Since 2009, hundreds and possibly thousands of refugees, most of them Eritrean, have been kidnapped in eastern Sudan and sold to traffickers in Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula, where they are held and tortured until their relatives can raise tens of thousands of dollars in ransom money. According to a report released on 11 February by Human Rights Watch (HRW), security forces in Sudan and Egypt have either turned a blind eye to this violent trade in men, women and children or, in some cases, colluded with the traffickers. The 79-page report documents the kidnapping and torture of victims, and describes how Sudanese and Egyptian security officers facilitated abductions by traffickers, or failed to take action against them.
HRW alleges that at Sudan’s eastern border with Eritrea, near the town of Kassala, police and border guards regularly intercept Eritrean refugees and hand them over to traffickers, while security officials allow traffickers and their victims to pass through checkpoints between Sudan and Egypt’s Suez Canal. “When the authorities fail to tackle traffickers or help them, it’s not just a criminal law enforcement issue, it becomes a human rights issue,” Gerry Simpson, a senior refugee researcher at Human Rights Watch and the report’s author, told IRIN. “The [Sudanese and Egyptian] states have been wilfully turning a blind eye to massive criminal activity at best and at worst are actively supporting some of it.”
Smugglers become traffickers
The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) says 300,000 Eritreans had sought asylum outside their country by the beginning of 2013. The majority left after 2004, fleeing widespread human rights abuses, including mandatory and indefinite military service, arbitrary arrest and detention, and severe restrictions on freedom of expression and movement. Most leave without the exit permits required by Eritrean law, risking severe punishment if they are caught. In the last decade, tens of thousands have registered as refugees at camps in eastern Sudan and Ethiopia, but most have quickly moved on in search of better conditions and opportunities.
Between 2006 and 2012, many hired smugglers to help them reach Israel via Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula. Around 2009, reports began to surface of smugglers turning on their clients during the journey through Sinai, and holding them in torture camps while they extorted increasingly large sums of money from desperate relatives. By the end of 2010, Sudanese traffickers were kidnapping Eritreans in or near eastern Sudan’s refugee camps and selling them to Egyptian traffickers operating in Sinai. Most victims said they never intended to go to Egypt or Israel. A report published in December 2013 by three human rights activists and researchers estimated that between 2009 and 2013, as many as 30,000 people were victims of trafficking and torture in the Sinai Peninsula, and that between 5,000 and 10,000 of them did not survive their ordeal. Yonathan Habte*, 28, is among those who survived. He left Eritrea in March 2012 and was kidnapped from Shagarab refugee camp near Kassala a few weeks later. He had been warned about the threat of kidnappers in eastern Sudan but thought he would be safe in the camp. In fact, by 2012 UNHCR was recording about 30 kidnappings a week in and around eastern Sudan’s refugee camps.
Habte told IRIN how he had been collecting firewood one morning when three vehicles entered the camp, and he and two other men were grabbed. His kidnappers took him and 30 other Eritreans to Egypt, where they were divided between several traffickers operating torture camps near the Israeli border. “They made us call home to our families two or three times a day, and every time they beat us up so our families heard us screaming,” he said.
After his family had paid a ransom of US$3,500, Habte was sold to another trafficker, who demanded $30,000 for his release. At the second camp, the torture intensified. Habte and 12 other hostages, including three women, one of whom was pregnant, were beaten constantly and hung up by their ankles or wrists for hours at a time.
While on the phone to their friends and relatives, molten plastic was dripped on their skin so their screams would ensure the ransom money was paid as quickly as possible. Meron Estefanos, an Eritrean journalist and activist living in Stockholm, Sweden, has been listening to the screams of Eritrean refugees held hostage in Sudan and Egypt for three years. During a weekly radio programme she takes calls from the refugees and their relatives, and broadcasts these to listeners. In 2012, she received a phone call from her cousin, who had been kidnapped near Kassala and taken into Sinai. Her captors were demanding $37,000 for her release.
“If you’re listening to your cousin being gang-raped or burnt – the cries, the begging… you just want to end those phone calls,” Estefanos told IRIN. “So I collected the money [from friends and relatives] and borrowed some.” But, after the traffickers released her cousin, she was arrested by Egyptian soldiers and held in a prison in Sinai for seven months. “At first we didn’t know where she was,” said Estefanos. “We thought [the traffickers] had killed her. It took four months to find her.” The Human Rights Watch report says it is common for recently released trafficking victims to be arrested by Egyptian border police and detained for many months at police stations in northern Sinai until they can pay their airfare to Eritrea or Ethiopia. “Egyptian authorities, in effect, hold the victims of trafficking hostage a second time, subjecting them to indefinite and arbitrary detention until their relatives can produce the money for the air ticket, which secures their release and removal from Egypt,” the report says.
Detainees are denied access to adequate medical care for their injuries and asylum-seeking procedures. Estefanos paid for her cousin’s flight to Ethiopia, where she finally received treatment for severe burns and now lives in a refugee camp.
Survivors disappear in Sinai
By the time Habte was released, he was in a critical condition but evaded arrest and was carried across the border into Israel by fellow Eritrean refugees. Doctors in Israel saved his life but could not save his hands, which require advanced reconstructive surgery he could not pay for. Israel has since completed a fence that virtually seals its border with Egypt. In 2013, only 36 irregular migrants were intercepted while trying to cross into Israel from Egypt, compared to over 10,000 in 2012, before the fence was erected. In 2013 the Egyptian military also launched an offensive against Islamic militants in northern Sinai, which has continued into 2014.
The human rights activists report released in December 2013, which Estefanos co-authored, suggests that the sealing off of escape routes into Israel and the military campaign in the Sinai desert have resulted in increasing numbers of trafficking victims disappearing and presumably dying following the payment of a ransom and their release. A by-product of the military campaign appears to have been the destruction of many of the houses used by traffickers to hold their victims, although Simpson of HRW and Estefanos both say this was not a stated aim of the operation. “At one point, they rescued about 150 hostages, who were chained with each other, only to put them in prison and deport them,” said Estefanos. “I have pictures of the houses where hostages were held, copies of [ransom] payments, but they [Egyptian authorities] never approached me to ask for that evidence… they’ve never been interested.”
Since the military crackdown in Sinai started, Estefanos has received more calls about Eritreans being held for ransom in Sudan than in Egypt. “Some are still being taken to Sinai, but it has become more difficult now because of the military operation.” Meanwhile, increasing numbers of Eritreans are avoiding Egypt and Israel, and trying to reach Europe via Libya instead, risking treacherous desert and Mediterranean crossings. Italy recently released figures showing that nearly 10,000 Eritreans reached its shores in 2013, a 400 percent increase from the previous year. Of the more than 350 migrants who drowned when their boat sank off the coast of Lampedusa Island in October 2013, most were Eritreans and, according to Estefanos, 12 were survivors of torture camps in Sinai. In its report, Human Rights Watch accuses both Sudan and Egypt of failing to take action to stop the trafficking and abuse of Eritrean refugees.
However, Chiara Cardoletti-Carroll, the UNHCR assistant representative in Sudan, argued that in 2013 the Sudanese government took a number of important steps to prevent kidnappings and prosecute traffickers, including endorsing a joint initiative by UNHCR and the International Organization for Migration (IOM) to combat trafficking. She noted that the deployment of a rapid emergency force outside the refugee camps near Kassala, and increased policing around the camps, had successfully deterred traffickers. “We have not had a single kidnapping incident out of the eastern camps since February 2013,” she told IRIN, adding that trafficking cases reported to UNHCR through its victim counselling services had also gone down significantly. She confirmed that the routes used by Eritrean refugees had changed, with more heading to Khartoum, the Sudanese capital, which has become a jumping-off point for Libya. Khartoum is now becoming a “hot spot” for smugglers and traffickers. Regional cooperation on the issue, particularly between Sudan and Egypt, is still lacking. “On this front, I feel there’s a long way to go,” said Cardoletti-Carroll.
[This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations.]
Report: By KRISTY SIEGFRIED
We, the leadership of the Human Rights League of Horn of Africa (HRLHA), would like to express that we are deeply saddened by the passing away of our African hero and freedom icon Mr. Nelson Mandela, also known as Madiba especially among his funs and lovers. It is everyone’s belief that this icon of freedom, although he is peacefully departing, has left behind an everlasing legacies of hope for the better future, perseverance in the struggle for equality, justice and dignity for all human beings as well as forgiveness. We could say that not only the South Africans but also the rest of African and other global communities are better off because of his priceless sacrifices, democratic achievements, spirits of hope, forgiveness, peace, harmony, and overall human dignity. HRLHA believes that those of us at all ages and genenrations who are staying behind are expected to take lessons from his legacies and carry on the torch of freedom that this freedom icon has ignited from where he has left it, and make Africa a much better place where political differences are settled through roundtable discussions, negotiations, and reconciliations, and policies are framed based on respect for human rights.
As the biography of Madiba clearly shows, he stood firm for the equal rights of all people. For that stance, he stood unyielding and he was charged with treason by the apartheid South African government, spending 27 years of his life in prison. Madiba, among other things, is always remembered for forgiving those who extra-judiciarily imprisoned him and inhumanly treated along with other South Africans, despite being forced to spend this many years in harsh prison conditions. Madiba forgave those who not only punished him without a crime, but also who categorized hundreds of thousands of other fellow South Africans as subhuman and condemned thems down to destitution and all forms of socio-economic crises by dispossessing and ditaching them from natural resources such as land. We the leadership of HRLHA see that Madiba lived and departed as a hero and a greet leader. As a hero, he stood up for human dignity and equality; and, as a result, he paid unparallelled sacrifices. when he was elected as a president, he made tremendous efforts to deliver justice for all and as an “angel” he promoted reconciliation between the people who were extremely divided based on racial and colour differences. He forgave those who cruelly treated him and his fellow South Africans for refusing to accept racial discrimination and subordination. Madiba’s achievements during most of his lifetime left a clear message for the people of Africa and the world – that all human beings are equal. In his life and departure, Madiba taught especially the younger generation about the need for perseverance, hope and forgiveness.
The causes of instability in Africa and in the world in most cases have political differences that generate from racial motives. In one of his famous speeches, Mandela said, “no one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.” Promoting racial , cultural, or national superiority, or simply advancing a monolithic view is contrary to human rights principles; and always instigates violence and instability. In its turn, violence and instability consume our human and natural resources; and hinder us from achieving our potential. The African and world communities need to follow the lessons from of our hero – Madiba- and focus on teaching our children as to how to unlearn the views that they have learned- and to refute racial, cultural, and/or national superiority theories and practices.
Instability that has been ravaging the Horn of Africa (Ethiopia, Sudan, Kenya, Eritrea, Djibouti, Somalia and Uganda) is driven by thories of racial, cultural, national, and clan superiority. For example, the Ethiopian land leasing policy, also referred to as a land-grab, which has evicted thousands of people from their homes, is driven by the longstanding colonial concept of terra-nullius – the land belonging to no one. Most of the political prisoners in Ethiopia and the refugees in the neighbouring Horn of African countries who fled that country and, some of them perishing in the Red Sea, the Mediterranean Ocean and the Sahara and Sinai deserts are Oromos who have been conditioned by the racial superiority theories of the ruling Tigrian regime. Most of the political prisoners who are languishing in Ethiopian prisons did nothing wrong except that they asked for respect for their individual and collective rights, and those of others.
In the past and present in darkness in the tropical forests of Africa, people oriented themselves by the “star” in the sky – Venus -Bakalcha. Mandela, the freedom icon, has established the norm by which African and global leaders should function. Just as the planet Venus has shone and given directions for millions of years, the life of this freedom icon should guide present and future African leaders. Democracy, human rights, social justice and reconciliation should be the motto and the leading ideology. Using this opportunity, we call upon the peoples in the Horn of Africa, especially the youth, to harness the ideas and ideologies for which the freedom icon – Madiba stood and challenge ideas and ideologies that are contrary to the principles of human rights, social justice and equality.
We would like to end this note with the wise words of Nelson Mandela, who said, “I detest racialism, because I regard it as a barbaric thing, whether it comes from a black man or a white man”. Let us celebrate the legacy of the freedom icon by detesting all forms of racism – whether or not it is based on skin color, culture or religion; and stand up firmly and strongly for human rights, human dignity, and equality.
Human Rights Leage of the Horn of Africa (HRLHA)
(URJII ONLINE) -
They speak of democracy, but act violently to suppress dissenting voices and control the people through the inculcation of fear: they ignore human rights and trample on the people, they are a tyrannical wolf in democratic sheep’s clothing, causing suffering and misery to thousands of people throughout Ethiopia. The Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) government repeatedly scoffs at international law and consistently acts in violation of their own Federal constitution – a liberal document written by the regime to please and deceive their foreign supporters. They have enacted laws of repression: the widely condemned Charities and Societies (ATD) law (CSO law) and the Anti Terrorism Declaration, which is the main tool of political control, together with the ‘Mass Media and Freedom of Information Proclamation’ they form a formidable unjust arsenal of government control. Freedom of the media (which is largely ‘state-owned’) is denied and political dissent is all but outlawed.
Against this repressive backdrop, the Semayawi (Blue) party, a new opposition group, organized peaceful protests on the 2nd June in Addis Ababa. Ten thousand or so people marched through the capital demanding the release of political prisoners, “respect for the constitution” and Justice! Justice! Justice! It was (Reuters 2/06/2013 reported), an “anti-Government procession…. the first large-scale protest since a disputed 2005 election ended in street violence that killed 200 people”, a ‘disputed election’ result that was discredited totally by European Union observers and denounced by opposition groups and large swathes of the population.
The Chairman of the Semayawi Party, Yilekal Getachew, told Reuters, “We have repeatedly asked the government to release political leaders, journalists and those who asked the government not to intervene in religious affairs”. In keeping with the recent worldwide movement for freedom and social justice, he stated that, “if these questions are not resolved and no progress is made in the next three months, we will organize more protests. It is the beginning of our struggle”. To the disappointment of many and the surprise of nobody, the government has made no attempt to ‘resolve’ the questions raised, and true to their word a second demonstration was planned for 1st September in Addis Ababa. In the event, as the BBC report, around “100 members of Ethiopia’s opposition Semayawi (Blue) party were arrested and some badly beaten”, and “equipment such as sound systems were confiscated”, ahead of the planned rally, which was banned by the EPRDF. Government justification formed, and a cock and bull story was duly constructed with Communication Minister Shimeles Kemal stating “the venue [for Semayawi’s event) had already been booked by a pro-government group condemning religious extremism”.
Non-interference in religious affairs is one of the key demands of the Semayawi party, a demand based upon the constitutional commitment of religious independence from the State, which Muslim groups claim the government has violated. Enraged by government interference in all matters religious, the Muslim community have organised regular small-scale protests and sit-ins in the capital for the last two years. In early August, Reuters 8/08/2013 reported “Demonstrators chanted "Allahu Akbar" and hoisted banners that read "respect the constitution", referring to allegations that the government has tried to influence the highest Muslim affairs body, the Ethiopia Islamic Affairs Supreme Council”. Around 40% of Ethiopia’s population (around 85 million) are Muslim, for generations they have lived amicably with their Orthodox Christians neighbours, who make up the majority in the country; they are moderate in their beliefs and peaceful in their ways. The EPRDF in contrast are violent, intolerant and ideologically driven; ‘Revolutionary Democracy’ being the particular tune to which the democratic dictatorship hums and drums its partisan rule.
The government’s response to the peaceful demonstrations, has unsurprisingly been intolerant and dismissive; their comments inflammatory and predictable, stating Mail@Guardian 14/07/2013 record, "most of these demonstrators are Islamic extremists”, and showing their own ‘extreme’ tendencies, authoritively declaring that “the protesters aimed to set up an Islamic state in the country and were bankrolled and guided by "extremists" [this time] overseas”. Duplicitous nonsense, which serves to distract attention from the underlying issues being raised and the imperative (and legal requirement) for the government to act in accordance with its own constitution.
Along with such disingenuous comments the regime has responded to the protests in a repressive manner; imprisoning Muslims calling for justice, causing Amnesty International 8/08/2013 to be “extremely concerned at reports coming out of Ethiopia… of further widespread arrests of Muslim protesters”, Amnesty demand that the “on-going repressive crackdown on freedom of speech and the right to peacefully protest has to end now”. Despite the fact that the protests have been peaceful and good-natured the regime has consistently described the protesters as violent terrorists, in February the ‘Holy War Movement’ was shown on State Television, it presented protestors and those arrested (including journalists), as terrorists. And in a clear violation of people’s constitutional right to protest, the regime has threatened to take firm action against further protests.
Whilst the majority of actions during the last two years have been without incident, protests in Kofele in the Oromia region on 8th August ended in “the deaths of an unconfirmed number”, there have also been reports of large numbers of people being arrested in Kofele and Addis Ababa, including two journalists. Following the Kofele deaths Amnesty called for “an immediate, independent and impartial investigation into the events in Kofele, as well as into the four incidents last year which resulted in the deaths and injuries of protestors”. Legitimate demands which the regime has duly ignored.
The EPRDF does not tolerate any independent media coverage within the country and indeed does all it can to control the flow of information out of Ethiopia and restrict totally dissenting voices. And they don’t care who the journalist is working for, key allies or diaspora media; In October 2012 a reporter from the Voice of America (VOA) covering a protest in Anwar Mosque in Addis was arrested and told to erase her recorded interviews, the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) report. This was not the first time a VOA journalist had been detained. “They are criminalizing journalism,” said Martin Schibbye a Swedish freelance journalist who was jailed [in 2011] along with a colleague for more than 14 months in Ethiopia”, for entering the Ogaden region. A heavily militarized area where wide ranging human rights violations constituting crimes against humanity are taking place, which has been hidden from the International media and aid organisations since 2007. Fearing imprisonment, many journalists have left Ethiopia, CPJ report that in 2012, along with Eritrea, it was were Africa’s ‘top jailer’ of journalists”, coming in eighth worldwide.
Unjust Laws of Control
In July last year, hundreds of protesting Muslims peacefully demanding that the government stop interfering in their religious affairs and allow them to vote freely for representatives on the Ethiopian Islamic Affairs Supreme Council (EIASC). Most were released, but 29 members of the protest committee were charged on 29th October under the universally criticized Anti Terrorist Declaration (ATD), accused of “intending to advance a political, religious or ideological cause” by force, and the “planning, preparation, conspiracy, incitement and attempt of terrorist acts.” Their arrest has been slammed by human rights groups as well as the United States Commission on religious Freedom, who “are deeply concerned that Ethiopia’s government is seeking to silence peaceful religious freedom proponents by detaining and trying them in secret under trumped-up terrorism charges. They should be released now and their trials halted”. The men claim to have been “tortured and experienced other ill-treatment in detention”.
The ambiguous ATD was introduced in 2009 and has been used by the Ethiopian government, “to severely restrict basic rights of freedom of expression, association, and assembly”, Human Rights Watch (HRW) state. It violates dues process, which like a raft of other internationally recognized and legally binding rights, is enshrined in the Ethiopian constitution. The legislation cause outrage amongst human rights groups and the right minded when it was proposed. HRW (30/06/2009) said of the draft law, (which un-amended found its way onto the statute books) that it would “permit the government to repress a wide range of internationally protected freedoms”, – precisely the reason for it’s introduction, and it provides “the Ethiopian government with a potent instrument to crack down on political dissent, including peaceful political demonstrations and public criticisms of government policy”.
The unjust law allows for long-tem imprisonment and the death penalty for so called crimes that meet some EPRDF definition of terrorism, and denies in some cases a defendants right to be presumed innocent – the bedrock of the international judicial system. Torture is used without restraint by the military and police, under the ATD evidence obtained whilst a prisoner is being beaten, hanged, whipped or drowned is admissible in court, this criminal act contravenes Article 15 of the United Nations Convention against Torture (ratified by Ethiopia in 1994), which ‘requires that any statement made as a result of torture is inadmissible as evidence’. Terrorism is indeed an issue of grave concern in Ethiopia, it is not rooted in the Muslim community, the media, the Blue Party or the Universities, it is State Terrorism that stalks this land, that kills and falsely imprisons, tortures and rapes the innocent, it is the EPRDF; the rebel group that ousted a communist dictator in 1991 only to take up his tyrannical mantle, who manipulate the law to serve their repressive rule and who violates a plethora of human rights, consistently and with impunity. Ethiopia’s donors and international friends, (primarily America and Britain) have other, larger fish on their minds, and even though they give the country over a third of its federal budget they seem unconcerned by the criminality being committed, much of which is taking place under the cloak of development. Violent rule however is a storm that is imploding throughout the world, the people, who have suffered long enough, sense their collective strength and are awakening.
Need for Unity
Although completely contrary to the EPRDF’s pledge of Ethnic Federalism, divide and rule is the effective methodology of division employed by the regime. In a country with dozens of tribal groups, various ethnicities and different religious beliefs (Islam and Christianity), unity is the key to any popular social revolution, much needed and ardently longed for by millions throughout the land. We are witnessing a worldwide protest movement for change; age-old values of freedom, equality and social justice, brotherhood and peace are the clarion call of many marching and protesting. And so it is in Ethiopia, the Blue party and other opposition groups, the Muslim community and the students on the streets demanding Justice! Justice! Jusitce! are in harmony with the rhythm of the times. Out of step and blind to the needs of the people and their rightful demands, the ruling party acts with violence to drown out their voices and suppress their rights: in Addis Ababa, where thousands marched in June, in Oromia and the Ogaden, where the people seek autonomy, in Amhara, where thousands have been displaced, in Gambella and the Lower Omo Valley, where native people are being driven off their ancestral land into state created villages, women raped and men beaten.
Unity is the song of the day, rich with diversity united in intent, the collective will of the people of Ethiopia and indeed throughout the world is an unstoppable force for change. All steps need to be taken to remove the obstacle to the realization of unity throughout the country, ethnic prejudices and tribal differences; all need to be laid aside. The Ethiopian regime may succeed in subduing the movement for change that is simmering throughout the country, however with sustained unified action, peacefully undertaken and relentlessly expressed, freedom and social justice, longed for by millions throughout the country, will surely come.
Author: GRAHAM PEEBLES
Source: Counterpunch Online
An international media advocacy group has identified 10 countries where press freedom has suffered in 2012. Risk List 2012 from Committee to Protect Journalists on Vimeo. The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), on Thursday released its annual “Attacks on the Press” assessment of global press freedom, revealing a rise in attacks, which it attributes to a trend of repressive press laws as well as governments’ intolerance of dissent.
CPJ has for the first time compiled what it described as a “risk list” of countries that have shown the most significant “downward trends” on press freedom in 2012. Ethiopia was one among the countries listed in the new group, with its inclusion following the imprisonment of large numbers of journalists on anti-state or “terrorism” charges to thwart critical reporting, the group said. According to CPJ, Ethiopia is one of the leading jailers of journalists in Africa, with seven journalists currently behind bars. Only neighbouring Eritrea has more journalists in jail in Africa.
Other worrisome “downward trends” include high murder rates and “entrenched impunity”, as well as restrictive laws targeted at silencing dissent. Other countries on the risk list are Somalia, Pakistan, Brazil, Ecuador, Turkey, Russia, Vietnam, Iran and Syria. “Attacks on the press exposes the aggressive efforts of state and non-state actors to silence journalists, particularly those covering crime, corruption, politics and conflict,” said CPJ deputy director Robert Mahoney.
“The right to receive and impart information transcends borders, and international and regional bodies have a key role to play in upholding these principles, which are under attack,” he said. CPJ’s survey revealed an unprecedented rise in the number of journalists killed and imprisoned during 2012. According to the figures, 70 journalists have been killed in the course of their duty in 2012, a 43% increase over the previous year, while at least 35 journalists have disappeared. The group identified that a record 232 journalists were behind bars because of their work in 2012, an increase of 53 from 2011 and the highest since CPJ began surveys in 1990, indicating a deteriorating environment for global press freedom.
“We have seen whole newspapers brought down in countries like Ethiopia because there’s been an attack,” Mahoney said.
Some 79 Ethiopian journalists have fled their home country since 2001. According to the 2013 World Press Freedom Index report produced by Reporters Without Borders (RWR), Ethiopia dropped to 137th position in 2012, down from 127 the previous year.
The Human Rights League of the Horn of Africa (HRLHA) has issued a statement regarding the ever deteriorating human rights situations in Ethiopia, despite some fundamental changes out of which Ethiopians and the world peoples have been expecting improvements. Below is the full text of the statement by the human rights agency:
Ethiopians and the friends of Ethiopia have recently witnessed two major changes taking place in the country particularly in relation to honouring and protecting human rights. One is the replacement of Mr. Meles Zenawi, whose government tightly restricted fundamental human rights and severely punished those who attempted to exercise some of their basic freedoms, by another prime minister. The other change is Ethiopia’s election to the United Nations’ Human Rights Council.
Following those changes, again Ethiopians and their friends expected some kinds of improvements in terms of human rights situations in the country. There have been reasons why improvements were expected in both cases. Firstly, the new prime minster, Mr. Hailemariam Dessalegn, was believed to be much more and well educated person than Mr. Meles Zenawi, who was just a rebel leader and a first-year university drop-out before coming to power. Besides, contrary to Mr. Meles’ underlying political principles of racism and regionalism, Mr. Hailemariam was expected to be far from racial partiality, discriminations and political biases. Secondly, membership to the UN Human Rights Council comes with such obligations as holding the highest standards in the promotion and protection of human rights around the globe (UN General Assembly Resolution 60/251). Unfortunately, the expected improvements haven’t happened. Instead, we are witnessing the worsening of the human rights situations in the country. Good most recent cases in point are the Suri massacre in the Omo Valley, south-western Ethiopia, and racially motivated brutal crackdown against the students of Addis Ababa, Arat Kilo University, almost all of whom were Oromo nationals.
The massacre of members of the Suri tribe took place in December 2012, when a heavily armed national army was sent to the area to silence the Suri people’s protest against evictions and displacements from their ancestral land, properties, and all forms of livelihoods against their will and out of their consent. According to the report obtained from a Human Rights researcher called Doglas Burji, 147 Suris were killed in a one time attack by the national army at an area called Beyahola in Suri village; and their dead bodies were buried in a mass grave deep in the Dibdib forest not far from the village.
The Oromo students of Addis Ababa University were severely attacked, apprehended, and sent to detentions simply because they attempted to express their anger and opposition to racial attacks. In the incident, more than 130 students (most of them Oromos) were arrested. Among the detainees, one student was severely beaten by security forces and died in a hospital where he was taken to for a pretentious treatment. From among the 130 detained students, many were released during the first week of their detention; while 35 Oromo students are still in prison. Both cases were not the first of their kinds to happen. They were exact duplications of previous similar incidents that took place for the same purposes of promoting political and economic interests of the group in power.
Not only the international documents and/or treaties that Ethiopia has so far ratified, but also a lot of legal and constitutional documents issued at different times by different regimes of Ethiopia, including the ones currently in power talk a lot about the protection and promotion of fundamental human rights. But, all remained on paper. As a result, Ethiopians from all walks of life, age, and gender, religious and ethnic groups have been paying so dearly including in their lives.
It is still not too late to reverse the current harmful approach to human rights in Ethiopia and, by so doing, to prevent the worst from happening. Therefore, the HRLHA calls up on all local, regional, and international human rights and diplomatic agencies to renew, under the new leadership, their commitment to encouraging and supporting the protection and promotion of fundamental rights in Ethiopia. We also call up on those agencies to put all necessary pressures on the Ethiopian Government so that it abides by all laws and constitutional provisions of the country that apply to human rights as well as the international human rights instruments it has adopted.
URJII, August 30, 2010
From the results of Ethiopia’s May 2010 elections, the fourth since the fall of the Dergue Regime, both the Ethiopian peoples and that of the world have undoubtedly learnt that absolute authoritarianism is back in place in Ethiopia with Mr. Zenawi’s ruling EPRDF party fully controlling a 547-seat parliament by clearing it off the opposition party members. Although Ethiopia’s May 2010 elections results came not as a surprise, given the pre-election harassments and intimidations of members and supporters of opposition parties as well as the silencing of media and advocacy groups by the ruling EPRDF party, it was surprising that Mr. Meles Zenawi this time didn’t care even about what some observers call “Donors’ Democracy”, which he used to maintain by allowing a few candidates of opposition parties to win seats in the Parliament.
For those of us who have been trying to echo the grievances of the ordinary Ethiopian citizens, it is worth reminding each other that what the world has now witnessed is the result of gross human rights violations: suppression of press freedom, the banning and dismantling of independent trade unions, restrictions of the activities of civil society organizations, denials of the right to organize, harassments and intimidations of journalists, publishers, human rights activists and leaders, members as well as supporters of opposition political parties through mass arrests and imprisonments, extrajudicial killings, etc. These manifestations of absolute authoritarianism were in turn the results of the top-to-bottom control mechanism established and executed through party apparatus which was implicitly extended from state to the ‘kebele’ level along the governmental federal structure. A well-organized party network that has been in place, which some critics describe as Maoist-style neighbourhood committee and in which an informant is appointed for every five or so family members to watch over all activities, has been used during the elections to snatch the citizens’ votes and paralyze the oppositions. The judicial system and the Election Board’s lack of independence, too, have played a role in the ruling party’s becoming both a player and a referee; denying the opposition parties the opportunity to go to court in the presence of widespread election frauds and vote riggings.
More destructive is that the very scare public resources such as money, manpower and public facilities are used to make this system operational and effective; as almost all public offices are held by party cadres who were given organizational responsibilities, along the public duties, to maintain the ruling party’s cling to power. In other words, the ruling party exploited its monopoly on political power to misuse the scare public resources as a force to silence the voices of the Ethiopian peoples and the oppositions; and consequently severely hampered the democratization process. Besides, this kind of system has resulted in the existence of two socially, economically and politically opposing groups – the most privileged and the deprived, widening the gap of inequality. What is more, this same scare resource is selfishly used to bribe and win or buy the support of influencial Another extension of this extremely biased political system is the EPRDF’s philosophy of “If you are not with us, you are against us”, from which almost all forms of harassments and intimidations have been originating. All that we could say, based on the experience during the past eighteen years, is that, due to the mutual distrust between the government on one hand and the general public and the opposition on the other hand, the expected outcomes from the well-written Constitution have been counterproductive. Democratic institutions, which were built at both the grassroots and upper levels following the provision in the Constitution and the federal structure, have failed to function according to the spirit of democracy.
Haile Sellassie, the Dergue, and then the EPRDF/TPLF; there have been changes from one regime to another. But, one thing always remains the same in Ethiopia: politics is run from the centre with a top-down control. Because, those who come to power are self-anointed rulers, who, once in power like the current regime, never give the Ethiopian peoples an opportunity to change the government by means of ballot through genuine democracy. As a result, public discontent and revolt, civil unrest, internal conflict and war, social and economic crises continue to exist. In spite of those facts, some critics blindly accuse the Ethiopian peoples of lacking the necessary political culture for the realization of democracy. Such unfitting conclusions come either from lack of knowledge of the realities on the ground or from political biases. They are pretexts intended to be justifications for the political repressions, authoritarianism, dictatorship, and the stifling of public voices that are taking place. It is really no less than explicit insult to say that Ethiopian are so ignorant, even in the 21st century and during the information era, that they are not able to know, identify and vote for someone who knows them as well as their political desires and accordingly represent them. Such remarks might have been reasonable and fair had Ethiopians had misused or abused their democratic rights such as organizing, demonstrating, speaking openly and publicly, voting, supporting and/or protesting in an environment free of any direct or indirect political or economic influences, etc. But, they were not given even the opportunity to exercise those democratic rights; and, therefore, their ability to adapt to and possess the so called democratic culture was not tested. After all, the various nations and nationalities in Ethiopia already have a lot of rich and accommodative traditional democratic cultures such as the Gadaa System of the Oromos, the Seera of the Sidamas, Xeer of the Ethiopian Somalis, and that of the Gurages and Kambatas, as well as the council of elders common in various ethnic groups, unless the argument is that the said political or democratic cultures should be foreign and imported. What is undeniable is that the Ethiopian peoples, due to an endless negative experience under dictatorial and authoritarian regimes, have to some extent developed the feeling that they are always passive subjects of those who come to power; and not active participants and partners in the political processes. We should not forget that, if those of us who are acting as experts of political science and democracy and making those comments are Ethiopian; the rest of Ethiopians, the ordinary Ethiopians, are no different from us; and as clever enough as we do to understand and implement democracy if they are given the opportunity. If there is a lesson that could not be learnt or a human experience that could not be shared even after eighteen years (the age of the EPRDF in power), the stupidity must be, not with the pupils/learners, but with the educators themselves.
Plagued with lack of freedom, denials of political choices and alternatives through almost the whole of the twentieth century, and then into the twenty-first century, due to persistent authoritarianism resulting from self and group interest, the country and its peoples could not dissociate themselves from the cycle and the ugly images of recurring famine and chronic poverty, despite the availability of adequate natural resources. With denial of freedoms and choices, the peoples of Ethiopia have become powerless and more vulnerable to further human rights violations as well as economic and political deprivations. The repeating failures of democratization processes and the re-occurrences of authoritarian regimes are resulting in frustrations and despair. This cycle of political deficits needs to come to an end. To this end, the most immediate and the most determinant is the coming to their senses of those who are holding power and engage themselves in political consultations, dialogues and partnerships with both the general public and the opposition parties by abiding by democratic principles.
URJII, August 26, 2010.
According to a report from Diredawa, a city in eastern province of Hararge, in the Oromia Regional State of Ethiopia, a mother and her teenage son have been missing since the beginning of this month of Aughust.
Mrs. Asha Mohammad Galmo and her son Milkessa Abdusalam Juhar, both of them residents of the Badessa Town in the same province of Eastern Hararge, were on a business trip to Deredawa when they were abducted on the 4th of August, 2010. Unconfirmed reports from close relatives and friends of the two abductees indicate that the abductors were members of government security agents. The same sources disclose that Mrs. Asha Mohammad Galmo in particular has been a victim of persistent harassments and intimidations by the ruling EPRDF party. She has repeatedly been apprehended and imprisoned at different times for different lengths of time merely due to her political beliefs, which is said to have been different from that of the ruling party.
Family members and friends say that they have been searching for and seeking information as to what has happened to Mrs. Asha and her son, Milkessa, ever since the two disappeared. But, their efforts so far have been fruitless. Mrs. Asha Galmo, a forty-year old business person, is a mother of nine; and her abducted son, Milkessa Abdusalam Juhar is 15 years old.
Fifteen and sixteen years ago, when Urjii Newspaper was in publication, the same stories of political abductions and disappearances of ordinary citizens, extra-judicial killings, arrests and imprisonments without warrant, charge and/or trail, and the resultant feelings of insecurity used to dominate the news stories and editorials of the Newspaper. Political instabilities and democratic immaturity were mentioned as reasons for those illegitimate actions at that time. Unfortunately, even after nineteen years of democratization, citizens’ safety, security and political freedom remains a serious concern and differing political beliefs are not tolerated in Ethiopia, a country claims to be a democracy.