Ethiopia: The Silence of Lying Lips
Alemayehu G. Mariam
Lies, Junk and Cut-and-Paste
Meles Zenawi, the dictator-in-chief in Ethiopia, says he does not want to talk about the 2010 U.S. State Department Country Reports on Human Rights [Report] in Ethiopia. But speaking through his parrot Hailemariam Desalegn, Zenawi said the Report is a meaningless “cut and paste” exercise and will be treated with “the contempt it deserves”:
The last two years we have engaged ourselves with the authorities of the United States and discussed several meetings on the human rights situation in Ethiopia. We thought we had convinced each other on many of the issues… If this is not considered at all, then there is no need to accept this report as something that can help us. So that’s why we dismissed the report totally because it is based on unfounded allegations which are baseless… We said this is a methodology failure. So if the United States is worried about the human rights challenge, then it should be critically evaluated. So if it is ‘cut and paste,’ then it doesn’t give any meaning to anyone. So we said, if it continues like this, it has nothing to do with changing and improving the human rights situation in Ethiopia.
Desalegn said the Report would not affect the “cordial relationship” between Addis Ababa and Washington. With snooty sarcasm he emphasized, “we dismiss the report, we have not dismissed the United States.” Translation: We will gladly pickpocket American Joe and Jane Taxpayer to the tune of USD$1 billion a year, but they can take their human rights report and shove it.
Last year Zenawi blasted the 2009 human rights Report as “lies, lies and implausible lies.” He even ridiculed the U.S. State Department for not preparing a report based on true lies:
The least one could expect from this report, even if there are lies is that they would be plausible ones. But that is not the case. It is very easy to ridicule it [report], because it is so full of loopholes (sic). They could very easily have closed the loopholes and still continued to lie.”
Zenawi’s consigliere, Bereket Simon, called the 2009 Report “the same old junk” released “to punish the image (sic) of Ethiopia and try if possible to derail the peaceful and democratic election process.”
Defending against unfavorable or critical reports of international human rights and other organizations by delivering a barrage of scorn, sarcasm and derision is standard operating procedure for Zenawi’s regime. In November 2010, Zenawi blitzkrieged the European Union Election Observer Report on the May 2010 election in Ethiopia as “trash that deserves to be thrown in the garbage“.
The State Department human rights report does not “deserve” condemnation in barnyard language, but diplomatic praise for its rigorous analysis and reporting of human rights abuses. The Report is an important policy instrument submitted by the U.S. Secretary of State to the Speaker of the House of the U.S. Congress annually pursuant to amended sections 116(d) and 502 B (b) of the Foreign Assistance Act of 1961 and 504 of the Trade Act of 1974. Using the Report, Congress aims to hold U.S. aid recipient “governments accountable to their obligations under international human rights instruments” and promote the rule of law, expressive freedoms, women’s, children’s and minority rights in recipient countries. The U.S. State Department says it uses the findings and conclusions of the Report in “shaping policy, conducting diplomacy, and making assistance, training, and other resource allocations” and in determining “U.S. Government’s cooperation with private groups to promote the observance of internationally recognized human rights.” But the annual Report has broader significance in the global struggle for human rights. As Secretary of State Hilary Clinton explained, the human rights
reports are an essential tool – for activists who courageously struggle to protect rights in communities around the world; for journalists and scholars who document rights violations and who report on the work of those who champion the vulnerable; and for governments, including our own, as they work to craft strategies to encourage protection of human rights of more individuals in more places.
Taking cheap shots at the Report by calling it “lies”, “junk” and “cut and paste” is to put on public display one’s abysmal ignorance of the American policy and legal process. To be sure, submitting any document to Congress containing “any materially false, fictitious, or fraudulent statement or entry” (i.e. “lies, lies and implausible lies”) is a serious crime subject to a five-year prison sentence under Title 18, section 1001 (a) (3) (c) (1) (2). If there are any statements in the Report that fall under the foregoing section of Title 18, it is incumbent upon anyone with evidence of such statements to lodge a complaint and request a formal investigation with the Office of the Speaker of the U.S. House, among other federal law enforcement authorities. Launching a tirade against the U.S. is no defense against the naked truth that Zenawi’s regime is a notorious violator of human rights, nor is it a substitute for substantial and credible evidence to support a claim of false statement.
Failure of Methodology?
Desalegn parrots his boss when he says there is “a methodology failure” that consigns the Report to the ash-heap of “contempt”. Over the years, Zenawi has used similar vague and unsubstantiated accusations of “methodological” flaws in a futile attempt to discredit unfavorable human rights reports on his regime. In 2008, Zenawi alleged that methodological flaws in a Human Rights Watch report on the Ogaden region of eastern Ethiopia amounted to manufactured lies. It is a fact that Zenawi’s regime has thwarted and frustrated every effort by human rights organizations to conduct open and independent investigations of human rights abuses in Ethiopia. By labeling the truth a lie, Zenawi seems to believe that he can indeed change the truth into a lie.
There is nothing secret or sinister about the “methodology” and data collection procedures of the U.S. State Department Country Reports on Human Rights Practices. The Report is based on a compilation of information from a variety of sources. U.S. embassies collect “information throughout the year from a variety of sources across the political spectrum, including government officials, jurists, armed forces sources, journalists, human rights monitors, academics, and labor activists.” U.S. Foreign Service Officers undertake investigations of human rights abuses under difficult and not infrequently under “dangerous conditions”. They “monitor elections, and come to the aid of individuals at risk, such as political dissidents and human rights defenders whose rights are threatened by their governments.” The initial drafts of the Reports are completed at the embassies and submitted for review to the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor in the State Department. Information collected by other sources including “US and other human rights groups, foreign government officials, representatives from the United Nations and other international and regional organizations and institutions and academic, media experts” and other sources are also evaluated and included to ensure accuracy, balance and corroboration.
The Reports reflect the work of hundreds of highly experienced and knowledgeable employees in the State Department and other branches of the U.S. Government. For the Report to be “lies, lies and implausible lies”, there must be a grand criminal conspiracy of hundreds of officials in the U.S. Government, including Secretary of State Clinton.
What’s in the “Contemptible” 2010 Human Rights Report on Ethiopia?
Here are some of the “lies, lies and implausible lies” in the 56-page Report:
There was no proof that the government and its agents committed any politically motivated killings during the year… [but] there were credible reports of involvement of security forces in the killings…in the Somali region…” (p.2.)
There were no reports of politically motivated disappearances; however, there were innumerable reports of local police, militia members, and the National Intelligence and Security Service (NISS) seizing… opposition political activists. (p.4.)
On September 10, the federal government and Amhara and Oromia regional governments granted pardons to more than 9,000 prisoners, in keeping with a longstanding tradition for celebration of the new year on September 11. (p. 10.)
The UN Committee Against Torture noted in a November 19 report that it was ‘deeply concerned’ about ‘numerous, ongoing, and consistent allegations’ concerning “the routine use of torture” by the police, prison officers and others. (p.4.)
The country has three federal and 120 regional prisons. There also are many unofficial detention centers throughout the country… Most are located at military camps… Prison and pretrial detention center conditions remained harsh and in some cases life threatening. Severe overcrowding was common… Many prisoners had serious health problems in detention but received little treatment. (p. 6.)
Authorities regularly detained persons without warrants and denied access to counsel and family members, particularly in outlying regions. (p. 8.)
The Ethiopian government and regional governments began to put in place “villagization” plans in the Gambella and Benishangul-Gumuz regions… The plan involves the resettlement of 45,000 households… [T]here were reports of local skepticism and resentment… because much of the land was or was to be leased to foreign companies (pp. 14-15.)
The government used a widespread system of paid informants to report on the activities of particular individuals… Security forces continued to detain family members of persons sought for questioning by the government. (p. 15.)
While the constitution and law provide for freedom of speech and of the press, the government did not respect these rights in practice. The government continued to arrest, harass, and prosecute journalists, publishers, and editors. (p. 19.)
The government restricted academic freedom during the year. Authorities did not permit teachers at any level to deviate from official lesson plans and actively prohibited partisan political activity and association of any kind on university campuses. (p. 25.)
Although the law provides for freedom of association and the right to engage in unrestricted peaceful political activity, the government limited this right in practice. (p. 27.)
The constitution and law provide citizens the right to change their government peacefully. In practice the country has never had a peaceful change of government, and the ruling EPRDF and its allies dominated the government. In May  elections, the EPRDF … won more than 99 percent of all legislative seats…. [T]here was ample evidence that unfair government tactics–including intimidation of opposition candidates and supporters–influenced the extent of that victory. (p.32.)
The constitution provides citizens the right to freely join political organizations of their choice; however, in practice these rights were restricted through bureaucratic obstacles and government and ruling party intimidation, harassment, and arrests, with physical threats and violence used by local officials and EPRDF operatives, local police, and shadowy local militias under the control of local EPRDF operatives. (p. 33.)
The World Bank’s 2009 Worldwide Governance Indicators made it clear that corruption remained a serious problem… [S]ome government officials appeared to manipulate the privatization process, and state- and party-owned businesses received preferential access to land leases and credit. (p. 37.)
The law provides for public access to government information, but access was largely restricted in practice. (p. 38.)
The government harassed individuals who worked for domestic human rights organizations. (p. 40)
The government denied NGOs access to federal prisons, police stations, and political prisoners. There were credible reports that security officials continued to intimidate or detain local individuals to prevent them from meeting with NGOs and foreign government officials investigating allegations of abuse. (p. 41.)
There were no further developments in the July 2009 case of the 444 staff members, including high-ranking officials, fired by the Addis Ababa Police Commission for involvement in serious crimes, including armed robbery, rape, and theft. (p.8.)
Women and girls experienced gender-based violence daily, but it was underreported due to cultural acceptance, shame, fear, or a victim’s ignorance of legal protections… Domestic violence, including spousal abuse, was a pervasive social problem. The 2005 Demographic and Health Survey (DHS) found that 81 percent of women believed a husband had a right to beat his wife. (p. 42.)
Sexual harassment was widespread. The penal code prescribes 18 to 24 months’ imprisonment; however, harassment-related laws were not enforced. (p. 43.)
Child abuse was widespread. Unlike in previous years there was no training of police officers on procedures for handling cases of child abuse. (p. 45.)
There were an estimated 5.4 million orphans in the country, according to the report of Central Statistics Authority. Government-run orphanages were overcrowded, and conditions were often unsanitary. Due to severe resource constraints, hospitals and orphanages often overlooked or neglected abandoned infants. (p. 47.)
There were approximately seven million persons with disabilities, according to the Ethiopian Federation of Persons with Disabilities. There was one mental hospital and an estimated 10 psychiatrists in the country [of 80 million people.] (p. 48.)
If the foregoing facts are “lies, lies and implausible lies”, the U.S. State Department must be held accountable for issuing false, misleading and deceptive reports and those involved in its preparation should be prosecuted. But if it is the truth that keeps the human rights abusers in Ethiopia closemouthed, then as Scriptures counsel, “Let the lying lips be put to silence.”