational pursuits. Indeed, we were very eager to go back and serve our country.
We maintained our Ethiopian identity, and we were convinced that our stay in America would be short and sweet. And to that end, it did not matter much to us if we had to wait tables, wash dishes, park cars, drive cabs or whatever was necessary to complete our education and return home.
But political changes in Ethiopia in the mid-1970s turned the world upside down for most of us here, and in Ethiopia. The so-called Red Terror campaign and the massive and indiscriminate political violence and persecution in the country led to the creation of a large refugee population. Many Ethiopians managed to gain admission into the U.S. as refugees.
This created an interesting dichotomy in the Ethiopian community in America: the “elites” who wanted to return but were afraid for their lives, and those who barely escaped with their lives by the skin of their teeth and wanted to stay away at any cost. There was a division between those baptized in the fires of the Red Terror, and those who could imagine the fire from a safe distance in America.
This dichotomy, I believe, aggravated the underlying marginalization process, and for the most part, we ended up doing politics with like-minded individuals and groups in the Diaspora Ethiopian community. Ethiopian students jumped on the Marxist bandwagon, and preached the dogma of socialism to other Ethiopians. Those who had escaped Marxist repression knew better, and avoided political entanglements altogether.
Until recently, I do not believe there has been a unifying message to bring Ethiopians of all stripes together. Indeed, in the past the political message in the Ethiopian Diaspora has been more divisive than cohesive. There was greater emphasis on ideological, ethnic, political and class differences. There were many shrill voices that magnified narrow differences, and few tempered voices that sought to appeal to the broader Diaspora community on the basis of the common bonds of history, culture and tradition.
Awakening of the Ethiopian Diaspora Giant: Human Rights Becomes the Message
Over the past three years or so, there has been a distinct change in political attitude and activism among Diaspora Ethiopians in America. It was as though the Ethiopian Diaspora Giant had awakened from a 30-year slumber. Much to our surprise, we have recently discovered that we have formidable political muscle to organize and promote human rights, democracy and freedom in Ethiopia. We found out the doors to the offices of the highest elected officials in the U.S. were open to us. We could even propose ideas, and demand action.
But there was a slight problem. Though the halls of government were wide open to us, we were not well equipped to take advantage of the opportunities. One of the shocking facts about our newly discovered political power was that most of us lacked an elementary understanding of the American political system and rules that govern it. Most of us did not have a clue about the legislative process. Many of us struggled to understand what a bill is and how it becomes law. We could not articulate our message effectively to policy makers, or work effectively as grassroots advocates for policy change. We could not appreciate the importance of local politics in impacting the national political process.
As a result, we flailed all over the political landscape. Individuals and groups purportedly supporting the same cause would visit American policy makers and legislators time and again, and undercut each other. They would ignore good counsel from policymakers’ offices that they can be more effective if they banded together and articulated the same position. But the “credit instinct” -- that irrepressible feeling to grab credit and make headlines-- was far too overpowering for many of us, and so the same mistakes were made over and over.
Revolt of the Ethiopian American Tax Payer and the Battles of H.R. 2003/5680/4423
But for novices in the American political process, we have done a magnificent job. We were able to clear a human rights bill from a major committee in less than 18 months, and have it ready for floor action. But our efforts were intercepted by one of the most powerful lobbying firms in the world. But we did not put our tails between our legs and run; we came back in blazing glory to confront the wicked army of lobbyist arrayed against us in Congress. In H.R. 2003, we declared the revolt of the Ethiopian American taxpayer.
Every year Zenawi gets $500 million courtesy of American Joe (Yosef) Taxpayer. Instead of saying, “Thank you”, Zenawi insolently complains that America is trying to run him like a banana republic. He wants American money, but he does not want any strings attached to it. But human rights is the heart string of America. America was built on the idea of individual freedom, liberty and democracy. He can never understand or appreciate that because he has never lived in America, in a free country. But he has no problems panhandling the American taxpayer, and receiving billions in handouts.
But now as Ethiopian American taxpayers, we are revolting against the misuse of our tax dollars. What we are saying in H.R. 2003 is that we work very hard in America -- washing dishes, driving cabs, working in the halls of government and academia, in the boardroom, the classroom, the courtroom, the operating room, the boiler room and other places -- and we pay taxes. We are proud and privileged to pay our fair share into the general treasury. But we’d damned if we are going to send our tax dollars to Zenawi so that he can kill, torture, maim, imprison and mistreat our brothers and sisters in Ethiopia!
The Message and Our Credo
So, in H.R. 2003, Ethiopians American taxpayers are speaking directly to Zenawi, and sending him a clear message.
If you want American tax dollars, Ethiopian American tax dollars,
Release all political prisoners in the country, NOW.
Leave the judges and courts alone to administer justice. You can not dress up your party hacks in judicial robes and pretend they are administering justice.
Arrest and prosecute those cold-blooded cutthroats you call security personnel who massacred citizens by the thousands before and after the 2005 elections, NOW!
Leave the print and electronic media alone. Freedom of the press means just that -- an independent press free from official censorship, prior restraint and restrictive laws. License independent radio and television to the public on a competitive basis, not just deliver it to your buddies and cronies on a silver platter. Leave the internet alone so that citizens can freely communicate with free peoples throughout the world.
Restore the democratic rights of the people so that they can speak freely, protest peaceably, and associate with each other without fear of official harassment.
Reconstitute the National Election Board so that it represents all political parties, not just your buddies and cronies.
Let international human rights organizations monitor human rights in Ethiopia. Let local human rights advocates do their work in an environment free of harassment, intimidation, and persecution.
So, if Zenawi wants our tax dollars, these are the conditions he must meet. But there will be no American tax dollars for him as long as he coddles killers of peaceful demonstrators. No tax dollars for him as long as he sneers at the rule of law and tramples upon the democratic liberties of the people. No American tax dollars for him as long as he jails and exiles journalists, reporters and editors. No tax dollars if he insists on rigging elections. And absolutely no American tax dollars for him to buy bullets to kill our Ethiopians brothers and sisters. This is the deal: Take it or leave it!
And this Message is our credo, the consensus of the Ethiopian Diaspora the world over. It is a unifying credo which emanates from the gospel of human rights. We regard H.R. 2003 as a statement of faith based on the dignity of Man and Woman. It is our reaffirmation that Ethiopians deserve what other human beings in civilized societies enjoy -- the right to free speech, free press, free association and peaceable assembly, petition for grievance, and guarantees of due process of law before any person is deprived of life, liberty or property.
Ethiopian Diaspora Politics and the Special Role of Intellectuals
I recently read a thoughtful analysis by an author who made some very perceptive points about the role of Ethiopian Diaspora intellectuals. The author argued that Diaspora Ethiopian intellectuals historically have played a profoundly negative role in domestic Ethiopian politics. He alleged that these intellectuals facilitated the rise of dictatorship under the guise of advancing equality and social justice under a communist system. He blamed them for spreading ideas about secessionism and self-determination, which he claims have resulted in the separation of Eritrea from Ethiopia, chronic political instability and long-term economic decline. He condemned Ethiopian intellectuals for being Oreo cookies -- liberal democrats on the outside, and on the inside, intolerant, authoritarian, undemocratic, power-hungry and incapable of uniting Diaspora Ethiopians. The author concluded ominously that “if these people were to get the opportunity to hold real power in Ethiopia, they would not be any different from the current dictators of our country.”
This analysis can not be easily dismissed. There is a real question on the role of Ethiopian Diaspora intellectuals in the struggle for democracy, freedom, equality, human rights, economic and social justice and other issues. Are they playing their part educating Ethiopians? What is their vision for the future of Ethiopia? Or will they remain a permanent part of the problem driving other Ethiopians deeper into political disillusionment?
I can admit, with great embarrassment, that many of us in the legal profession and academia have failed to play a significant part in the search for justice or in articulating a vision for justice in Ethiopia. There are criminals who have engaged in gross abuses of human rights in Ethiopia walking the streets of America today. You see them in the streets of Seattle, and Washington, D.C., and Los Angeles, and Dallas…
We have done nothing. There are avenues of legal redress under American law, but we have not used them effectively. We are aware of remedies against those who commit crimes against humanity under international law, but we have yet to stretch out the long arm of the law to hold them accountable.
And as we speak here today, a full-blown genocide is taking place in the Ogaden. The population is slowly being starved to death, and indiscriminate violence continues to be unleashed against the people of the Ogaden. It is a shame that we hear more about this “new African genocide” from Amnesty International and the other human rights organizations than Ethiopian lawyers and political scientists.
As intellectuals, we have failed. And as I point an accusatory finger outward, be mindful the other fingers are pointing to me.
But Ethiopian intellectuals, whether trained in the liberal democracy of the West or elsewhere, have a duty to promote democracy, freedom and human rights in Ethiopia, to educate the people about the objective conditions there, to unite Diaspora Ethiopians with a unifying message, to help those in leadership positions with professional expertise, to counter the false propaganda of the practitioners of tyranny, to become bridges towards greater understanding, to teach and practice democratic tolerance, and to accept our shortcomings and correct the errors of our ways.
There is one questions we can not avoid: If we do not take a leading role in championing the cause of democracy, freedom, human rights and accountability in Ethiopia, who will?
When Moses led the Jews out of Egypt, God told him to gather the 70 elders of Israel to help him guide the Jews out of slavery. Let us be those 70 elders for Ethiopia, multiplied a thousand fold, so that we can help free Ethiopia from the clutches of tyranny and deliver her into a new Millennium of freedom, democracy and human rights.
The Ultimate Message -- United We stand, Divided We Fall!
The upshot of all of my remarks here today is simple: We must all unite to bring about positive and lasting change in our homeland. Whether we came to the U.S. as students, tourists or refugees, and even if we are visiting the U.S. for just a few weeks, we must band together in the holy cause of human rights and march into the New Millennium to the drumbeat of democracy.
In as much as we were an Awakening Giant in America, we face other formidable giants in their own right -- the Cyclops known as D.L.A. Piper and its master Tyrannosaurus Zenawi. We face the power of Big Money in the halls of Congress. They will outspend us by a thousand-to-one any day of the week to defeat H.R. 2003.
But our adversary can not defeat us or our cause if we stand together as one, united in one cause, for one indivisible nation. His millions of dollars will be no match for our collective resolve and determination to forge ahead with an agenda of democracy, accountability and human rights in Ethiopia in the New Millennium.
But our strength is also our weakness. And that’s where our adversary will try to strike a hard blow. He will scheme day and night to divide us, weaken our resolve and create great discord amongst us. We should not help him by becoming unwitting allies in our own undoing. We must fight him back tooth and nail. Where he sows discord, we should plant harmony; where he seeks to divide us, we must fight him back with unflinching unity in a common cause; where he tries to provoke us into anger against each other, we should fight back with tolerance and understanding. It is time to close ranks!
I can imagine that over the past week or so our adversary has been belly-aching with laughter, listening to us as we engage in frivolous recriminations and pointing accusatory fingers at each other. He is probably telling his public relations people to take advantage of the spectacle of our self-inflicted humiliation to make the point that we can not even talk to each other let alone assume the responsibility of governance.
And no doubt he will try to capitalize on recent events and tell members of Congress and other U.S. policy makers, “See! See! What did I tell you? There is no responsible opposition in the country. They are divided and at each other’s throats. I am the only choice. I am! I am! There is no leader to keep the country together, but me. Without ME the country will go to hell in a hand basket!”
If we continue to magnify our minor differences and forget to see the big picture -- democracy, freedom, human rights, accountability and so on-- we would have delivered the biggest victory to the adversary on a silver platter. Is that what we want?
That is why we should all pledge to do our part to bridge the divide that seems to be looming in the horizon. Now, more than ever, with the fate of Ethiopian democracy in the balance, we must stand together, act together, work together and pray together to root out tyranny and plant the seeds of democracy.
United We Stand, Divided We Fall!
Thank you very much.
Thursday, September 13, 2007
I wish you were there! How I wish you were there!
It was the 9th of September. A day I will always remember. A glorious day when Dulles Airport became Bole Airport, for 3 hours. Dulles was awash in the green, yellow and red. It was a day of joyous celebration. It was a day of pride. It was a day of triumph. It was a day unlike any other in the history of Dulles Airport. In the history of Ethiopians in America. No dignitary of any country, no rock superstar, no one but no one, had ever received such a massive reception in the history of that airport, so said the airport policeman on security detail. They were baffled. They had never seen so many people at the terminal waiting to receive passengers. Never!
A burly police officer asked me, “Who are the people waiting for? Some kind of African kings?”
I chuckled. “No, they are no kings,” I said. “They are the truly elected leaders of Ethiopia.”
“What is it? All of you guys haven’t seen’em for a while or something?” he followed up.
“No, we haven’t. They have been in jail for the last two years,” I explained.
“Didn’t you just tell me they were some kinda elected leaders. Why were they in jail,” he asked logically.
“Because democracy is a crime in Ethiopia,” I replied. “If you win elections fair and square, you go to jail,” I warned him.
“Man, that’s really messed up!” he said as he turned around to attend to his security duties.
He really has a point. It really is messed up!
I wish they were there too. You know who “they” are. They were probably there. Skulking behind doorways and support beams. Stealing a glance here and there. I wish they could come out in the crowd and feel how it feels to be loved by the people. How it feels to be respected. How it feels to be honored. I wish they were there to see and feel the power of popular love, the respect and admiration of ordinary citizens — raw, uncensored and irrepressible.
There was electricity in the air. Ethiopians — younger ones, older ones, of all backgrounds, together in one place — waiting anxiously for their heroes and their heroine. Men and women screaming in joy. Sitting. Standing. Walking. Talking, Singing. Taking pictures. saw a young man who stood alone in the corner sobbing by himself as he clutched the Ethiopian flag close to his heart. I felt I should try and comfort him. “Steady, man. Steady. (Ay zoh, berta.) Get a hold of yourself,” I said, to distract him. “But I am trying,” he answered. “I am really trying. I just can’t stop my tears.” I knew exactly how he felt. I left him alone.
We waited anxiously and the minutes lapsed with hopeful anticipation. And people kept on pouring into the terminal. I was so proud. The crowd was disciplined, very well behaved. People followed the instructions of the police officers who were a bit nervous at the beginning facing such a huge crowed. I chatted with the cops, and they were very accommodating. Mostly, they observed from a distance with studied curiosity.
I spotted an elderly lady in the crowd. I did not know her, but decided to congratulate her anyhow. “Emama, enkwan des a lot (Mother, congratulations). “Well, my son. There is no end to the miracle to God’s work. They are here today,” she said. Indeed, they are here today by the grace of God, I thought to myself.
As passengers trickled out from the rear of the terminal, people in the crowd would crane their neck to see if THEY were coming out. (Wetu, wetu!) Some would break out in spontaneous applause, but THEY were not to be seen. The anticipation was building up, and people were besides themselves by the minute, by the second.
A reception line was formed at the passenger exit door. And we waited somewhat nervously. There were six children holding flowers for our honored guests. I started a little conversation with them. “So, how do you feel,” I asked. “I am happy. I am excited,” replied a little girl. “But why are you happy and exited,” I followed up. “Because we love them,” she said. That was good enough for me. No further questions.
As I stood in the reception line and looked into the countless hopeful eyes in the crowd, I thought about the day. “What a glorious day the Lord has made!”, I thought to myself. I was overjoyed. A lot of things were racing through my mind. I tried to read the mood of the huge crowd, in a sort of detached way. But I couldn’t. The atmosphere was too electrifying. People hugging, kissing, embracing, singing and congratulating each other, unstoppably.
I felt like I was at huge family reunion. And there were the relatives I knew, and a whole boatload of distant cousins, and relatives and neighbors and their uncles and grandmothers I did not know. But they had all showed up for the reunion. It did not matter.
Then I thought of all the people in the crowd. I asked myself how many of them knew these leaders. I have never met them any one of them before, at least in person. But I did know them. Really. I knew them through the story of their suffering. I spoke to them while they sat in the Zenawi’s dingy Kality prison. Oh, yes, I knew them as I followed their story in Kangaroo court. I knew them when they faced bogus criminal charges brought against them by a bogus prosecutor in front of bogus judges. No doubt about it, I knew them well. We just hadn’t met in person.
And in minutes we were about to meet. I thought to myself how I would feel when I first see the faces of TRUTH. And courage. And valor. And defiance. And fortitude. I thought about how it would feel to stand by the side of real heroes and a heroine. Just how does it feel?
Then I had a flashback to May, 2005. I wondered, if democracy had not been stillborn in May, 2005, would I have been at standing at Dulles Airport to receive them? Would any of us? If the people’s voice had not been stolen then, where would Ethiopia be today?” Such fleeting thoughts criss-crossed my mind.
But I was overtaken by a mood of sullenness for just a moment. I thought about the 193 innocent men, women and children that were mowed down like grass by Zenawi’s security men in 2005. The photos of their mangled faces, their bullet-riddled bodies, the sun baked blood on the dirt, all of it, flashed hauntingly before my eyes. I will admit it, my eyes welled up in tears.
I wondered what may happened to the thousands that were shot, but lived through the grace of God. The thousands more that were imprisoned, and continue to be imprisoned. And the millions of dollars that were being spent for a bogus Millennium at a time when people could not afford to buy a kilogram of beef or berbere or sugar. I even thought about Marie Antoinette who, upon being told the peasants did not have bread to eat, muttered, “Then let them eat cake.” I suppose, those who have organized the Millennium party would be saying, “If they can’t eat chicken or beef or mutton or berbere, let them eat grass or something.” We’ve got a party to attend!
A sudden burst of applause and ululation jolted me out of my “blues”, and as I looked up I could see the smiling face of Birtukan standing tall and elegant in a grey striped suit flashing a broad smile. For a moment, just for a moment, I wondered if Birtukan had just stepped off a plane or the centerfold in Vogue Magazine. There she stood beaming a smile at the crowd. The crowd went wild. Engineer Gizachew, Dr. Hailu and Ato Brook followed as the flower girls handed them their bouquets. And suddenly Dr.Berhanu joined in from the crowd as people chanted his name. It was a free for all after that. Everybody wanted to kiss them, hug them, embrace them. Touch them. You had to be there to feel it!
They took it all in stride. They were happy, but I think they had the surprise of their lives. I doubt they could have imagined such a huge crowd, such an outpouring of love, respect and honor waiting for them. In America. At Dulles Airport.
But the crowd would not leave them alone. They followed them outside the terminal. They sang for them. They assembled in the parking lot. They sang some more. They followed them on the highways, miles and miles of cars lined up in two lanes. Young people flashing the “V” sign as they sped down the highway, calling out their names and thanking them. “We love you Birtukan. Thanks Bre. Thanks, Dr. Hailu, Eng. Gizachew, Ato Brook. They followed them to the Washington Mall. And to the Mayflower Hotel. They just couldn’t get enough of them. I am sure by the end of the day “their cups must have runneth over.”
As we headed down the highway to the hotel, we started chatting. I felt like I had known them for a long time. They were people of humility. So soft spoken. So thoughtful. And what a sense of humor they have!
They were amazing. They showed no bitterness towards those who had caused them so much misery for the past two years. Not a harsh word against their tormentors. As we continued to talk, I began to sense what kind of people they were: ordinary people with extraordinary courage. Simple people with a big message. Common people with uncommon valor. Unpretentious people with rock-solid principles.
I joked with them. I asked them if they were surprised by the enormous turnout of Ethiopians at the airport. They said they had no idea that so many people would come out to receive them this early on a Sunday morning. Perhaps they felt they had caused people inconvenience by arriving so early. But I was quick to reply, “Well, if you could sleep on the dirt floor of Kality prison for two years, wake up and come to America to see us, we’d be damned if we could not get out of our comfortable beds on a glorious Sunday morning and say, “Welcome friends and thank you for everything!” We laughed, but that was the truth.
But thank them we must, Again and again. As they travel this great land to visit with us. We must thank them for suffering the indignities in Kality prison with grace. For sitting in Kangaroo court month after month and listening to perjurers and liars. For never getting down into the sewers to argue their cause with those who make a living there. For maintaining their honor and dignity against those who have neither. For their sacrifices — the love of their families, their professions, their friends– in the cause of freedom, democracy and human rights. For saying “NO!” to tyranny, and “YES” to democracy. For not selling out for thirty pieces of silver. For not copping out. For maintaining their sense of humor when the jerks jerk them around. For showing grace under fire. For sacrificing their freedom, and putting everything on the line, so that their countrymen and women can be free. And for maintaining a cheerful attitude about the whole thing.
So Birtukan, Berhanu, Gizachew, Hailu, Brook, Welcome to America. The land of the free and home of the brave. Breath the fresh air of liberty. Renew your spirit while you are with US, for America nurtures all who yearn to breath free. Feel at home here in America, for you can not feel home, at home.
What a glorious day! What a historic day!
Remember, Remember the 9th of September!
Wednesday, September 05, 2007
Dinkenesh (Lucy) in Houston with Diamonds?
We call her Dinkenesh. They call her “Lucy”. But what’s in a name? “A rose by any other name would smell as sweet,” said Shakespeare. But Lucy is one of a kind. She is unlike any other hominid fossil ever found. She is the most complete hominid skeleton of the Pliocene Epoch [1.8-5.3 million years ago]. And she is in terrible danger in Houston, if you believe the foremost paleontologists in the world.
But what in the world is she doing in Houston, Texas?
Officials of the ruling regime “made no bones” about Lucy’s reasons for coming to America. (No pun intended.) National Public Radio quoting these officials reported that Old Lucy is in America to squeeze a few bucks out of American pockets for the folks back home, and snag some tourists: “Officials there [Addis Ababa] have said there are two reasons for sending Lucy on an American tour. The first is to raise the profile of Ethiopia and attract international tourists. The second reason is to raise money for the impoverished African country.”
The Houston Museum has dubbed the exhibition “Lucy’s Legacy: The Hidden Treasures of Ethiopia”. It is not an accurate caption. A more appropriate caption would have been: “Lucy’s Legacy: Hidden Deals Over the Treasures of Ethiopia”. Everything about the deal that brought Lucy to Houston remains hidden, from public view. Like the pirates of old, only Houston Museum and regime officials know the value of the treasures and where they are hidden. If you think they will share the loot, abandon all hope, now.
The negotiations to sneak Lucy into America were done in classic cloak-and-dagger style, with scheming museum officials strutting in the foreground, and nameless and faceless “Ethiopian government officials” skulking in the background. The details of the financial arrangements around Lucy are shrouded in more secrecy than the Holy Mysteries. Mum is the word for both Houston Museum and regime officials. They are sticking by the old Code of Silence. Just like in the Godfather movies. Except Don Corleone’s boys from Sicily call it Omerta. Houston calls it “confidential”. It’s all the same, ain’t nobody talking!
Get a load of this! Few in Ethiopia knew Lucy was splitting town. There was no official public announcement, discussion or information on her U.S. trip. She was whisked away stealthily under cover of darkness. The usual M.O. (modus operandi), snatched in the middle of the night. That’s what the reports said. MSNBC quoted a young lawyer in Addis who was thunderstruck at the news that Lucy has been spirited to America for 6 years, as a guest worker. He was appalled: “This is a national treasure. How come the [Ethiopian] public has no inkling about this? It’s amazing that we didn’t even get to say goodbye.” He is going to be dumbstruck when he finds out what kind of work Lucy will be doing for the next 6 years.
The whole deal is disgusting. I’d like to say, “Houston, we’ve got a problem!” Just like Apollo 13 said when its oxygen tank exploded en route to the Moon. I’d like to add, “Houston, your attitude about the Lucy affair stinks!”
“Lucy’s Legacy” or no, Professor Richard Leaky, the famed African paleoanthro- pologist, is pissed off and hopping mad about the whole deal that delivered Lucy to the grubby hands of Houston Museum curators. He does not disagree that Lucy was brought to America to make money. He just objects to the fact that she is being used to make money like a prostitute makes money for her pimp. An irate Leakey protested in the international media that the Mother of All Humanity was being forced into white slavery: “Dispatching of the Lucy skeleton on a six-year-tour of the United States is akin to prostituting the fragile, 3.2 million year-old fossil. It's a form of prostitution, its gross exploitation of the ancestors of humanity and it should not be permitted,” fumed Leakey.
How tragically ironic! The world’s oldest woman working in the world’s oldest profession! What a low-down crying shame!
But if Leaky is right about his prostitution accusation, then we would have to put out an APB (all points bulletin) for her pimps. We’ve got to nab the “Superfly” in this prostitution racket? Track down Lucy’s Iceberg Slim. If Leaky is right, we’d have to wonder if the Houston Museum is a cultural center or a brothel.
But the outrage expressed over this “fossilxploitation” is not limited to Leaky. A large number of the world’s leading paleontologists and many of the top-tier American museums have also blasted the “Legacy Tour”. They share Leakey’s concern that “these specimens will get damaged no matter how careful you are and every time she is moved there is a risk. The point is what is the benefit of taking one of the most iconic examples of the human story from Africa to parade it around in second-level museums in the United States?”
The Smithsonian Institution has declined to exhibit Lucy, and publicly condemned the underhanded vulgarity of the secret deal that brought Lucy out of Ethiopia. The American Museum of Natural History in New York has also declined. So has the Cleveland Museum of Natural History, Lucy’s first home. The Field Museum in Chicago, aware of the international condemnation, has expressed deep reservations about exhibiting Lucy.
Rick Potts, one of the foremost researchers on East African fossils and director of the Human Origins Program at the Smithsonian pointed an accusatory finger at the Houston Museum and the Ethiopian “government” for flagrantly disregarding a 1988 Resolution passed by the UNESCO-affiliated International Association for the Study of Human Paleontology. In that Resolution, Ethiopia agreed not to move fossils outside of its territory, and display replicas only in public exhibitions. Rick is missing the point. Outlaws don’t give a damn about international agreements or law.
Prof. Bernard Wood of George Washington University, who has extensive experience working with fossils, says it is irresponsible to rent out the “extremely fragile” fossil: “If Lucy is removed from a box and then put on display, and put back in a box and then put on display again, as sure as night follows day, it will be damaged. It's not something that might happen. It's something that most certainly will happen.” If Wood is right, it’s time to say “So long, Lucy. It’s been nice knowing you, almost.”
Perhaps few can speak on Lucy more authoritatively than Yohannes Haile Selassie, anthropology curator at the Cleveland Museum of Natural History: "There is a lot of damage you can't see with the naked eyes, caused just by touching her and handling her. I'm just sitting and praying that she comes back safe." Amen! That kind of damage is not difficult to imagine. If you pack and unpack her dozens of times as she is shuttled between bush-league museums for six years, it is not rocket science to figure out that her brittle bones could be damaged beyond repair. Haile Selassie knows what he talking about. After all, it was the Cleveland team that studied Lucy for 6 years back in 1974 and put her together.
But Joel Bartsch, the president of the “second-level” Houston Museum of Natural Science, says phooey to the outcry in the scientific community. He does not give a hoot about the concerns of scientists who have spent their entire professional lives excavating, analyzing, restoring and curating such fossils. He says: “The fossil [Lucy] was examined by a group of curators who pronounced her hardy and robust, he says. Is she rare? Is she unique? Is she important to all mankind? Absolutely. But she's not too fragile to travel.”
Bartsch attitude is that Lucy has been stuck in the mud for the last 3.2 million years. She needs to get out and get around.
Dirk Van Tuerenhout, one of Bartsch’s lieutenants says: “If you are able to showcase an original fossil, then you have a story, then you have a point of attraction that will bring in the most number of people, and then you can tell them that story.”
Nonsense! Whatever story you can tell with the real fossil, you can tell the replica. It’s not like Lucy can talk and tell us how her life has been for the past 3.2. million years. Her replica will do just fine. Of course, you won’t be able to snag $20 a pop if you use the replica. What can I say? That’s the way the world’s oldest profession is practiced in Houston, I reckon.
World’s Oldest “Hardy and Robust” Woman Forced to Work in the World’s Oldest Profession for Six Years?
According to reports, Lucy has been viewed by the Ethiopian public only twice since her discovery in 1974. A replica is said to be on display at the Ethiopian Natural History Museum in Addis Ababa. For the last 34 years, she was kept away from public view in a climate-controlled vault. “Too fragile”, they said, for those big prying Ethiopian eyes. May be they were afraid she will be seen by the “evil eye” (buda).
Now Lucy is unchained from her vault to satisfy the scientific and cultural curiosities of “good ole” Houstonians.
But Leaky and his colleagues say, “scientific and cultural curiosities, my foot!” Her ladyship has been shanghaied into indentured servitude for prostitution for 6 years. Just get a load of that!
Is the Houston Museum pimping Lucy, or using her to tell a “story” as Bartsch and Van Tuerenhout claim? The Houston duo’s story about retailing Lucy is as audacious as it is knavish. It is not unlike the rap a pimp would lay on his lady to get her to go out into the street and ply her trade. “You are strong and tough, baby. You can handle it. There ain’t nobody like you. You are the only one I care about. Now, go out and bring me my money!” Bartsch, Van Tuerenhout and Iceberg Slim, they are all the same!
So, Old Lucy will be turning $20 “tricks” for the Houston Museum and all of the other third-rate wannbe museums for the next six years. Like the gaudy prostitute in the red light district beckoning her customers to come in, Lucy’s fossilized remains will be splattered all over the billboards by the side of Texas highways. She will beckon “all them Texan cowboys and cowgirls to come to the museum for a little bit o’ culture and learnin’”, for $20 a pop, that is. Yeah, Houston patricians will be squeezed for few more bucks to support this “once-in-human-history” event. Everybody will make beaucoup bucks. There will be NO ACCOUNTABILITY for the money collected on Lucy’s skin, or more appropriately, her fossilized bones. What a sweet deal! What a low-down dirty shame!
Could Lucy be in America on a Secret Mission?
According to National Public Radio, one of the two reasons for Lucy’s trip to America is “to raise the profile of Ethiopia and attract international tourists.” Perhaps Old Lucy is here on a special secret mission, code named: “Raise the Profile: Mission Distraction!”
Naturally, she’d make for a perfect foil. She does not have to say anything, just look pretty while her handlers adorn her showcased fossil with “over 100 artifacts such as ancient manuscripts and royal artifacts” dating back to the “biblical King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba”. And museum spin doctors will yak about Ethiopia “as the origin of mankind… the cradle of civilization… the birthplace of coffee…the resting place of the Ark of the Covenant…the first Christian African nation in the 4th century A.D…” Blah, blah, blah!
Stop! Why is it necessary to “raise the profile of Ethiopia and attract international tourists” now? Would it have anything to do with the recent conclusions of the U.S. State Department?
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.
Well, if the aim is to “put a spotlight on Ethiopia as the cradle of civilization,” as the Houston Museum claimed, and spruce up the regime’s image along the way, I am afraid there are just too many blood spots on that image for Lucy’s skirt to cover. Nothing can overwrite the indelible facts of gross human rights abuses seared into the consciences of all freedom-loving people. Please, don’t insult the intelligence of the American people. No amount of hoopla around Lucy’s “diminutive bag of bones” can beguile the American tourist into visiting Orwellian (Zenawian) Ethiopia.
Is Dinkenesh’s (Lucy’s) Story an Allegory of “Modern” Ethiopia?
So, what is the lesson to be learned from the sordid Lucy deal? Sell the most priceless fossil of the human origin for the best offer! Rent out Lucy to an escort service? Everything has a price on it, just bring me the money!
Some say this is the standard way of doing business in Ethiopia today. Everything is for sale. Sell me your honor, and I will give you a scrap of land. Bow before me, and I will give you an office and title. Incriminate your neighbor, I will let you go free. Everybody has a price; you just have to find out the right price point. It all sounds so Mephistophelian: “Give me your soul in exchange for riches and power.”
Well, there are some things that money just can’t buy, such as rare, priceless and irreplaceable objects -- Dinkenesh (Lucy) of Ethiopia. There are other simple things that you can’t buy either, for any amount of money. One is Love of Country. It comes bundled with such things as pride in your cultural heritage and the sacrifices of your ancestors, uncompromising allegiance to individual liberty, tenacious commitment to truth, compassion for the poor and downtrodden, self-dignity, honor and courage in the face of overwhelming odds, and most of all, enduring faith in the Almighty.
But without Love of Country, everything is up for sale, just like the prostitute your soul, honor, dignity, heritage, country…. Everything! So, where can one buy this “Love of Country”? Like I said, you don’t. You’ve got to be born with it. Either you got it, or you ain’t. But how do you know when you ain’t got it? For starters, if you start prostituting your cultural heritage, you know you ain’t got it!
Can Lucy be Rescued From White Slavery? Can we save Lucy from white slavery? I don’t know, but we can try a few things. First, we must speak out and plead her cause before the American people, every chance we get. In the newspapers. On TV. On radio. We need to have chats with those Houston Museum patrons. We’ve got to tell them what’s happening to Lucy. Give them a flyer to take home. Ask them to help you send Lucy home. Like Speilberg’s E.T., Lucy has got to go home!
We must inform American policy makers -- federal, state, local-- that Lucy has been smuggled into America for an illicit purpose by panderers, and demand that she be returned back to her country, pronto. We’ve got to tell them what Prof. Leakey, Dr. Haile Selassie and all of the other scientists have said. They will understand.
But it is not enough to condemn the pimps and argue Lucy’s cause in the court of American public opinion. We must also praise and thank those scientists who exposed the truth about the secret deal that now threatens Lucy, and the museums that refused to join the prostitution ring. A special debt of gratitude should go to Prof. Richard Leakey, State University of New York at Stony Brook, Prof. Bernard Wood of George Washington University, Dr. Rick Potts of the Smithsonian Institution, and many others scientists. We should express our special appreciation and thanks to the Smithsonian Institution, the American Museum of Natural History in New York, the Cleveland Museum of Natural History and all of the other museums that have declined to be part of the this sleazy museum escort service.
But there is more to be done. We should register our profound disappointment and disapproval of the actions of those corporations and institutions in Houston that funded this disgraceful enterprise: The Smith Foundation, METRORail, British Petroleum, The Hamill Foundation, the Albert and Ethel Herzstein Charitable Foundation and Texas Monthly. They need to be told that they did the wrong thing by bankrolling the deal that brought Lucy to Houston. Now, they should now do the right thing and get Lucy back home, ASAP.
I have heard Ethiopians in Houston are planning to boycott the exhibit. Ain’t it great to live in a country where you have a constitutional right to boycott whatever you want. There is a lesson Lucy can take home for the folks, in six years. That is if she can “hang in there” (no pun intended) that long!
I Love Lucy, But I Don’t Like Her Pimps
There is ample evidence to support Prof. Leakey’s “fossil prostitution” accusations. Both Houston Museum and Ethiopian officials have confirmed Lucy is here to make a few bucks. All the other cultural stuff is just fluff around her “employment contract”.
But pimping fossils should be a concern not only to Ethiopians, but also Americans and all peoples of the world. Fossils are part of the world culture heritage. That is why they are protected by international law: The 1972 Convention Concerning the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage , and the 2003 Convention for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage. These Conventions were designed to prevent endangerment and impoverishment of world cultural heritage through illicit import, export and transfer of ownership. Ethiopia has ratified both conventions. But neither the Houston Museum nor regime officials seem to care much for international law. Big surprise there!
The Houston deal really sets a bad precedent. Now, other countries with priceless fossil collections can use the Houston example to engage a little bit of “prostitution” themselves. They will likely argue, “Ethiopia cut a deal with the Houston Museum, why can’t we do the same with Po Dunk Museum on the left bank of the Rio Grande? What’s good for Ethiopia is good for us too. Now, hurry up! Show me the money, and you can have whatever bone collection you want.” It’s all downhill from there.
So, what’s next for Lucy, Joel Bartsch? Dirk Van Tuerenhout? How about “The Lucy Fossil Freak Show,” in Barnum and Bailey’s “Greatest Show on Earth”? May be Lucy can join up with other snake oil salesmen and travel the back country in a wagon trail. Hey, can you “hook” her up at the Grand Ole Opry for a one night stand with an Elvis look-alike. (No pun intended.) America is a land of opportunity; and the possibilities are endless in the world’s oldest profession.
But Why Do We Love Lucy?
We love Lucy because she gives us a chance to talk about Ethiopia not as a land of famine, pestilence, poverty, HIV infections, political prisoners, human rights abuses and brutal dictators, but as the place where humankind could have originated. She gives us a chance to brag a little bit about the homeland. We can hold our heads up high and engage our friends in good conversation about human origins. May be chat about “baby Lucy” (the 3.3-million-year-old fossilized remains of a human-like child unearthed in the same region in 2000), and the trailblazing work of Cleveland Museum’s Dr. Haile Selassie, and paleoanthropologist Dr. Zeresenay Alemseged at the world renowned Max Plank Institute . Yes, Lucy could offer a welcome distraction from all of the gloom and doom that envelopes Ethiopia today. But for God’s sake, keep her home and send her replica on tour.
Lucy is fundamentally about what it means to be human, and preserving the fossil records of the origins of humanity. That’s the reason for the massive outcry from the scientific community. But a fossil does not a human make. There is another deafening outcry for humans in Ethiopia today. It is an outcry for human rights. It is an outcry for official accountability. It is an outcry for democracy and freedom. After all, it would not make much sense to worry about human origins 3.2 million years ago if we are not concerned about human rights today!
“I Love Lucy. Let’s pitch in and get her a plane ticket home.”
“Help pass H.R. 2003 “Ethiopia Freedom and Accountability Act of 2007.”
August 22, 2007
Mr. Gary Klein, Esq.
Federal Affairs and Legislative
1200 Nineteenth Street, NW
Washington, DC 20036-2412
BY E-MAIL AND FAX
Dear Mr. Klein:
I write this letter to challenge recent statements that you have personally made in a radio interview, and other statements made by your firm on behalf of your client the “Government of Ethiopia”. In these statements you and your firm make certain factual assertions about political conditions in Ethiopia, and inaccurately characterize the legislative intent of H.R. 2003 (“Ethiopia Democracy and Accountability Act of 2007”. I believe a number of statements that you and your firm have made concerning political conditions in Ethiopia and H.R. 2003 are grossly inaccurate; and other statements reflect a reckless disregard for the truth. I am a member of the Coalition for H.R. 2003, eponymously named after the bill. (See http://www.hr5680.org/)
Your Interview on Deutsche Welle
In your Deutsche Welle (German Radio Amharic program) interview on August 14, 2007, you made the following assertions, among others: There are no political prisoners in Ethiopia today, or at any time following the 2005 election. No one in Ethiopia has been jailed because of his/her political views or stand. The recently freed opposition political leaders were jailed because of their criminal role in the post-2005 election-related violence. The reports of human rights abuses by international human rights organizations are mere allegations without factual foundation. The current ruling regime (your client) allows full and unrestricted exercise of basic freedoms including free speech, free press and free electoral participation in Ethiopia. H.R. 2003 is fundamentally inimical to democratic progress in Ethiopia. You interview comments reflect your Firm’s stated positions.
Statements Made by Your Firm on Behalf of Your Client, and Against H.R. 2003
I. H.R. 2003 “Threatens U.S. National Security Interests”
You have asserted that H.R. 2003 “threatens U.S. national interests” and therefore should not be enacted because it 1) “compromises the national security interests of the United States” by vitiating the partnership “with a vital ally of the United States in the fight against terrorism and efforts to promote regional stability in the Horn of Africa and the regional military task force”, 2) undermines the strategic cooperation between Ethiopia and the United States “by cutting off critical security assistance to Ethiopia unless the President makes a complex 11-part certification, 3) imposes a “a sanction on all forms of security assistance other than peacekeeping and counter-terrorism,” and further makes “impractical require[ments] that peacekeeping or counter-terrorism assistance not be used for any other security-related purpose”, and 4) limits one of the central purposes of U.S. security assistance which is to “influence the development of military institutions and their role in democratic societies” and “equip military leaders with the professional development required to lead and maintain effective military forces under democratic civilian control, while enhancing their capacity to respond quickly and effectively to humanitarian crises on the continent.”
This multipart argument misrepresents and mischaracterizes the plain language and legislative intent of H.R. 2003, and shows utter disregard for human rights as one of the indispensable pillars of U.S. foreign policy.
First, I challenge your claim that H.R. 2003 undermines the strategic cooperation between Ethiopia and the United States “by cutting off critical security assistance to Ethiopia unless the President makes a complex 11-part certification.” What exactly are the elements of this “certification” to which you strenuously object on behalf of your client?
Sec. 6, (a) (3) (A-K) of H.R. 2003 enumerates the specific certification conditions your client must meet before the suspension provisions of the bill are triggered. These terms are not ironclad, but are based on an ongoing and flexible evaluation of whether your client is making credible and quantifiable efforts under the bill to ensure that (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, Etenesh Yemam, and Kaliti prisoners are punished; (E) family members, legal counsel, and others have unfettered access 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) access in Ethiopia is provided to the Internet 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 guarantees independence for the NEB in its decision-making; (J) representatives of international human rights organizations engaged in human rights monitoring work in Ethiopia are admitted to Ethiopia without undue restriction; and (K) Ethiopian human rights organizations are able to operate in an environment free of harassment, intimidation, and persecution.
These certification standards are reasonably flexible under sec. 4 (A) (ii), which grants the U.S. President full authority to waive application of the law if he “determines that… the Government of Ethiopia has met the requirements [A-K] of paragraph (3); and…such a waiver is in the national interests of the United States.”
Is the certification issue really as onerous (“complex’) as you allege it to be?
As you know, presidential certification is a very common practice and requirement in the administration of not only U.S. foreign aid and defense policy, but also international counter-terrorism and -narcotics control policy. The certification process required by Congress in H.R. 2003 is not rigid and unyielding.
The President has various certification options for Ethiopia under the bill: full certification, denial of certification, or a "vital national interests" certification. He may choose to “fully” certify Ethiopia should he determine that the regime in power has fully met the certification requirements, or has taken adequate steps to achieve full compliance with the goals and objectives of H.R. 2003. If so, no aid will be withheld. He may choose to deny certification if the regime makes no or inadequate progress in meeting the statutory objectives, triggering the suspension of aid. He may also make “partial certification” under certain circumstances which would allow your client more time for compliance. But most importantly, even if your client fails to meet the standards for full certification, the President may nevertheless issue certification by determining that it is in the U.S. “vital national interest” to do so, which will allow uninterrupted delivery of aid to your client as though it had been given full certification.
As you know, regardless of the certification provisions of H.R. 2003, the U.S. 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).
The certification requirements of H.R. 2003 are not only consistent with U.S. international human rights obligations, they also complement existing federal law. 22 U.S.C. 2304 provides:
The United States shall, in accordance with its international obligations as set forth in the Charter of the United Nations and in keeping with the constitutional heritage and traditions of the United States, promote and encourage increased respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms throughout the world… (2) Except under circum-stances specified in this section, no security assistance may be provided to any country the government of which engages in a consistent pattern of gross violations of internationally recognized human rights.” (Emphasis added.)
To be sure, the certification requirements of H.R. 2003 are fully consistent with Section 502B of the Foreign Assistance Act (1976, as amended) which underscores the essential nature of human rights in U.S. foreign policy by requiring the secretary of state 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 information on specific areas such as: torture, arbitrary arrest, denial of fair trial and invasion of the home, extra-judicial killings or "arbitrary and unlawful deprivation of life, freedom of speech, press, religion and assembly, and freedom of movement and ability to participate in the political process. This section imposes restrictions on U.S. assistance to foreign governments that violate internationally recognized human rights. The certification provisions are necessary because of your client’s extremely poor human rights record over the past decade and half.
I challenge your claim that H.R. 2003 imposes “a sanction on all forms of security assistance other than peacekeeping and counter-terrorism,” and further makes “impractical require[ments] that peacekeeping or counter-terrorism assistance not be used for any other security-related purpose”, while undermining the professionalization of the military in Ethiopia. Indeed, this claim is inconsistent with existing federal law.
Limitations on use of U.S. military aid to suppress internal opposition is quite common. In fact, Sec. 6 (A) (1) (a) (Limitation on Security Assistance) of H.R. 2003 restates a fundamental aspect of the Leahy Amendments to the Foreign Operations Appropriations Act (2001), which provide human rights-based controls on military assistance to recipient countries:
None of the funds made available by this Act may be provided to any unit of the security forces of a foreign country if the Secretary of State has credible evidence that such unit has committed gross violations of human rights, unless the Secretary determines and reports to the Committees on Appropriations that the government of such country is taking effective measures to bring the responsible members of the security forces unit to justice. (Emphasis added.)
The complementary language to the Leahy Amendments in H.R. 2003 provides, under Sec. 6 (a) (1) (B), that security assistance provided to Ethiopia “shall not be used for any other security-related purpose or to provide training to security personnel or units accused of human rights violations against civilians.” (Emphasis added.)
Manifestly, the “limiting” language in H.R. 2003 is in conformity with existing federal law. It does not invent hitherto unknown limitations or restrictions to be imposed on Ethiopia. (See also 22 U.S.C. 2304, supra.) Nonetheless, under both the Leahy Amendments and H.R. 2003 (Sec. 4 (A) (i), (ii)), there are adequate waiver provisions to mitigate the effects of the law in the discretion of the U.S. President.
I could not disagree with you more in your contention that H.R. 2003, a human rights bill, is harmful to American national interests. The pursuit of human rights as part of American foreign policy can NEVER threaten U.S. national security interests. Indeed, the centrality of human rights in American foreign policy is described in unambiguous language by the U.S. State Department Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor as follows :
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.
President Carter, whose eponymous Center’s findings you have cited as authority to legitimize the victory of your client’s party in the 2005 elections, in his augural speech stated:
“The world itself is now dominated by a new spirit. Peoples more numerous and more politically aware are craving and now demanding their place in the sun -- not just for the benefit of their own physical condition, but for basic human rights.” Today, Ethiopia “itself is dominated by a new spirit” of democracy, and its people yearn for “basic human rights.”
Enforcement of human rights anywhere in the world can never be a threat to
American national interests!
While you may believe limitation on use of American security assistance can cause your client inconvenience and hardship (or “impractical requirements”), it is in the “vital interest” of the United States not to allow American weapons and military aid to be used to kill, maim, and suppress civilian populations in aid recipient countries. Such legislative restrictions are employed to deny dictators in recipient countries the military means to suppress peaceful dissent and opposition, and perpetuate wars and violence against their civilian population.
In light of the foregoing, your categorical claim in support of your client that H.R. 2003, a human rights bill, “threatens U.S. national security interests” is grossly inaccurate and unsupported by facts.
II. H.R. 2003 “Overlooks Progress Toward Democracy and Reconciliation”
You have asserted that H.R. 2003 “overlooks” the “immense progress made in Ethiopia since the May 2005 elections in creating a competitive, pluralistic democratic system of government.”
In support of this purported inexorable march towards democracy, you have enumerated the following propositions with supporting authorities: 1) The U.S. Department of State has made findings that “[t]hese elections  stand out as a milestone in creating a new, more competitive multiparty political system in one of Africa’s largest and most important countries.” 2) The Carter Center has concluded “the majority of the constituency results based on the May 15 polling and tabulation are credible and reflect competitive conditions.” 3) Former World Bank President Paul Wolfowitz’s has observed that the Bank will resume aid to Ethiopia because “there is more reason to feel confident that people are learning the right lessons from the experiences of last year…” 4) That despite calls to boycott Parliament following the 2005 elections, “eighty-seven percent (150 out of 172) of the elected opposition representatives have joined the Parliament.” You have further concluded that “the post election difficulties were largely caused by the decision of certain opposition parties (the “CUD”) to reject legal means, including the judicial process, to challenge the election results and instead take to the streets”.
I find your claims about “progress towards democracy and reconciliation” in Ethiopia quite incredible; and your citation of U.S. State Department human rights findings in support of this claim is artful and disingenuous.
First, you need to be aware that your client does not share your confidence in any U.S. State Department findings. In an interview he gave to Andrew Simmons (“Talk to Al-Jazeera”, March 24, 2007”), Zenawi, commenting on critical State Department assessments on “progress towards” democracy in Ethiopia and wide-ranging abuses of human rights, stated:
“That’s not the case… [denying human rights violations]. I have not read [the 2007 State Department Human Rights Report] it, but I know having read the department of state reports on human rights for over a decade now that they do tend to get things wrong, that what they write is not always the last word in the Bible.”
It appears your contentions based on the State Department’s reports are at odds with the publicly stated position of you client.
Second, in criticizing H.R. 2003 for “overlooking” progress towards democracy and reconciliation, you did a little bit of your own “overlooking” by failing to disclose the full extent of the State Department findings and conclusions on the human rights record of your client in the latest reporting period. In summary, the State Department has concluded:
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.
Third, contrary to your claims of “progress towards democracy”, the details of your client’s human rights record over the past two years as documented by the U.S. State Department are reminiscent of the totalitarianism of the bygone Communist Era. The facts in your client’s human rights record are shocking to the conscience. Here is a sampling :
On torture, infliction of cruel, inhuman, degrading treatment/punishment:
Although 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 trial:
While 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 Association
Although 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).
I will limit my review of the facts on “the immense progress towards democracy” to the findings of the U.S. State Department Reports, since you have cited it as your principal authority in support of your claim. But the findings I have enumerated above are extensively corroborated and documented by Amnesty International , Human Rights Watch , The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders , among others.
In your radio interview, you stated that you “have no knowledge whatsoever” about the situation of journalists in Ethiopia. Perhaps, I can help.
On May 2, 2007, the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), the independent and prestigious free press organization in the world, identified Ethiopia as the leader of its “Dishonor Roll” among the places worldwide where press freedom has deteriorated the most over the last five years. The report stated: “In [Ethiopia] 2006 alone, authorities ban[ned] eight newspapers, expel[led] two foreign reporters, and block[ed] critical Web sites. Key fact: Only a handful of private newspapers now publish, all under intense self-censorship.”
You may find useful a report in the Washington Post on August 21, 2007, which details the harrowing experiences of Ethiopian journalists who were cleared of all changes and released this past Spring after spending two years in prison:
In lengthy interviews here in the Kenyan capital, the journalists also described being subjected to psychological torture during their confinement with other political prisoners in a stifling cell on the outskirts of the Ethiopian capital. They said that after their release they had had high hopes of starting a new life, but government agents almost immediately began hounding them, harassing them with phone calls and otherwise terrorizing them into fleeing their country for Kenya.
However, if you really want to know about the situation of journalists in Ethiopia, I should be glad to arrange a meeting for you with any number of them living in exile in the U.S., including the former president of the Ethiopian Free Press Journalists Association. All of them will be more than glad to answer any questions you may have on censorship and the repression of independent journalists in Ethiopia.
Regarding your claim that “eighty-seven percent (150 out of 172) of the elected opposition representatives have joined the Parliament,” as supporting evidence of “progress towards democracy”, let me refer you to the resignation statement of parliamentarian Dr. Getachew Jigi Demeksa, Chairman of Oromo Parliamentary Group:
Under the circumstances my conscience could not allow me to continue to be a member of parliament when I cannot speak with and for the people who elected me and cannot spare them from the daily harassment, intimidation, repression, extra-judicial killing, torture and displacement. Hence I have chosen to desist myself from the EPRDF regime and its rubber-stamp parliament.
It is ironic that you should refer to former World Bank President Paul Wolfowitz as authority for improved political conditions and the spread of democracy in Ethiopia. Mr. Wolfowitz’s ascended to his position in the Bank as an anti-corruption advocate. Unfortunately, he could not resist the temptation to engage in a little bit of corruption himself, and was forced out over a scandal involving a large salary raise he authorized for his girlfriend. Suffice it to say that a man incapable of making obvious ethical judgments could hardly be relied upon as a source of sound and informed judgment on political conditions of a country that is itself in the throes of corruption, strife and instability.
III. H.R. 2003 “Impedes Further Democratic Progress”
You have argued that H.R. 2003 “impedes further democratic progress towards human rights, democracy, and economic freedom in Ethiopia and prohibit new and
ongoing democracy, human rights, trade promotion, and agriculture assistance programs.”
You have offered no facts to support this speculative contention. I disagree with your categorical assertions. I argue the opposite: Defeating H.R. 2003 will definitely “impede further democratic progress” in Ethiopia. I will concede that there is no single formula for advancing democracy or human rights in Ethiopia or anywhere else. But there are essential elements that must be present if there is to be an effectively functioning democracy in Ethiopia that places a premium on individual liberty and safeguards the exercise of basic human rights. Among the most important pre-requisites for “democratic progress” are such things as free, fair and competitive elections with a level playing field, good governance based on representative, transparent and accountable institutions and the rule of law, independent judicial and legislative bodies, robust and independent media institutions that operate without censorship and energetic civil society institutions that engage citizens and keep government honest. These are the values that H.R. 2003 (Sec. 6, (a) (3) (A-K)) seeks to promote in Ethiopia.
IV. H.R. 2003 “Presents a One-Sided View of the Facts”
You have argued that H.R. 2003 “presents a one-sided view of the facts and does not reflect careful, objective and impartial investigation.” Specifically, you have asserted that the “Findings” in the bill are based on “opposition claims and accusations more often than not are taken at face value.” You condemn the bill for “ignor[ing’] the “reconciliation process, led by a council of elders, that has been taking place for the last 18 months and that, most recently, led to the full pardon of 38 convicted opposition leaders.”
I challenge this assertion for its truthfulness. Let’s take a closer look at the legislative “Findings” of which you complain. Under Sec. 3 of H.R. 2003, 20 specific findings are made, beginning with an acknowledgement, as a first finding, of the suffering the Ethiopian people have undergone during the “brutal dictatorship and murderous regime of the military junta under Mengistu Haile Mariam.” In the second finding, the bill acknowledges the end of the “the brutal dictatorship of the Mengistu regime” in 1991 by your client’s political party, the Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF).
In the third and fourth findings, the bill commends your client’s party for instituting “a multiparty system and organiz[ing] regional and national elections”, applauds your client “for conducting the  elections in Ethiopia [that] were seen by observers to be transparent, competitive, and relatively free and fair, although there were a number of problems reported.”
In the fifth through seventh findings, the bill presents a balanced view on the claims and counter-claims of the ruling regime and opposition parties concerning the outcomes of the May, 2005 elections. In the eighth through the twentieth findings the bill documents facts concerning human rights abuses and violations in Ethiopia in the post-election period, including the fact that “The Department of State, in its 2005 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices, noted a myriad of human rights abuses by the Government of Ethiopia”, the killings of dozens of demonstrators and detention of thousands of people, arrest and imprisonment of “an estimated 112 political leaders, human rights activists, community leaders, and journalists, including the chairman of the CUD (Hailu Shawel), the newly elected Mayor of Addis Ababa (Berhanu Nega), and the founder of the Ethiopian Human Rights Council (Professor Mesfin Wolde Mariam), were imprisoned and charged with treason and genocide”, findings of the “11-member Commission of Inquiry to investigate the disorder and report to the House of People's Representatives in order to take the necessary measure, and other related findings.
In light of the foregoing findings, I am at a loss to understand your claim that “H.R. 2003 presents a one-sided view of the facts”. What is so “one-sided” about these legislative findings?
But while we are on the subject of “one-sided view of facts,” I would like to ask you a few questions: How many CUD leaders or members did you talk to in your frequent visits to Ethiopia? How many opposition independent journalists did you interview to find out the problems of censorship? How many “political prisoners” (using the phrase as used in the U.S. State Department Human Rights Report on Ethiopia) did you speak with in developing your facts? Did you bother to speak with members of the Ethiopian Human Rights Council (EHRCO)? Did you ever get a chance to hear the stories of torture victims during your visits to Ethiopia to consult with your client?
Regarding your claim that the work of a council of elders “led to the full pardon of 38 convicted opposition leaders”, I must point out again that your position is diametrically opposed to your client’s.
Your client in a report to his parliament a few weeks ago stated that the matter of the Kality prisoners was properly before the court, and that the government could not interfere in the adjudicatory process out of respect for the independence of the judiciary. He unequivocally asserted that the prisoners’ matter was not in the hands of mediators or outside intermeddlers. Following the release of the prisoners, he reinforced this view by affirming in public statements that the conviction and pardon of the prisoners was pursuant to processes authorized by the country’s constitution and laws.
In a press conference on the release of the political prisoners, your client reaffirmed his position by stating that the pardon granted should signify the absence of a “sense of revenge and vendetta on the part of the government as long as people recognize that the rules of the game are to be respected by everyone, [and] everyone is given a fair chance to participate". He indicated that the pardon was an act of compassion and charity intended to overcome bitterness and discord, and that it should signal a return to a normal political process. Your claim that the prisoners were released on the basis of a “reconciliation process led by a council of elders” is manifestly inconsistent with your client’s.
My analysis of the facts is that the prisoners of conscience were released not because of the efforts of a “council of elders” or any “court” process. Rather, they were released because of intense State Department pressure and, undoubtedly, Congressional pressure emanating from H.R. 2003 and the intense work of Diaspora Ethiopians. There is also little doubt that the direct and indirect pressure applied by human rights organizations, condemnation and censure by European governments and exposés of gross human rights abuses by international media outlets played a critical role in persuading your client to release of the prisoners.
V. H.R. 2003 “Promotes Further Deterioration of the Situation in Somalia”
You have argued that H.R. 2003 “promotes further deterioration of the situation in Somalia by preventing the spread of Islamic fundamentalism” and the “the region from becoming a radical Islamist state that harbors and encourages jihadist-terrorist elements allied with al-Qaeda”, and undermining support for the UN-backed interim government in Baidoa (sic)”. You have further argued that the bill will unravel the “cooperative security arrangements between Ethiopia and the United States” in the counterterrorism area in the Horn region.
Let me point out again that your analysis of the Somali situation is diametrically opposed to you client’s stated policy positions.
In a recent speech to his parliament, your client stated that he sent his troops to Somalia to give the Somalis peace at the “request made by the government of Somalia”. He said peace remains elusive because of “threats posed by extremists who have taken refuge in Somalia”. He explained that he “was forced to revise plans for [troop withdrawal in] the third and final phase because terrorists were regrouping and coordinating their efforts with Eritrea.” He reported progress in disarming Somali militia members and “re-integrating them into the police and defence forces as part of the drive to build the forces” of the Transitional Federal Government” (TFG). He declared: “[T]he situation in Mogadishu is one in which the TFG is in control of the whole city making it impossible for terrorists or non-government militia to control any part of the city.” He noted that he is working “whole-heartedly to convene a National Reconciliation Congress in Somalia.”
Your client further cautioned that withdrawal from Somalia under the current circumstances would “prevent deployment of AU (African Union) peacekeepers”, and lead to a “reversal of the process of stabilization of Somalia”. He reassured his parliament that he will “completely pull out” his troops “upon the successful conduct of the reconciliation conference and the consolidation of the TFG…”
You client has never mentioned or alluded to H.R. 2003 as a problem in his Somalia policy. The incontrovertible fact of the matter is that H.R. 2003 has nothing to do with events in Somalia. Nothing! The solution to the Somalia “situation” is to expedite the arrival of the AU forces as indicated by your client, not prevent the enactment of H.R. 2003.
While we are on the subject of Somalia and the “deteriorating” situation there, let me share some hard facts with you. For the past 16 years, Somalia has been a polarized and fragmented society. It is regarded as a “failed state” because it has no legitimate national government, among other things. It has become the battleground for warlords and militiamen. Your client believed that he could outmaneuver and outwit the Somali clan leaders into accepting Ali Mohammed Gedi, as transitional federal government prime minister. He tried to sell the Somalis his brand of peace (a Pax Zenawi, if you will) in the name of national reconciliation and power sharing. But no one in Somalia would buy it. So, your client now finds himself in the cauldron of Somali clan politics, and he can’t get out!
Manifestly, the “deterioration” of the political situation in Somalia has nothing to do with H.R. 2003. It has to do with 1) the presence of Ethiopian occupation forces in Somalia, and 2) your client’s support of Gedi’s regime. Until these two issues are resolved, the principal political problem of Somalia -- clan polarization and fragmentation -- can not be effectively addressed. By his own admission, your client miscalculated the intentions and integrity of the clan leaders, and underestimated the complexity and severity of Somali clan politics.
So, how does H.R. 2003 “promote further deterioration of the situation in Somalia”? The answer is it does not. H.R. 2003 has nothing to do with the “situation in Somalia”!
Ethical Issues for You and Your Firm
After listening to your radio interview and considering the other public statements made by your firm, I was left wondering whether your statements reflected an advocacy position of your client, or whether you were in fact making verified public statements on behalf of your client.
For instance, in your German Radio (Amharic program) on August 14, 2007, following your blanket assertions about the “dramatic improvements in human rights in Ethiopia” and the flourishing democracy there complete with free speech and press rights and multiparty democracy, you made a sweeping declaration of ignorance on the status of imprisoned and exiled journalists in the country. Asked if you knew how many Ethiopian journalists have been imprisoned or exiled, you responded: “I wouldn’t have any knowledge of that whatsoever.”
Your categorical response to the situation of Ethiopian journalists suggested to me that your other responses concerning the political situation in the country are based on your personal knowledge, or reasonable inquiry and ascertainment of the facts before you communicated them to the public on behalf of your client. Regardless, as a lawyer you have a special ethical obligation to provide truthful and accurate information in your communication to the public (third parties) on behalf of your client. This obligation is clearly stated in Rule 4.1 of the District of Columbia Bar Rules. Though you have “no affirmative duty to inform” third parties, it is an ethical obligation of all lawyers not to engage in “misrepresentation” of facts. I am concerned that your public statements on behalf of your client straddle the ethical lines which lawyers must never cross.
In the struggle for human rights in Ethiopia we realize that our grassroots efforts are no match to your mighty army of lobbyists and lawyers that march on Capitol Hill everyday with an overwhelming sense of assured victory. DLA Piper is the third largest law firm in the entire world, with over 3500 lawyers! You have Dick Armey and Dick Gephardt, two titans in recent American Congressional history. You have George Mitchell, and many other extraordinarily influential former members of Congress from both major political parties in your firm.
We are just a bunch of not-so-well-organized mass of grassroots advocates who do our best to plead our cause before the U.S. Congress. We do not have millions of dollars to spend on lobbyists, and do not have ready access to the great earthly officers of men.
We know we are no match for DLA Piper as David was no match for Goliath. But what we lack in money and influence, we more than make up in passion and unflagging commitment to the holy cause of democracy, freedom and human rights in our homeland. In the final analysis, all we have are TRUTH and the God of David on our side. We are convinced that our cause of democracy, freedom and human rights shall be triumphant in the end as David was victorious over Goliath.
We respect your public advocacy efforts on behalf of your client, and we do not question your duty of zealous representation in all forums. Though we may disagree, we believe you are entitled to your opinion; but you are not entitled to your own facts.
The facts about the human rights situation in Ethiopia cry out from the pages of the reports of the Ethiopian Human Rights Council, the U.S. State Department, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, Genocide Watch, The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders and many others. Please do not make a travesty of these hallowed facts in your public statements!
Alemayehu G. Mariam, Ph.D. J.D.
Coalition for H.R. 2003