Meles Zenawi when he was alive and his apostles today (“Melesistas”) keep playing us in the Diaspora like a cheap fiddle. They make us screech, shriek, scream and shout by simply showing their mugs in our cities. How do they do it? Every now and then, the Melesistas suit up a few of their bumbling and bungling zombies from central casting and unleash them into the Ethiopian Diaspora to “sell bonds” for the “Grand Meles Dam” to be built over the Blue Nile. Anytime these zombies show up to panhandle chump change from their supporters, a welcoming committee of defiant and patriotic Ethiopian activists show up to chase them out of town like campers at a national park chasing coyotes scrounging at the trash bin. For the past several weeks, Diaspora activists have been routing these imposters across European and American cities; but incredibly, these brazen con artists show up in the next city like snake oil salesmen at a carnival. That really piqued my curiosity. Why do these scammers show up in city after city knowing that they will be confronted and chased out by young patriotic Ethiopians? Are they really fundraising by “selling bonds” in the Diaspora or are they using “fundraising” as a cover for something altogether different? Ummm!!!
First, the irrefutable facts about the Meles Dam hogwash. As I demonstrated in my March 11 commentary, “Rumors of Water War on the Nile?”, the Meles Dam on the Blue Nile (Abay River) was the exquisite figment of Meles’ imagination, and now the phantasmic idol of worship for his discombobulated apostles. Anyone who bothers to study the facts of this so-called dam project will readily conclude that it is pie in the sky. It is “self-funded” because the multilateral lending institutions and private investors who normally bankroll such major infrastructure projects wouldn’t touch it with a ten foot pole standing a mile away. They have determined it is a white elephant. Egypt has also used its leverage to block funding sources. Egypt has contingency military plans to undam the dam if it ever comes on line.
The fact of the matter is that it is impossible for the bumbling regime in Ethiopia, which sustains itself through international panhandling, to raise the USD$6-10bn needed from the people of the second poorest country in the world. The regime does not even have sufficient foreign reserves to cover the cost of imports for three months. Its foreign debt exceeds USD$12bn; and despite windbagging about an 11 percent annual growth, the “fifth fastest growing economy in the world”, yada, yada, unemployment, inflation, mismanagement and corruption have put on life support an economy addicted to international handouts. The idea that nickels and dimes collected from Ethiopians in the country by staging “musical concerts, a lottery and an SMS campaign” and a buck or two from Diaspora Ethiopians could build such a project is simply nutty. Because the dam builders live in a fool’s paradise, they think Diaspora Ethiopians are all “fools and idiots” who will buy fantasy dam bonds. (Just as an aside, those who are buying Meles Dam junk bonds should first consider buying the Brooklyn Bridge in New York City.) Anyway, the Diaspora “bond sales” effort has been a total failure. The regime recently announced that it had collected $43,160 from its latest bond sales in San Diego, CA. Yeah! Right!
For domestic public relations purposes, the Melesistas’ strategic objective in pushing the Meles Dam hoax is to create patriotic fervor and galvanize the entire population around an object of national pride while deifying Meles and generating political support for themselves to prolong their lease on political power. The Meles Dam would at once be a hydrological temple to worship “Meles the Great Leader and Visionary” and a symbolic object of national unity that could rally massive support for the regime. The Melesistas have convinced themselves that by talking about the Meles Dam 24/7, 365 days, they can convince the people that the dam is actually under construction. They blather about building the “largest dam in Africa” and Ethiopia becoming a middle income country and a formidable regional economic power in just a few years. They talk about their “visionary leader” and how they will blindly follow his vision to the end of the rainbow where they will collect their pot of gold in the form of Meles Dam bonds. They march on chanting their mantra: “We will follow Meles’ vision without doubt or question.”
They must really think the people are “fools and idiots” (to borrow a phrase from Susan Rice) to be fooled by their silly dog and pony show and talk of pie in the sky. The Ethiopian people may not know about a “pie in the sky”, but they certainly know about the “cow they have in the sky whose milk they never see.” But careful analysis shows the Melesistas have pulled this one right out of Joseph Goebbel’s bag of tricks: “If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it. The lie can be maintained only for such time as the State can shield the people from the political, economic and/or military consequences of the lie. It thus becomes vitally important for the State to use all of its powers to repress dissent, for the truth is the mortal enemy of the lie, and thus by extension, the truth is the greatest enemy of the State.” Isn’t this exactly what the Melesistas are doing in Ethiopia now – repeat the dam lie, development lie and repress dissent and persecute journalist who tell the truth?
The Melesistas think they are so smart that they can hoodwink not only Ethiopians in the country but also those in the Diaspora. They put on a dam “bond selling” show to convince Diasporans that the Meles Dam is real and that it is the panacea to Ethiopia’s economic woes. “Buy dam bonds! Ethiopia will be rafting on a river of milk and honey once the Blue Nile is dammed.” But only a damned fool would believe that. According to the World Bank, Ethiopia’s “power sector alone would require $3.3 billion per year to develop” in the next decade. Currently, power tariffs are so underpriced that they range between “$0.04-0.08 per kilowatt-hour” and are “low by regional standards and recover only 46 percent of the costs of the utility.” For every dollar they spend supplying power, they lose 54 cents! In other words, these guys hawking the Meles Dam junk bonds and promising billions in profits are losing their shirts on the power they are selling right now! Why would anyone trust and buy dam bonds from those who can’t even make a damn profit from existing dams? Why would anyone buy dam junk bonds when the outlook for the energy sector in Ethiopia is so damn bleak? The Melesistas fantasize that they can pay off bondholders by selling power from the dam to the Sudan, Egypt and the Arabian peninsula. Why the hell would Egypt or the Sudan buy power from a dam that damns them by effectively reducing their water supply for agriculture and their own production of power?
The real aim of the Meles Dam is not the construction of a dam over the Blue Nile but to use the specter of the construction of a gargantuan dam on the Nile to inspire fear, loathing and dread of an imminent regional water war. Simply stated, the dam idea is an extortion scheme to scam the international community and downstream countries for more aid and loans as a price for continued regional stability, avoidance of conflict and maintenance of the status quo. Suffice it to say, one has to be a damned “fool and an idiot” to believe the Meles Dam will ever be built or buy Meles Dam junk bonds and expect a return. (Buying the Brooklyn Bridge is a much better investment.)
Shadowboxing Smoke and Mirrors
So, why do the Melsistas send zombies into the Diaspora on a fool’s errand? They know they will be shamed and disgraced and chased out of every American and European city like stray dogs at a bazaar. They know they will be lucky to squeeze a few hundred dollars at a Diaspora “bond selling” event. Do they do it because they are professional beggars and panhandlers?
There is a deceptively simple method to their madness. They send their zombies in the Diaspora to make us shadowbox smoke and mirrors. They are playing a simple but clever psychological game.
The Melesistas are getting hammered everyday by bad publicity. Hardly a day passes without some report by an international human rights, press or research organization documenting their monumental crimes against humanity. Just in the past few months, there have been numerous reports and press releases by Human Rights Watch, the Committee to Protect Journalists and a host of newspaper and television outlets, including Al Jazeera and CNN, on massive human rights violations, land grabs, ethnic cleansing, suppression of religious freedom and other issues in Ethiopia. Recently, the World Bank made public a 448-page corruption report on Ethiopia. A couple of weeks ago, the U.S. State Department released its annual Human Rights Report on Ethiopia documenting the regime’s “arbitrary killings, torture, beating, abuse, and mistreatment of detainees by security forces, harsh and life-threatening prison conditions, arbitrary arrests and detentions, detention without charge and lengthy pretrial detention, illegal searches, “villagization” (pillagization) program, restrictions on freedom of assembly, association, and movement, interference in religious affairs…” This past week, they got clobbered in the international press for a kangaroo appellate court affirmance of the 18-year sentences of the internationally-acclaimed journalist Eskinder Nega and dynamic opposition leader Andualem Aragie.
The Melesistas have become international pariahs and desperately want to change the topic from Eskinder Nega, Reeyot Alemu, Woubshet Taye, Andualem Aragie…, corruption, ethnic cleansing, land giveaways, suppression of religious freedom and interference in religious affairs and critical human rights reports. They want to take control of the international public relations agenda. They want to shed off their international image as corrupt thugs who trample on human rights and steal elections. They want to reinvent themselves as anti-poverty warriors and statesmen of economic development. They want to be seen as the new “new breed of African leaders” toiling indefatigably to eradicate poverty and promote economic development and democracy.
In a Machiavellian maneuver, they have, to some extent, succeeded in getting Diaspora Ethiopians, particularly the activists, to promote their “dam development” agenda for them in America, Europe and elsewhere. Every time Diaspora activists confront the zombie junk bond dealers and brokers, they are seen talking (but saying nothing) about development, growth, infrastructure projects and how the Meles Dam will transform Ethiopia into an economic powerhouse. (They never mention the massive foreign debt, the USD$12bn that has left the country illegally since 2001, the massive youth unemployment, accelerating population growth, etc.). They always sheath their bloody hands in the glove of development talk. When activists protest and confront these zombies, they appear to be anti-development obstructionist agitators. That’s is the exquisite trick of the Melesistas. They want the world to see Diaspora Ethiopians as a bunch of rowdy, wild, disorderly, loudmouthed, raucous, uncivil and intolerant bunch who will not even allow civil discussions of “development”. They aim to create and nurture the image of a few combative “Diaspora extremists” and an overwhelming number of silent (as a church mouse) regime supporters who are afraid to come forward (or attend their “bond selling” events) and show their support for fear of attack by the “extremists.” In the mix are the hapless Diasporans who have to go back and forth to Ethiopia to secure their property and business interests. Those guys are toast; either they pay protection money (buy dam bonds) or get jacked up on some trumped up charge and lose their properties or worse.
The Melesistas’ strategy to counter bad publicity and capture the domestic and international public relations commanding heights is based on three principles: Distract, distract and distract some more. Distract Ethiopians inside the country from critical political, social and economic issues by bombarding them with inane development propaganda. State television (which is watched by virtually no one in the country) is filled with ceaseless barrages of nauseating and mind numbing amateur development propaganda. It is vintage police state propaganda aimed at convincing a largely illiterate population that famine is plenty, decline is development, poverty is wealth, dictatorship is democracy and the man who destroyed the country is its savior.
The second strategy is to distract Diaspora Ethiopians from vigorously pursuing an agenda that promotes democracy freedom and human rights. They unleash a few smooth-talking empty suits with empty heads and let them wander from one city to another in the U.S. and Europe just to get Ethiopian activists emotionally worked up about a fantasy dam and lose their focus on issues of human rights violations, abuse of political prisoners, ethnic cleansing, suppression of religious freedoms, and myriad economic problems. Some Diaspora activists react vigorously whenever they see these hapless empty suits at “bond selling” events believing they are confronting the master criminals. Therein lies the trick. The Melesistas are so clever that they have succeeded in making some of us believe that the puppets are actually the puppet masters. We need to be aware that the empty suits they send into the Diaspora to sell the dam bonds are just schmucks and buffoons who do what they are told; or “zombies” as the great African musician Fela Kuti would have called them (“Zombie go… zombie stop…zombie turn…zombie think…” ) They are bait and are offered as scapegoats to the Diaspora. By chasing the puppets out of town, some of us feel we have chased out the puppet masters. But the puppet masters laugh at us because our victory is the victory of the shadow boxer who knocked out the shadow.
The third strategy of the Melesistas is to distract donors and human rights organizations from criticizing them on their atrocious human rights record. They want to justify and convince them that the masses of ordinary Ethiopians are interested in the politics of the belly and not the politics of the ballot. Meles declared, “My view is that there is no direct relationship between economic growth and democracy historically or theoretically.” They want to convince donors and human rights organizations that the masses do not care about human rights or democracy; they are concerned only about filling their bellies. To them, the masses of poor, illiterate, hungry and sick Ethiopians are too dumb and too damn needy to appreciate “political democracy.”
Legacy of the great manipulator
Manipulation of the Diaspora is one of the chief legacies of Meles. Wikileaks cablegrams portray Meles as a slick, scheming, crafty and cunning hombre. He could have achieved greatness but undid himself because he was unable to tame his voracious appetite for extreme vindictiveness and revenge and could not bridle his bottomless capacity for maliciousness, viciousness and obduracy. Those who claim to know Meles say he knew his opposition better than the opposition knew itself. Distraction, diversion, misdirection, hoodwinking, chicanery, paralogy and sophistry were the hallmarks of Meles’ strategy. The cunning dictator was able to shroud his corrupt empire for two decades by pursuing a propaganda policy of mass distraction and by staging one farcical political theatre after another. As I have long maintained, Meles’ “attitude was that he can outwit, outthink, outsmart, outplay, outfox and outmaneuver boatloads of Ph.Ds., M.Ds., J.Ds. Ed.Ds or whatever alphabet soup of degrees exist out there any day of the week. He seemed to think that like the opposition leaders, Ethiopian intellectuals are dysfunctional, shiftless and inconsequential, and will never be able to pose a real challenge to his power.” In a rare moment of candor responding to a journalist’s question about Diaspora Ethiopians protesting his overseas visits, Meles confessed, “We may be at fault in some way. I am sorry. That maybe we didn’t communicate well enough to those Ethiopians living abroad what is happening, what we are doing here.” Meles’ apostles keep making the same mistake. Like shepherd, like sheep! Like Meles, like Melesistas!
Criminal violations in selling unregistered securities in the U.S.
There have been questions raised about the legality of the sale of Meles Dam bonds as “securities” in the U.S. Under federal and most state laws, a “security” is broadly defined and includes stocks, bonds, debt and equity securities, notes, investment contracts, etc. Unless exempted, all securities must be registered with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) and/or relevant state agencies prior to selling or offering for sale to the public. A security which does not have an effective registration statement on file with the SEC and/or the relevant state agency is considered an unregistered security. Buying or selling unregistered securities is a crime under federal and state laws. The SEC can prosecute issuers and sellers of unregistered securities under section 20(b) of the Securities Act of 1933 (which regulates original issuers) and seek injunctions if the Securities Act has been violated, or if a violation is imminent. Section 8A also allows the SEC to issue orders to issuers of unregistered securities to cease and desist and seek civil penalties under Section 20(d) if an issuer violated the Securities Act, an SEC rule, or a cease-and-desist order.
Like most states, California Corporations Code sections 25110-25118 set strict guidelines for any securities sold in that state. Any person or entity who willfully sells or transports unregistered securities through interstate commerce or buys such securities could face serious criminal liabilities under California Corporations Code section 25540, subd. (a) with penalties of incarceration for up to three years and a fine up to $1 million. California prosecutors, like their federal counterparts, could also seek injunctive relief and civil penalties.
There are a few limited exemptions to the registration requirement. One of them is an exemption “for certain foreign government securities brokers or dealers”. Pursuant to 17 CFR 401.9, “A government securities broker or dealer (excluding a branch or agency of a foreign bank) that is a non-U.S. resident shall be exempt from the provisions of sections 15C(a), (b), and (d) of the Act (15 U.S.C. 78o–5(a), (b) and (d)) and the regulations of this subchapter provided it complies with the provisions of 17 CFR 240.15a–6…” In other words, the bond “brokers and dealers” sent to the U.S. to sell the Meles Dam bonds must meet the multifarious requirements of federal securities law and other regulatory requirements including full disclosure, proof of maintenance of required books and records relating to the bond issues and written consent to service of process for any civil action arising from disputes in bond related transactions. It is highly unlikely that the “brokers and dealers” selling the Meles Dam bonds in the United States qualify under 17 CFR 240.15a–6 and 15 U.S.C. 78o–5(a).
Fight the Power, not the smoke and image in the mirror
Diaspora activists should keep their eyes on the prize, not on the smoke and mirrors of the Melesista Road Show, Carnival and Circus.
Ethiopian Americans are fortunate to live under a Constitution that guarantees our right to free expression and peaceful protest. As citizens, it is our moral duty to exercise our constitutional rights. We have recently seen Americans using their right to protest by launching the “Occupy” protest movement. Historically, the civil rights movement relied on sit-ins, sit downs, teach-ins, rallies and marches as a form of direct nonviolent action to bring about change. Nonviolent mass protests eventually led to passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 which ended racial segregation, and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 which removed barriers to voting. The anti-war and free speech movements relied on non-violent protests to defend expressive freedoms and end the war in Vietnam. Nonviolent protests were also used in the anti-Apartheid movement in the U.S. resulting in boycotts, divestments in corporations and spurring legislative and diplomatic action which hastened the end of Apartheid.
The main point is that Diaspora Ethiopians should be laser-focused on the prize and make sure that democracy will in the end triumph over dictatorship in Ethiopia; human rights are vindicated and human rights abusers are held accountable and any government in Ethiopia shall fear the people and the people shall never fear their government. We should not be distracted by empty suits with empty heads lurking in and out of town to scrounge up chicken feed. We should not be angry at programmed zombies at “bond selling” events because they are just wretched flunkies and bootlickers, who given the opportunity will make a beeline to the immigration office to file for political asylum. We should not mistake the puppets for the puppet masters. We should not confuse shadow for reality.
We should be aware not only when we are being abused but also used. We should never let them make us do their dirty jobs because they can cleverly manipulate our psychological disposition to righteous indignation. We should never react because that allows them to take control of our emotions and reactions. We should always act and never react. Most importantly, we should engage in proactive activism instead of reactive activism. When we are proactive, we plan things out carefully and strategically. Nonviolent protest is a highly disciplined effort. Dr. Martin L. King, Jr. taught, “In any nonviolent campaign there are four basic steps: collection of the facts to determine whether injustices exist; negotiation; self-purification; and direct action.” We should educate and train ourselves in the ways of nonviolent protest. When confronting the zombies, we should maintain a high degree of composure and display self-dignity in our expressions of defiance. At dam “bond selling ” events, protesters should adequately prepare pre-event publicity. Serious attention should given to the development of press kits and talking points. Press and law enforcement liaisons should be trained and designated. Well informed and articulate spokespersons should be selected to give press interviews. Adequate attention should be given to post-event follow up activities.
While those of us in the older generation (“Hippos”) wallow in self-pity and cynicism, it is inspiring to see young patriotic Diaspora Ethiopians (“Cheetahs”) using their right to peaceful protest to resist the zombies of tyranny. Just as the task of building a fantasy dam belongs to the Melesistas, the construction of the new Ethiopia is a task reserved for the young Cheetahs. It is painful to admit that we Hippos have not been much of a role model for the Cheetahs. We have unkindly criticized the Cheetahs for their lack of engagement, apathy and single-minded pursuit of flash and cash. We grumble that the Cheetah generation is the lost generation and there is no one to save Ethiopia (but it has been a long time since we Hippos looked into the mirror without smoke).
I am afraid there is little that Ethiopian Cheetahs could learn from Ethiopian Hippos. Perhaps Ethiopian Cheetahs can get inspiration from other Cheetahs. In the past 2 years, we have seen inexperienced youth using social media bring down dictators or force them to make radical changes in governance in North Africa and the Middle East. The key to their success was their ability to get in tune and on the same wavelength with each other, and to be able to speak the same beautiful language of peaceful change and protest. As always, I believe Ethiopian youth united — across ethnic, religious, linguistic, gender, and regional lines — can never be defeated!
“Get up, stand up, stand up for your rights. Get up, stand up, don’t give up the fight.” Bob Marley
Professor Alemayehu G. Mariam teaches political science at California State University, San Bernardino and is a practicing defense lawyer.
Previous commentaries by the author are available at:
Amharic translations of recent commentaries by the author may be found at:
Edmund Burke, the British statesman and philosopher, said “Hypocrisy can afford to be magnificent in its promises, for never intending to go beyond promise, it costs nothing.” We’ve heard many promises on human rights in Africa from President Obama and his Administration over the past four years. “We will work diligently with Ethiopia to ensure that strengthened democratic institutions and open political dialogue become a reality for the Ethiopian people… We will work for the release of jailed scholars, activists, and opposition party leaders… We align ourselves with men and women around the world who struggle for the right to speak their minds, to choose their leaders, and to be treated with dignity and respect…. Africa’s future belongs to its young people… We’re going to keep helping empower African youth… Africa doesn’t need strongmen, it needs strong institutions. We support strong and sustainable democratic governments…. America will be more responsible in extending our hand. Aid is not an end in itself… [Dictatorship] is not democracy, [it] is tyranny, and now is the time for it to end… America is watching…” All empty promises and cheap talk.
…[These] reports show brave citizens around the world and those who would abuse them that America is watching…
So anywhere that human rights are under threat, the United States will proudly stand up, unabashedly, and continue to promote greater freedom, greater openness, and greater opportunity for all people. And that means speaking up when those rights are imperiled. It means providing support and training to those who are risking their lives every day so that their children can enjoy more freedom. It means engaging governments at the highest levels and pushing them to live up to their obligations to do right by their people…
Is America really “watching” and “standing up”?
I am always curious when someone is watching. Big Brother is watching! Aargh!!
When Kerry tells “brave citizens” in Ethiopia like Eskinder Nega, Reeyot Alemu, Wobshet Taye, Sertkalem Fasil, Bekele Gerba, Olbana Lelisa, Abubekar Ahmed, Ahmedin Jebel, Ahmed Mustafa and so many others “America is watching”, what does he mean? Does he mean America is watching them rot in Meles Zenawi Prison #1 in Kality and/or #2 in Zewai? Does he mean America is watching Ethiopia like birdwatchers watch birds? Or like amateur astronomers watching the starry night sky? Perhaps like daydreaming tourists at the beach watching the waves crash and the summer clouds slowly drifting inland?
Is “watching” a good or a bad thing? If we believe Albert Einstein, watching is no good. “The world will not be destroyed by those who do evil, but by those who watch them without doing anything.” (Silent watchers, watch out!) Like Nero Claudius Caesar who watched Rome burn from the hilltops singing and playing his lyre. Or, (I hate to say it but it would be hypocritical of me not to) like Susan Rice who watched Rwanda burn. Her only question was, “If we use the word ‘genocide’ and are seen as doing nothing, what will be the effect on the November [Congressional] election?”
I like it when Human Rights Watch (HRW) watches because when they watch they witness. They saw the genocide and crimes against humanity in the Ogaden and Gambella and they have witnesses. They watched independent journalists jacked up in kangaroo court and railroaded to Meles Prison #1 or #2. (Sounds like the equivalent of a hotel chain? Well, they do put chain and ball on innocent people at the Meles Zenawi Hilton.)
I like watching watchdogs watch crooks, criminals and outlaws. I mean “watchdog journalists” like Eskinder, Reeyot, Serkalem, Woubshet and many others. These journalists used to watch power abusers and alert citizens of the crimes they were watching. Now the criminals are watching them in solitary at the Meles Zenawi Hilton.
I pity those who just watch. Like the “foolish and senseless people, who have eyes but do not see, who have ears but do not hear” or those who may “indeed see but not perceive, and may indeed hear but not understand.” I have no idea what the Obama Administration is watching, perceiving or seeing in Ethiopia? I would like to believe they are watching human rights abuses and abusers and the criminals against humanity. But how is it possible to watch with arms folded, ears plugged and wearing welding goggles? I wonder: Could they be watching the tragicomedy, “The Trials and Tribulations of the Apostles of Meles”? Perhaps they are watching kangaroo courts stomping all over justice and decency? I am certain they are not watching the political prisoners. Perhaps they are watching the horror movie, “Dystopia in Ethiopia”? Sure, it’s a scary movie but it really isn’t real. But if it is real, what’s the big deal? The same horror film has been playing all over Africa since before independence. Get over it!
From where I am watching, the Obama Administration seems to be watching Ethiopia peekaboo style; you know, cover your face with the palms of your hand and “watch” between the fingers. “I seee yooou!” That is, stealing elections, sucking the national treasury dry, handing over the best land in the country to bloodsucking multinationals, jailing journalists and ripping off the people.
Doesn’t “America is watching,” sound like Orwellian doublespeak. You know, “War is peace. Freedom is slavery. Ignorance is strength.” Dictatorship is democracy. Watching is turning a blind eye.
When America is watching, those being watched in Ethiopia are watching America watching them. They watch America waffling and shuffling, double-talking, flip-flopping and dithering, equivocating, pretending, hemming and hawing and hedging and dodging. But those chaps in Ethiopia watch like George Orwell’s Big Brother (Nineteen Eighty-Four) who watched everybody and everything in Oceania. Well, Big Brother Meles is gone from Ethiopiana but the “Little Brothers of the Party of Meles” keep on watching and yodeling:
…The Party seeks power entirely for its own sake. We are not interested in the good of others; we are interested solely in power, pure power. What pure power means you will understand presently. We are different from the oligarchies of the past in that we know what we are doing. All the others, even those who resembled ourselves, were cowards and hypocrites. The German Nazis and the Russian Communists came very close to us in their methods, but they never had the courage to recognize their own motives. They pretended, perhaps they even believed, that they had seized power unwillingly and for a limited time, and that just around the corner there lay a paradise where human beings would be free and equal. We are not like that. We know what no one ever seizes power with the intention of relinquishing it. Power is not a means; it is an end. One does not establish a dictatorship in order to safeguard a revolution; one makes the revolution in order to establish the dictatorship. The object of persecution is persecution. The object of torture is torture. The object of power is power. Now you begin to understand me.
I have been watching America watching Ethiopia for a very long time. I have been watching the Obama Administration watching and coddling the criminals against humanity in Ethiopia, Rwanda and Uganda. I must confess that I enjoy watching and re-watching President Obama’s speeches in Accra, Cairo, Istanbul and elsewhere. “History is on the side of brave Africans…” (whatever that means).
I liked watching former Secretary of State Hilary Clinton declare moral victory on the Chinese and capture the commanding moral heights. “We don’t want to see a new colonialism in Africa… It is easy to come in, take out natural resources, pay off leaders and leave… and not leave much behind for the people who are there.” Right on! Power to the people of Africa! Down with colonialism! (I think that may be a bit passé.)
Sometimes I feel bad watching. When I watch hard earned American tax dollars bankrolling ruthless African dictators who laugh straight to the bank to deposit their American tax dollars, I really get bummed out. I am peeved when I watch the American people being flimflammed into believing their tax dollars are supporting democracy, human rights and American values in Africa. But when I watch those miserable panhandlers “enfolded in the purple of Emperors” bashing and trashing America on their way back from depositing their foreign aid welfare checks, I just plain get pissed off!!
The audit was unable to determine whether the results reported in USAID/Ethiopia’s Performance Plan and Report were valid because agricultural program staff could neither explain how the results were derived nor provide support for those results. Indeed, when the audit team attempted to validate the reported results by tracing from the summary amounts to the supporting detail, it was unable to do so at either the mission or its implementing partners… In the absence of a complete and current performance management plan, USAID/Ethiopia is lacking an important tool for monitoring and managing the implementation of its agricultural program.
Watching diplocrisy in Technicolor
There is nothing more mind-bending and funny than watching hypocrisy in Technicolor. Earlier this month, in an act of shameless diplocrisy, Secretary Kerry expressed grave reservations about the legitimacy of the election of Nicolás Maduro as president of Venezuela. Maduro won the election by a razor thin margin of 50.66 percent of the votes. Opposition leader Henrique Capriles rejected the results alleging irregularities and demanding a recount of all votes.
… Given the tightness of the result — around 1 percent of the votes cast separate the candidates — the opposition candidate and at least one member of the electoral council have called for a 100 percent audit of the results. And this appears an important, prudent and necessary step to ensure that all Venezuelans have confidence in these results. In our view, rushing to a decision in these circumstances would be inconsistent with the expectations of Venezuelans for a clear and democratic outcome.
We acknowledge the conclusion of Ethiopia’s parliamentary elections on May 23, 2010…
We are concerned that international observers found that the elections fell short of international commitments. We are disappointed that U.S. Embassy officials were denied accreditation and the opportunity to travel outside of the capital on Election Day to observe the voting. The limitation of independent observation and the harassment of independent media representatives are deeply troubling.
An environment conducive to free and fair elections was not in place even before Election Day. In recent years, the Ethiopian government has taken steps to restrict political space for the opposition through intimidation and harassment, tighten its control over civil society, and curtail the activities of independent media. We are concerned that these actions have restricted freedom of expression and association and are inconsistent with the Ethiopian government’s human rights obligations.
…We urge the Ethiopian government to ensure that its citizens are able to enjoy their fundamental rights. We will work diligently with Ethiopia to ensure that strengthened democratic institutions and open political dialogue become a reality for the Ethiopian people.
Victory by 50.66 percent is irrefutable evidence of election fraud in Venezuela but “all Ethiopians should have confidence” in the 99.6 percent election victory of Meles Zenawi? Sounds like election certification in Oceania. Rigged elections are free and fair elections!
Watching “fools, idiots” and sanctimonious diplocrites
If Susan Rice is to be believed, critics of Meles Zenawi and his regime (and by implication critics of U.S. policy that supports the regime) are “fools and idiots”. I guess if one must choose between being a “fool/idiot” and a hypocrite/diplocrite, one is well-advised to choose the former. A fool does or does not do the right thing because s/he lacks intelligence and understanding. S/he has the potential to learn and make right choices. But the cunning diplocrite does the wrong thing with full knowledge and understanding of the wrongfulness of his/her acts. S/he is unteachable and incorrigible. No one knows more about the difference between right and wrong than diplocrites, yet they do wrong because they don’t give a _ _ _ _!
The U.S. has been practicing diplocrisy in Ethiopia for the past two decades. It has propped up the regime of Meles Zenawi with billions of dollars of “development” and “humanitarian” aid while filling the stomachs of starving Ethiopians with empty words and emptier promises. Since 1991, the West in general has provided Meles’ regime nearly $30 billion in aid. In 2008 alone, $3 billion in international aid was delivered on a silver platter to Meles, more than any other nation in sub-Saharan Africa. In March 2011, Howard Taylor, head of the British aid program declared Ethiopia will receive $2 billion in British development assistance. In 2010, the EU delivered £152m to Meles Zenawi.
In December 2010, Human Rights Watch called on the Development Assistance Group (DAG), a coordinating body of 26 foreign donor institutions for Ethiopia to “independently investigate allegations that the Ethiopian government is using development aid for state repression.” In July 2010, a DAG-commissioned study issued a whitewash denying all allegations of improper use of aid. In August 2011, the Bureau of Investigative Journalism and the BBC reported the “Ethiopian government is using millions of pounds of international aid to punish their political opponents.” The report presented compelling evidence of how “aid is being used as a weapon of oppression propping up the government of Meles Zenawi.” Despite numerous documented reports of aid abuse and misuse, Western leaders and governments continue to hide behind a policy of plausible deniability and the massaged and embellished reports of swarms faceless international poverty-mongers creeping invisibly in Ethiopia.
The Center for Global Development in its comprehensive 2012 report cautioned, “The United States could be making a dangerous long-term bet with its assistance dollars by placing so little emphasis on governance in Ethiopia”, and US policymakers should temper their expectations for future development prospects in Ethiopia under the current regime. Sorry, no one is listening at the U.S. State Department, only watching.
Watching truth on the scaffold and wrong on the throne
“America is watching.” But is anybody watching America? The people of Ethiopia are watching America asking, “Is America watching? Watching what?”
The powerful don’t believe the powerless are watching them because they equate powerlessness with blindness. The powerless do watch because that is all they can do. They watch boots pressing down on their necks. They watch crimes committed against them as they sit helplessly with empty stomachs and hearts filled with terror. When Kerry says, “America is watching”, he should be mindful that Ethiopia’s poor and powerless are watching America with outrage on their faces, sorrow in their hearts and resentment in their minds.
I have watched Ethiopia’s “best and brightest” fall silent, deaf and mute watching truth on the scaffold and wrong on the throne. They have been watching the scaffold and throne like bystanders watching a crime scene — horrified, terrified and petrified. Perhaps they should heed Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s counsel, “Silence in the face of evil is itself evil. Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act.”
But if Robert Lowell is right, it does not matter who is watching silently, watching peekaboo style, watching by turning a blind eye, watching for the sake of watching or not watching at all, because there is One who standing within the shadow watches the watchers, the watched and the unwatched:
Truth forever on the scaffold, Wrong forever on the throne,— Yet that scaffold sways the future, and, behind the dim unknown, Standeth God within the shadow, keeping watch above his own.
Professor Alemayehu G. Mariam teaches political science at California State University, San Bernardino and is a practicing defense lawyer.
Previous commentaries by the author are available at:
…. My view is that there is no direct relationship between economic growth and democracy historically or theoretically. But my view is that democracy is a good thing in and of itself irrespective of its impact on economic growth. And my view is that in Africa most of our countries are extremely diverse, that may be the only possibility, the only option of keeping relationships within nations sane. Democracy may be the only viable option for keeping these diverse nations together. Sowe need to democratize but not in order to grow. We need to democratize in order to survive as united sane nations. That’s my view. But I don’t believe in this nighttime, you know, bedtime stories and contrived arguments linking economic growth with democracy. There is no basis for it in history and in my view no basis for it it in economics. And there is no need to have this contrived argument because the case for democracy and can stand and shine on its own…
While visiting Ghana in 2009, President Obama told the following “contrived bedtime story linking economic growth with democracy” to Africans:
Development depends on good governance. History offers a clear verdict: Governments that respect the will of their own people, that govern by consent and not coercion, are more prosperous, they are more stable, and more successful than governments that do not. No country is going to create wealth if its leaders exploit the economy to enrich themselves. No person wants to live in a society where the rule of law gives way to the rule of brutality and bribery. That is not democracy, that is tyranny. And now is the time for that style of governance to end…. In the 21st century, capable, reliable, and transparent institutions are the key to success — strong parliaments; honest police forces; independent judges; an independent press; a vibrant private sector; a civil society. Those are the things that give life to democracy, because that is what matters in people’s everyday lives…. History is on the side of these brave Africans, not with those who use coups or change constitutions to stay in power. Africa doesn’t need strongmen, it needs strong institutions. With better governance, I have no doubt that Africa holds the promise of a broader base of prosperity….
My Favorite Bedtime Stories
I enjoy bedtime stories as much as the next guy. My favorite is “Pinocchio in Africa”. The wooden puppet wanted to become a human boy but could not stop telling lies and tall tales. Whenever Pinocchio lied, his nose grew longer.
I like the story of “Puff the Magic Dragon and the Land of Living Lies”. Puff took a little girl called Sandy, who lies a lot, to the Land of the Living Lies where honesty and truthfulness are prosecuted. She meets the famous fibbers Pinocchio and the boy who cried wolf; and saw the famous purple cow that no one has ever seen and a pink elephant.
I also enjoy the morality tales of Aesop, the ancient Ethiopian storyteller. Once upon a time there was a wolf who schemed to snatch sheep grazing in the pasture, but could not because the shepherd was vigilant. One day the wolf found the shorn skin of a sheep and dressed himself in it and joined the flock. Soon he began dining on the sheep one by one until he was discovered by the shepherd. That was the end of the wolf; he could no longer steal, kill and eat the sheep.
George Orwell’s allegorical stories of doubletalk and doublespeak told in “political language” are rather delightful because they “make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and give an appearance of solidity to pure wind.” So, “War is peace. Freedom is slavery. Ignorance is strength.” George could have added, “dictatorship is democracy. Tyranny is liberty. Poverty is wealth. Famine is plenty. Censorship is press freedom. Brutality is civility. Mendacity is veracity. Opacity is clarity. Shadow is reality. Depravity is morality and greed is good.”
Oh, Yes! I like children’s rhymes too:
Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall Humpty Dumpty had a great fall….
Sane Nations, Insane Dictators and Democrazy
Zenawi said “democracy is the only option of keeping relationships within nations sane”. Here are some true stories of democrazy from the Land of Living Lies:
In April 2008 local elections were held throughout Ethiopia. Freedom House and USDoS report that opposition candidates were subjected to intimidation and arrest by the government prior to the elections making it difficult for them to compete, leading to the opposition boycotting the elections and resulting in a massive victory for government supporters. The ruling party won 99% of the more than three million seats contested.
The May 2010parliamentary elections resulted in a 99.6 percent victory for the ruling EPRDF and its allies,reducing the opposition from 174 to only two seats in the 547 member lower house… Ethiopia is the second-most populous country in Sub-Saharan… At US$390, Ethiopia’s per capita income is much lower than the Sub-Saharan African average of US$1,165 in FY 2010, ranking it as the sixth poorest country in the world.
The Ethiopian parliament has adopted a potentially repressive new law which could criminalise the human rights activities of both foreign and domestic non-governmental organizations (NGOs). The Charities and Societies Proclamation law (2009) is designed to strictly control and monitor civil society in an atmosphere of intolerance of the work of human rights defenders and civil society organisations. The law’s repressive provisions are believed to be an attempt by the Ethiopian government to conceal human rights violations, stifle critics and prevent public protest of its actions ahead of expected elections in 2010.
Ethiopia’s citizens are unable to speak freely, organize political activities, and challenge their government’s policies—through peaceful protest, voting, or publishing their views—without fear of reprisal. Democracy’s technical framework will remain a deceptive and hollow façade so long as Ethiopia’s institutions lack independence from the ruling party and there is no accountability for abuses by state officials.
Ethiopia lost $11.7 billion to outflows of ill-gotten gains between 2000 and 2009. That’s a lot of money to lose to corruption for a country that has a per-capita GDP of just $365. In 2009, illicit money leaving the country totaled $3.26 billion, double the amount in each of the two previous years. The capital flight is also disturbing because the country received $829 million in development aid in 2008. Ethiopia is one of the poorest countries on earth as 38.9% of Ethiopians live in poverty, and life expectancy in 2009 was just 58 years. The people of Ethiopia are being bled dry. No matter how hard they try to fight their way out of absolute destitution and poverty, they will be swimming upstream against the current of illicit capital leakage.
Ethiopia trails only Eritrea as the foremost jailer of journalists in Africa. Ethiopia’s repression of the independent press has also driven into exile the largest number of journalists in the world. Yet Zenawi told Aftenposten [Norwegian paper] that ‘We have reached a very advanced stage of rule of law and respect for human rights. Fundamentally, this is a country where democratic rights of people are respected.’
The Ethiopian government is exploiting its vaguely worded anti-terror law to crush peaceful dissent. The anti-terror law itself is a huge problem. The international community, especially the European Union, United States, and United Kingdom, should ask the Ethiopian government hard questions about why it is using this law to crack down on peaceful independent voices.
H.R. 2003 (Ethiopia Democracy and Accountability Act of 2007, sponsored by Cong. Payne passed the U.S. House of Representatives on October 2, 2007) requires the secretary of state to support human rights by establishing a mechanism to provide funds to local human rights organizations. The bill supports democratization by directing assistance to strengthen democratic processes, prohibits non-humanitarian assistance to Ethiopia if the ruling party obstructs United States efforts to provide human rights, fosters accountability for the actions the Ethiopian Government has taken that undermine rule of law and fundamental political freedoms…. and holds security forces accountable for human rights abuses related to the demonstrations of 2005…
Mr. FEINGOLD. Mr. President, today I am pleased to introduce the Support for Democracy and Human Rights in Ethiopia Act of 2008. Senator LEAHY joins me as an original cosponsor. The purpose of this bill is to reaffirm policy objectives towards Ethiopia and encourage greater commitment to the underpinnings of a true democracy–an independent judiciary and the rule of law, respect for human and political rights, and an end to restrictions on the media and non-governmental organizations…. As we turn a blind eye to the escalating political tensions, people are being thrown in jail without justification and non-government organizations are being restricted, while civilians are dying unnecessarily in the Ogaden region–just like so many before them in Oromiya, Amhara, and Gambella….
The separation between the ruling party and the public administration was blurred at the local level in many parts of the country. The EU EOM directly observed cases of misuse of state resources in the ruling party’s campaign activities. The ruling party and its partner parties won 544 of the 547 seats to the House of Peoples Representatives and all but four of the 1,904 seats in the State Councils…. As a result, the electoral process fell short of international commitments for elections, notably regarding the transparency of the process and the lack of a level playing field for all contesting parties.
The EU report is trash that deserves to be thrown in the garbage. The report is not about our election. It is just the view of some Western neo-liberals who are unhappy about the strength of the ruling party. Anybody who has paper and ink can scribble whatever they want.
Such are the nightmarish bedtime stories of Meles Zenawi’s Democrazy in Ethiopia!
Ethiopians are having a very hard time. Inside their own country, they are victimized by dictatorship, famine and pestilence. Thousands of Ethiopians who have fled political persecution and economic privation caused by systemic and massive corruption and poor governance are facing unspeakable victimization in various parts of North Africa, the Middle East and other parts of Africa.
This past January, I wrote a commentary entitled: “Ethiopia: Middle Passage to the Middle East” on the plight of the tens of thousands of Ethiopian domestic workers in the Middle East and North Africa. Substantial anecdotal evidence showed many of these workers are subjected to inhuman and degrading treatment, and that they are physically and sexually abused and economically exploited in a system of “contract slavery”. Last August, the daughter-in-law of the late Moamar Gadhafi poured scalding hot water on her young Ethiopian domestic worker totally disfiguring her (video here). Many Ethiopian domestic workers in other parts of the Middle East have faced mistreatment and abuse that would amount to torture under international law (video here). Another young Ethiopian domestic worker was so distraught she confronted a representative of dictator Meles Zenawi’s regime at a town hall meeting and demanded an answer: “Why is that our government does not check on us, follow up on our conditions, ask about us?” (video here). Crying her eyes out, she demanded, “Where is Ethiopia’s flag? I can’t take it anymore. I can’t take it anymore…!!!!”
A few of weeks ago, Alem Dechassa, another Ethiopian domestic worker was severely beaten and forced into a vehicle right outside the gates of the Ethiopian Embassy in Lebanon as Ethiopian “diplomats” looked on without lifting a finger or raising a voice (video here). Days later, Lebanese authorities announced that Alem hanged herself while undergoing treatment in, of all places, a psychiatric hospital! In the last few days, it was reported that Ethiopian Refugees in Yemen were beaten by Yemeni security forces as they sought help from the UNHCR office. Some 25 refugees were taken into detention. Another group of Ethiopian refugees protesting at the Yemen Human Rights Office was reportedly attacked by police. In Kenya, the Sudan and even in South Africa, Ethiopian refugees have faced abuse and brutality from law enforcement and vigilante elements. Ethiopians must be the most right-less people in the world!
Ethiopian Political Refugees in Norway
The latest horror story in the tragic saga of Ethiopian refugees comes from Norway. Recently, the Government of Norway put into place a plan to “involuntarily” (forcibly) deport hundreds of Ethiopian political refugees back to Ethiopia. According to human rights sources, some of these refugees have lived and worked in Norway for over two decades. Most of these refugees were given work permits and allowed to live freely and work in Norway when they first entered. Most learned the language and adopted Norwegian culture. Among the refugees include some 450 children born in Norway and living in “asylum seeker reception centers” for several years. Many of these children attend school and some of them speak only Norwegian.
The vast majority of these refugees had fled Zenawi’s ruthless dictatorship by the skin of their teeth. Many of them are ardent opponents of Zenawi’s regime in Norway. As recently as October 2011, many of these refugees flooded the streets of Oslo to protest the arrival of Zenawi for an energy conference (video here). Zenawi’s operatives reportedly videotaped the protesters in the streets, according to sources. Many of these refugees have a long history of activism in Ethiopian opposition political organizations in Norway at the leadership and grassroots levels taking advantage of democratic freedoms in Norway.
The “Memorandum of Understanding”
The basis for the forcible return of the Ethiopian political refugees is aMemorandum of Understanding (MoU), between the Norwegian Government and the regime of Zenawi, which purports to comply with the requirements of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and other treaties concerning repatriation of refugees to their countries of origin. The objective of the MoU is to facilitate a “dignified process of assisted return”. It provides for the “Government of Ethiopia to carry out the necessary measures for the return of Ethiopian nationals from Norway.” The Norwegian Government is expected to provide “necessary support” for implementation and monitoring. Refugees who agree to voluntarily return are promised a set amount of money upon their arrival. Incredibly, in Annex 3 to the MoU, the Norwegian Government will provide to the “National Intelligence and Security Service of Ethiopia via the Royal Norwegian Embassy in Addis Ababa” detailed personal data on each refugee including, among other things, “personal details”, “passport, national identity, driver license” information, “special circumstances relating to the transferee” and the “observations” of the Norwegian National Police Immigration Service.
Upon signing of the MoU, Norway’s international development minister, Erik Solheim, announced that the regime of Zenawi will receive annual aid in the amount of 350 million kroner. (Perhaps this should not come as a surprise. USD$35 million was paid in the last days of the Derg to let go the Beta Israelis.) Solheim said it is not quid pro quo (refugees for cash). Various Norwegian political leaders, opposition parties and human rights activists have severely criticized and condemned the deportation program.
MoU or RfC?
First, a major clarification. The Norwegian MoU concerning the forcible return of the Ethiopian political refugees is actually not an MoU in any legal sense. Under international law, an MoU is an important legal instrument which falls under the broad category of “treaties” and must be registered in the United Nations’ treaty database. When properly performed, an MoU could serve in the place of a formal treaty. Whether MoUs are binding or not binding under international law depends on the intent of the parties, the position of the signatory officials and the specific terms and conditions.
MoU is a disingenuous misnomer for what the Government of Norway has concluded with Zenawi’s regime. At best the document may qualify as an “exchange of notes” similar to an ordinary private contract. But the MoU is palmed off to the refugees as though it is a binding and enforceable legal document which protects their rights and guarantees their safety and welfare once they are forcibly returned. The MoU provides the illusion of legality and a veneer of moral decency for a despicable act of forcing political refugees to the gates of Zenawi’s infamous prison gulags, which have been widely documented.
The Norwegian MoU is what in the old days used to be called a “gentlemen’s agreement” or “letter of intent”. It is merely a collection of aspirational statements (wishful thoughts, desires) contained in a “memorandum” or a note expressing a general “understanding” (not a binding agreement) about the wholesale deportation of Ethiopian political refugees from Norway. It is a thinly veiled document which expresses the wishes of the Norwegian Government to get rid of the refugees as quickly as possible without creating any legal obligations on the part of Norway or Zenawi’s regime. The MoU contains NO language that is enforceable at law by the refugee third-party beneficiaries (Ethiopian political refugees) and makes no express or implied legal commitment concerning the welfare or safety of these refugees after they are delivered in planeloads to Zenawi. Its enforcement relies entirely on the discretion of Zenawi’s regime. Norway may call its “agreement” an MoU, but to the rest of the world it looks, walks and talks like a RfC (refugees for cash) program.
Delivering Lambs to the Wolf’s Lair
The Norwegian MoU may vaguely remind some students of history the “Munich Agreement” of 1939 selling out Czechoslovakia. Neville Chamberlain victoriously declared, “We regard the agreement as symbolic of the desire of our two people never to go to war with one another again… Here is the paper that bears his name as well as mine…” The world soon found out that the “Munich Agreement” was not worth the paper it was written on. Hitler laughed at Chamberlain.
Concluding an MoU with one who has shredded his own constitution, trampled on his own laws, sneered at international human rights treaties, vilified international human rights organizations, imprisoned tens of thousands of his people, claimed election victory by 99.6 percent, crushed all opposition parties and democratic institutions is an exercise in futility. Concluding an MoU with one who has ignored the plight of 40 thousand Ethiopia domestic workers in the Middle East is an act of willful denial. Concluding an agreement with one who has weaponized famine and uprooted and “villagized” hundreds of thousands of people from their ancestral homes is a colossal act of moral indifference and callousness to the plight and suffering of Ethiopian political refugees.
It is laughable for the Norwegian Government to tout the MoU as some sort of “humane” and “dignified” mechanism for “reintegration” and “repatriation” of Ethiopian refugees denied asylum. The Norwegian Government has gone to great lengths to reassure the refugees, Ethiopians at large and the world of its MoU and eagerly pointed out the signatures on the lines and made lofty proclamations about “humane reintegration”. But at the end of the day, Zenawi will be laughing and the returned refugees will crying their eyes out in one of Zenawi’s secret prison gulags. With its MoU, Norway has delivered these persecuted and long-suffering political refugees to the wolf’s lair on a silver platter.
Do the Ethiopian Refugees Have a Well-founded Fear of Persecution?
How Norway applies its asylum laws are matters best left to Norwegian law and judicial and administrative process. However, Norwegian asylum law must conform to 1951 Refugee Convention (Norway ratified the Convention on March 23, 1953) as amended by the 1967 Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees.
Article 1 of the Convention defines a refugee as “A person who owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality and is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country; or who, not having a nationality and being outside the country of his former habitual residence as a result of such events, is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to return to it.” The Ethiopian refugees are making their claims under Art. 1.
Under Article 33 (1) of the Convention, “No Contracting State shall expel or return (‘refouler’) a refugee in any manner whatsoever to the frontiers of territories where his life or freedom would be threatened on account of his race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social or political opinion.” The prohibition on forcible return of refugees is also a widely accepted principle of customary international law, the violation of which requires immediate notification of and intervention by the UNHCR. It does not appear UNHCR assistance was sought in this case.
Whether the Ethiopian refugees in Norway have a “well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion” under the Convention presents interesting legal questions. The Convention requires states to include in their asylum procedures, among other things, an up-to-date knowledge of all the relevant objective circumstances in the country of origin. Such knowledge should play a critical role in the determination of whether to grant asylum. The burden of proof is on the asylum applicant, but the standard of proof in asylum cases is not “well-founded fear of persecution” beyond a reasonable doubt, but rather proof that it is “reasonably possible”.
For the Ethiopian political refugees, obtaining corroborative evidence of “well-founded fear of being persecuted…” is difficult and sometimes impossible given the extremely oppressive nature of Zenawi’s dictatorship. Because of language issues and inability to legally articulate their factual circumstances, inability to remember all dates, times and places and other minor details and statements that may contain minor inconsistencies or are incorrect for lack of understanding of the process, it is easy to mistake an applicant’s claim for asylum as lacking credibility. Under the Convention, the totality of factors is taken into account in the overall assessment of the applicant’s credibility. If the applicant presents a claim which is coherent, credible and plausible, the Convention Convention urges giving the benefit of the doubt to the applicant as regards those statements for which evidentiary proof is lacking.
The “up-to-date knowledge of all the relevant objective circumstances” in Ethiopia has been documented by nearly every major human rights organization in the world and the world’s major media. The facts are incontrovertible and summarized in the Human Rights Watch World Report 2012: Ethiopia:
Ethiopian authorities continued to severely restrict basic rights of freedom of expression, association, and assembly. Hundreds of Ethiopians in 2011 were arbitrarily arrested and detained and remain at risk of torture and ill-treatment…Long-term pre-trial detention without charge, often without access to counsel, is common, notably under the Anti-Terror law, which allows police to request additional investigation periods of 28 days each from a court before filing charges, for up to four months. Human Rights Watch is aware of at least 29 opposition party members, journalists, and an actor who at this writing were currently held in remand detention under the Anti-Terror law… The restrictive Charities and Societies Proclamation, adopted in 2009, which prohibits organizations receiving more than 10 percent of their funding from abroad from carrying out human rights and governance work, continues to severely hamper basic rights monitoring and reporting activities… No independent domestic or international organization has access to all of Ethiopia’s detention facilities; it is impossible to determine the number of political prisoners and others arbitrarily detained or their condition.
What Could Happen to the Political Refugees Forcibly Returned by Norway?
MoU or no MoU, the Ethiopians political refugees forcibly returned will very likely face all forms of overt and subtle persecution. Without a doubt, upon their forcible return, they will be rendered right-less. Though the Ethiopian Constitution grants them a panoply of rights fortified by international human rights conventions (Eth. Const., Art. 13), they will have absolutely no constitutional protection. In the absence of freedom of speech and of the press, they will be unable to communicate their circumstances to anyone. In the absence of an independent judiciary, they will have no means of seeking justice or redress for grievances under law or the MoU. In the absence of civil society institutions, they will have no one to champion their cause and defend their rights. In the absence of the rule of law, one by one they will be picked up, jailed and tortured.
Zenawi is a cunning, calculating and spiteful dictator. He knows that in a few months the issue of these refugees will fade out of public awareness. He knows there will be no one to follow on their welfare or circumstances. He knows there are no groups and organizations in the country who will closely monitor the situation of these refuges. Zenawi will bide his time. When no one is noticing, he will nab each one of these repatriated refugees and there will be no traces of them. That is his M.O. It can be predicted with reasonable certainty that in one year’s time, few of the returned refugees will be available for a head count!
The Norwegian MoU, like the Ethiopian Constitution, will offer nothing but lofty words and empty promises to the refugees. It will have little practical meaning or effect in the face of Zenawi’s brutal dictatorship. History will show that the Norwegian MoU will amount to nothing more than just a scrap of paper.
What Would Dr. Fridtjof Nansen Do with the Ethiopian Refugees?
Norway is known for many great things — the Nobel Prize, international peace and the Oslo Accords. Norway was even rated as the most peaceful nation in the world in 2007. Norway is also known for its extraordinary humanitarian service to refugees worldwide. The internationally renowned Norwegian Refugee Council has provided assistance and protection to millions of refugees and returnees worldwide since the end of WW II.
When it comes to helping refugees, few equal the great Norwegian explorer, scientist, diplomat and humanist, Dr. Fridtjof Nansen. Dr. Nansen was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1922 for his humanitarian efforts on behalf of stateless persons (the “Nansen Passport” that was an international identity card for stateless refugees). Because of Dr. Nansen’s work and efforts, the lives of millions of Russian, Greek, Turkish and Armenian refugees were saved. More recently, former Norwegian soccer star Bjorn Heidenstrom cycled from North to South Africa to put the spotlight on millions of forcibly displaced Africans.
Regarding the Ethiopian political refugees, the prominent Norwegian author Jan Kjerstad perhaps described it best: “It is possible this is the right thing to do (deportation) seen from a bureaucratic point of view… Nevertheless, in the big picture, this is an ethical act for which there is only one word: shame.”
If I could ask one question of Prime Minster Jens Stoltenberg and his ruling party, it would be this: What would Dr. Nansen do with your MoU, or better yet your RfC program? I believe he would offer anMOU of his own to his fellow Norwegians: Moral Outrage Urged!
Amharic translations of recent commentaries by the author may be found at:
The Plight of Andualem Aragie and Other Political Prisoners in Ethiopia
The “Gulag” prison system in the old Soviet Union was infamous for warehousing and persecuting dissidents and opponetns. The gulags were used effectively to weed out and neutralize opposition to the Soviet state. They were the quintessential tools of Soviet state terrorism. Some called them “meat-grinders” because of the extremely harsh and inhumane conditions. Torture, physical abuse by prison guards, solitary confinement, inadequate food rations and officially instigated inmate-on-inmate violence were the hallmarks of the gulags.
Ethiopia’s prison system today are reminiscent of the Soviet gulags in their abuse and mistreatment of political and other prisoners. Let the facts speak for themselves: In a recent column on two Swedish journalists arbitrarily held in one of the Ethiopian prisons near the capital, N.Y. Times’ columnist Nicholas Kristoff described the prsion conditions as
filthy and overridden with lice, fleas and huge rats… a violent, disease-ridden place, with inmates fighting and coughing blood… 250 or so Ethiopian prisoners jammed in the cell protect the two [Swedish] journalists, pray for them and jokingly call their bed ‘the Swedish embassy’.
The U.S. State Department Country Reports on Human Rights Practices in Ethiopia (April 2011) documented:
…Human rights abuses reported during the year included unlawful killings, torture, beating, and abuse and mistreatment of detainees and opposition supporters by security forces, especially special police and local militias, which took aggressive or violent action with evident impunity in numerous instances; poor prison conditions; arbitrary arrest and detention, particularly of suspected sympathizers or members of opposition or insurgent groups; detention without charge and lengthy pretrial detention… Numerous reliable sources confirmed in April 2009 that in Maekelawi, the central police investigation headquarters in Addis Ababa, police investigators often used physical abuse to extract confessions.
… torture and ill-treatment have been used by Ethiopia’s police, military, and other members of the security forces to punish a spectrum of perceived dissenters, including university students, members of the political opposition, and alleged supporters of insurgent groups… Secret detention facilities and military barracks are most often used by Ethiopian security forces for such activities.
The regular and secret prisons maintained by the ruling regime in Ethiopia today are among the most inhumane, primitive, barbaric and sadistic in the world. In July 2008, the regime of dictator Meles Zenawi secretly commissioned retired British colonel Michael Dewars, an internationally recognized security expert, to undertake an assessment of the prison system and make recommendations. In his report, Col. Dewars expressed total horror and shock over what he witnessed in one of the prisons he visited in Addis Ababa. He recounted:
I asked to go into the compound where the prisoners are kept. This consisted of a long yard with a shed to one side which provided some sort of shelter. The compound had a wall around it and a watchtower for an armed sentry overlooking it. Inside must have been 70 – 80 inmates, all in a filthy state. There was insufficient room for all these people to lie down on a mat at once. There was no lighting. The place stank of faeces and urine. There appeared to be no water or sanitation facilities within the compound. There was a small hut in an adjacent compound for women prisoners but there had been no attempt by anybody to improve the circumstances of the place. The prisoners were mostly on remand for minor crimes, in particular theft. Some had been there for months….
Col. Dewars concluded:
Detention conditions of prisoners are a disgrace and make the Federal Police vulnerable to the Human Rights lobby…. The prison I saw was a disgrace. No one is recommending a Hilton Hotel, but, if any human rights organization were to get inside an Ethiopian jail, they would have enough ammunition to sink all our best efforts.
recommended that the Government should investigate this situation with the intention of improving the current appalling conditions inside Ethiopian prisons, which must brutalise prisoners and their goalers equally… and that senior Ethiopian Ministers and Police Officers visit the prison that I visited.
Over the past several years, I have written extensively on torture and mistreatment of political prisoners in Ethiopia. In my numerous columns on the incarceration of former judge Birtukan Midekssa, the first woman political party leader in Ethiopian history, and other political prisoners, I have pointed out the “soft torture” techniques used to crush her spirit and break her body. She was subjected to prolonged solitary confinement, sleep deprivation, visitation deprivation, daily humiliation and mindless interrogation. Birtukan faced untold suffering in prison. Zenawi could not bear the thought of Birtukan going free; and in a moment frustrated defiance declared: “There will never be an agreement with anybody to release Birtukan. Ever. Full stop. That’s a dead issue.” In the end she prevailed and became free. Just last week in Washington, D.C., she presented her study on the challenges confronting the Ethiopian opposition and offered specific recommendations for strengthening multi-party democracy in Ethiopia as a Reagan-Fascell Fellow with the National Endowment for Democracy.
Andualem Aragie Inside the Belly of the Beast
Zenawi has replaced Birtukan by another young Ethiopian leader, to be sure several dozens of young opposition leaders, journalists, activists and others. Last week, the former Ethiopian President and current leader of the Unity and Democracy Party (UDJ) Dr. Negasso Gidada reported that Andualem Aragie was severely beaten by a death-row-inmate-turned-lifer while confined in his cell. The facts of Andualem’s abuse are shocking. According to Dr. Negasso, Andualem was held in a “windowless cell for 14 people with a number of other political prisoners including Bekele Gerba, Olbana Lelisa and Tilahun Fantahun.” About a month ago, a convicted murderer whose life sentence had been commuted to life in prison was allowed to join Andualem’s cell. This criminal savagely assaulted Andualem inflicting severe injuries to his head. He was reported to lost consciousness following the assault.The Voice of America reported that “Relatives who have seen Andualem say his head injury appears to have affected his ability to maintain his balance.”
This inmate is notorious for his assaultive behavior inside the prison. He has a long record of violence and abuse of inmates. He is known to receive special accommodations for being a prison enforcer for the authorities. Rumors are rife that prison authorities paid the criminal a substantial sum for beating Andiualem.
Prior to his arrest on bogus terrorism charges, Andualem was a rising leader in the UDJ and served as its spokesperson and external relations officer. Andualem is among a new breed of young Ethiopian political leaders, journalists and civil society advocates who are widely respected and accepted. In the months leading up to the May 2010 “election” in which Zenawi claimed a 99.6 percent victory, Andualem demonstrated his unflinching commitment to democracy and the rule of law. With breathtaking clarity of thought, razor-sharp intellect, incredible courage, mesmerizing eloquence, piercing logic, stinging wit, masterful command of the facts and steadfast adherence to the truth, Andualem made mincemeat out of Zenawi’s vacuous lackeys in several televised pre-“election” debates. It was a sight to behold.
In September 2011, Andualem and 23 other individuals were “accused under the anti-terrorism law of being members of a terrorist network and abetting, aiding and supporting a terrorist group.” Earlier this month, a group of independent United Nations human rights experts (U.N. Special Rapporteurs) condemned the so-called anti-terrorism law and diplomatically cautioned that “the anti-terrorism provisions should not be abused and need to be clearly defined in Ethiopian criminal law to ensure that they do not go counter to internationally guaranteed human rights.” Andualem and the others are expected to have their day in kangaroo court on March 5.
Torture, Abuse and Plausible Deniability
Plausible deniability is the ability to deny a fact or allegation, or previous knowledge of a fact by shifting blame on someone else. In Andualem’s case, plausible deniability allows Zenawi’s regime to deny any awareness or knowledge of a criminal or criminally negligent act by its officials or unofficial agents in the prison. By allowing a notoriously violent criminal to assault Andualem, they aim to plausibly avoid responsibility. In other words, they have sought to remove their fingerprints, handprints, palmprints and footprints from the cowardly criminal act perpetrated on Andualem. But their MO (modus operandi) is well known. Whether they acted through their goons uniformed as prison guards or their deputized convicted thugs, they are exclusively responsible for the safety of all pretrial detainees like Andualem. Regardless of how one looks at it, what happened to Andualem, and has happened to other political prisoners countless times, represents a clear case of extrajudicial punishment (torture) in violation of Ethiopia’s Constitution and international human rights conventions.
Speaking of Constitutional and International Law…
The Ethiopian Constitution provides specific safeguards for the safety and protection of pre-trial detainees awaiting trial. Article 16 guarantees that “Everyone has the right to protection against bodily harm..” Andualem has the constitutional right to be secure from violence while awaiting trial. Article 110 of the Ethiopian Criminal Code (Proclamation No.414/2004) specifically requires that “prisoners who are sentenced to rigorous imprisonment or special confinement shall be kept separate from prisoners who are serving a sentence of simple imprisonment or awaiting judgment.” The criminal thug who assaulted Andualem should have never been allowed in the area reserved for pre-trial detanees. Article 18 provides, “Everyone has the right to protection against cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.” The savage beating of Andualem in plain sight of prison guards constitutes “cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment”. Article 20 provides that, “During proceedings accused persons have the right to be presumed innocent until proven guilty according to law…” Since Andualem has not been found guilty “according to law”, he is innocent of the charges and should have been accorded his rights consistent with that presumption. Article 21 guarantees that “All persons held in custody and persons imprisoned upon conviction and sentencing have the right to treatments respecting their human dignity.”
International law protects all prisoners, and particularly political prisoners, from inhumane and barbaric treatment. Under Article 13 of the Ethiopian Constitution, the “fundamental rights and freedoms enumerated… shall be interpreted in a manner consistent with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights [UDHR], international human rights covenants and conventions ratified by Ethiopia.” Article 5 of the UDHR (incorporated by express reference in Art. 13 (2) of the Constitution of the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia) prescribes that “no one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.” Article 10 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) (ratified by Ethiopia on June 11, 1993 and similarly incorporated) provides that “all persons deprived of their liberty shall be treated with humanity and with respect for the inherent dignity of the human person.”
The U.N. Body of Principles for the Protection of All Persons under Any Form of Detention or Imprisonment (1988) (Principle 8) specifically provides: “Persons in detention shall be subject to treatment appropriate to their unconvicted status. Accordingly, they shall, whenever possible, be kept separate from imprisoned persons.” Article 1 of the Declaration Against Torture (1975) defines torture as “… any act by which severe pain and suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted by, or at the instigation of a public official on a person for such purposes as …punishing him for an act he has committed; or intimidating him or other persons…” Article 16 of the Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (acceded to by Ethiopia on April 13, 1994) mandates that signatories “shall undertake to prevent… acts of cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment…” Article 5 of the African [Banjul] Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ratified by Ethiopia on June 15, 1998) prohibits, “all forms of exploitation and degradation of man particularly… torture, cruel, inhuman or degrading punishment and treatment.” The U.N. Basic Principles for the Treatment of Prisoners (1990) provide that “all prisoners shall retain the human rights and fundamental freedoms set out in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and other Covenants. Articles 7 and 8 of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court include torture as a crime against humanity and a war crime.
I write about the law on the protection of the rights of political prisoners to set the record; for I know that preaching the law to outlaws is like pouring water over granite.
In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends,” said Dr. Martin Luther King… Nothing is more important and uplifting to political prisoners than knowledge of the fact that they are not forgotten, abandoned and forsaken by the outside world. Remembrance gatherings at town hall meetings such as this one serve to remind all of us who live in freedom the divine blessings of liberty and the unimaginable suffering of those trapped in the darkness of dictatorship.
Andualem Aragie and countless political prisoners in Ethiopia reamin trapped in the darkness of dictatorship. They have been beaten down and brought to their knees. We cannot hear their whimpers of pain and desperation. Few, other than their tormentors, will be able to see their mangled bodies. Because they have no voice, we must be their voices and speak on their behalf. Because they are walled in behind filthy and subhuman prison institutions, we must unflaggingly remind the world of their suffering. We must all labor for the cause of Ethiopian political prisoners not because it is easy or fashionable, but because it is ethical, honorable, right and just. In the end, what will make the difference for the future of Ethiopia is not the brutality, barbarity, bestiality and inhumanity of its corrupt dictators, but the humanity, dignity, adaptability, audacity, empathy and compassion of decent Ethiopians for their wrongfully imprisoned compatriots. That is why we must join hands and work tirelessly to free all political prisoners held in Ethiopia’s public and secret gulags. “Let the oppressed go free, and remove the chains that bind people.”
Uncage Andualem Aragie and All Political Prisoners in Ethiopia!
Previous commentaries by the author are available at: www.huffingtonpost.com/alemayehu-g-mariam/ and http://open.salon.com/blog/almariam/
Johan Persson and Martin Schibbye in Kangaroo Court
The old adage is that “ignorance of the law is no excuse.” Could it be said equally that arrogance excuses ignorance of the law? Dictator-in-chief Meles Zenawi recently proclaimed the guilt of freelance Swedish journalists Johan Persson and Martin Schibbye on charges of “terrorism” while visiting Norway. He emphatically declared that the duo had crossed into Ethiopia from Somalia with insurgents of the Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF) as terrorist accomplices and collaborators: “They are, at the very least, messenger boys of a terrorist organization. They are not journalists. Why would a journalist be involved with a terrorist organization and enter a country with that terrorist organization, escorted by armed terrorists, and participate in a fighting in which this terrorist organization was involved? If that is journalism, I don’t know what terrorism is.”
At a “court” hearing last week, Persson denied the charges: “My intention was to do my job as a journalist and describe the conflict. Nothing else. Not guilty.” Schibbye admitted “entering the country without proper documentation. For that I am guilty and I apologize to the government of Ethiopia. But I am not guilty of terrorist activity.” Shimeles Kemal, the “chief prosecutor” was full of hyperbole when he laid out his “legal” case in a press conference. He claimed the two journalists “entered the country with a gang of terrorists. They have even been trained in using weapons. They are accused of abetting and rendering professional assistance to terrorists. Their activities go a bit beyond just journalistic news gathering.”
Criminalizing, demonizing and dehumanizing journalists, opposition leaders and dissidents as “terrorists”, “insurrectionists”, “treasonous” traitors, etc. isZenawi’s signature M.O. (method of operation). When Zenawi jailed editors of several newspapers following the 2005 elections, he described them in much the same way: “For us, these are not just journalists. They will not be charged for violating the press laws. They will charged, like the CUD leaders, for treason.” This past June, Zenawi ordered the arrest and detention of two young and dynamic journalists, Woubshet Taye, deputy editor of the weekly Awramba Times and Reeyot Alemu, columnist for the weekly Feteh, on fuzzy accusations of terrorism. Last month, Zenawi’s “chief prosecutor” ordered the arrest and detention of the distinguished Ethiopian journalist Eskinder Nega “for conspiring with terrorist organizations such as Ginbot 7 and other foreign forces who wanted to wreak havoc in the country through their terrorist activities.” When Zenawi wants to jail journalists, he simply brands them as “terrorists” or smears them with a similar label and carts them off to jail.
The Committee to Protect Journalists roundly condemned Zenawi’s statement as “compromising” the Swedish journalists’ human right to a “presumption of innocence and for predetermining the outcome of their case”. But much more is compromised, including the rule of law, principles of due process and fair trial, the universal principle that it is the accuser, and not the accused, who bears the burden of proof in a criminal case, the principle that guilt is proven in a court of law with an independent judiciary and not before a full court press or the court of international opinion. Ultimately, Zenawi’s statement compromised justice itself.
When Zenawi tagged these two journalists as “terrorist messenger boys” and “participants in the actions of a terrorist organization”, he had in fact sealed their fate and pronounced the final word in kangaroo justice. There is no way that Persson and Schibbye could possibly get a fair trial or not be convicted following such an outrageous and egregiously depraved statement by Zenawi.
Difference Between Journalists and Terrorists
Zenawi sarcastically mocked the two Swedish journalists by rhetorically asking if what they did is “journalism, I don’t know what terrorism is.” Zenawi is entitled to some basic clarification by means of concrete examples. War crimes (“the wanton destruction of cities, towns and villages, and any devastation not justified by military or civilian necessity [Geneva Convention]” are acts of state terrorism. So are crimes against humanity (“widespread or systematic attack directed against any civilian population, murder, forcible transfer of population, imprisonment or other severe deprivation of physical liberty in violation of fundamental rules of international law, torture, [Rome Statute]”. The “systematic use of violence to create a general climate of fear in a population and thereby to bring about a particular political objective” by an “extremely powerful political police against an atomized and defenseless population” is plain old-fashioned terrorism that is familiar to the average Ethiopian citizen.
When journalists are embedded with a regular or an irregular military unit and go into a conflict or war zone, they are engaged in “combat journalism”. When journalists dig for facts in places where there is an official news blackout, they are engaged in investigative journalism. When journalists undertake dangerous assignments and cover stories firsthand from a war zone, they are often called war correspondents. When independent reporters, writers and photojournalists accept specific assignments to cover particular stories, they are engaged in freelance journalism. It is because of freelance journalists that the world has come to know so much about the war crimes and human rights abuses that took place in such places like Kosovo, Angola, Sierra Leone, Lebanon, Afghanistan, Iraq, Liberia and many other places.
Oftentimes insurgent and rebel groups distrust professional journalists affiliated with established news organizations. They are more likely to cooperate with freelance journalists who often take great risks to their own safety to undertake firsthand investigations by entering a country at war or in conflict without a visa. Schibbye has been a foreign correspondent and freelance journalist for several newspapers, including The Times, Amelia and Proletären. He has worked in Algeria, the Philippines, Cuba, Syria and Vietnam, among other countries. Persson has worked with Kontinent, a Swedish photojournalist agency, for several years and taken many dangerous assignments in various countries including the Democratic Republic of Congo and South Sudan. Both are professional journalists, and until now have never been suspected of any terrorist activity or involvement of any kind by any other country or international agency.
The Human Right to a Fair Trial
Zenawi seems to be uninformed, willfully ignorant or recklessly indifferent to the human rights of the two journalists. The fact of the matter is that Persson and Schibbye are presumed to be innocent of any and all charges of “terrorism” until they have been given a fair chance to defend themselves and their guilt proven beyond a reasonable doubt by their accusers in court. So says the Ethiopian Constitution under Art. 20 (3): “During proceedings accused persons have the right to be presumed innocent.” So says the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) under Art. 11: “Everyone charged with a penal offence has the right to be presumed innocent until proved guilty according to law in a public trial at which they have had all the guarantees necessary for their defence.” So says the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) under Art. 14 (2): “Everyone charged with a criminal offence shall have the right to be presumed innocent until proved guilty according to law.” So says the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights (ACHPR) under Art. 7 (b): “The right to be presumed innocent until proved guilty by a competent court or tribunal.” Art. 13 (2) of the Ethiopian Constitution provides double guarantees: “The fundamental rights and freedoms enumerated in this Chapter shall be interpreted in a manner consistent with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, international human rights covenants and conventions ratified by Ethiopia.” (Also art. 9 (4).) Ethiopia ratified the UDHR in 1948, the ICCPR in 1993 and the ACHPR in 1998.
Article 13(1) mandates Zenawi to respect and enforce the provisions of the Constitution, including Article 20 (3). He violated his constitutional duty under Art. 9 (2) by publicly declaring the guilt of Persson and Schibbye and characterizing them as “messenger boys of terrorists”, “participants in terrorism” and terrorist accomplices before they have had a chance to present a defense and a determination of their guilt made by a fair and neutral tribunal.
The presumption of innocence is the “golden thread” in the laws of all civilized nations. It is the gold standard of fundamental fairness which places the entire burden of proof in a criminal case on the state. It is the singular duty of the prosecution representing the state to present compelling and legally admissible evidence in court to convince the trier of fact that the accused is guilty of the charges beyond a reasonable doubt. Persson and Schibbye guilt is not to be proven in a press conference in Oslo or in the court of public opinion.
The presumption of innocence requires that there be no pronouncement of guilt of the defendant by responsible officials likely to have a role or influence the judicial process prior to a finding of guilt by a court. Even when prosecutors make statements concerning the defendant to inform the public on the status of their investigation or articulate their suspicion of guilt, they have a legal and ethical duty to do so in a factual manner and narrowly limited to the allegedly violated laws, while always exercising reasonable care not to unduly prejudice the defendant’s right to a presumption of innocence or improperly influence the fact finder.
Trial by Diktat
Expecting a fair trial in kangaroo court is like expecting democracy in a dictatorship. Persson and Schibbye will be convicted by Zenawi’s diktat just as the journalists and opposition leaders were convicted before them. Following the 2005 election, Zenawi publicly declared: “The CUD (Kinijit) leaders are engaged in insurrection — that is an act of treason under Ethiopian law. They will be charged and they will appear in court.” They appeared in “court” and were convicted. In December 2008, Zenawi railroaded Birtukan Midekssa, the first female political party leader in Ethiopian history, to prison on the bogus charge that she had denied receiving a pardon. She was not even accorded the ceremonial kangaroo court proceedings. Zenawi sent her straight from the street into solitary confinement by diktat and sadistically delcared: “There will never be an agreement with anybody to release Birtukan. Ever. Full stop. That’s a dead issue.” He “pardoned” her in October 2010. In 2009, Zenawi’s right hand man labeled 40 defendants awaiting trial “desperadoes” who planned to “assassinate high ranking government officials and destroying telecommunication services and electricity utilities and create conducive conditions for large scale chaos and havoc.” They were all “convicted” and given long sentences. For Zenawi, court trials are nothing more than circus sideshows staged for the benefit of Western donors who know better but go along to get along.
No Fair Trial Possible for the Swedish Journalists in Kangaroo Court
Everyone knows the charge of “terrorism” against Persson and Schibbye is bogus. It is a trumped up charge made by prosecutors who are directed, pressured, threatened and politically manipulated. Everyone knows there are no independent judges who preside in cases involving defendants facing “terrorism” and other political charges. Everyone knows the so-called judges in terrorism “trials” are party hacks and lackeys enrobed in judicial regalia. This is not the conclusion of a partisan advocate but the considered view of the U.S. Government and various international human rights organizations. Human Rights Watch concluded in its 2007 report: “In high-profile cases, courts show little independence or concern for defendants’ procedural rights… The judiciary often acts only after unreasonably long delays, sometimes because of the courts’ workloads, more often because of excessive judicial deference to bad faith prosecution requests for time to search for evidence of a crime.” The 2010 U.S. State Department Country Reports on Human Rights Practices concluded: “The law provides for an independent judiciary. Although the civil courts operated with a large degree of independence, the criminal courts remained weak, overburdened, and subject to significant political intervention and influence.”
Everyone also knows that there is no such thing as the rule of law in Ethiopia because dictatorship is very antitheses of the rule of law. Zenawi’s diktat is “The Law”, which trumps the constitution and all international human rights conventions. Ethiopia’s former president and parliamentarian Dr. Negasso Gidada described the so-called antiterrorism law as a tool of legalized terrorism which “violates citizens’ rights to privacy” and the “ rights of all peoples of Ethiopia…Such laws are manipulated to weaken political roles of opposition groups there by arresting and prosecuting them using the bill as a cover. Another major opposition leader, Bulcha Demeksa, described the same “law” as a “a weapon designed by the ruling party not only to weaken and totally eliminate all political opponents.” In other words, the “anti-terrorism law” under which the two Swedish journalists are charged is a weapon of mass incarceration and intimidation of political opponents and journalists, mass persecution of the political opposition and mass oppression of the civilian population.
The Silence of Sweden
Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt has been severely criticized for his apparent indifference and failure to help the two Swedish journalists or even publicly demand their release in light of the bogus terrorism charges. Critics argue that Bildt dragged his feet and failed to secure their release in the crucial first days of the detention of the two journalists because of a potential conflict of interest as the two journalists were also investigating the activities of a company affiliated to Lundin Petroleum, a Swedish oil group which has natural gas operations in the Ogaden. Bildt is said to have served as board member of Lundin Petroleum, prior to becoming foreign minister. In January 2009, Swedish International Development Cooperation Minister Gunilla Carlsson issued a statement declaring that the “imprisonment of Birtukan Midekssa is a source of great concern both for her personally and for democratic development in Ethiopia. The scope for democracy and pluralism is shrinking in Ethiopia. The imprisonment of Mrs Midekssa and the recently adopted law regulating the activities and funding of NGOs (non-governmental organisations) are examples of this negative development.”
Swedish journalist and writer Bengt Nilsson has argued that Sweden for decades has turned a blind eye as its development aid has been used to support dictatorships and finance wars in Africa. The Swedish government’s “new policy for Africa” claims to be based upon “economic growth, deeper democracy and stronger protection of human rights as the basis for development in Africa.” How the Swedish government will “deal” its way out of the “crisis” of the two journalists will show if Sweden will continue to support African dictatorships or use it aid dollars to help democratize Africa and protect the human rights of the African peoples.
What is the Kangaroo Trial of the Swedish Journalists Really About?
Back in August 2010, Zenawi announced he will close his embassy in Sweden because “there is no development cooperation program of any substance between us and Sweden. There is no major trading relationship between us and Sweden, and no significant investment coming from Sweden to Ethiopia. It was not worthwhile to have an embassy [in Sweden]”. Diplomacy for Zenawi is striclty business. Without being too cynical, one could surmise that the terrorism charge against the two Swedish journalists is intended to provide a diversionary cover for Zenawi’s real agenda. Given Zenawi’s past M.O., it is manifest that he aims to use this opportunity to extract some major concessions from the Swedes: “If they want Persson and Schibbye freed, it’s gonna cost ’em. What are the Swedes willing to pay? How about reopneing the aid pipeline? After all, Ethiopia is the first country to have received Swedish aid back in 1954. How about some cash loans? Increased trade? Perhaps new investments? It is said that the largest investor in the whole of Sweden is an Ethiopian.” Let’s make a deal!
There is no way Zenawi could jail Persson and Schibbye for fifteen years as terrorists. He will galvanize Swedish and European Union public opinion against him personally and very possibly trigger devastating sanctions that will completely paralyze his regime. Even the Americans who have been turning a blind eye for all these years may finally take a look and tell Zenawi enough is enough. So, there is no question that after the kangaroo court circus is over Persson and Schibbye will be released. As usual, Zenawi will grandstand and declare the two journalists have been pardoned and released after they admitted guilt, expressed remorse and so on. The Swedes and some of the Western countries will play their part and congratulate him for doing the right thing and acting magnaimously; and he will continue with business as usual—more Ethiopian journalists will be jailed and threatened, dissidents harassed and opposition leaders persecuted. But the lesson remains the same: By manufacturing a bogus crisis, Zenawi, true to form, would have once again outwitted, outfoxed, outsmarted, outmaneuvered, outpoliticked, outtricked, outfinessed and outplayed his timorous Western benefactors. As the old saying goes, one has to give the devil his due for a job well done! Bravissimo!
Release all political prisoners in Ethiopia, NOW!
Previous commentaries by the author are available at: www.huffingtonpost.com/alemayehu-g-mariam/ andhttp://open.salon.com/blog/almariam/