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Steel Vises, Clenched Fists and Closing Walls, (Part III)

Alemayehu G. Mariam

Note: This is the third installment in a series of commentaries I intend to offer on U.S. foreign policy (or lack thereof as some would argue) in Ethiopia. In this piece, I argue that while some credit is due to the Obama Administration for rhetorically promoting human rights throughout the world giving hope to millions suffering under tyranny and dictatorships, lack of follow up action could transform that hope into despair and anti-Americanism. I further suggest that the U.S. needs to take actions to improve human rights in Ethiopia or risk moral condemnation for prolonging and sustaining the rule of a criminal dictatorship.

The Human Rights Ledger of the Obama Administration

President Obama has been sharply criticized for his “inability” to deliver on his human rights “promises.” Some say his support for the cause of human rights and those struggling against oppression has been rhetorical, and lukewarm at that. He has been unable to translate lofty words into concrete actions to improve human rights. They say his basic approach is flawed because he is trying to reform and rehabilitate nasty dictators into wholesome democrats. A few have suggested that in the post-9/11 world, President Obama has made it his mission “to atone for America’s sins” instead of re-asserting a strong leadership role for the U.S., particularly in the area of human rights. He has been charged with “hypocrisy” for not speaking out against China, Hosni Mubark’s three-decade rule of Egypt under a state of emergency, the fizzling of human rights activism in Iran following the elections last year and the military coup in Honduras. His critics say that he has gone out of his way to accommodate the bloodthirsty Burmese military dictators despite the fact that the democratically elected leader of that country, Aung San Su Kii, has remained in detention for two decades. The vast majority of Ethiopians are disappointed in President Obama’s silence over the unjust imprisonment of Birtukan Midekssa, the first woman political party leader in Ethiopian history, and arguably the most important political prisoner on the African continent today.

Although President Obama and his administration could have done a lot more in the field of global human rights, I am not inclined to join the ranks of his critics and blame him for everything that has gone wrong in human rights worldwide during his eighteen months as president for two reasons. First, his administration has been weighted down by a domestic agenda of epic proportions and distracted by a variety of policy crises of unprecedented severity. Moreover, he had to manage two major ground wars and the global war on terror. Second, I do not expect decades of official neglect of human rights to be addressed in a span of eighteen months. Rather, I am inclined to telescope his overall involvement in the human rights field and make some inferences on his potential to make a great “human rights president” in his first term. I find some encouraging evidence that he could play an extraordinary role in global human rights.

Few would argue the fact that over the past eighteen months, President Obama has restored considerable credibility to U.S. global human rights leadership following gross abuses of human rights in Iraq. He banned the use of torture (or “enhanced interrogation techniques”) immediately after taking office. His speeches and public statements in Ghana, Egypt and Turkey and other places promoting human rights and accountability have given hope to millions. His Administration has fully supported the work and activities of the International Criminal Court (ICC) in Darfur, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and even Kenya where the prosecutor acting on his own initiative for the first time is investigating that country’s 2007 post-election violence. (A similar ICC investigation into the massacres of hundreds of people in Ethiopia after the 2005 elections is overdue and fully warranted.) In a symbolic but unprecedented act, President Obama in a special White House ceremony honored women human rights activists from Zimbabwe by awarding them the Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights Award for their struggle against the dictatorship of Robert Mugabe. He has thrust human rights as a central part of the debate on U.S. policy around the world. These facts in my view are significant in light of his predecessor’s ritualistic obsession with elections regardless of whether they were rigged or stolen. As Secretary Clinton’s recent human rights speeches demonstrate, the Obama administration is emphatic on the issues of free expression, free press, clean elections and civil society. Overall, the evidence from diverse opinion surveys worldwide suggest that that in numerous countries opinions about the United States are about as positive today as they were before 9/11, principally because of the emphasis on human rights.

I am also mindful of Senator Obama’s successful sponsorship of the “Democratic Republic of Congo Relief, Security, and Democracy Promotion Act” in 2006. That Act aims to help promote and reinvigorate the political process in the Congo and meet the basic needs of Congolese citizens and targets the elimination of sexual violence against women and children. I recall the fact that Senator Obama would have fully supported H.R. 2003 (Ethiopia Democracy and Accountability Act) had it been brought for a vote on the Senate floor following its passage in the House of Representatives in 2007. On a personal level, I have confidence in Mr. Obama that he will stand up for human rights not because he is president but because he is first and foremost a constitutional lawyer. Challenging those who abuse power, flout the rule of law, sneer at justice and thumb their noses at due process is encoded in the DNA of every genuine American constitutional lawyer. None of the foregoing should be viewed as an “apology” for any failures on the part of President Obama or his administration. I will not hesitate to challenge the Administration’s human rights policy in Ethiopia (or elsewhere) as I have done in these series of commentaries.

The Insanity of Doing Nothing

It was Albert Eisnsten who said, “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” It could equally be said of U.S. human rights policy in Ethiopia over the past decade that doing NOTHING over and over again and expecting results is insanity, sheer madness. The fact of the matter is that the U.S. for all of the billions it has given to the dictatorship of Meles Zenawi over the past two decades has been unable to curb his gross human rights violations. Indeed, the U.S. has shied away from strong and sustained criticism of Zenawi’s dismal human rights record. The Obama Administration must realize, if it has not already, that the current status quo – rigged and stolen elections, warehousing of large numbers of political prisoners, intimidation of opposition parties and leaders, decimation of the independent press, the climate of fear and loathing for the citizenry, denial of expressive freedoms, enactment of repressive anti-civil society laws, jamming of Voice of America broadcasts, provocative accusations of the U.S. Government as the soul mates of the genocidal thugs of Rwanda’s interhamwe — cannot and must not go on so long as American tax dollars are being used to bankroll Zenawi’s dictatorship. It should also be crystal clear to the Obama Administration that quiet diplomacy, soft-pedaling on human rights and attaching human rights as an afterthought to negotiations on counterterrorism, security, etc., will not work. The status quo will be damaging both to U.S. strategic interests in Ethiopia and the Horn and undermine the democratic development of Ethiopia.

The dilemma that President Obama is facing today over human rights in Africa is the same one that his predecessors have faced over the decades. The U.S. has never really developed an African policy that tethered human rights, security, trade and governance issues. Historically, U.S. policy in Africa in general and Ethiopia in particular has been haphazard and episodic dominated by a concern with the role of colonial powers, containment of communism, and now defeating global terrorism. “Realpolitik” has always trumped Wilsonianism. It was President Woodrow Wilson who during and after WWI undertook the mission “to make the world safe for democracy”. He believed international peace and America’s pre-eminent role in the world could be secured by promoting democracy and human rights and spreading the virtues of individual freedom, limited government, and popular sovereignty.

The Cold War threw cold water on Wilsonianism after WW II as the struggle to contain totalitarian communism became the core ideology in U.S. foreign policy. It was the Carter Administration that gave human rights a real boost by emphasizing democracy and human rights as practical objectives of U.S. foreign policy. Not unlike President Obama, President Carter raised the hopes of millions around the world. President Carter followed up with action imposing export and import restrictions on South Africa , Ethiopia, and Uganda and by linking economic and military aid to human rights violations. But “realpolitik” caught up with him quickly and the specter of communist insurrections forced him to negotiate for military bases in Kenya, Somalia, and Sudan despite the poor human rights records of the ruling regimes. The Reagan Administration showed interest in human rights at the cusp of the collapse of the Soviet Union, but it was the administration of the senior George H. Bush that elevated the human rights rhetoric to new heights by unapologetically declaring that the world was not divided along an east-west axis but “between those committed to democracy and liberty and those against.” President Bill Clinton dubbed Africa’s dictators “new breed” of African leaders and built his “strategic initiative in Africa” so that Africans could serve as U.S. military proxies while using development aid and the international lending institutions to promote democratization.

President Obama is facing the same dilemma his predecessors have faced. His challenge now is to develop an effective strategy to transition his moral advocacy of human rights to practical application of human rights principles in U.S. foreign policy. If he fails to make the transition, he will be criticized for dashing the hopes of millions around the world and judged harshly by history for perpetuating American “hypocrisy” and spreading cynicism and despair.

Walking the Human Rights Talk: Accountability

It is high time for the U.S. to begin walking its human rights talk in Ethiopia. No doubt, striking the right balance between human rights concerns and “pragmatic” strategic interests will be no easy task. For the past decade, the U.S. has thrown human rights in Ethiopia under the bus in its pursuit of the global war on terror. Despite gruesome revelations of gross human rights abuses in Ethiopia by the official U.S. global human rights watchdog, the U.S. has consistently dismissed, ignored, disingenuously deferred, or promised action which never came to pass. It is time for the U.S. to fish or cut bait in Ethiopia.

U.S. Secretary of State Hilary Clinton in her recent speech in Poland said there are four elements to the Obama Administration’s approach to “putting our principles into action” in American global human rights policy. The first pillar is accountability, which means “governments [must] take responsibility by putting human rights into law and embedding them in government institutions; by building strong, independent courts, competent and disciplined police and law enforcement.” Over the past decade, the U.S. has shown an almost pathological and reflexive aversion to the very idea of holding dictator Zenawi accountable. When Zenawi came out and declared that he had won the May 2010 election by 99.6 percent, the White House put out a statement bleating, “We are concerned that international observers found that the elections fell short of international commitments [and ] U.S. Embassy officials were denied accreditation and the opportunity to travel outside of the capital on Election Day to observe the voting.” Over the past five years, the U.S. has soft-pedaled gross violations of human rights. When Zenawi slaughtered hundreds of protesters following the 2005 elections, the U.S. made the mind-numbing statement: “The deaths as a result of the actions surrounding these protests are senseless. The United States calls upon both side to engage in a peaceful dialogue.” When Zenawi jailed tens of thousands of people that same year, the U.S. said, “We urge the government to respect the rule of law, international principles of human rights, and due process with regard to those arrested or detained.” This is not “accountability.” It is pusillanimity.

Accountability means holding someone responsible for their acts or omissions against a clear standard. Someone must be held accountable for the deaths and severe injuries of hundreds of peaceful protesters in 2005, the massacre of hundreds of Anuak people in Gambella in 2004 and the untold deaths and destruction  in the Ogaden. The Obama administration must take the same moral leadership in Ethiopia as it has taken in Kenya by supporting the International Criminal Court investigations in Kenya for the deaths that occurred in the post-2007 election period and the genocide in Darfur. What is good for the goose is good for the gander. If ICC action is good enough for Kenya and the Sudan, I say it is good enough for Ethiopia.

By Secretary Clinton’s own words, accountability applies not only to the tin pot dictators of the world but also the U.S. That is why Ethiopians in the U.S. must hold the Obama Administration itself accountable under Section 116.75 (a) of the 1961 Foreign Assistance Act. That provision plainly states:

No assistance may be provided under this part to the government of any country which engages in a consistent pattern of gross violations of internationally recognized human rights, including torture or cruel, inhuman, or de-grading treatment or punishment, prolonged detention without charges, causing the disappearance of persons by the abduction and clandestine detention of those persons, or other flagrant denial of the right to life, liberty, and the security of person, unless such assistance will directly benefit the needy people in such country.

Similarly, Section 502B of the Foreign Assistance Act of 1976 mandates:

[E]xcept under extraordinary circumstances no security assistance may be provided to any country the government of which engages in a consistent pattern of gross violations of internationally recognized human rights, including torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, prolonged detention without charges, causing the disappearance of persons by the abduction and clandestine detention of those persons or other flagrant denials of the right to life, liberty, and the security of the person.

Is there a country that cries out more for the rigorous application of these provisions than Ethiopia?

Walk the Human Rights Talk Softly and Carry a Big Stick

President Obama has raised the hopes and democratic aspirations of millions around the world. He will have to give human rights the importance it deserves in U.S. foreign policy. Whether in Ethiopia or elsewhere, the issue of human rights could not be left to some embassy functionary who juggles other duties. Human rights should be given the same attention and importance given to counterterrorism, security, development and trade with African dictatorships. It must not be a side issue or an afterthought to other policies. President Obama in his speeches has awakened the world’s oppressed masses; and they fully expect that he will stand up with them and not those who oppress them. In Africa, he has a clear choice: Africa’s tin pot dictators bound for the dustbin of history or Africa’s youth. In his own words, “it will not be giants like Nkrumah and Kenyatta who will determine Africa’s future. Above all, it will be the young people – brimming with talent and energy and hope.” I am hopeful that the Obama administration will use creative approaches to put American “human rights principles into action” in the foreseeable future.


4 thoughts on “Steel Vises, Clenched Fists and Closing Walls, (Part III)

  1. የቀን እንጀራ
    አሥራደው – ከፈረንሣይ

    በጭንቅ በመከራ ተዘርቶ፤
    በስንት ውጣ ውረድ ተመርቶ፤
    ውሃ በቋጠረ መዳፍ ተፈጭቶ፤
    በወጉ ያልተፈጨ የተከካ፤
    በ’ንባ ታሽቶ የተቦካ፤

    ኩፍ ያለ በደም አብሲት፤
    ስጋ የሆነው መጨቅጨቂት፤
    ባጥንት ማገዶ የተጋገረ፤
    መከራ በዝቶበት ያረረ፤
    የቀን እንጀራ ለገሰኝ፤
    እንካ ብሎ ሰጠኝ፤
    የማታውን ነስቶኝ።

    ቸገረኝ እንዳልተወው፤
    አረረብኝ እንዳልበላው፤
    የማታውን እንጀራ ስጠኝ፤ ምነው አምላኬ ምነው?!
    እንዴት አድርጌ ልብላው?!
    መራቤን እያወ’ከው፤
    መራቤን እያወ’ከው።

  2. The main thing is in the psyche of the man. If a man expects things could only be done by a white man or for that matter by Obama who can only continue the white man’s 60 year foreign policy that hardly changed …..come democrat or repuplican. Ethiopians have got to start to believe that they and only they are and can be the owners of their own policy. Only then can they achieve true independence. Obama may say this or that…..that is only to pacify the gullible african who seem to get satisfied more by rhetoric alone than deeds indeed. I give Obama 10/10 for his oratory skills…..speechifying the world, let alone Africans alone.
    Me, as an eritrean, I listened to his captivating speech but never expected a remedy to come from any Tom, Dick or Harry…. It can only come from us. If we don’t know what is best for us, then what’s the point being counted a human race. COMMON!!
    Don’t seek your freedom to be presented to you by a stranger……seek it yourselves to achieve it.

  3. Babylon the Great

    In the revelation to John it is written: “And I heard another voice from heaven, saying, Come out of her (Babylon) my people, that you be not partakers of her sins, and that you receive not of her plagues.” Look what it says, Come out of her MY PEOPLE. We do not need to say that these things that we come up with as identifying Babylon have anything to do with rejecting the people, or their salvation and their part in the true church. THEY ARE GOD’S PEOPLE. But the Bride of Christ is holy and blameless and not so the bulk of the Body of Christ. Many of them are prideful, they follow after their own ways and they will not give up false doctrine because it threatens their self-righteous superiority over others. Pride is a real killer in the church. The church of the flesh is in apostasy striving to please Jesus through their own efforts, those with the seal of God are walking in His Spirit and the two are in enmity with each other. Remember as the Bride of Christ that we are to be a holy church and it is the anointed remnant that has come out of Babylon that will prepare her for the marriage. We are to direct ourselves in following the anointing and build upon what Jesus has laid down for us.

    Before God’s people can get out of Babylon, we must first identify her. Interpretations of Babylon vary widely but she is called “Mystery Babylon” so our interpretation is especially spiritual. The Babylon of today is much more a state of mind than it is a place and includes the harlot in the economic, religious and political world. If we cannot yet recognize who or where she is, at least we can come to an understanding by knowing what she is. Spiritual Babylon is easy to identify unless it is through the eyes of Babylon herself and it takes courage to come out according to the true understanding. Babylon the Great is a present reality that will fall in the future and is tied up with the beast of the Apocalypse, the Anti-christ, the mark of the beast, Abaddon, the false prophet and much more that also includes delusion and spiritual deceptions. We need not decipher every jot and tittle of the four heads or the seven heads and the horns, the feet and each detail but rather identify the spirit of the harlot and the delusion. This is the way that we will receive the seal of God in our foreheads. Much has been discussed about the details but also much has not been agreed upon as to interpretation, so we must stay focused.

    We are living in the last days and satan wants us to be completely ignorant of who Babylon is and will put up all kinds of roadblocks to distract us and get us to look into other directions. The most he can do is to get us to ignore the issue and go on with business as usual, then he has won. The most important thing for the church today in restoration is to be able to first get out of Mystery Babylon the Great, so what we are discussing is of immense importance to the end time church. We cannot remain in Babylon just for the sake of loving those that will not come out, we need to pluck them out of the fire. For those that who are not able to get out of her, there are maledictions promised that they will be a part of her sins. You have to know that this will ultimately happen and it will be sooner rather than later. God’s people in general are destroyed for lack of knowledge but the Seal of God comes with the wisdom to hear the Lord and see truth as it is and accept the knowledge of the spirit. For those in the church that have not taken it seriously, God has already sent them a strong delusion that they will believe the lie. I pray that this will not happen to those reading these words. Please take this seriously.

    Now in my mind, I see no other way around it in that America is one head of the beast and there are four. Not only that but the most notable head in prophecy represents the youngest of the nations and is a melting pot with all nations flowing into her. I have acknowledged that the eagle is a head of the beast but it also has been used to protect God’s people and I see no reason to believe that she will not continue to do so. America in her freedom has been and can still be the greatest force for Christian revival that will ever be. Human rights and justice excites great pride in America but for the poor people of the world, it is only an illusion. Trust her in the religious tradition of freedom and you touch greatness; trust her in the realm of world commerce and you touch the great whore of Babylon.

    We may want to look at Rome in the context of the Mother of Babylon and the present situation as the daughter. We need to especially look at the evils of the Nicolaitan system of separation of clergy and laity that the Protestants have continued with to this present day as being part of Babylon. This is the correlation between the Roman idea of church hierarchy as being continued with the Protestants with fleshly Christian leadership instead of servants and ministers in the church. This make the church and the graces of the church the purveyors of salvation instead of Jesus. Present day Babylon cannot be Rome exclusively for the rest of the church must take part in the guilt of what Papal Rome has originally stood for and that is a system of exalting the church and their leaders over others and diluting the authority of Christ. There are false apostles and prideful pastors today making inroads into the five-fold who are actually teaching a pecking order and getting others to follow them under voices from the Lord. Many of them are called but then the pride of their calling takes over and they exalt themselves in the name of the Lord and become their own authority. Many Pastors do this in their churches and demand obedience to them according to spiritual authority, they come in the name of the Lord without the humility necessary to recognize false doctrines and other gospels and prove themselves to be the false Christs that Jesus warned us against. This is Babylonian thinking to the core…. Latter-rain

    የአውሮው መሓንዲስ፡ የአሚሪካው ድባብ፡ የአፍሪካው ጨቅላ ሰሩት መንገዱን የፀሓይ መውጫውን። – ልሳነ ኢትዮጵያ

  4. The king of Assyria boasts: “I was able to seize, like a nest, the wealth of peoples; As one gathers abandoned eggs, so I gathered all the earth: nothing so much as flapped a wing or opened a mouth to peep.”

    Ha! Those who write out evil writs And compose iniquitous documents, To subvert the cause of the poor, To rob of their rights the needy of My people; That widows may be their spoil, And fatherless children their booty! What will you do on the day of punishment, When the calamity comes from afar? To whom will you flee for help, And how will you save your carcasses From collapsing under [fellow] prisoners, From falling beneath the slain?
    5-6: Ha! Assyria, rod of My anger, In whose hand, as a staff, is My fury! I send him against an ungodly nation, I charge him against a people that provokes Me, To take its spoil and to seize its booty And to make it a thing trampled Like the mire of the streets.
    7-12: But he has evil plans, His mind harbors evil designs; For he means to destroy, To wipe out nations, not a few. For he thinks, “After all, I have kings as my captains! Was Calno any different from Carchemish? Or Hamath from Arpad? Or Samaria from Damascus? Since I was able to seize The insignificant kingdoms, Whose images exceeded Jersualem’s and Samaria’s, Shall I not do to Jerusalem and her images What I did to Samaria and her idols?” But when my Lord has carried out all his purpose on Mount Zion and in Jerusalem, He will punish the majestic pride and overbearing arrogance of the king of Assyria.
    15: Does an ax boast over him who hews with it, Or a saw magnify itself above him who wields it? As though the rod raised him who lifts it, As though the staff lifted the man!

    Isaiah: Prophetic Announcements Concerning Assyria and Jerusalem

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