Tuesday, October 30, 2007

A Farewell to Champions!

Mission to America
They came on a mission to America. It was mission blessed by the Ethiopian people. It was a simple mission: “Go share the gospel of democracy, freedom and human rights among Ethiopians in America. Thank them for all they have done for us, and tell them to keep hope alive. We shall overcome!”

But the official mission statement was more solemn: “Express Kinijit’s appreciation and gratitude to Ethiopians in America who worked tirelessly to secure the release of the people’s leaders. Engage them in a conversation on the future of democracy in their homeland. Mediate disputes among Kinijit supporters and help bring organizational cohesion and harmony. Engage in conversations with American policy makers and help them understand the urgent need for freedom, democracy and human rights in Ethiopia. Ask Ethiopians to lend a helping hand in advancing a democratic agenda in Ethiopia.”

And on September 9, 2007, we received five missionaries of democracy from Ethiopia. Birtukan Midekssa, Berhanu Nega, Hailu Araya, Gizachew Shiferraw and Brook Kebede. For nearly two months now, they have been toiling at their mission, day and night, rain or shine; and without respite. Everyday we piled upon them one set of demands over another; one set of to-do list over another set of requests. We taxed their patience. We consumed their time. We burdened them with our problems. And we even forced them to navigate a perfect storm of controversy along the way.

The facts speak for themselves. For nearly two months, we worked this Delegation to the limits of their human endurance. Never gave them a day off completely free from responsibility. We shuttled them to 12 American cities. In each location, they made themselves available for questioning. No question was off limits. They spent countless hours mediating. They walked the halls of Congress.

In all of this, they never complained. Not once. When we shuttled them from coast to coast, they never protested. When their planes were delayed for hours, they took it in stride. When they were told they’d stay one night here, and another night across the country, they readily agreed. They never asked for a day off. They never asked for time to rest. When they got weary, they made sure it was not obvious. When they did not feel well, they did not make excuses. They showed up at every event. They were always ready to perform their mission. They were on the job. Even when we asked them to be in two places at once, they never objected to the request on the grounds that it violates the laws of physics. They just split into smaller groups and showed up.

Can We Say, “Thank You” to the Delegation? In the ordinary course of things, it would be proper and fitting to say “THANK YOU! THANK YOU VERY MUCH!” But they chastised us when we tried to thank them. They challenged us, “Why should you thank us for doing our duty to our country?” Come to think of it, they are absolutely right! Why should we? We will not thank them for doing their duty to their country and people with dignity, honor and pride.

But we will thank them for what they have done above and beyond the call of duty! That we will! We must.

So, we will thank them for being on the clock exactly 24 hours after they landed at Dulles Airport on September 9, 2007. We thank them for pulling double shift, and often more, during the entire time they stayed in the U.S. We thank them for standing with us in the streets and parks, in the baking summer sun and sweltering humidity, as we made our voices heard. We thank them for hoofing it up and down the halls of Congress with us as sought to build support for democracy, human rights and freedom in Ethiopia. We thank them for lending their voices in the international media, and for telling the truth every time. We thank them for always being ready to perform their duty, day or night. We thank them for so many other things they have done above and beyond the call of duty.

Mission Accomplished?
The bottom line is: Did they succeed in their mission? There is no doubt in our minds they did. They came to spread the gospel of freedom, democracy and human rights among Ethiopians in America. They did that evangelical work dutifully. They were tasked to engage us in a wide ranging conversation on democracy in Ethiopia. Not only did they engage us, they thrilled us. That is the truth.

They challenged us to take our best shots. “Ask any questions you want. We will not leave the meeting hall until every question is answered adequately,” they said. And we obliged. We asked them all sorts of questions, from the silly to the sublime. They answered all of our questions. No evasion. No fabrication. No falsehood. No smooth talk. No B.S. Straight talk. Clear thinking. They gave it to us raw and unadulterated. In the process, they earned our confidence with their honesty and integrity. They earned our respect. They earned our love.

So what did they do in Congress? They did what they had done all along, and even when they were in jail. They talked about the rule of law, the need to build democratic institutions, peaceful resolution of disputes, national reconciliation, democratic liberties and human rights. Everything they said in Congress was what they had been talking about in the 8-point Kinijit principles. No surprise there. They were jailed for defending these principles in 2005. But they were honored in the U.S. Congress with an invitation to tell their story. That their story is the story of all freedom-yearning people merely affirms the fact that they are on the right side of history, and at the center of the universal movement for human rights and justice.

How did the “mediation” go? That was the first order of business when they arrived in the U.S. They met and conferred with the disputing factions. They held private discussions over a period of time. Mostly they listened and asked questions. They remained impartial and neutral. They sought the middle ground where opposing factions could build harmony, trust and unity. And they did their best to replace strife with harmony, restore trust where there is suspicion, and use reason to enhance understanding and achieve clarity. They did their best, but sometimes the best may not be good enough. Time will tell if they succeeded in this endeavor. But as the old saying goes, "Our best success comes after our greatest disappointments."

They were told to explain the financial hardships of the organization, and seek a helping hand from us if possible. They laid the facts before us. Many of us gave to the extent of our desires, if not our abilities. We gave because we believed in a democratic future for our homeland. Whether they are judged a success in their fundraising mission is ultimately a judgment on our generosity, not their efforts or diligence. If they succeeded, it is because we made it happen. If not, it’s because we could not spare that extra dime.

But we believe they succeeded magnificently in their fundraising mission. But opening our wallets on one or two occasions is not as important as opening our hearts and minds permanently. And we have opened our hearts and minds to them. We will support them all the way in their mission to bring democracy to Ethiopia.
They told us they came to thank us and tell us how much they appreciated what we had done for them. And they thanked us profusely. But why should they thank us? Like they said, you don’t thank someone for doing their duty. It was our duty to seek their release during their unjust imprisonment. It was our duty to champion the cause for which they sacrificed their liberties. It is our moral duty to stand up against injustice and to defend the rights of the downtrodden and the dispossessed. But we do understand. As Birtukan said, “Yes, we were imprisoned in body, but you and millions of our supporters were imprisoned with us in spirit.” True. But we all know there is One Spirit that no one can ever imprison!

Bumps in the Road
Like any tour, bumps in the road are unavoidable. This Delegation withstood the slings and arrows of outrageous accusations along the way. But they took it all in stride. They never overreacted. But they reacted with facts, analysis and reason. When some fanned the flames of discord, they held their peace. They never played the blame game. They never cast aspersions on anyone. But they stood their ground. They set the record straight, with the truth. In the end, they arrived at their destination with their heads up high and their spirits uplifted.

What Makes This Delegation Tick?
It is remarkable how much one can learn from just observing. And I tried to figure out what makes this Delegation tick? I think I know.

Team Work. The first thing one notices about these five individuals is that each one of them left one large piece of luggage at Bole Airport, distinctly marked “EGO.” When you see them at work, one thing stands out prominently: team work. They work like fingers on a hand. They work independently of each other, but come together like a fist when they have to. They work as a single unit. They share and discuss ideas, ask each other tough questions, and listen to each other intently and with sincerity. They seem to follow the old adage: “It is amazing how much you can accomplish when it doesn't matter who gets the credit.” No one in this bunch is out for individual glory. One rarely hears them using the nominative singular pronoun “I”. It is really unusual for individuals in the political arena to have so much team spirit and team action. That is why, I think, there is so much trust among themselves.

Collegial Respect. Another obvious fact about this Delegation is the collegial respect they have for each other. They show respect for each other not only in public, but in their private moments as well. They exchange views and ideas while showing respect to each other and the ideas expressed. One does not hear them undercutting each other or trying to outwit one another. The younger members accord the older ones due respect, and the older members respond in kind. The head of the Delegation, though younger in age, is given respect commensurate with her official responsibilities. For the outside observer, such collegial respect is a clear indication of good faith in the intentions of each other, and a prerequisite for effective team work.

Magnanimity. For most of us, it is easy to fall prey to pettiness and to seek revenge for real and imagined wrongs. But it takes a certain cultivation of mind, an elevation of the spirit to see the forest for the trees, to look at the big picture and restrain oneself. When they came to Los Angeles, they were asked why they did not come out and “attack” those who spread vicious rumors and lies about them. Dr. Berhanu said, “What does one gain by calling another a liar. You hold a person in high regard for so long, and then for one reason or another turn around and belittle him. What does anyone gain from that?” That is magnanimity, a principled refusal to be petty and mean-spirited. It is the ability to take the moral high ground when gravity pulls you to the gutter.

Courage. These individuals carve out five profiles in courage. They have a special kind of courage, what one might call civic or moral courage. It is the kind of courage that empowers you to refuse to give in even after 21 months in jail. Because they are armed with such courage, they refuse to abandon their principles or retreat from the truth no matter what. They continue to stand up and speak truth to power. They refuse to be intimidated. They were asked, “What security do you have against the possibility of being thrown in jail when you go back?” They answered matter-of-factly. The only security they have are the Ethiopian people, and the rest us in the Diaspora. They said the alternative is seek asylum. “That will never happen,” they said. They will go back no matter what. Now, that is COURAGE that is borne of moral certitude to do the right thing, every time.

Patience. Most of understand how difficult it is to show tolerance, compassion, understanding, and acceptance toward those who tax our patience. We often respond harshly to those who may not agree with us, or try our coping abilities. It is rare to see these individuals showing impatience with each other, or others. They did not show anger or annoyance to manifestly provocative and falsely-premised questions. They are not upset by unintelligent comments. They plugged along with a great sense of humor.

Honesty. It is said honesty is the best policy. These five individuals practiced this policy very scrupulously. No deception. No evasion. No doubletalk. No mendacity. No lies. Straight talk. That’s the way it ought to be!
Humility. These are five unpretentious and modest individuals. They are quite remarkable. When one expresses sympathy for their prolonged detention, they respond by pointing out the suffering of millions. When they are showered by words of appreciation for their sacrifices, they point out the ultimate price paid by so many others in defense of democracy. When they are congratulated for their efforts in trying to defend democracy, they pass the credit on to the people of Ethiopia. Just ordinary folks with extraordinary love for their country. They show no arrogance or boastful pride. They don’t proclaim themselves to be the “Leaders”. They are just the salt of the earth, ordinary people with deep convictions.

A Personal Tribute to Champions!
It's been an honor and privilege to meet members of this distinguished Delegation. I have never met anyone of them before their arrival in the U.S. I knew very little about them. But I am mighty glad I had the chance to make their acquaintance and friendship.

And now they must return home after successfully completing their U.S.A. Tour. How do I feel? As Shakespeare wrote, “Parting is such sweet sorrow.” Like most Ethiopians who had the privilege to meet them over the past weeks, I have been enriched and inspired by their passionate commitment to democracy, freedom and human rights. I am thankful for their brief presence in America.

History will remember their tour for a few things. Their presence in our midst validated our basic belief that the power of ideas and truth combined with the courage of ordinary men and women will always triumph in the end. Ronald Reagan said, “No weapon in the arsenals of the world is so formidable as the will and moral courage of free men and women”. And Marian Wright Edelman, on the opposite side of the ideological spectrum said, "You just need to be a flea against injustice. Enough committed fleas biting strategically can make even the biggest dog uncomfortable and transform even the biggest nation."

They have proven to all of us that when you get enough committed and courageous fleas biting in the cause truth and justice, no weapon in the arsenal of the world can defeat them. This will be the lasting legacy of this Delegation’s U.S.A. Tour.

This Delegation has also proven to us all that democracy is not about individual personalities or political parties or ideology. It is really about defending and practicing certain principles. It is about the rule of law, and about accountability and keeping government and leaders honest. It is about building institutions to administer justice, and to bring to the bar of justice those who have committed injustice. It is really about giving everyone a chance to be heard, and a chance to make a difference.

The mere presence of the Delegation in America was a lesson in patriotism to many of us. The kind of patriotism which says you can be proud of your Ethiopian heritage, and your American citizenship. You can love America and love Ethiopia too because both countries are bound by the same cord of liberty. Their presence amongst us made a difference. They made us stronger. More determined. More committed. More involved in the destiny of our homeland. We are mighty glad to have them.

When they return home, no doubt they will remember the political discussions and debates, and questions and answers and the long flight delays, the whole life-out-of-a-luggage bit, the bland cuisine and all of the other inconveniences and aggravation. And I secretly hope they will not begrudge us for not giving them time off, for not taking them on the tourist circuits, and for not giving them a break. They want to go home. We understand. They have much business to do there.

I am confident that after they return home and think of the weeks they spent with us, they will remember not only the hard work and the hardships, but also the thousands of people who greeted them at the airports and the meeting halls and in the streets. I am sure that when they think of the overwhelming love, the deep gratitude and genuine appreciation they received from their fellow countrymen and women, their eyes will well up in tears because there is no bigger gift we could give them to take home. We have given them our hearts, and kept theirs with us. It is an even and fair exchange.

Farewell, Champions!
Farewell, Champions! If anyone should ask you, “How was your trip to America?”, just tell them flat out: “We Came! We Saw! We Conquered!” Godspeed! You are all welcome back anytime, Friends!

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

We Demand an Apology, Senator Inhofe!

Senator James Inhofe
453 Russell Senate Office Bldg
Washington, D.C. 20510
FAX: (202) 228-0380

Dear Senator Inhofe:

I am writing to demand an apology for the racist, scurrilous, truculent, degrading, offensive and manifestly untruthful statements you made on the floor of the Senate on October 17, 2007.

I. Ethiopians Demand An Apology For Your Racist, Slanderous and Defamatory Statement That They Are Baby Killers, Child Abusers and Immoral People.

In your statement reported in the Congressional Record1, your own website and on Youtube2, you stated,

“Ethiopia takes great pride in being the oldest independent country in Africa.”
But this “old and independent country” should hang its head in shame because, if you are to be believed, it is a land of baby killers, child abusers and immoral people. You boldly stated:

In Addis 6 years ago, we found a little baby. The little baby was 3 days old. The baby was almost dead. It was not unusual. In some countries in Africa, they throw away mostly young baby girls. Then after about 3 days, when they die, the dogs get them. We were there before the dogs got there." (Emphasis added.)
You proceeded to reinforce your outrageous statement by implying that not only are Ethiopian parents savages that throw their baby girls to the dogs, but other African children are monstrous fiends as well. You stated:

You have heard about the children soldiers. Those soldiers are taken over by these people and trained to fight at ages 10, 11, and 12. Then once they learn to be soldiers, they have to go back to their villages and murder their parents and family. If they don’t do that, they dismember them.

Your statements are not only racist, mean-spirited, hurtful and offensive, they are also unsupported by any fact. In your statements masquerading as social concern for Ethiopians, you are spreading racist propaganda from the floor of the United States Senate. Your comments reflect your own deep-seated racist belief that Ethiopians and other Africans are savages who still live in the Dark Continent. Your comments open a window into your soul and lay bare your fundamental belief in the social, if not genetic inferiority of Africans, and of all black people as being animalistic and uncaring for their children. Ultimately, your statements provide a pseudo-cultural rationale for the racist beliefs held by extreme groups in the United States and elsewhere that Ethiopians in particular and Africans in general are a hopeless lot condemned to perpetual savagery and barbarism. Your statements are no different than similarly hurtful and deeply offensive comments made about African American families in the United States.

It is regrettable that you have chosen to use your unique position in the United States Senate to promote your personal vicious brand of racism. Nonetheless, we challenge you to produce a single documented case in Ethiopia where a parent has fed their baby girl to the dogs. ONE SINGLE INSTANCE!

We will not debase ourselves by defending against your racist remarks. Let it be known to you, and to a candid world that Ethiopians, poor or rich, young or old, love their children beyond measure, boys and girls equally, and will do everything, like all other human beings in the world, to protect and care for them.

Human Rights of Children: Convention on the Rights of the Child
We know from your statement that the regime of Zenawi, which you support and defend blindly, observes human rights fully. But did you know that it is a violation of international human rights laws, the Convention on the Rights of Children and the “Ethiopian Constitution” to feed babies to dogs? As a responsible U.S. Senator, and just as a decent God-fearing human being, it is your moral, if not legal, duty to report such outrageous and inhuman action to the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights for violations of the Convention on the Rights of the Child which provides under Art. 6:
1. States Parties recognize that every child has the inherent right to life. 2. States Parties shall ensure to the maximum extent possible the survival and development of the child.

Ethiopian Constitution
It is also your moral duty to report to the regime in Ethiopia which you defend so energetically the occurrence of such inhuman practice, and condemn them for failing to protect the lives of Ethiopian children under Article 36 of the “Ethiopian Constitution”:
The Rights of the Child
1. Every child shall be entitled to the rights enumerated here under:-
(a) the right to life

In either case, you had, and continue to have, a moral duty to report such inhuman and illegal conduct to the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights and to Zenawi’s regime so that the offending parents could be brought to justice for such barbarous acts. Minimally, you have a duty to introduce a Senate Resolution, which will no doubt be supported by 100 per cent of all U.S. Senators, condemning such practices and revealing to the world such unspeakable crimes committed against children. Senator Inhofe: Have you done any of the above? Are you prepared to do any or all of the above? Is there any reason whatsoever why you can not, or will not, do the foregoing at the present time?

Rescuing a Dog or a Baby From the Animal Shelter?
You indicated that 6 years ago your daughter Molly adopted an Ethiopian baby “just before the dogs got there.” We regret that you had to implicate your daughter Molly in your irresponsible statements, but having done so, we must challenge your motives and your daughter’s motives in this adoption. You stated:

I have 20 kids and grandkids of whom I am very proud. My daughter Molly had nothing but boys. She always wanted a girl. So we were able to take this little girl from Ethiopia and nurse her back to health. She had several very close calls. She is healthy and has now been here in the United States and is my adopted granddaughter.
In light of your statements, we are not sure if your daughter Molly adopted Zegita out of a genuine concern for the baby, or if she felt she was on a rescue mission to the dog shelter to pick up a pet dog for the family before it is put to sleep. You even displayed a poster size picture of that child on the Senate floor for reasons we can not comprehend.

Were you trying to show the world the trophy you rescued from the shelter just before it was euthanized?

II. We Demand an Apology From You For Lying and Misrepresenting to the American People That Zenawi, the Regime Leader in Ethiopia, “has taken significant steps again to regain a democratic process that is fair and respectful of human rights.” In your Statement, you told the American people:

In Ethiopia, recently, I met with Prime Minister Meles, his wife. I met with members of the Parliament and with all the individuals there who are trying to do a good job. While there, I saw firsthand their democratic progress and commitment in fighting terrorism. Although I appreciate the increased attention being given to Africa, particularly Ethiopia, I believe the bill is misguided and takes the wrong approach by placing demands on a friend and ally that has made obvious advancements in democracy and human rights. While I continue to agree that the violence and intimidation that took place after the 2005 election was an unnecessary use of excessive force, the Government of Ethiopia has taken significant steps again to regain a democratic process that is fair and respectful of human rights. (Emphasis added.)

In denouncing H.R. 2003 (Ethiopia Democracy and Accountability Act of 2007), you stated:
“punitive actions [in the bill] could damage the bilateral relationship between the United States and the Government of Ethiopia, as well as derail progress Ethiopia has made in furtherance of democracy and supporting human rights. I fully support the State Department’s assessment. Quite often I am criticized for coming down here and opposing the State Department. More often than not, that is the case. But in this case they are exactly right.” (Emphasis added.)

Senator Inhofe: Are you aware that your claim that the Ethiopian regime has taken “significant steps again to regain a democratic process that is fair and respectful of human rights” is contradicted by U.S. State Department and every other international human rights organization in the world?

In your Statement, you made a special point to underscore your general disagreements with the State Department on most issues but that you “fully support the State Department’s assessment [that punitive actions in H.R. 2003 could damage the bilateral relationship]. Quite often I am criticized for coming down here and opposing the State Department. More often than not, that is the case. But in this case they are exactly right.” (Emphasis added.)

Do you also agree with the following State Department assessments and conclusions set forth in the most recent human rights report on Ethiopia (April 5, 2007):
The [Ethiopian] government’s human rights record remained poor in many areas. Human rights abuses reported during the year included the following: unlawful killings; beating, abuse, and mistreatment of detainees and opposition supporters by security forces; poor prison conditions; arbitrary arrest and detention, particularly of those suspected of sympathizing with or being members of the opposition; detention of thousands without charge and lengthy pretrial detention; infringement on citizens’ privacy rights; restrictions on freedom of the press; arrest, detention, and harassment of journalists for publishing articles critical of the government; restrictions on freedom of assembly and of association; violence and societal discrimination against women and abuse of children; female genital mutilation; exploitation of children for economic and sexual purposes; trafficking in persons; societal discrimination against persons with disabilities and against religious and ethnic minorities; and government interference in union activities.

Do you further agree with the following specific findings on Ethiopia in the same State Department report?:
On torture, infliction of cruel, inhuman, degrading treatment/ punishmentAlthough the [Ethiopian] constitution and law prohibit the use of torture and mistreatment, there were numerous credible reports that security officials often beat or mistreated detainees. On arbitrary arrest and detention Although the [Ethiopian] constitution and law prohibit arbitrary arrest and detention, the government frequently did not observe these provisions in practice…. Authorities regularly detained persons without warrants and denied access to counsel and family members, particularly in outlying regions… The independent commission of inquiry… found that security officials held over 30,000 civilians incommunicado for up to three months in detention centers located in remote areas… Other estimates placed the number of such detainees at over 50,000.

On the denial of fair trialWhile the law provides for an independent judiciary, the judiciary remained weak and overburdened. The judiciary was perceived to be subject to significant political intervention.

On the lack of freedom of speech and press
While the [Ethiopian] constitution and law provide for freedom of speech and press, the government restricted these rights in practice. The government continued to harass and prosecute journalists, publishers, and editors for publishing allegedly fabricated information and for other violations of the press law. The government continued to control all broadcast media. Private and government journalists routinely practiced self censorship.

On condition of Political Prisoners
The 200 political prisoners on trial in the Addis Ababa federal system were held in two separate prisons, Kaliti and Kerchele, often under harsh conditions. In March CUD Secretary General Muluheh Eyoel was placed in solitary confinement at Kerchele prison. In August fellow CUD member Andualem Arage, along with journalists Sisay Agena and Eskinder Nega, were placed in solitary confinement.

On Freedom of Assembly
The constitution and law provide for freedom of assembly. Prior to the May 2005 national elections, there were numerous opposition rallies, including one that occurred in Addis Ababa that was attended by nearly one million persons the weekend prior to the elections. However, immediately following the elections and throughout the year, the government restricted this right in practice. From May 2005 to year’s end, the government granted only one permit allowing a public demonstration to take place.

On Freedom of AssociationAlthough the law provides for freedom of association and the right to engage in unrestricted peaceful political activity, the government in practice limited this right. The Ministry of Justice registers and licenses NGOs, and there was some improvement in transparency of the NGO registration process. The government continued to deny registration to the Human Rights League (see section 4).

III. With All Due Respect, Have You Read H.R. 2003?We find it remarkable that your statements in substantial part recapitulate verbatim statements found in the public relations and lobbying materials disseminated by the D.L.A. Piper lobbying firm, and in the press releases of the Ethiopian Embassy. You lift so many phrases from such materials that we are left to wonder if you have actually read the bill itself in making your statement. Therefore, we respectfully question your reading, understanding and veracity of statements you made concerning H.R. 2003.

False Statement #1: H.R. 2003 undermines and threatens U.S. counter-terrorism efforts in the Horn of Africa.You made the same argument in your Senate statement that D.L.A. Piper has repeatedly made in its lobbying materials, namely that H.R. 2003 threatens U.S. national interests by undermining the strategic counter-terrorism partnership with Ethiopia by imposing onerous sanctions and limiting U.S. security assistance. You stated that terrorist activity that has taken place in the Middle East and how it is now coming down through the Horn of Africa, through Djibouti and that area into the Uganda-Ethiopia area, it is a very significant area right now… Our country’s strong support of Ethiopia during this significant time is imperative… These punitive actions [in H.R. 2003] could damage the bilateral relationship between the United States and the Government of Ethiopia…

Your statement is patently false and contradicted by Section 5 of H.R. 2003, which makes a major exception on counter-terrorism efforts in the Horn:
(B) EXCEPTION- Subparagraph (A) shall not apply with respect to peacekeeping assistance, counter-terrorism assistance, or international military education and training for civilian personnel under section 541 of the Foreign Assistance Act of 1961 (commonly referred to as `Expanded IMET’). (Emphasis added.)

False Statement #2: H.R. 2003 is misguided and takes the wrong approach by placing demands on a friend and ally that has made obvious advancements in democracy and human rights.

The “demands” that H.R. 2003 “places” on a “friend and an ally” involve compliance with the following provisions under Sec. 5 (3) of H.R. 2003, which shall remain inoperative unless:
(A) all political prisoners and prisoners of conscience in Ethiopia have been released, their civil and political rights restored, and their property returned;
(B) prisoners held without charge or kept in detention without fair trial in violation of the Constitution of Ethiopia are released or receive a fair and speedy trial, and prisoners whose charges have been dismissed or acquitted and are still being held are released without delay;

(C) the Ethiopian judiciary is able to function independently and allowed to uphold the Ethiopian Constitution and international human rights standards;

(D) security personnel involved in the unlawful killings of demonstrators and others, including Etenesh Yemam, and Kaliti prisoners are held accountable;

(E) family members, friends, legal counsel, medical personnel, human rights advocates, and others have access, consistent with international law, to visit detainees in Ethiopian prisons;

(F) print and broadcast media in Ethiopia are able to operate free from undue interference and laws restricting media freedom, including sections of the Ethiopian Federal Criminal Code, are revised;

(G) licensing of independent radio and television in Ethiopia is open and transparent;

(H) Internet access is not restricted by the government and the ability of citizens to freely send and receive electronic mail and otherwise obtain information is guaranteed;

(I) the National Election Board (NEB) includes representatives of political parties with seats in the Ethiopian Parliament and the NEB functions independently in its decision-making;

(J) representatives of international human rights organizations engaged in human rights monitoring work, humanitarian aid work, or investigations into human rights abuses in Ethiopia are admitted to Ethiopia and allowed to undertake their work in all regions of the country without undue restriction; and (K) Ethiopian human rights organizations are able to operate in an environment free of harassment, intimidation, and persecution.

HR 2003 further provides $40 million to strengthen democratic institutions and promote respect for human rights.

Senator Inhofe: What is “misguided” about these “demands”? What is so unreasonable and “wrong” about them? Are these “demands” not based on the very same timeless principles and ideas in the American Constitution?

Your claim of “obvious advancements in democracy and human rights” in Ethiopia is contradicted by the U.S. State Department as shown above, and by ALL other international human rights organizations.

False Statement #3: “These punitive actions [in H.R. 2003] could damage the bilateral relationship between the United States and the Government of Ethiopia, as well as derail progress Ethiopia has made in furtherance of democracy and supporting human rights.” (Emphasis added.)

You stated that H.R. 2003 will “derail progress Ethiopia has made in furtherance of democracy and supporting human rights”. You produce no evidence to support this false claim. You point to the fact that “on July 20, 2007, following convictions and sentencing, 38 opposition leaders were granted full pardons. All remaining members of the opposition were pardoned and released on August 18, 2007.”

Your statement suggests that Ethiopia’s problems are limited to the imprisonment of a few dozen opposition leaders. You ignore entirely the massive human rights violations in the country, the brutal repression of dissent, the tens of thousands of innocent political prisoners still in detention the ruthless suppression of democratic liberties and institutions, among others. Indeed, you seem satisfied that the release of 38 opposition leaders addresses all of the political issues in the country.

Senator Inhofe: Are you aware that there are tens of thousands of prisoners still in detention in Ethiopia by the regime you so blindly defend? Are you aware that hundreds of individuals are detained every day on suspicion of political opposition? Are you aware that there is no independent free press in Ethiopia? Are you aware that human rights organizations are not allowed to function? Human rights violators, including the those who caused the deaths of unarmed citizens (whose deaths you said you regretted) are not prosecuted and still walk the streets free? That there is no independent judiciary? And so on…

You further stated that “reforms have been made to the election process.” Could you tell us exactly what reforms have been made to the elections process? Have you spoken to the Delegation of opposition leaders currently touring the U.S. about the so-called elections reforms and their opinions on it? They can certainly tell you about “elections reforms”. After all they served 21 months in prison defending the integrity of the electoral system. They are still in town. Would you like to meet them and learn the truth about “elections reform” first hand?

We challenge you to produce a shred of evidence to support your false claim of “electoral reforms” that actually promote democratic participation by ensuring free, fair and competitive elections with a level playing field, good governance based on representative, transparent and accountable institutions, independent courts and legislative bodies operating under the rule of law, that promote robust civil society institutions, and above all, ensure the existence of an independent media that can keep government honest and citizens engaged and involved in the democratic process.

Assuming that the regime you defend so blindly has made “reforms to the election process”, there is no logical, financial or legal reason for it to oppose H.R. 2003 because the bill reward the regime with $40 million to help strengthen the democratic reforms they are allegedly implementing!

False Statement #4: “A lot of people [lawmakers in Congress] couldn’t find Ethiopia on a map.”You stated: “I think we have to oppose H.R. 2003. I have talked to several people who didn’t know any differently. They didn’t object to this. I think it went through on a UC over there. But a lot of people couldn’t find Ethiopia on a map.” Your demeaning remarks towards your colleagues are not only patently false and vulgar, they are also disrespectful of the institution of Congress and irreconcilable with rules of Senate decorum. Senate Rules of Order, Rule 6.2 provides:
Decorous language
Every member shall confine himself to decorous language in addressing the Senate and shall make no personal or derogatory remark to or about any member.

Obviously, you do not appear to be familiar with Senate Rule 6.2, or you would not have insulted the intelligence of members of Congress in such a mean and contemptuous manner. Nonetheless, we will defend all members of the Subcommittee on Africa and Global Affairs, House Foreign Relations Committee that unanimously passed H.R. 2003, the entire membership of the Black Caucus, and all members of the House of Representatives and the Senate against your scandalous statement. We affirmatively state, without reservation, that ALL members of Congress, save one, can place Ethiopia on the map, and intelligently discuss U.S. foreign policy in the Horn of Africa. If knowledge and facts are important in public policy discussions, as you seem to suggest, perhaps you should look at your own Senate record before you point an accusatory finger at others.

False Statement #5: American Troops are Fighting Alongside 100,000 Ethiopian troops in Somalia.
You made the following patently false statement:
We need to understand the significance of what is going on right now. We made a decision about 6 years ago to help the Africans establish five African brigades… It happens that Ethiopia is the headquarters for the East African Brigade…. Our idea is, as I mentioned, there is a squeeze in the Middle East. As terrorism starts going down through Djibouti and the Horn of Africa into northeastern Africa, this is an area where if they are prepared to take care of themselves, we would not be sending our troops there… [Ethiopia] is helping us, fighting with us side by side, sending 100,000 troops with American troops down to Somalia and working on our side.

It is obvious that you have confused the number of refugees that left Moqadishu and the surrounding areas (in excess of 100,000 persons) with the number of Ethiopian soldiers stationed in Somalia. Additional fact checking on your part would show that the regime in Ethiopia has never stated that it has 100,000 soldiers in Somalia. In fact, it has never given an estimate of more than several thousand troops in Somalia; and those troops were supposed to have been withdrawn within less than 6 months of the initial date of intervention. On March 12, 2007, Zenawi stated that all Ethiopian troops would be withdrawn from Somalia within weeks. But Zenawi’s troops are still bogged down in Somalia. Your statement that there are currently 100,000 Ethiopian troops fighting in Somalia is a manifestation of your own ignorance and reckless disregard of the facts, or an extraordinary piece of intelligence unknown to any person or government in the world.

The other allegation in your statement that “American troops are fighting side by side” with Ethiopian troops is not a matter to be taken lightly. As you may know, the War Powers Resolution of 1973 ( Public Law 93-148) is very particular about introduction of U.S. troops into hostilities or combat. Section 3 of this Resolution provides:
The President in every possible instance shall consult with Congress before introducing United States Armed Forces into hostilities or into situation where imminent involvement in hostilities is clearly indicated by the circumstances, and after every such introduction shall consult regularly with the Congress until United States Armed Forces are no longer engaged in hostilities or have been removed from such situations.

You have presented no evidence to support your claim that American troops are fighting in Somalia side by side with Ethiopian troops. If your claim is true, the President would be in clear violation of the War Powers Resolution; and you and the other Senators would in dereliction of your constitutional duties for not acting to bring him into compliance with the law. We challenge you to prove the truth of your statement that American troops are fighting in Somalia by themselves or in support of Ethiopian troops!

You stated further that the U.S. has “helpe[d] the Africans establish five African brigades” in the fight against terrorism. That is a patently false statement. The only U.S. “African brigade” (or American military base) that exists in sub-Sahara Africa is in Djbouti at Camp Lemonier, a former French Foreign Legion base outside the capital, and houses approximately 1,800 American personnel. Again, it is important for you to check your facts before you state them in public.

III. “I have been to Africa more than any Senator in the history of America.”
In proclaiming your special concern and commitment to Africa you stated:
I think I am safe to say that I have been to Africa more than any Senator in the history of America. I have been really tied to that continent and recognize the significance in the future of our country as well as their country. It is an area of strategic importance globally to this Nation.

You claim that you “have been to Africa more than any U.S. Senator in the history of America.” Though that may be a fact, it is also true that you have done very little, if anything, to help Ethiopia or Africa despite your boastful claim of concern. You served in the House of Representatives from 1987 until 1994, and in the Senate from 1994 to present. For a Senator who claims to have “been to Africa more than any Senator in the history of America,” have you sponsored a single piece of legislation that is relevant to Africa? Ethiopia?

Have you ever served, or requested to serve on the Senate Subcommittee on African Affairs? Have you made any efforts to establish a Senate Caucus on Ethiopia, comparable to the House Caucus on Ethiopia?

Have you ever contacted Donald Payne, Chairman, House subcommittee on Africa and Global health, to discuss H.R. 2003, or any matters or issues affecting Africa? Have you ever contacted Republican Christopher Smith, the former Chairman of the Subcommittee on Africa, Global Human Rights and International Operations Africa who introduced an earlier version of H.R. 2003 (H.R. 5680) to discuss any matters affecting Africa or Ethiopia?

Of course, you have done nothing for Ethiopia or Africa when you were in the private sector. When you became president of the Quaker Life Insurance Company, and before that company went into receivership and liquidation in 1986 under your leadership and management, you had done nothing to help the people of Ethiopia or Africa.

The incontrovertible fact of the matter is that you have as much interest in helping the people of Ethiopia or Africa as you do in protecting the people of America from the scientifically-establsihed negative effects of global warming.

Senator Inhofe: You pontificate, moralize and preach about Ethiopia and Africa but you have done absolutely nothing to alleviate the suffering of Africans. In fact, you have come out to champion the very tyrants and dictators who have inflicted great suffering and pain on the people of Ethiopia. You have become the mouthpiece of oppression, and you have demonstrated that you will lie, cheat and deceive the American people to accomplish your ignominious defense of tyranny in Ethiopia.



Alemayehu G. Mariam, Ph.D., J.D.
Professor and Attorney at Law
Coalition for H.R. 2003
E-mail: passhr2003@hr2003.org
Phone: 323-988-5688 Fax: 323-924-5563

Cc: U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee
U.S. Senate Leadership
House Subcommittee on Africa and Global Health
House Foreign Relations Committee
House of Representatives, Black Caucus
House Leadership
Oklahoma, Print and Electronic Media, seriatim
NAACP, national and Oklahoma
Oklahoma Faith-based Institutions, seriatim
Network and Cable News Outlets, seriatim
Full list available at www.hr2003.org

Monday, October 15, 2007

One Small Step for the U.S. Congress, One Giant Leap for Ethiopian Human Rights

“It is a great day for America! It’s a great day for Ethiopia!” Congressman Donald Payne

Passage of H.R. 2003 on October 2, 2007 in the U.S. House of Representatives marked a great day for Ethiopia as did the lunar landing of Apollo 11 for humanity on July 20, 1969. When astronaut Neil Armstrong first stepped on the lunar surface, he said: “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.” That was the spirit of Payne’s message when he stepped out of the Foreign Affairs Committee hearing room on September 26, 2007and said, “It is a great day for America. It is a great day for Ethiopia”. But we all know what he meant: “H.R. 2003 is one small step for the U.S. Congress, one giant leap for Ethiopians on their long walk to freedom, democracy and human rights.”

Two dates in Anno Domini 2007 shall forever live in glory in the history of Ethiopia: September 26 and October 2. On these dates, the American Congress sent a message of hope, redemption and salvation to the Ethiopian people, “Hold on! Hold fast! Hold tight! Your Freedom Train is coming!”

The U.S Congress also addressed another stern message to the ironfisted, cruel and pitiless dictators in Ethiopia: “America will not give you guns, tanks and bombs to wipe out the people of the Ogaden. America will not be your partner in crime as you slaughter unarmed demonstrators in the streets. America will not stand with you by your prison gates as you keep hundreds of thousands of innocent citizens behind bars. The American tax payer will not bankroll your wicked decimation of the democratic liberties and human rights of your citizens. Americans will not allow their tax dollars to oppress the Ethiopian people, massacre, maim and mistreat them. No, America will not befriend tyrants who pervert and corrupt justice for private gain and disfigure it in the pursuit of partisan politics. America will not conspire with election thieves and rob the Ethiopian people of their democratic voices.”

On October 2, 2007, the U.S. House of Representatives made its final declaration, unanimously and without objection: “Enough is enough!” In the pithy words of Congressman Chris Smith, “No more American tax dollars to support a vicious dictator and his henchmen!” And Congressman Dana Rorabacher could barely contain his fury when he said: “No military aid to the thugs and gangsters that are running Ethiopia today and profiteering from the confiscated property of American citizens of Ethiopian descent!” But the imperturbable Donald Payne just laid out the plain case to a candid world: “Our aim in H.R. 2003 is to foster accountability and transparency in Ethiopia, and strengthen its institutions of democracy.”

Donald Payne’s Long Road to Deliver a Gift of Freedom to Ethiopians

On October 2, 2007, at precisely 12:58 p.m., Donald Payne stood in the well of the House of Representatives as the Speaker Pro Tem thundered: “H.R. 2003 is passed by the House without objection.” Many of us had waited to hear those words for a mighty long time. And those words resonated in our ears like sweet musical lyrics, and reverberated across the globe wherever Ethiopians live scattered by the winds of tyranny. And all freedom-loving Ethiopians the world over let out a crescendo of joyful noises for God to hear!

But on that fateful day, Don Payne stood in the well of the House like a captain standing on the bridge of a ship that had just emerged on the horizon after a long night on the savage sea. There he stood calm, collected, deliberate and with an air of quiet dignity and self-assuredness. That brief moment masked the years of hard work and toil he had exerted to get this bill to the floor. But how many of us really know the trials and tribulations of the lone captain of the H.R. 2003 in getting the bill to the House floor?

Encircled by 3,500 ferocious predator sharks from the lobbying firm of D.L.A. Piper, our captain did not flinch. When Armey’s Army marched on the Hill to lay siege to his office, he held his ground. And when D.L.A. Piper, engorged by millions of lobbying dollars, bombarded members of Congress with the slings and arrows of falsehoods, half truths and distortions in an effort to defeat H.R. 2003, Payne stood there and said, “I shall not be moved!” When he saw Ethiopian brokers of tyranny skulking in the halls of Congress to spread their lies and mislead lawmakers, he must have shaken his head in dismay: “How can men sell their souls and their people for thirty pieces of silver?” In the end, he was told, “You will never make it against the mighty D.L.A. Piper. You are up against George Mitchell, Richard Gephart, Richard Klien, Richard Armey and 3,500 of the cleverest and most cunning lawyers in the world. There is no way you can win against a regime that has mined the legislative sea with millions of dollars. Back off Payne! Give it up!”

But Captain Payne would have none of it. He called out: “All hands on deck. Damn the torpedoes! Full speed ahead!”

On that glorious October day, Don Payne pried open the locked jaws and serrated teeth of the D.L.A. Piper sharks and snatched H.R. 2003 to safety. As he had promised long ago, on October 2, 2007, Payne delivered to us on a golden platter the most precious gift any human being can offer another — the gift of freedom, democracy and human rights.

Donald Payne and the Struggle for Human Rights and Democracy in Ethiopia

Why did Donald Payne toil so much for democracy and human rights in Ethiopia? Why did he put up with those insufferable and provocative ignoramuses? Why did he say passage of H.R. 2003 marked a great day in the history of America and Ethiopia?

Payne’s concern for human rights is nothing new, and certainly, his commitment to human rights in Ethiopia is above and beyond the call of duty. For the past two years, he toiled relentlessly to pass a bill that sought to improve the human rights situation in Ethiopia. He had traveled to Ethiopia on a number of occasions, and he spoke with regime officials, opposition leaders, independent journalists and just common folks. He visited Kality jail and uplifted the spirit of the prisoners of conscience. He welcomed the Inquiry Commission members, and invited them to brief Congress on the massacre and wholesale incarceration of innocent citizens. He met and spoke with hundreds of Ethiopians in his office, at community events, panel discussions, on radio and television. Payne has been there for us, the whole time! But how many of us really know that?

Payne, like all of the other members of Congress who support H.R. 2003, did not get involved in Ethiopia human rights to get recognition, credit or applause. No, he got involved because of the outrageous abuses of human rights. “The people of Ethiopia have suffered for decades,” he said “and millions live in abject poverty.” He reminded everyone, “Human rights have been abused not only in the capital, but in other part of the country such as the Somali and Ogaden regions.” He got involved because he felt he ought to do something to alleviate the suffering of the Ethiopian people both as a ranking member and later as Chairman of the Africa subcommittee. His colleagues on the Foreign Affairs Committee recognized his efforts at the mark-up hearing and commended him for his tenacity and hard work in trying to improve human rights in Ethiopia.

None of this should come to us as a surprise. Payne is no stranger to human rights advocacy or promotion of democratic institution-building in Africa. In 2004, he authored the resolution that condemned the genocide in Darfur, the Sudan. He has traveled to Chad and other locations in the region time and again to learn first hand the conditions of refugees. In 1994, President Clinton appointed him to head a delegation to Rwanda to bring the warring parties to a negotiated settlement of that country’s humanitarian and political crises. He has served on the board of directors of the National Endowment for Democracy (the premier NGO that supports pro-democracy forces throughout the world) and TransAfrica (the premier African American lobbying group that made decisive contributions to bring an end to apartheid in South Africa). He has worked actively to support the Northern Ireland peace process.

But Why Is It a Great Day for America?

In the general scheme of Congressional legislation, H.R. 2003 is not an earthshaking bill. It is by no means a bill that “locks the horns” of the great institutions of American government in policy conflict. It is not a bill that weighs heavily in the debate between the great powers of the world. It is just a little human rights bill that aims to help a small and very poor country in the northeast corner of Africa. In the words of Donald Payne, H.R. 2003 is a simple bill with “strong bipartisan support” intended to “send a clear message that transparency, accountability, rule of law and respect for human rights are paramount for the United States.”

H.R. 2003 marks a great day for America because it shows America does strive to live out the true meaning of its founding principles. As the U.S. State Department Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor aptly put it:

The protection of fundamental human rights was a foundation stone in the establishment of the United States over 200 years ago. Since then, a central goal of U.S. foreign policy has been the promotion of respect for human rights, as embodied in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The United States understands that the existence of human rights helps secure the peace, deter aggression, promote the rule of law, combat crime and corruption, strengthen democracies, and prevent humanitarian crises.

The pursuit of human rights in U.S. foreign policy remains paramount. For three decades, the U.S. Congress has legislatively mandated human rights certification for recipients of U.S. aid. In section 502B of the Foreign Assistance Act (1976, as amended), the American Secretary of State is required to transmit to Congress “a full and complete report” every year concerning “respect for internationally recognized human rights in each country proposed as a recipient” of U.S. security assistance. Specifically, this section requires accountability information on specific areas such as: torture, arbitrary arrest, denial of fair trial and invasion of the home and extra-judicial killings. The Leahy Amendment (2001) prohibited funding to the security forces of any country involved in gross violations of human rights.

Why Is It a Great Day for Ethiopia?

The history of Ethiopia has been a history of a long train of abuses of its people by a motley syndicate of autocrats, despots, dictators and tyrants. It is great day for Ethiopia because in H.R. 2003, for the first time since the elections of 2005, we have an opportunity to purge the miasma of tyranny and dictatorship that envelopes Ethiopia today. It is an effective tool to promote and institutionalize freedom, democracy, human rights, accountability and transparency in Ethiopia. H.R. 2003 helps Ethiopia live up to the true meaning of its own constitutional guarantees and international human rights obligations.

Passion of Don Payne, Chris Smith, Dana Rorabacher and…: Is it “Vendetta” or Passion That Gave Birth to H.R. 2003?

The Vendetta?
On the occasion of the state visit of German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Zenawi
accused Donald Payne and the U.S. Congress of exacting a “vendetta” against him in passing H.R. 2003. Zenawi said, “If this man [Payne] is really concerned about human rights issues, he should talk about human rights violations in Eritrea, not Ethiopia.” He complained, “It is an unfair decision. It is the result of a vendetta… If it was about the human rights situation, they should have looked at Eritrea first.”

Why would Payne wage a personal vendetta against Zenawi? Where is the evidence of a vendetta?

But here is conclusive proof that H.R. 2003 is NOT a vendetta. The bill was co-sponsored on a bipartisan basis by 85 members of the House of Representatives. It first passed unanimously in the Africa subcommittee (11 members), then passed unanimously again in the Foreign Affairs Committee (50 members) and finally passed unanimously on the floor of the House of Representatives (435 members). It was not passed by one man. Does Zenawi mean to suggest that 435 democrats and republicans were assembled by Don Payne in a secret location, and conspired to exact a vendetta on him and his regime when they passed H.R. 2003?

Assuming, arguendo, H.R. 2003 is an act of vendetta, what is the harm done? What harm is done by requiring observance of the rule of law in Ethiopia? Or establishing independent and professional judicial institutions? Or allowing an independent and free press to function? Or guaranteeing democratic liberties such as freedom of speech, association, assembly and due process of law? Or… Or…

But even more wacky is Zenawi’s claim that Payne and the U.S. Congress should have scrutinized Eritrea before turning their attention to his regime. By why begin with Eritrea? Why not clean up Burma, the Sudan, Chad, Congo, Rwanda, Burundi, Algeria, Sierra Leone, North Korea, Iran, Zimbabwe, East Timor, Uzbekistan, Kazakhistan, Kyrghistan…. before knocking on the doors of Ethiopia. Zenawi says, “There are worse guys than me out there. Deal with them first before you train your flashlight on me. Turn a blind eye and deaf ears to what I do because I am helping you fight Al-Qaeda.”

This is the kind of reasoning logicians call ignoratio elenchi; or in common vernacular, the argument that misses the point. The point is that there are massive human rights violations in Ethiopia, not that more massive or severe violations of human rights are not occurring in neighboring countries or elsewhere in the world. The fact that other countries violate the human rights of their citizens at a greater level offers neither moral absolution nor legal immunity for human rights violations or other criminal acts by the regime in Ethiopia. It certainly does not preclude accountability to a legislature that shells out $500 million a year to support that regime!

While we are on the subject of “vendetta”, let’s ask a few of our own: Was vendetta the cause of the massacre of the 193 unarmed protesters and shooting of 763 others in 2005? Or the mass incarceration of 30,000 innocent persons? Or the 20-month imprisonment of opposition leaders? Or jailing of independent journalists? Or continued detention of thousands of ordinary citizens? Or…. Or…

The Passion
Why are House democrats and republicans familiar with the human rights situation in Ethiopia so passionate about doing something to improve it? What would drive ordinarily genteel members of Congress — who rarely, if ever, use abrasive language in their proceedings — use such word and phrases as “thugs”, “gangsters”, “vicious dictators”, “petty tyrants” to describe Zenawi’s regime? Surely, anyone who has viewed the video stream of the mark-up proceedings will attest to the passionate and bipartisan advocacy on behalf of human rights and democracy in Ethiopia.

Why should any of them care about Ethiopia? Don Payne does not have relatives in Ethiopia. It is doubtful that any other member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee has an extended network of family, friends and relatives in Ethiopia to care so passionately about Ethiopia. The answer is simple. They love Ethiopia and its people. They care about their Ethiopian American constituents. Talk to any member of Congress who is familiar with the human rights situation in Ethiopia and you will understand what I mean. Talk to Payne, Smith, Honda, Rorabacher, Royce, Jackson-Lee, Lantos, the whole bunch. Ask them how they feel about Ethiopia and Ethiopians. Only then will you truly appreciate the passion behind the words.

But behind the passion stand great principles. “The protection of fundamental human
rights was a foundation stone in the establishment of the United States over 200 years ago. A central goal of U.S. foreign policy has been the promotion of respect for human rights, as embodied in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.” In the memorable words of Jimmy Carter, “America did not invent human rights. In a very real sense human rights invented America.” Exhibit A: The Declaration of Independence.

What Can We Learn From Members of Congress in Advancing Ethiopian Human Rights?
Passion, More Passion
What we saw in the Committee room on September 26 is something that we rarely see in our community: deep, passionate commitment to a cause which forces us to overflow with the truth. If members of Congress can be so passionate about human rights in Ethiopia, why can’t we? When these members of Congress and other supporters advocate on behalf of the cause of democracy and human rights in Ethiopia they do not hide their emotions or hide behind cute pseudonyms and fearsome-sounding pen names. Unlike many of our invisible, nameless and faceless cyber-warriors, they do not launch missiles of barbed words comfortably ensconced behind their keyboards. They don’t conceal their message in scholastic arguments or pedantry. They stand up in public and say what they mean, and mean what they say! That is what we should learn from our members of Congress. Saying it like it is!

But why can’t we say it like it is? Could it be because we really do not believe in what we say, and say what we believe. How can anyone expect to offer an intellectually respectable view or analysis when that person is afraid to reveal his/her identity? Who would accept a soulless message or believe in it? If one is afraid of public scrutiny, ridicule or castigation, then one ought to remain silent. We must not be paper tigers willing to shout and criticize the adversary only when he is not looking, or when he does not know our names. If the people for whom we struggle can risk their lives and liberties everyday and put everything o the line, we must not fear standing up in public for them in our own names, in our own persons, and say it like it is.

Infuse Your Passion With the First Amendment

Living in America and as American citizens, we have something that few people on earth have, and the vast majority would kill to have: The right to free speech. This most precious of our civil liberties was placed for safekeeping in the Constitution so that we, the people, will NEVER fear anyone, any official or any government, when we want to say our peace.

Since 1791, the First Amendment has served as the peoples’ impregnable shield against censorship. Many great Americans have stood up and exercised their right to free speech in times of peace and war, in hard times and good times. Paul Robeson stood against the withering persecution of McCarthy’s communist witch hunt. Thousands of ordinary American youth challenged their government and brought an end to the Vietnam War exercising their First Amendment rights. Even the brash young man, Gregory Johnson, could feel wholly confident in his right to freedom of speech that he burned Old Glory, the American flag, with impunity in a public place as thousands of patriots looked on heartsick.

Let us use our right to free speech to hold government accountable, to demand answers from public officials, to challenge them and to keep them honest. Let’s use our powers as American taxpayers to make sure “vicious dictators” do not use weapons of war which paid for by our tax dollars to be used against civilians, our brothers and sisters. IF WE DOT NOT SPEAK OUT AND SPEAK UP AS TAXPAYERS AND ALLOW AMERICAN HUMVEES AND MACHINE GUNS TO BE USED AGAINST THE CIVILIAN POPULATION IN ETHIOPIA, WE ARE GUILTY OF MORAL COMPLICITY IN ANY CRIMES COMMITTED. On this question, there is no opportunity for fence sitting, and for indifference. You have to take a stand, or stand trial in the court of your own conscience.

But let us not misuse our constitutional right to free expression. When we misuse the First Amendment to insult, demean, belittle, dishonor, disrespect and humiliate each other, not only do we squander and dishonor our precious right, in our verbal slugfest, we let those tyrants and dictators off the hook. We end up becoming their laughing stock.

We Must Act Out of A Sense of Duty, No Place For Moral Indifference

Members of Congress passed H.R. 2003 out of constitutional duty under Art. I, sec. 8 of the U.S. Constitution and in exercise of their “power of the purse”. Of course, we do not have a constitutional duty to help our people, but we do have an equally compelling moral duty to act. That moral duty arises from the moral imperative to stand up against evil. As Edmund Burke said, “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.” Let’s not forget, the good women as well.

Why do we have a moral duty? Many reasons, but let’s start with Zenawi’s recent statement in Time Magazine. He said, “We represent the greatness of Africa’s past. We also represent the worst of Africa’s present, in terms of poverty.” Both statements are absolutely true, and the latter is supported by independent economic assessments. On the Corruption Index, Ethiopia ranks 138/179 countries in the world. The prestigious Committee to Protect Journalists ranked Zenawi’s regime as the most repressive in the world in terms of press freedoms. In its Special Report 2007, the CPJ stated, “Ethiopia, where the government launched a massive crackdown on the private press by shutting newspapers and jailing editors, leads CPJ’s dishonor roll.” And on and on…

There is no question that Ethiopians need help, big time. It is our duty to do what we can to ease suffering, spread freedom, and to lay the foundations for a robust democracy for generations yet unborn. When our homeland is filled with despair, resentment, violence, repression and there is no place for moral indifference that paralyzes us from taking affirmative action to help.

Commitment to Democracy, Human Rights Principles and Advocacy

Advocates of human rights are driven by an unshakeable belief in the fundamental dignity of the individual. They are distrustful of government – any government – that is not restrained by law. They believe government must be under the constant watch of the people. Even when the people sleep, they must do so with eyes wide open, because government, if given the opportunity, will snatch liberty from the people at the blink of an eye. That is why the universal motto of human rights advocates is, “The price of liberty is eternal vigilance.” That’s why human rights advocates believe in the principle of the rule of law – a rule that binds the naughty hands of government tightly enough so that the people can sleep in peace, talk to each other without fear, walk the streets without looking over their shoulders and live in their homes without dread of the midnight knock.

Every Man, Every Woman A Human Rights Leader

Human rights advocacy is one area of human struggle where anyone, whether educated or uneducated, rich or poor, man or woman, can play a decisive role. Every man and every woman can be a leader — a leader to enlighten the people on the rule of law, to help them assert their God-given rights, to help them realize the greatness in themselves. These leadership qualities do not require a Ph.D., an M.D., of some other badge of formal learning. One does one have to be a professor or a lawyer, a democrat, republican or anything else to stand up for human rights. All you have to be is YOU. All you need is a sincere belief in the dignity of the individual, a healthy distrust of government, an uncompromising commitment to the rule of law, and unwaivering commitment to democratic principles. The key to effective Ethiopian human rights advocacy is to make every Ethiopian man and woman a a human rights leader in his/her own right. No power on earth can defeat a human rights movement built on these simple principles.

Improving American Foreign Policy While Improving Human Rights in Ethiopia

From time to time, some people ask how H.R. 2003 helps America. “It is just an Ethiopian human rights bill,” they say. It does not really help America.” But they are mistaken. In advocating for human rights in Ethiopia and in passing H.R. 2003, we are transforming, albeit in a small way, the basic structure of American foreign policy itself.

The U.S. is often criticized for being hypocritical in its foreign policy, for being inconsistent on its basic values by supporting dictatorships out of political expediency. H.R. 2003 helps America reconnect to its founding principles, and reaffirm a basic tenet that human rights define the core of American foreign policy. We are helping shape a foreign policy that is familiar to the American people, a policy they thoroughly understand because it is a thread pulled from the very fabric of their cultural ethos and the pathos of their everyday experience. America as the land of immigrants is as diverse as the world. But what draws Americans together, more than anything else, is a universal belief in human freedom. That is exactly what H.R. 2003 does: Spread freedom to the arid political landscape of Ethiopia.

One Giant Leap for Ethiopian Human Rights, And Many Bold Strokes

In less than a generation, it is possible to bring about dramatic transformations in Ethiopia. It is possible to heal a society besieged by the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse — war, famine, pestilence and death — and divided by manufactured ethnic conflict. It is possible to address sincerely felt historical grievances and rebuild a new national identity based on a robust human rights ideology and principles of social justice. As we begin the New Millennium, we must develop a new paradigm, a new way of looking at ourselves and the world; new approaches to old problems and new methodologies and strategies to navigate the brave new world of the New Millennium. But we must start with a new unshakeable confidence in the future, in the dignity of the human being, in freedom and liberty and in timeless democratic principles. We must accept some basic truths:

I. Make a Clean Break With the Politics of the Old Millennium. We should avoid preoccupation with the failures of the past Millennium not only because we do not want to be prisoners of history but also because such preoccupation prevents new ideas from appearing. Such preoccupation makes the task of changing to a new paradigm of government, politics and society more difficult and less unattainable. The old political culture of ethnic antagonism and fragmentation and distrust must be replaced by a new one that emphasizes respect for the rule of law, observance of human rights and acceptance of democratic principles.

II. The New Millennium Requires a New Paradigm, New Strategies and New Methods of Governance. We must resolve and accept the fact that the old methods and strategies of “governance” are unworkable in the New Millennium. It is no longer possible to beat, intimidate and terrorize a population into submission. People know their rights, as demonstrated in the 2005 elections, and they will NEVER accept a government based on coercion or force. In the New Millennium, there can only be a government based on consent of the governed. To be successful, such a government must harmonize issues of good governance, accountability and transparency with issues of justice, equity, fairness and human rights. In advancing these values, there is no place for violence. Consent necessarily implies the absence of coercion, and withdrawal of consent when government no longer serves its just ends should require nothing more that the electoral judgment of the people.

III. Lead by Inspiration, not Deception and Recrimination. We must demand of our leaders to lead by inspiration, not by deception and recrimination. Leaders need to inspire by the democratic principles and values they uphold and practice, and their boundless optimism and clear vision of a better future. Of late, we have suffered the prevailing winds of recrimination and acrimony, and this has pushed some of us to the verge of despair. Many discouraging words are uttered by those we respect the most. We seek uplifting words, but we do not get them. We ask for a vision, but are left to feel our way in the dark. We ask for direction to the future, and we are told any road will get us there. We ask for a message of unity, we receive words of rancor and acrimony. Our confidence has eroded and our faith in the future shaken. If they are listening, they should know: “We need leaders who can empower us with the truth, convince us with the cogency of their logic and persuade us by the power of their arguments.” Lead by inspiration!

IV. Believe in the Power of Ideas. Ideas Always Defeat Guns, Always. We must believe in the power of ideas. The power of ideas will always, always overcome the power of gunpowder. Mahatma Gandhi’s ideas of nonviolence led to the liberation of 350 million Indians from colonialism. He opposed violence because it created more problems than it solved, and often left a legacy of hatred and bitterness that made genuine reconciliation and long term harmony nearly impossible. He said, “An eye for an eye leaves the whole world blind.” Martin Luther King transformed the arid American political landscape pockmarked with segregation, discrimination and injustice after 350 years, without firing a single shot. Read his “Letter From Birmingham Jail” to understand the power of his ideas. As Victor Hugo observed, “One can resist the invasion of an army, but one cannot resist the invasion of ideas whose time has come.” The time has come for the ideas of freedom, democracy, human rights and accountability in Ethiopia. We must believe in the power of ideas!

V. Change Human Hearts and Minds Before Changing Human Actions. Before we change human actions, we must change human hearts and minds to rekindle the divine. Gandhi, saddened by the bloody carnage of WW II said, “Because these acts of terror and bloodshed appall man’s conscience; because he knows that they are evil; because, in his innermost heart and mind, he deplores them. And because, when he is not misled, deceived, and corrupted by false leaders and false arguments, man has in his breast an impulse of kindness and compassion, which is the spark of the divine, and which one day, I believe, will be brought forth to the full flowering that is inherent in it.” If we clear our hearts and minds of hatred, fear and distrust and hold onto the Truth (satyagraha), we will also be able to experience the “spark of the divine.”

VI. Act Out of a Sense of Duty, Not Craving for Credit. In whatever political act we engage in, we should act out of a sense of duty and not out of craving for credit or acclaim. We should undertake human rights advocacy to make a practical difference, not to posture for fleeting credit and public recognition. Human rights advocacy and activism means just that: We should actively advocate for the cause of human rights because as human beings it is our moral duty to do so. It is immoral and illegal to imprison, torture, maim or kill another because of political differences, ideology or perspectives. We all have a moral duty to take reasonable steps to prevent human rights violations, and to use all available means to speak out against such violations, to identify those responsible whenever we can and to seek justice for victims of human rights abuses.

VII. Never be Afraid to Lose. In October, 2006, a year ago, we were licking our wounds after House Speaker Dennis Hastert stonewalled H.R. 5680 from getting to the House floorafter it had passed the International Relations Committee. D.L.A. Piper and Dennis Hastert knocked us to the ground, and thought we were down for the count. The enemies of freedom threw a party and wrote the epitaph to an Ethiopia human rights bill in the U.S. Congress. But we got right up and took the fight to Hastert’s congressional district in Illinois. We were welcomed on the airwaves, newspaper editorial boards, in the churches, civic organizations, colleges and universities in his district. But it took only two weeks when Hastert himself found out that he was down for the count. He was knocked out permanently by a left hook delivered by the American voters. A year later, D.L.A. Piper was out for the count as H.R. 2003 passed the House unanimously. We know D.L.A. Piper is working triple overtime in the Senate today, but we will fight them tooth and nail, day and night. We know we will win in the end. How can we lose when God and Truth are on our side? Because we are certain of the righteousness of our cause, we are never afraid to lose!

VIII. Learn to Say, “We Messed Up! We Sincerely Apologize!” As the old Ethiopian saying goes, “One will always find rust on iron and mistakes from Man.” There are some who say that in Ethiopian culture it is considered a sign of weakness, an admission of shame, to say, “I am sorry. I messed up. I was wrong.” There is a kernel of truth in that opinion. But it is actually an act of courage to say, “I am sorry. I made a mistake.” We should publicly acknowledge our faults and shortcomings. The average person is more compassionate and understanding when we admit our mistakes; but there is nothing that destroys the confidence of fellow human beings than calculated deceit and deception.

IX. Believe, “This Too Shall Pass.” We must always reaffirm our basic optimism in the future of the democratic system. We should always work to spread our spirit of confidence in the democratic process and conviction in our cause of freedom, democracy, human rights and accountability. It is written that, “The righteous shall never be removed, but the wicked shall not inhabit the earth.” This too shall pass.

With Malice Towards None… Let’s Finish the Job
Abe Lincoln in his Second Inaugural Address said: “With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation’s wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.” With malice towards none, let’s keep our eyes on the prize and finish the job of H.R. 2003. Let’s join hands and sing the old civil rights song:

Keep Your Eyes on the Prize

The only thing that we did wrong,
Stayed in the wilderness a day too long.

Hold on, hold on,
Keep your eyes on the prize,
Hold on, Hold on.

But the one thing we did right,
Was the day we started to fight.
Hold on, hold on,
Keep your eyes on the prize.

Hold on y’all! Keep Your Eyes on the Prize!!!

1) http://www.abugidainfo.com/wp-content/uploads/2007/09/press_release_paayne.pdf
2) See Art. 13 of the “Ethiopian Constitution”; Ethiopia has ratified, is a signatory to or has adopted the following major human rights conventions, among others: Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948), International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (1977), International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (1992), Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (1994) Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (1980) Convention on the Rights of the Child (1995). 3) http://uk.reuters.com/article/worldNews/idUKL049165020071004?pageNumber=1
4) http://addisvoice.com/news/german_chancellor.htm
5) http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,1659420,00.html
6) http://www.usaid.gov/policy/budget/cbj2006/afr/et.html
7) http://www.transparency.org/news_room/in_focus/2007/cpi2007/cpi_2007_table

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Truth Fest In L.A.

They said Ethio-Angelinos are apolitical, depoliticized and disengaged from politics. It stings a little when it is said by former Ethio-Angelinos: “When it comes to Ethiopian politics, Los Angeles is rarely mentioned. It is a city with the second or third largest number of Ethiopians, but it is a place where the least political activity goes on. South Dakota is mentioned more often than Los Angeles when it comes to Ethiopian politics.” Ouch, ouch, ouch!

“A place where the least political activity goes on.” May be. Of course, they were not in L.A. with us on October 7 when we had our Revival Meeting, like the ones they have down South. They did not join us in fellowship to hear the 5 missionaries from Ethiopia preaching the gospel of freedom, democracy and human rights. And they did not see the hundreds of holy rollers of human rights and democracy rocking the house at Hollywood Park. No, they did not see us going through the ecstasy of the Second Great Awakening when Truth was spoken to power. Nor did they see us stomping our feet on the ground and waiving our hands in the air enraptured by hymns of freedom. No, they were not there to see green/yellow/red flag-waiving, V-signing and Ethiopia Hagere-singing Ethio-Angelinos swaying side to side. Too bad, they were not there to witness a Truth Fest in L.A. for 6 hours straight! And now they have to eat their words, or eat boiled crow because we raised the roof in L.A. on October 7. And
here comes the judge! Birtukan laid down the law. “Yes, we were imprisoned in body,” she opened her remarks, “but you and millions of our supporters were imprisoned with us in spirit.”

But there were no imprisoned spirits in that hall that afternoon. Only free spirits celebrating freedom and democracy. And you could feel the spirit of joy, and of brotherhood and sisterhood everywhere. You could see the spirit in the faces and smiles of the young and old. And all of us made joyful noises to express our love, respect and appreciation for those who have traveled from the hellish dungeons of Kality prison to the City of Angles.

“We thank you our compatriots (yager lejoch) who have been the voice of the voiceless, for carrying the torch of freedom and for the warm welcome you have shown us. The respect and love you have shown us reflects your love and respect for democratic liberties and the rule of law. We promise you we will continue the peaceful struggle for democracy.” These awesome words of gratitude, appreciation and determination filled the hall effusively. These were words spoken with judicial authority by a young woman barely in her thirties. When the judge spoke, everybody was listening. Court was in session. No doubt many thought, “Such humble words of gratitude, such steely determination coming from a young lady. We really have hope after all.” I just wanted to bust out and shout, “More power to the young people!” But I restrained myself. “It’s not going to look too cool,” so I just muttered it to myself.

Birtukan preached on: “The Ethiopian people have decided they want change, and there is no power that can stop them from having change.” I wanted to chime in, “Preach on Sister!” She pressed on, “It is the peoples’ voice that matters ultimately. Our peaceful struggle is for a pluralist democracy where we can discuss our differences peacefully and come to terms on issues that divide us.” She was not mincing words. She was telling it like it is, no embellishments. Just the raw message.

She argued forcefully that democracy is the key to political and social viability of Ethiopian society. “We need democracy to get us out of the problems we face today.” We can’t expect to overcome famine, poverty, disease or ignorance unless we manage to build a pluralist democratic system. There can be no human rights without a democratic foundation. Then she talked about the spirit that moves her: “No amount of repression can stamp out Kinijit because Kinijt lives in the hearts and minds of the people. We hate no one, even those who hate and revile us,” said Birtukan unapologetically.

But she was not about to preach democracy to others only. She brought it straight home. “Kinijit itself must practice what it preaches,” she declared with judicial authority. “There are differences of opinion in Kinijit, and that’s healthy. We resolve our differences through open discussion and dialogue, not in the rumor mills.” She hammered the theme of vigorous debate as an essential element of organizational growth and maturity. She reiterated her basic tenet, “Every Kinijit member and leader has the right to ask questions, comment and make suggestions on what happens in the organization. If we can’t practice democracy within our own organization, how can we expect to practice it in the country,” she asked rhetorically to a thunderous applause. She pleaded with those rumor mongers who spread misinformation and fan the flames of discord to refrain from their hurtful practices. She warned, “If we insist on engaging in recriminations and accusations, the train will leave the station without us.”

Ato Gizachew Shiferaw, the featured speaker, focused his remarks on the relationship between peace and development. “If there is no peace, there is no development,” declared Ato Gizachew. Peace is not just the absence of war. He said there are two types of war that afflict our society today: a war of arms and a battle of ideas. Losing the battle of ideas is a far greater loss that losing the war of arms. “If we lose the battle of ideas, we’d have also lost our peace of mind,” he asserted.

He explained the destructive force of insidious ideas that are used as part of the psychological warfare to deny ordinary citizens peace of mind. The war mongers will take advantage of the embattled mind and plant the seeds of hatred, suspicion, distrust and fear. The person whose mind is possessed by such evil is not at peace with himself or others. He is at war with himself and his community. That person loses his confidence and begins to doubt himself and those around him. He becomes scared and reacts violently.

He explained that even the most privileged and educated members of our society have become tools in this battle of ideas. Instead of enlightening the people and bringing them hope while they float precariously on a sea of despair, the best and brightest are often found doing their best to sink the boat by becoming tools of repression and apologists for tyrants. “We heard that!”

This warfare of the mind keeps Ethiopians in a state of perpetual poverty. “Life is very hard in the countryside. The average farmer wears the same piece of tattered clothing year in and year out. He toils everyday but remains in abject poverty. This fact is sad not only for Ethiopians but for all of humanity,” he lamented.

“There is no peace in Ethiopia because there is no democracy in Ethiopia,” declared Ato Gizachew. The country is heading towards disaster.” He recounted the fact that people are rising up in all parts of the country, in Oromia, Tigray, Afar, Gambella and Ogaden regions and elsewhere. They are rising up because there is no justice and equality in Ethiopia. The regime’s answer to the demand for justice is more guns and bullets. That is no answer. “You can not kill everyone into submission. Killing people who disagree with you can never be the answer.” So what is the answer?

“The answer,” said Ato Gizachew definitively, “lies in a negotiated settlement of political disputes, not in waging war on people. Negotiated settlements are the only options left for individuals and organizations in the country.” He reaffirmed that Kinijit is always ready for negotiations. He said Kinijit tried every avenue to reach a negotiated settlement with the government but its efforts have been unsuccessful. Kinijit still abides by its 8-point program as a basis for a negotiated settlement of disputes. (The 8-points include demands for an independent election board, free press accessible to all political parties, release of all political prisoners, professionalization of the police and military forces, rescission of undemocratic parliamentary procedures, an independent judiciary, investigation of post-election killings by government forces and establishment of a follow-up commission.)

The crowd was not bashful in asking questions. The leaders were peppered with questions of every sort.

“Why did Kinijit send a delegation to America? Why did you bring your organizational problems with you to America? What is your agenda for Ethiopia? What do you mean by national reconciliation? Why don’t you respond to all of the charges and accusations that are being leveled against you? How is the Kinijit organization run? What have you done to help the families of the victims of the post election massacres? What do you mean by peaceful struggle? Why did you leave the country without resolving the issue of political prisoners? Did Kinijit authorize the establishment of AFD? Why did you give up after the election so easily without forcefully confronting the regime? If you are thrown in jail in the future, how do you want the Diaspora to react? And on and on…

Each one of the delegation members took turns to answer questions from the audience.
Why did Kinijit send a delegation to America? Dr. Berhanu explained that their mission to America was multifold. He said it was important for Kinijit to express its gratitude and appreciation to the hundreds of thousands of Ethiopians in the Diaspora for all of their efforts and sacrifices in supporting democracy in Ethiopia and for supporting them during their 21 months of imprisonment. He said the organization felt it was important to engage Diaspora Ethiopians in a conversation on the future of democracy in Ethiopia. The lack of cohesion and harmony in the support groups was an issue of special concern for the organization, and the delegation was given instructions to study and impartially seek ways and means to bring about harmony and cooperation among them. (Other delegations have been sent to Europe, Canada and elsewhere.)

He said they were also expected to engage in conversation with American policy makers and assist in anyway they can to promote freedom, democracy and human rights in Ethiopia. The Kinijit 8 point principles (accountability, transparency, rule of law, independent judiciary, free and fair elections, free press, release of all political prisoners) and other elements are very similar, if not identical, to the core provisions of H.R. 2003. He said they responded to Congressional invitations to testify on the current political situation in Ethiopia. He added that Kinijit needs funds to do its basic organizational work and has considerable difficulties raising funds internally given the dire economic situation in Ethiopia, an done of their important missions is to raise sufficient funds to re-energize the organization.

Why did you bring your organizational problems with you to America? Birtukan challenged the premise of the question. She said the alleged problems Kinijit has as an organization are not structural or fundamental problems of ideology, policy or vision. Differences in opinion, diversity of views and perspectives should not be magnified and raised to a level of insurmountable problems. The organization has its own bylaws, rules and internal procedures for decision making and dispute resolution. She suggested that the internal mechanisms will be used to iron out differences.

Dr. Berhanu added that Kinijit is a democratic organization and administers its affairs by democratic rules. “Kinijit will lose its relevance and vitality when it stops being a democratic organization. It becomes undemocratic when any one entity has the unbridled power to appoint or remove institutional officers and members, and dictates to all without submitting to the will of the majority.” He said that would not happen in Kinijit’s governance because the organization by its own bylaws and the overwhelming sentiment of its members will aspire to act consistent with democratic principles.

Ato Brook Kebede added that Diaspora support groups must be in a position to resolve their problems through open democratic dialogue and exchange. “The problems among those the support groups must be solved by them in a structure of democratic governance.” As independent entities, the support groups must aim to work together to advance the struggle and avoid internal conflict.

Will Kinijit participate in the election of 2010? Birtukan explained that Kinijit has not taken an official position on whether to participate in the 2010 elections because such participation depends on the objective situation of the time. If the circumstances set forth in Kinijit’s 8-point plan are met, she did not foresee any problems in electoral participation.

Dr. Hailu added that Kinijit’s 8-point plan offers a fair process for electoral democratic participation. Based on those principles, Kinijit could participate in any competitive political campaigns.

Dr. Berhanu expanded on his colleagues’ comments. He pointed out the historic significance of Kinijit’s accomplishments in 2005. For the first time in Ethiopian history, “Kinijit set a truly democratic agenda for Ethiopia for the first time.” That in itself is “significant because it showed the people that there is a democratic way of resolving social and political problems without resorting to war and violence.” He said they knew the 2005 elections will be stolen, but pointed out that “if we hadn’t participated in that election, we would not be here to talk about democracy today.” He said there are no guarantees the 2010 elections will be any fairer or cleaner than the 2005. But “Kinijit’s efforts to date have permanently established a democratic agenda for future political change and reform in Ethiopia.” He indicated that Kinijit’s 8-point principles represent the basic foundation for a democratic system in Ethiopia.

What does Kinijit mean by national reconciliation? Dr. Berhanu explained with professorial clarity that national reconciliation is the only mechanism by which we can repair the damaged body and wounded spirit of Ethiopians. He pointed out that Ethiopians have been traumatized by unspeakable violence. Ethiopia is a country where ‘parents have seen their children taken out and murdered right before their eyes by government forces. Everyday they are denied their simple humanity and are forced to undergo the indignity of identifying themselves by their ethnicity,” he elaborated. “We are an afflicted society, a country in need of healing. We need a permanent solution that comes only from national reconciliation.” He said he understood that such reconciliation may be difficult to accept by those who have committed crimes and are afraid of accountability. But it is time to bury the hatchet and beat the swords into ploughshares. “It is time to extend an olive branch to all who seek peaceful resolution,” he said.

The alternative to national reconciliation is more of the same. More wars, more destruction, more discord. He said they were jailed not because they committed any crimes but because they waged a peaceful struggle for their cause. “Our right to peaceful dissent and protest is secured in the Ethiopian Constitution,” Dr. Berhanu said. He added, “you can never trust anyone who takes power at the barrel of a gun.” He gave as an example the current regime that took power by force of arms and promised democracy, but now uses the very same guns to stay in power and prevent democracy from taking root. “Kinijit as an organization does not believe in using guns to bring democracy,” he declared.

Ato Gizachew added that the lack of national reconciliation is reflected in the fear that has caused an incredible concentration of military force around the capital, and the country has been reduce to a police state. The people and the regime have separated ways, and the only way to bring them together is to have a meaningful dialogue of national reconciliation. He said that is inevitable. “The Derg delayed negotiations until the very last, but it did come to the negotiating table. By then it was too late,” he added.

What do you mean by peaceful struggle? Dr. Berhanu said Kinijit does not believe in using guns to bring about democracy, but admitted there are others who do and are prepared to use force to oppose the regime. “If the government does not accept peaceful negotiations with us, their only option will be to fight the millions who will rise up in arms.” He recounted a story he heard from a former Derg regime official who told him that “Derg members simply did not understand that war and violence was not the solution, and believed they could beat and subdue their opposition by brute force. It did not work. In the end their efforts failed completely. But they did not know any better. They did not have an example to follow. But the regime today should learn from their experience. War, violence and force is never a solution to political and social problems.”

What plan does Kinijt have to support the victims of post-election government violence and their families? Dr. Hailu Araya explained that beginning from the time of their release until their departure for the U.S., the Kinijit leadership had discussed extensively the issue of support for the families of the victims of the post-election government violence. They had established various committees and task forces to study the issue. They had even discussed proposals for the establishment of a non-governmental organization that would provide for long term support of victims and their families. The matter is still under consideration by the remaining leadership in Ethiopia. The fact is that Kinijit does not have the resources to provide for the long term care of these victims and their families.

(In all fairness, support for the victims of post-election government violence is a responsibility all of us in the Diaspora must shoulder. I don’t believe it is fair to ask any particular party or political organization to carry that responsibility alone. The martyrs died and suffered grievous bodily injury not for a political party, but for the cause of freedom, democracy and human rights. They died and suffered for OUR cause. It should be OUR privilege and responsibility to help them and their families.)

Why did you leave the country without resolving the issue of the political prisoners throughout the country? Birtukan explained that the issue of the release of all political prisoners was a top issue for the Kinijt leadership. It was part of the discussion leading up to their release from captivity. The Kinijit leadership in the country continues to work hard for the release of political prisoners. But the government’s intransigence on the issue makes their work exceedingly difficult.

Why don’t you respond to the accusations that are leveled against you? Dr. Berhanu said engaging in recriminations is counterproductive. “What does one gain by calling another a liar. You hold a person in high regard for so long, and then for one reason or another turn around and belittle him. What does anyone gain from that? We should all focus on the real issues of freedom, democracy and human rights. We are here to do specific things. We will respond appropriately when there are major issues, but we will not engage in tit-for-tat recrimination. Doing so will divert us from our main mission and we will waste too much valuable time responding to every rumor, innuendo and allegation.” He added philosophically, “To take the low road of your adversary is to become like your adversary and accept defeat.” Dr. Berhanu pledged not to engage in the politics of recrimination personal destruction in the media.

Ato Gizachew added that reacting to every false charge and accusation in the media will only make the situation worse. He asked the media not to fan the flames of discord.

Why did you give up after the election so easily, you should have confronted the regime? Dr. Hailu Araya was philosophical in his answer. “Sometimes accepting defeat to avoid a greater evil is a better part of valor.” The regime was bent on using violence to suppress the true outcome of the elections. They would use any amount of force to stay in power. To insist on confrontation with such a regime could have resulted in a great loss of life and destruction of property. Kinijit does not want to become the cause of such tragedy, said Dr. Hailu.

What is the future direction of Kinijt? All of the delegates agreed that Kiniji’s future direction is based on its 8-point principles. For true democracy to prevail in Ethiopia, there must be accountability, transparency, independent judiciary, free and fair elections, free press, release of all political prisoners and one-man one-vote (and one-woman, one-vote).

Light Moments… There were many light moments. Dr. Berhanu was asked to comment on the efforts of some individuals who had campaigned to prevent sales of his best-seller “Nesanet Goh Seked”. Dr. Berhanu said, “I don’t understand anyone who says “Don’t read books.’ Only an ignoramus would say that. In the 15th Century during the Inquisition people used to burn books so that others will not get knowledge and enlightenment. They burned the books of Gallileo to keep the truth from being known.” The audience shared his amazement that such prehistoric troglodytes still exist in the 21st Century.

The incomparable Abebe Belew, master of ceremonies, provided comic relief as he exhorted the audience to open their wallets and make a donation. He combined humor, wit, wisecracks and banter to keep the audience entertained and opening their billfold time and again.

Abebe came on stage and told the crowd, “We will not leave this place until every question you have is answered by these leaders. No question is off limits. Ask them what you want, and if you run out of questions, I will give you some.” Abebe jokingly taunted, pleaded and appealed to the audience to fork up more money to support the organization. He pointed out that they must back up their commands with cash. “You can’t order these leaders to build democracy in Ethiopia without giving them the means to buy the bricks and mortar to do the construction,” Abebe instructed. He cracked up the crowd when he cautioned everybody that they “should all watch out, do what they are told (show me the money), and be on their best behavior because the Judge and the Mayor were in the House!” Abebe’s improvisational stage techniques are simply dazzling!

The delegation members were given gold-embossed Certificates of Recognition issued by Karen Bass, the Majority Leader of the California Assembly. Each delegate was also given a specially commissioned Amharic poem (a limerick or humorous verse) written in their honor. And they got tons of hugs and kisses and “thank you for everything” from everybody!

The turnout for the delegation was phenomenal. The place was packed to the limits. The Ethiopians community came out in full force, and even those who rarely show up for political meetings came out in droves. As usual, the vast majority of the attendees were men, but the women who were in attendance were second to none in their passion and commitment to freedom, democracy and human rights. When it came to responding to the fund raising calls, few men could match them.

The L.A. Kinijit Support and Development Association for Democracy and its leadership did a fantastic job organizing the event. They did a great job publicizing the event, and they packed the house to the brim! They maintained an orderly flow of activities and kept everything running smoothly. They are to be commended particularly for maintaining a friendly and welcoming atmosphere where everyone felt free to participate and have fun. Kudos to Kinijit’s Los Angeles Support and Development Association for Democracy.

A Brief Personal Reflection…
We are very fortunate to have these five delegates criss-cross the United States to bring us the good news that opposition politics and democracy are very much alive in the hearts and minds of the Ethiopian people. But we must remember that opposition leaders and the hundreds of thousands who were jailed or still remain jailed stood up for their beliefs at an extraordinary cost and sacrifice -- time with their families, loss of their professional lives, dispossession of their properties, and the ultimate sacrifice, giving up their liberty for the cause of freedom, democracy and human rights in Ethiopia.

These delegates and their colleagues in Ethiopia could have done it like the rest of us. But they chose not to. As their brief biographies were being read out, one can not but be overawed by the scope of their formal education and extensive work experience: Advanced training in economics, chemistry, linguistics, law, business; work experience as university professors, service on the bench, top level management experience in business and the public sector. Yet one does not detect a trace of elitism in their speech or conduct. Each one without pretentiousness or arrogance. Each one straight-talking and direct. No B.S. Each one uncompromisingly committed to truth.

None of them complained about their personal situation, or how life has been unfair or hard on them. They never directed a single harsh word or hurled a vile accusation against anyone, friend or adversary. They were just throbbing with “positive vibration,” as the great Bob Marley would say. Simple and ordinary people, exemplary people, who have risen to extraordinary heights.

Some may feel the flames of liberty died out in Ethiopia in 2005, but they would be wrong. There is a volcano smoldering beneath the surface. As James Baldwin wrote in The Fire Next Time, “The very time I thought I was lost, my dungeon shook and my chains fell off.”

As I reflected on the events of that day, I remembered two verses form the Bible. In Proverbs 11:29 is written, “He that troubleth his own house shall inherit the wind: and the fool shall be servant to the wise of heart.” In Psalms 37:11 is written, “But the meek shall inherit the earth; and shall delight themselves in the abundance of peace.”

I have no doubts whatsoever who “shall inherit the wind” and who “shall delight in the abundance of peace”.

There really was magic in the air on October 7, at Hollywood Park. And don’t take my word for it. Ask anyone who was there. Ask them one question only: “Did you get up from your seat even once during the entire 6-hour truth fest?" I will wager my bottom dollar none of them did! That says it all!