Saturday, March 31, 2007

The Hummingbird and the Forest Fire: A Diaspora Morality Tale

Foreword: “The Whole is Greater Than the Sum of Its Parts”

100,000 letters. 50 State Resolutions. 77 million people. We are on the move!

For many of us, the past few weeks have been pretty exciting times in Diaspora grassroots activism. We managed to launch some notable mobilization efforts to advance human rights and democracy in Ethiopia. A White House letter writing campaign attracted the enthusiastic support of individual Ethiopians and civic and political organizations throughout the world. We were also able to engage some of the prestigious American universities to focus on human rights abuses in Ethiopia.

We launched a 50-state legislative initiative to increase awareness of human rights abuses at the local level in the various states, and to add the collective voices of the American people to ours in demanding the immediate and unconditional release of the prisoners of conscience. We also aim to build wide grassroots support for H.R. 5680 or its substitute through this effort. Consistent with this objective, Assembly Joint Resolution 12[1] is currently pending in the California Legislature. This resolution sends a simple message to the President and the U.S. Congress:

We do not want American tax dollars to be used to kill, torture,
maim, imprison and persecute innocent Ethiopians, or to bankroll a
repressive regime that flouts international law.

It is encouraging to know we are not alone in our quest for human rights in Ethiopia. Many members of Congress are now asking questions of Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice. They have written her letters to “express [their] strong concern about the continued detention of elected parliamentarians, human rights advocates, and independent journalists in Ethiopia.” They demand the “unconditional release of political prisoners”, an “end to arbitrary arrests”, accountability for “those security personnel who killed innocent civilians” and institutional reforms so that another massacre “will not be repeated”.

So, we are on the move, and we are ready for action on the substitute bill for H.R. 5680, the Ethiopia Freedom, Democracy and Human Rights Act.

Along the way, we have learned a couple of lessons. Those cynics who preach the gospel of defeatism about the political will and capacity of Diaspora Ethiopians in the holy cause of human rights should reexamine their erroneous assumptions. Diaspora Ethiopians will respond decisively to demands for focused action. We have also learned that the old saying is really true: “The whole is greater than the sum of the parts.” All of us acting together and individually can produce meaningful and lasting results for improved human rights conditions in Ethiopia.

I offer the following allegory in the spirit of the “whole is greater than the sum of the parts.”

The Forest on Fire…

This morality tale takes after the simple story of the hummingbird[2], once told by Dr. Wangari Maathai, the Kenyan environmentalist and 2004 Nobel Prize laureate for peace. She had heard the basic story line from a professor in Japan on one of her trips there. As I re-tell it here, I have taken complete poetic and creative license, but only to illustrate the challenges and opportunities Diaspora Ethiopians face in their efforts to improve the human rights situation in Ethiopia. The reader is
free to make his/her own interpretation of the allegory.

Once upon a time, a reckless and evil man decided to set a great and ancient forest on fire. He declared his mission with determination: “I will clear out this forest and build a great house, and around the house a big village with big houses and buildings and wide boulevards and highways. I will have my friends join me and enjoy the bounty of my handiwork. We will be the masters of this forest forever,” he declared triumphantly.

This firestarter did not care much about the animals, great and small, that made a home in the forest.

And he set the forest on fire. At first, the fire began burning small shrubs and bushes and few animals noticed. But the fire spread quickly, and soon it was raging out of control. Flames vaulted from tree top to tree top, and the entire forest was soon engulfed in a conflagration.

The Forest Animals…

As the blazing fire spread, the forest animals began running to safety frightened by the sight of the galloping flames, billowing smoke, and the crackling sound of exploding embers.

The younger and stronger animals used their feet to quickly outrun the rampaging fire, and got to safety on the edge of the forest. The winged animals lifted themselves into the air and escaped. The burrowing animals descended to their underground holes. But the small, the feeble and aged animals could not outrun the fire and were left behind. They were doomed to a dreadful fate.

The animals that managed to outrun the firestorm stood on the edge of the forest stunned and horrified by the destruction of their forest home. They gazed silently at the intense fire, and stood helplessly and downcast with the certain knowledge that the fire was devouring their friends and neighbors who could not make it out of the forest. They were paralyzed from taking any action.

In an act of bravado, the elephants stepped forward and declared, “We elephants could douse out this fire if we wanted to. All we have to do is suck enough water from the river and spray it on the fire, and it will stop burning our forest home.” But they did not go to the river to fetch water. They just stood there mesmerized by the advancing fire.

“Certainly, we can do better than that. And we don’t even have to fetch water,” rejoined the lions, not to be outdone. “All we have to do is make a mighty roar, and the fire will get scared and leave the forest.” And they issued mighty roars, but the fire kept on burning.

The zebras followed. “We zebras could distract the fire with our colors. We can start running every which way, and while the fire is trying to figure out if we are white with black stripes or black with white stripes, it will be confused and stop burning. That’s how we will save our forest.” And they pranced and danced, but the relentless fire kept on devouring more of the ancient forest.

Then came the laughing hyenas, except this time they were not laughing. They appeared visibly saddened. You could even say they were shedding a few crocodile tears. “Oh, my! Oh, my! Our forest home is being destroyed. Somebody do something! We are hyenas. We are known for cowardice, not valor. Lions, elephants, tigers, somebody, do something!” But they did not stick around for long; they quickly left for their underground dens to meet and confer.

These merciless scavengers could hardly contain their delight at the sight of the burning forest. “Imagine all of the delicious morsels of carrion we get to eat once this fire is done. Think of all of the dead and dying animals that are just waiting for us to snack on,” they cheered each other grinning ear-to-ear, their mouths dripping with saliva. “This is a great day, a great day indeed for hyenas,” they congratulated each other.

The snakes that lived under rocks were not particularly concerned. “Well, this fire will soon be over, and we’ll crawl back under our rocks. We don’t really care what happens to the forest. Everybody knows fire does not burn rocks, and our homes will be safe after the fire is over,” they assured themselves in a tone of moral indifference to the plight of the other animals.

The weasels could actually see an opportunity to improve their situation after the fire. “What is the big deal about this fire? Once the forest is burned down, we will trick the new master to let us live in his village. We will never bother him. We will never complain. We will pretend that we obey all of his rules, but we will look for our chances. Anyway, if we stay out of his way, he will let us live and prosper, ” they comforted each other.

The chameleons in their usual indecisive style rose to the occasion. “Sure, fire is actually a pretty good thing. It gets rid of all the dead wood, and the weak and sick animals who do not contribute much to forest life. Then again, fire could be a bad thing. It destroys everything, good and bad. It does not differentiate. Well, this fire is better than the last fire we had. A lot more animals died back then. Now at least we can stand on the edge of the fire and save ourselves. That’s what counts. But then again, you can never predict what fire can do.” They kept on wavering from one thought to another confusing the other animals.

It was finally the tigers’ turn. They looked resigned and gloomy. They stepped forward and somberly advised everyone, “The forest is gone. Our homes are no more. There is nothing that can be done. There is no hope. We’ll never be able to go back. Let’s just go somewhere else and build a new life for ourselves.”

The Firestarter…

The firestarter saw the conflagration, and was very pleased. He said to himself, “This is all I have ever wanted to do. Destroy this forest and everything in it. I have now succeeded!!”

Of course, the firestarter did not care much if the forest animals died or lived. He couldn’t care less. He was obsessed by what he can gain for himself and his friends. But he was happy to see the ancient forest destroyed. He beat his chest triumphantly as he declared, “I have destroyed the forest. Now, I own the charred remains. It’s mine! It’s mine! It’s all mine! Forever!”

The Hummingbird…

While all of this intense conversation was going on among the big animals, a tiny humming bird was flying furiously back and forth to the river carrying droplets of water in her beak. After a while, the chattering animals noticed the hummingbird’s strange behavior.

“Hummingbird, what in the world are you doing?” they asked.

“Oh, I am just carrying water from the river to put out the fire,” replied the humming bird casually, as she continued to fly back and forth to the river scooping up droplets of water.

The whole animal colony burst out in laughter.

“Hummingbird, do you know how foolish you look trying to put out this great fire with the tiny droplets of water you carry in your beak,” the animals inquired. The hummingbird continued to shuttle droplets of water from the river, unfazed by the laughter and ridicule.

“You may think I am foolish, but I am doing all that I can do,” replied the humming bird.

“But humming bird, surely you must know that your droplets of water will do nothing to put out this fire. Why are you wasting your time?” replied the puzzled animals.

“I am doing all that I can do. And may be if we all did what we could do, instead of standing around and talking about what should, could or needs to be done, then perhaps, we may be able to put out the forest fire!” advised the tiny humming bird as she flew back and forth to carry more droplets of water from the river.

The big animals were not persuaded. “You can gather a thousand humming birds like yourself, and even all of you wouldn’t be able to put out this fire,” the animals derided the gutsy hummingbird.

The hummingbird briefly hovered to explain herself to the large animals: “You see, this forest is my home. This is where I was born. This is where grandpa and great grandma hummingbird were born. This forest has been good to all of the animals who made their homes in it. Our ancestors did a lot to make this forest a good home for all us; and many of died fighting to save this forest from many previous firestarters.”

The hummingbird continued, “Surely, you know none of the previous firestarters succeed in destroying our forest home because our ancestors were strong firefighters. They fought the fire with everything they had. And I am fighting this fire with everything I got, even though you may think I am foolish for trying to carry droplets of water in my beak,” concluded the hummingbird as she flew back once more to the river.

Call for Diaspora Fire Brigades…

This thinly veiled allegory of the forest fire may be instructive to Diaspora Ethiopians. Believe it or not, our homeland is on fire. There is a pyromaniac on the loose. A few of us, just a few, managed to escape the voracious fire. Some of us escaped because we are young, strong and resourceful. May be some of us were just lucky. Now, all of us are standing far, far away from the forest fire. We can’t really see it, only the dark and menacing smoke that rise up to the heavens.

But the smoke carries a message: Thousands of our brothers and sisters have burned in the fire, tens of thousands more are burning in the fire now, hundreds of thousands are dying from gunfire, and 77 million are on the firing line!

When your home is on fire, you don’t stand around and talk a good talk. Like the hummingbird, you get in gear and run to the river to get your droplet of water.

There are fire brigades rising up all over the Diaspora. Everyday we see courageous firefighters coming to the frontlines. They no longer want to be frightened spectators jabbering about what somebody else should do, could do or needs to do. They have decided to act, and you see them flying around carrying their droplets of water to put out the fire.

These Diaspora firefighters do not fight fire with fire; no, they fight fire with water. Like water on fire, these firefighters spray hope and optimism over the despair and misery inflicted upon our brothers and sisters; they sweep the wreckage of repression and tyranny with the broom of democracy and human rights; they plant the seeds of freedom and liberty on a land charred and ravaged by political violence, corruption, savagery and lawlessness.

These firefighters have a single mission: help build a new society guided by a national vision which embraces the indivisible unity of the Ethiopian people and rejects the bankrupt ideas of those who claim that Ethiopia is no more than an incoherent agglomeration of competing and antagonistic ethnic, linguistic and regional groups.

But there are many, far too many, who do not want to join the fire brigades. Like the lions, they are interested only in making a fearsome roar. A mighty roar is good, but it is better to join the fire brigade and carry water to put out the fire. Like the zebras, there are some who will prance and dance creating confusing and distraction. They need to go down to the river.

Like the chameleons, there are others who change colors with the prevailing winds -- once with the firefighters, and then with the firestarter for the privilege of living in his village. They make their choices based on the situational advantage for themselves. But they will have to take a stand: cast their fate with the firestarter and save themselves, or join the fire brigades, go down to the river, get some water and save the forest.

Like the hyenas there are those who lament the dead and dying, and all of violence and destruction. “What a shame! So many people dying, so many going to jail. So many young people shot in cold blood. So many going into exile. What a curse has befallen Ethiopia? The country has become a metropolis for ignoramuses who foist themselves as ‘leaders.’

“But is a great day for business! It’s a great day to build a mansion! It is a great day to have a vacation!” It is a great day in paradise in hell!

And so if you want to know why this hummingbird hums, and hums passionately, and furiously and relentlessly, it’s because this hummingbird’s ancestral home is on fire. And this hummingbird can see the rise of a hummingbird fire brigade all over the Diaspora, each one working to put out the fire with a droplet of water. And if we can get a million hummingbirds in the fire brigade, there is no doubt we can put out the fire, and sanctify the desecrated forest once more.

Young Firefighters, Lead the Fire Brigades…

My favorite people in the world are young people, young Ethiopians and Ethiopian Americans. They are the most courageous, audacious, tenacious and passionate Ethiopians I know. God bless them all! They are the only ones who can fight this fire and put it out. The rest of us are water carriers.

But our young people in Ethiopia are in the fire, and on the firing line everyday. They are shot down like rabid dogs if they protest. They are jailed if they speak their minds. They are harassed if they are considered disloyal. They disappear if they are considered subversive.

Our young people in the Diaspora are not on the firing line, but they are fired up about improving human rights in their homeland.

Some older firefighters have a difficult time accepting the fact that we must make way for the younger generation of firefighters. We need to face facts. We no longer have that “fire in the belly” that we had in our youth anymore. Let’s not pretend we can put out the fire on our own. All we can do is carry water for the young firefighters on the front lines. We are at our best when we chant the “call-and-response” work songs as the young fire fighters face the fire: “Fight the fire, fight the power, water the fire, stop the power.” Let’s help the young firefighters do their work.

Older and younger fighterfighters need to have a conversation if we are to succeed in putting out the fire. It’s time for the old firefighters to acknowledge our mistakes. We have done little to guide our young firefighters, to advise them, to share our professional and life experiences and to prepare them for leadership. We have been selfish, and guided only by our own ambitions and driven by ignoble passions.

We need to tell our young firefighters they are the towers of our power. Let’s uplift their spirits. Let’s assure them they can put out the fire, and we are right there behind them manning the water lines. Sure, it is not going to be easy for the young firefighters. But they must fight the fire, the power. They have choice. They must rescue the fire victims. Let’s reach out to them, talk to them, inspire them and build their confidence. Because in the long run, it is their forest home -- their future -- that is on fire.

Let’s educate and train our young people in the peaceful but unyielding ways of firefighting, motivate them, support them and embrace them as they face the searing flames desperately trying to save the millions of fire victims and their future. Let’s assure them that in the end, like the molten steel that shines brightly having gone through the blast furnace, they will also shine and bring sunshine with them to the charred and scarred forest.

Let us never doubt that our young firefighters, though they may inherit a society devastated by decades of political repression and human rights abuse, will one day be able to build a City Upon a Hill -- a just, humane and pious society -- where no man or woman will fear his or her government, where government will dutifully respect the rights and liberties of its citizens, where every person can stand tall and freely speak his or her mind, and where no man, woman or child will ever lose life, liberty of property without due process of just laws.

Hummingbirds Always Hum, and Tyrants and Murderers Always Fall…

The great Mahatma Ghandi once said, “When I despair, I remember that all through history, the way of truth and love has always won. There have been tyrants and murderers and for a time they seem invincible, but in the end, they always fall, think of it, always.”

The tyrants and murderers may think that because we are in the Diaspora and they have the guns and canons pointed at our brothers and sisters, we must be in despair. But the facts show the opposite is true.

Tyrants oppress and murder because they are desperate, and it is curtain time for them. When you rule without the consent of the people and use brutality to enforce your will, it is a manifestation of the depths of your despair and your powerlessness. Tyrants oppress, kill and maim because they do not command the respect of their people. They use brutality because they can not convince their people with the strength of their political or philosophical arguments, the persuasiveness of their logic or the abundance of their good will.

In the end tyrants always lose, because though they have guns and tanks, they lack ideas and vision. They lose because they live in a world of darkness and ignorance. They are incapable of transforming themselves or their societies because they are trapped in their own cycle of repression that feeds off their ignorance and wickedness. And like Dracula, the legendary bloodsucker, they can only live on the blood -- and sweat and tears -- of their victims. They can not survive otherwise.

Ghandi is right. Even though for “a time tyrants and murderers seem invincible, in the end, they always fall.” They fall because they can not withstand the force of truth. They fall because they lack power -- power that flows from the will of the people. They always slip and fall on the pile of lies, deceit and fraud they have created. They fall because in the end they will be paid the wages of their evil deeds. The wrath of God shall be visited upon them. In the words of the Scripture, “He that troubleth his own house shall inherit the wind.” These tyrants and murderers shall inherit and dwell in the very hell they have built for others.

Millennium of Hope and Human Rights…

We are at the dawn of a new Millennium. It is a Millennium unlike any other. For freedom loving Ethiopians, it shall be a Millennium of hope, of dignity, of human rights, of freedom and democracy.

Tyrants and murderers shall also face their new Millennium, but their fate is shrouded in a bleak twilight of despair. Like all desperadoes, they will have their last party. And their Millennium party is shaping up to be a bacchanalian orgy of revelry, self-indulgence, debauchery, extravagance and hedonism. The wealthy fat cats and kittens will mob the plush hotels, and expensive champagne and cognac will flow like the River Styx, which encircles Hell.

But defenders of freedom and human rights shall never be part of a Millennium that is intended to distract our eyes and divert our attention from another perpetual and never-ending orgy of killings, imprisonments, torture, persecution and abuse of human rights.

No amount of smoke and mirrors can conceal the 193 men, women and children slaughtered in 2005, the thousands who were shot like rabid dogs, the tens of thousands who are in prison today, and the suffering of the courageous prisoners of conscience.

Yes, human rights defenders will celebrate the new Millennium. But our celebration shall be a celebration of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, that great charter, which holds: “Recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world and disregard and contempt for human rights have resulted in barbarous acts which have outraged the conscience of mankind.”

We shall greet the new Millennium with the words of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights: “The ideal of free human beings enjoying freedom from fear and want can only be achieved if conditions are created whereby everyone may enjoy his economic, social and cultural rights, as well as his civil and political rights.”

We will usher in the New Millennium as we reaffirm the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide and the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment: “No exceptional circumstances whatsoever, whether a state of war or a threat of war, internal political instability or any other public emergency, may be invoked as a justification of torture.”

We will stand up in the New Millennium for the rights of women and uphold the words of the Declaration on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women: “Discrimination against women, denying or limiting as it does their equality of rights with men, is fundamentally unjust and constitutes an offence against human dignity.”

We will uphold the Declaration of the Rights of the Child: “The child shall enjoy special protection, and shall be given opportunities and facilities, by law and by other means, to enable him to develop physically, mentally, morally, spiritually and socially in a healthy and normal manner and in conditions of freedom and dignity.”

There is a new wind of unity and common purpose in freedom, democracy and human rights in the New Millennium of the Diaspora. Let us together sail this wind high into the heavens, and breathe the fresh air of freedom and liberty. Let’s embrace the spirit of the New Millennium.

It’s Your Choice: A Hummingbird for Human Rights or a Flea Against Injustice…

The great African American lawyer and founder and president of the Children’s Defense Fund said: “You just need to be a flea against injustice. Enough committed fleas biting strategically can make even the biggest dog uncomfortable and transform even the biggest nation.”

In the struggle for human rights in Ethiopia, there is another choice, if you’d like. You can be a hummingbird. And you can hum all day, and hum all night. Hum for freedom. Hum for democracy, and hum for the rights and dignity of all humankind.

Just keeeeep on hummming!


100,000 letters. 50 State Resolutions. 77 million people. We are on the move for human rights in Ethiopia! If people on the move, keep moving, they make a movement.

So, let’s hold hands firemen and firewomen in the spirit of freedom, democracy and human rights. Let’s begin our long walk out of the darkness of tyranny and oppression and march gloriously into the new Millennium.

Big wheels, small wheels, keep on turning! Onward Millennium Hummingbirds! Onward Millennium Fleas! Onward to the rainbow sign, like Noah after the Great Flood, and like us after the Great Fire!

[2] The hummingbird is considered to be the smallest bird in the world. It is capable of sustained hovering, and has the ability to fly backwards or vertically. Hummingbirds are known for their unique ability to hover in mid-air flapping their wings up to 80 times per second, creating a humming sound.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Ethiopia Human Rights Resolution



INTRODUCED BY Assembly Member Bass

FEBRUARY 22, 2007
Relative to Ethiopia.


AJR 12, as introduced, Bass. Ethiopia.

This measure would urge the Congress and the President of the United States to demand that the Ethiopian government immediately and unconditionally release all political prisoners and journalists and fulfill its obligations under the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and urge the California delegation in the House of Representatives and the Senate to support and cosponsor "The Ethiopian Freedom, Democracy and Human Rights Act of 2006" in the110th Congress.

Fiscal committee: no.

WHEREAS, The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which constitutes a common standard of achievement for all peoples and all nations, is the source of inspiration and has been the basis for the United Nations in making advances in standard setting as contained inthe existing international human rights instruments, in particular, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the African (Banjul) Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights, and has been incorporated by reference in the Ethiopian Constitution as the part of the supreme law of the land; and

WHEREAS, The Ethiopian government has repeatedly violated the rights enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and the African (Banjul) Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights; and

WHEREAS, Human rights conditions in Ethiopia have deteriorated significantly in the aftermath of the May 2005 parliamentary elections, and the Ethiopian government has undertaken a massive crackdown on political opposition and dissent, including arrests of opposition leaders, journalists, human rights defenders and civic society leaders, and extrajudicial killings of protesters by using excessive and deadly force; and

WHEREAS, Documented violations of human rights in Ethiopia include widespread violation of privacy rights, warrantless searches and seizures, arrests without probable cause, and severe curtailments of basic human rights, including freedom of speech, press, association, and assembly; and

WHEREAS, The massive crackdown on opposition and dissent has resulted in the incarceration of, among others, Dr. Berhanu Negga, mayor-elect of Addis Abeba, Hailu Shawul, chairman of the coalition opposition party, Coalition for Unity and Democracy (Kinijit), Yakob Hailemariam, an academic and former United Nations genocide prosecutor at the Rwanda tribunal and former United Nations Special Envoy in the Cameroon/Nigeria border dispute; Mesfin Woldemariam, university professor and president of the Ethiopian Human Rights Council, Birtukan Mideksa, one of the few female judges in the country, a number of newly elected parliamentarians, over 14 editors and reporters of independent and privately owned newspapers; and

WHEREAS, The government of Ethiopia established a commission of inquiry to investigate the violence that occurred in the aftermath of the May 2005 parliamentary elections, and the chairman and vice chairman of this commission reported in a briefing to the United States House of Representatives that the Ethiopian security forces had used excessive force resulting in the deaths of 193 persons and serious injury to 763 others; and

WHEREAS, The United Nations Commissioner for Human Rights has expressed deep concern over the deteriorating human rights situation in Ethiopia, and other respected independent international human rights organizations, including Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and Genocide Watch, have expressed equally deep concern, and called for the unconditional and immediate release of all political prisoners in the country and improvements in the human rights situation; and

WHEREAS, Ethiopian-Americans in the United States are deeply concerned about human rights violations in their native country and seek the immediate and unconditional release of opposition leaders and all political prisoners in Ethiopia; and

WHEREAS, House Resolution 5680, the "Ethiopia Freedom, Democracy and Human Rights Act of 2006," which passed the House International Relations Committee of the United States House of Representatives on a unanimous vote, demanded the immediate and unconditional release of opposition leaders and all political prisoners in Ethiopia; and

WHEREAS, The Ethiopian government continues to repress all peaceful attempts by the Ethiopian people to bring democratic change by denying universally recognized liberties, including freedom of speech, assembly, association, and of the press, and employing repressive measures aimed at eliminating opposition and dissent; now, therefore, be it

Resolved by the Assembly and the Senate of the State of California, jointly, That the Legislature of California condemns the widespread violation of human rights in Ethiopia and the use of violence and deadly force to suppress political opposition and dissent; and be it further

Resolved, That the California State Legislature calls on the Congress and President of the United States to demand that the Ethiopian government immediately and unconditionally release all political prisoners and journalists and fulfill its obligations under the Universal Declaration of Human Rights as incorporated in its constitution, the African (Banjul) Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights and established norms of human rights, democratic principles and the rule of law; and be it further

Resolved, That the government of the United States work vigorously to secure as soon as possible the release of political prisoners and prisoners of conscience, as well as closely monitor their treatment in prison, and further demand disclosure of the total number of persons detained on political charges throughout the country, and ensure that all political prisoners and other defendants are treated humanely while in custody in accordance with international and regional standards for the treatment of prisoners, such as the United Nations Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners, with particular regard to medical treatment, family visits, and reading and writing materials; and be it further

Resolved, That the government of the United States demand that the Ethiopian government forbear from interference in the exercise of the rights to freedom of opinion, expression, and association in Ethiopia, including the right to demonstrate peacefully, the right to publish opinions freely through an independent press, and the right to engage in civil society activism, and put an end to the government media monopoly; and be it further

Resolved, That the government of the United States work through its representatives in the United Nations to establish an independent international commission of inquiry to investigate the broad scope of human rights abuses in Ethiopia, and to identify those responsible for human rights violations; and be it further

Resolved, That the government of the United States demand resumption of the process of reform and improvement of democratic institutions, including a serious and international examination of the results of the parliamentary elections held in May 2005; and be it further

Resolved, That the Congress adopt a resolution on the human rights situation in Ethiopia, aimed particularly at protecting and supporting the Ethiopian human rights defenders on trial, in line with the European Union Guidelines on Human Rights Defenders; and be it further

Resolved, That the government of the United States encourage and support the African Human Rights Commission and its member states to more actively investigate and report on human rights violations throughout the country and bring these to the attention of the Ethiopian government and the international community for remedy; and be it further

Resolved, That the government of the United States demand that the Ethiopian government prosecute the individuals, officials, and others who were responsible for the deaths of 193 unarmed and peaceful protesters and scores of others who sustained serious injuries as a result of the unlawful use of deadly force by government security forces; and be it further

Resolved, That the government of United States demand that the Ethiopian government implement specific measures to ensure the independence of the judiciary and institute due process to guarantee defendants accused of crimes the right to be tried by a competent and independent court, and the rights to the presumption of innocence, confrontation, and compulsory process, speedy trial, and assistance of counsel; and be it further

Resolved, That the Congress pass "The Ethiopia Freedom, Democracy and Human Rights Act of 2006," which was introduced as House Resolution 5680 in the 109th Congress, Second Session, and passed the House International Relations Committee with a unanimous vote; and be it further

Resolved, That the California delegation in the House of Representatives and the Senate support and cosponsor "The Ethiopia Freedom, Democracy and Human Rights Act" upon its introduction in the110th Congress and that Senators Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein sign on as sponsors of the bill in the Senate; and be it further

Resolved, That the Chief Clerk of the Assembly transmit copies of this resolution to the President and Vice President of the United States, to the Speaker of the House of Representatives, to the Majority Leader of the Senate, and to each Senator and Representative from California in the Congress of the United States.

Letter to President George W. Bush

February 19, 2007

The Honorable George W. Bush
President of the
United States
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Ave, NW
Washington, DC 20500

Dear Mr. President:

In your second inaugural speech on January 20, 2005, you made a magnificent promise to all people in the world who endure under despotism and dictatorship, “All who live in tyranny and hopelessness can know: the United States will not ignore your oppression, or excuse your oppressors. When you stand for your liberty, we will stand with you.” We Ethiopian Americans commend you for your steadfast commitment to the cause of liberty throughout the world.

Ethiopians Have Responded to Your Promise

Mr. President, on May 15, 2005, Ethiopians rapturously responded to your promise, and stood up for liberty and democracy. Over 26 million of them -- over 90 percent of the registered voters -- stood up at the polling stations throughout the land and cast their ballots to choose their government, and to peacefully petition the seasoned practitioners of tyranny and oppression to stand down.

On that fateful day, Mr. President, Ethiopians did what has never been done in their ancient country’s history: They chose their leaders freely; and spoke directly to their present rulers and told them they are tired of 15 years of one-party rule. They want change. They want a country where the rule of law reigns supreme, and human rights and civil liberties are respected.

But human rights, democracy and justice remains elusive in Ethiopia, even today. One hundred and eleven prisoners of conscience who have been held in detention for nearly a year and half -- many of them top leaders of opposition parties and members and human rights defenders -- were told to come to court today to find out their fate. But when they showed up after months of calculated and malicious delay, they were told once again to come back. So justice is delayed and denied once more. Such, Mr. President, is the elaborate shell game the present rulers of Ethiopia play with justice, and the human rights of innocent victims of a wrongful and vindictive government prosecution.

Ethiopians Ask If the United States will Ignore Their Oppression

Mr. President: Those accustomed to ruling by force and intimidation have defiantly refused to heed the collective voice of their people, and allow a peaceful transition to democracy. They have cynically dismissed the prudent advice of the international community, and refused to conform their conduct to the rule of international human rights law. They continue to cling to power despite universal exhortations for national reconciliation and dialogue.

In the aftermath of the May, 2005 elections, Mr. President, Ethiopia’s rulers have chosen the path of repression, and unleashed violence against the civilian population unmatched in the recent annals of political savagery. An official Inquiry Commission set up by Zenawi’s regime, in its briefing to the United States Congress, documented the wanton killings of 193 unarmed protesters, and wounding of 763 others over a 14 day period in June and November, 2005. The Commission also documented the imprisonment of 30,000 suspected political opponents.

But, Mr. President, the catalogue of flagrant human rights abuses is not limited to atrocities committed over these few days. Zenawi’s regime continues to engage with impunity in extrajudicial killings of opponents, and presently holds thousands of political prisoners throughout the country. Zenawi’s regime has criminalized the exercise of the basic rights of free speech, assembly and the press, and continues to use the criminal justice system for political ends. Opposition leaders and human rights defenders continue to be subjected to prolonged prosecution and detention for pretended offenses, and judges have been inducted in the service of political partisanship. The regime has erected an extensive security apparatus and dispatched swarms of malignant mercenaries throughout the land to harass, intimidate, persecute and wreak havoc on the lives of the people. And for good measure, the current rulers of Ethiopia in their unrestrained hubris, continue to thumb their noses at the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and other related conventions necessary for the public good.

Mr. President, to borrow the words of Thomas Jefferson in the Declaration of Independence, the Ethiopia’s rulers today continue with impunity their “history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute tyranny.”

Ethiopians Ask If the United States will Excuse Their Oppressors

Mr. President: Today, Ethiopians ask whether you will honor your promise and stand with them, or excuse their oppressors. As Ethiopian Americans, we do not believe for a moment that you will stand on the side of those who have perpetrated unspeakable atrocities on thousands of unarmed protesters, imprisoned thousands of ordinary men and women on suspicion of political opposition, and jailed the rightful representatives of the people. We believe you will keep your promise and stand with all who stand up for liberty.

But our brothers and sisters in Ethiopia are not sure, and so they ask: “Will you excuse their oppressors, or stand with them?”

Two Types of Ethiopians in the World Today

Mr. President: There are two kinds of Ethiopians in the world today. There is an infinitesimal number of Ethiopians upon whom God has shed his grace and live with dignity, respect and hope in the greatest nation in the world, the United States of America, and other parts of the free world. And there are millions upon millions who live in their homeland seared in the flames of withering tyranny and oppression.

But the suffering masses of humanity in Ethiopia are not strangers and nameless people to be pitied from a distance. They are, Mr. President, our kinsfolk -- our fathers and mothers, brothers and sisters, uncles and aunts, grandmothers and grandfathers, and neighbors, and countrymen and women.

As Lincoln has taught us, half the people can not bask in the sunlight of freedom while the other half struggles in the darkness of oppression. We, Ethiopian Americans, can not stand mute living under the beneficence of the American Constitution while our kinsfolk suffer under the sweltering heat of oppression.

Duty of Freedom Loving Ethiopian Americans

Mr. President: As free Ethiopian Americans, we have a solemn duty to help those we have left in Ethiopia. It is a duty that geminated in the magnificent promise you made to the world’s oppressed: “When you stand for your liberty, we will stand with you.” When those we have left behind in the land of our birth stand up for liberty, it is our duty to stand with them, by them; and with you, Mr. President, and the American people standing by our side.

As Ethiopian Americans, Mr. President, we bring to your attention the daily solicitations of our loved ones: “Isn’t there anything we can do to help them as Ethiopian Americans using the mighty Constitution of the United States of America? Isn’t there anything the American people can do to help them rise from under the yoke of tyranny and oppression?

Must American taxpayers bankroll their oppressors?”

Illusions of Hope

Mr. President, the great American patriot, Patrick Henry, facing similar tyranny and

despotism as contemporary Ethiopians said: “It is natural to man to indulge in the illusions of hope.” And looking over the past 15 years, Ethiopians are beginning to wonder if their aspirations for liberty are merely idle indulgencies in the illusions of hope.

Mr. President, the present rulers of Ethiopia have spurned and ignored all demands for justice and liberty; and have responded to their peoples’ petitions for democratic rights by inflicting upon them unspeakable violence and injury. They have categorically rejected the intercession of the international community -- to release all political prisoners and their leaders who languish in prison, to institute the rule of law, to seek peaceful reconciliation -- with contempt and derision. All efforts to institute the rule of law and ensure respect for human rights have been reduced to a distant illusion of hope.

In vain, Ethiopians now ask: How much longer must they languish under withering oppression? When will they breath the fresh air of liberty? Will America shut its eyes as they are transformed into lifeless mannequins by a totalitarian government?

But we Ethiopian Americans refuse to believe America will turn a blind eye and a deaf ear to their plight. We believe there is real hope so long as the millions of Ethiopians remain armed in the holy cause of liberty. There is hope, because as Patrick Henry said: “There is a just God who presides over the destinies of Nations, and who will raise up friends to fight our battles for us.” And as Ethiopian Americans, we know you and the American people will fight with us, alongside us, and with God’s will, help bring the blessings of liberty and human rights to those we have left behind.

Counter-terrorism and Human Rights

Mr. President: When you addressed the United Nations General Assembly last September,

you spoke passionately of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and “the more hopeful world that is within our reach, a world beyond terror, where ordinary men and women are free to determine their own destiny, where the voices of moderation are empowered, and where the extremists are marginalized by the peaceful majority.” You said, “This world can be ours if we seek it and if we work together.”

Mr. President: Ethiopians know all too well the scourge of terrorism that has been unleashed on the world. They appreciate and support America’s role in spearheading the struggle against these elusive forces of evil. You should rest assured that Ethiopians wherever they are will never abandon America in its struggle against global terror. Never! Never! Never!

But, Mr. President, America must also never, never, never abandon the cause of human rights in Ethiopia. As you have eloquently pointed out, we can defeat extremism by making it possible for ordinary men and women to freely determine their own destiny, and by upholding those principles in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. America must stand by Ethiopians as they strive to build a democratic society where there are no arbitrary arrests or detentions, where citizens are free from torture, cruel, inhuman treatment or punishment, where those accused of criminal offenses are given a fair trial by an independent and impartial tribunal, and the rights of free speech, press, assembly and petition for grievances and privacy are respected, and the rule of law reigns supreme.

Mr. President, in March, 2005, at the National Defense University, you said: “When a dictatorship controls the political life of a country, responsible opposition cannot develop, and dissent is driven underground and toward the extreme. And to draw attention away from their social and economic failures, dictators place blame on other countries and other races, and stir the hatred that leads to violence. This status quo of despotism and anger cannot be ignored or appeased, kept in a box or bought off.”

We agree with you. In Ethiopia the “status quo of despotism and anger cannot be ignored or appeased, kept in a box or bought off.” The status quo must change. But there are those who will resort to duplicity and chicanery to preserve the status quo. They have now embarked on a global diplomatic and public relations offensive to draw attention away from their nauseating record of gross human rights abuses. They blame their neighbors and stir up fear against them; and by spreading rumors of war seek to create alarm and plunge the international community in historic regional conflicts. But Mr. President, these are also the very same ruffians who rule not by the consent of the people, but by force of arms and intimidation; and now seek to conceal their monstrous crimes against humanity in a wicked litany of anti-terror rhetoric. They have no credibility.

But, Mr. President, America’s abiding support for human rights should not be deflected by artful propaganda, bogus regional crises, savvy disinformation campaigns or other clever political trickery and deception. We echo your words when we say the fight for human rights is fundamentally a fight against terrorism; and we believe the “world beyond terror” that you spoke of to be a world in which human rights are truly respected and upheld, and the dignity and liberty of ordinary men and women preserved and protected under the rule of law.

America Always Keeps Its Promises

Mr. President, last June you said, “When America gives its word, it keeps its word.” We believe you will keep your word that America will stand with the oppressed when the oppressed stand up for liberty. Now that Ethiopians in Ethiopia have stood up for liberty, we Ethiopian Americans and Ethiopians in the Diaspora ask you to stand tall with us as we stand together in brotherhood and sisterhood for human rights and democracy in Ethiopia. We ask you to stand with us and exert the moral authority of the American people, and condemn those who brazenly and flagrantly violate international human rights law, and seek to drag humanity back to the age of barbarism.

Now Is the Time to Stand Up For Human Rights in Ethiopia

Mr. President, now is the time to stand up with the Ethiopian people. Now is the time to stand up for human rights in Ethiopia. Now is the time to call for the immediate and unconditional release of all political prisoners in Ethiopia, and to demand freedom for all jailed opposition leaders and human rights defenders. Now is the time to demand justice: “Bring the killers and those who ordered the killing of 193 men and women and children to account for their crimes.” Now is the time to declare: “All who violate the human rights of their people will have to account for their crimes before the bar of justice.” Now is the time to state with conviction: “America has had enough! American taxpayers will no longer bankroll tyrants and dictators!” Now is the time to candidly tell Ethiopia’s dictators. “Stop playing games with human rights. Stop making a mockery of democracy.” Now is the time, Mr. President, to proclaim to the Ethiopian people: “It’s high time for you to enjoy the blessings of freedom, democracy and human rights! America stands by you!”

Please Stand With Us and Support H.R. 5680 -- “The Ethiopian Freedom, Democracy and Human Rights Advancement Act”

Mr. President, there is a simple way you can stand with Ethiopians and help advance the cause of freedom, democracy and human rights in Ethiopia: Support H.R. 5680.

This bill provides for a comprehensive scheme to advance democracy and human rights in Ethiopia. First and foremost, it demands the release of all prisoners of conscience in Ethiopia, including opposition party and civic leaders. It provides ample resources to undertake institutional capacity building, including technical assistance to perfect the electoral process, strengthen legislative bodies, political parties and civil society organizations, assist in the development of an independent judiciary and professionalize the prosecutorial agencies, foster the growth of independent private journalism and promote the privatization of the electronic media, facilitate the free operation of human rights defenders and organizations, and promote reconciliation efforts between government and civil society organizations and opposition elements, among other things. This past October, the bill passed with full bipartisan support in the 50-member House International Relations Committee.

Mr. President, in the words of the great American civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King, in H.R. 5680, America offers Ethiopia a promissory note for $20 million in down payment to promote freedom, democracy and human rights. But instead of accepting and cashing this note in the bank of democracy and human rights and spreading the blessings of liberty to the people, the present rulers in Ethiopia have hired a mighty army of lobbyists to defeat this bill, hoping to extinguish forever the yearning for freedom of the Ethiopian people. But with your support, Mr. President, we will prevail against any army that threatens liberty and human rights.

Mr. President, you have said, “Americans, of all people, should not be surprised by freedom’s power. A nation founded on the universal claim of individual rights should not be surprised when other people claim those rights. Those who place their hope in freedom may be attacked and challenged, but they will not ultimately be disappointed, because freedom is the design of humanity and freedom is the direction of history.”

Mr. President, we Ethiopian Americans say: “Amen!” and “Hallelujah!”

Mr. President: As an Ethiopian American, the greatest reward and honor that I have received is the opportunity to defend the American Constitution and American liberties in the courts of the realm, and to prepare young Americans to understand, appreciate and defend this great instrument of government. Those who have had the good fortune of making close acquaintance with our Constitution are able to discern its meaning and relevance to all those who live beyond America’s shores. Though the words of this great Constitution and the liberties enshrined in it speak directly to Americans, Mr. President, its spirit, its genius lifts the world’s oppressed and the wretched of the earth from the depths of their despair. So, on behalf of all Ethiopians who have heard your call and stood up for liberty on May 15, 2005, we Ethiopian Americans now ask you to stand with us, and by us.

Please support H.R. 5680.



Alemayehu G. Mariam, Ph.D., J.D.
Professor of Political Science &
Attorney at Law

Vice President Richard Cheney
Dr. Condoleeza Rice,
Secretary State
Jendayi Fraser, Assistant Secretary for African Affairs
Representative Nancy Pelosi, Speaker of the House
Representative John Boehner,
U.S. House, Minority Leader
Representative Steny H. Hoyer, House Majority Leader

Representative James E. Clyburn, House Majority Whip
Representative Roy Blunt, House Minority Whip
Representative Tom Lantos, Chair, House Committee on International Relations
Representative Donald Payne, Chairman, House Subcommittee on
Global Human Rights and International Operations
Representative Chris Smith,
U.S. House of Representatives
Representative Michael Honda
Senator Harry Reid,
Majority Leader, U.S. Senate
Senator Russ Feingold, Chair, Subcommittee on African Affairs
Senator Richard Durbin,
U.S. Senate Assistant Majority Leader
Senator Mitch McConnell,
U.S. Senate Minority Leader
Robert Gates, Secretary of Defense
Ambassador Donald Yamamoto