Mengistu Hailemariam and our moral compass. By Yilma Bekele.
Today I felt like crawling under the blanket and just hide. I know that is what children do. They think hiding under the blanket makes them invisible. It give them a feeling of security and that what I was looking for. Some place to hide and feel secure from my clueless people. Clueless is what we are and I guess I just have to live with it. Predictable like the season is how we function and I have to accept it.
What has gotten me down is the talk of the dead not yet dead news regarding the former dictator of my country. It looks like the despicable individual is not going to disappear from our radar no matter how far removed and how long ago we have parted company. Like a nightmare he keeps showing up in the most awkward and inopportune moments. His appearance this time around was not his doing but nevertheless he was used as weapon to clobber us with.
I am not really concerned about the hapless dictator it is us I worry about. You would think that after over twenty years of contemplating the total ramifications of what his involvement in our country’s history has meant to us that we have come to a few conclusions. We have looked at the situation and drawn a few lessons so we can keep it in the back of our brain for future reference good and bad. That is all experience is all about isn’t it?
Life is a learning experience. We succeed some fail a few but we draw conclusion so we know what works and what to avoid. That is how we move forward. Those that learn from past experience, analyze then adapt what works avoid that did not produce the intended result get to reap the benefits. Those that ignore the lessons of history end up digging their own grave.
That is what we are doing today, digging our own grave. The fact that we have not put the criminal dictator in perspective is very alarming and not so good news regarding our future. How could we be trusted with the future when we do not have a clear picture of our past? How do we know what we want tomorrow when we have not really sat down and looked at yesterday to see what went right and what exactly went wrong and why?
Two things happened simultaneously this last week. The ethnic based regime’s blunder aroused the ire of our people and exposed them to charges of criminal activity. To divert attention and blunt the impact they were able to concoct a ruse pointing away from their evil deeds. It was a simple ploy one plays on children and it worked. It worked because we did not take the last twenty years to learn, analyze and grow. It looks like we did not take the idea of raising a conscious, smart and morally upright citizen to heart in order to be able to lay a solid foundation to build the future Ethiopia. We did not invest time and energy to produce an intelligent, motivated and smart generation that is able to avoid the mistakes done by the past generation.
The last two weeks the major news coming out of our country was the plight of our Amara citizens being uprooted from their homes. It was not a pleasant sight. Simple farmers that make their living by sheer determination and constant struggle against nature using primitive tools were deemed to be unworthy of basic human respect and dignity and were ordered to move from their villages at a moment’s notice. It was very distressing to see fellow humans being treated like that in their own country. It became the focus of attention and revealed the nature of the illegal and corrupt regime in Ethiopia. It was not a welcome attention and the government rightly felt the heat.
There was attempt made by the opposition to investigate and gather evidence to bring the matter to the attention of all that are empowered to look at situations like this. It was not easy but they tried under the difficult circumstances presented by the regional Bantustans and the Federal government. Their representatives were jailed, abused and given a few hours to leave the region. Thanks to technology the whole world in general and the Diaspora Ethiopians were able to follow the news and keep in touch with their people.
The government first tried to deny that ‘ethnic cleansing’ is being carried out. They also attempted to blame the regional administration for the problem and finally were compelled to admit there was some truth to the allegations and were forced to ask the deportees to return. In a matter of a week the news was bringing clarity regarding the illegal and criminal nature of the regime in power. It was opening the eyes of many individuals to see the regime in a different light. The news was gathering momentum and the regime was entering a state of panic. The opposition and the Diaspora activists were even talking about appealing to the International Court of Justice and the United Nations.
Someone somewhere figured the weakness and clueless nature of the Ethiopian. They figured give them another bone to chew and they will drop everything and jump at the opportunity. They did not have to look far. They found an old discarded bone and tossed it in the middle of the unruly pack. Thus they put out a press release announcing the death of the tyrant that has been holed in Zimbabwe for the last twenty years. That is all it took for the frenzy to start, the earth to move and the heavens to open.
Are we that transparent? Are we that easy to fool? Fifty four percent of the Ethiopian population is under twenty five years of age. They have not witnessed the madness of the Derge era. To them Mengistu is a distant history. The history of Ethiopia including the Derg period is a self-serving tale as told by Woyane and their apologists. Neftegna, Monarchist, Dergist is an interchangeable term Woyane uses to ruin people’s lives. The fifty four percent cannot be relied upon regarding their knowledge of our past. Meles and his disciples’ main agenda was to discredit our past so they could build their distorted vision on a shaky ground. According to Woyane and their followers there is nothing good or redeemable about Ethiopia before their appearance.
It is a very difficult story to take to heart. Especially when life under Woyane is nothing but hell on hearth for the vast majority of our people. That is why the fifty four percent are all waiting their turn to leave by foot, boat, plane and any which way out. What got me a little concerned and a lot despondent is the failure of those aged 25-54 years and compromise twenty nine percent of the population. The ones that are politically involved and run our independent media outlets. They picked this disinformation campaign and run with it. I am not saying we should have ignored the story on the other hand it is our responsibility to tell the story with a certain amount of perspective thrown in to give the listener and reader some point of reference. Every time we mention the criminal dictator we should remind our people the role he played in the destruction of our country and people. That is the legacy he left behind and that is how he should be remembered. This idiotic idea of misplaced ‘Ethiopian chewanet’ is what works against us and blinds us from standing up against abusers and ill-mannered individuals. The kind of ways the news was reported was both embarrassing and self-defeating to say the least.
Dear editors of our independent media what are we supposed to make of your screaming headline announcing the ‘good health’ of a tyrant in exile that has not even acknowledged his criminal role and responsibility when he was the de facto head of state? Some of you even went the extra mile and called his house and talked to his wife while others relied on their reporters to find out the latest ‘breaking news’. Did you really think the sympathetic, feel good close to the heart story was appropriate regarding a criminal in exile? One of the headlines screamed “Former Ethiopian President Colonel Mengistu is alive and well…” I dove for cover.
Mengistu Hailemariam was a ruthless dictator, a cruel and horrible individual that will be remembered as a black mark in our country’s history. The fact that the one who came after him was a ruthless psychopath does not make the former any less of a criminal. Our independent medias’ reporting was journalism at its worst and an affront to truth and insensitive to the victims.
Where exactly did we go wrong? What exactly happened to our moral compass? It looks like we got a long way to go to differentiate bad from evil, truth from fiction and show some empathy towards those that were victimized by Mengistu and his accomplices. Mengistu which even writing his name brings pain and agony to my soul was the cause of much anguish to our country and people. This is not even past history but it happened yesterday in our life time. Many of those fathers and mothers, brothers and sisters that lost their beloved ones are still among us. The memory has not even faded from our collective mind.
To refresh your memory the ongoing exodus out of mother Ethiopia started under Mengistu. The first time in our countries history her children started running away from home. Ethiopia began losing its youngest and brightest and has not recovered ever since. The whole country became a killing field. The lawlessness nature of the regime brought about the degeneration of societal norms and the gradual destruction of culture. His regime rode rough on all that we hold dear and that has taken us long to build. His lack of basic leadership skills and ruthless evil nature decimated all that were educated, able and showed potential. He exposed our country to dangerous minds that used the opportunity to wrestle power cunningly. He is a military leader that left his troops in battle to save his dirty ass. He is wanted by the Ethiopian military to be court marshaled and is definitely a candidate for a firing squad. This is the individual you so zealously displayed and published letters written by Woyane and their sympathizers lauding his good side. Shame on you all!!!
Every one of us got something good and commendable within us. Something positive could even be said about evil individuals. I am sure Hitler was a German Nationalist that loved his country, Meles Zenawi was probably a good family man, Mussolini was probably a devout Catholic but that does not define the totality of the person. All three of them have their dark side that outweighs their positive nature. The evil one lurking behind the smiling face is what affects us.
Dear country people please remember choosing one abuser over another is not a virtue. Demanding no abuse is the way to go. Why in the world do we compare and contrast the crimes of our leaders instead of resolving for such never to happen to us again? Isn’t that the lesson to draw from the experience of the last forty years? How could I trust you with my future when some of you think of life as a pissing match and are busy picking the lessor of two evils instead on no evil? Is that where we find ourselves today that we are willing to accept a little less criminal than Meles instead of someone that respects the rule of law, the sanctity of life especially human life and love for mother Ethiopia?
Ethiopia and its self-Inflicted wounds. By Yilma Bekele
Some of our independent Web sites have put me in a quandary. That is not a good place to be. A certain amount of certainty is a must for rational existence. There have to be stuff that we all have to take for granted. Some things like a mother’s love for her child or the fact of gravity are not open for discussion. I include Shaleka Mengistu in this category. His crime against my country is not a talking point or something to bargain with. He was evil and he did evil things to us. No need to split hairs.
Well this last week I was forced to rethink a few things I took for granted. What made me wreck in agony was the issue of Shaleka Mengistu Haile Mariam and his place in our history. I know it is another assault on our country but this time I believe the blow was self-inflicted. Mengistu Haile Mariam was prominently displayed on our Independent Web sites. It was not to commemorate or celebrate his demise or some catastrophe that has befallen him but rather an interview with some Australian Amharic radio station offering us his advice and opinion.
That is what brought depression, sadness and a big dose of uneasiness in my already precarious existence. I was left wondering if something is wrong with me to so much obsess about such a matter. Was seeing the individual being quoted on our ‘fiercely pro democracy and upholders of Human Rights’ Web sites so troubling to loose sleep over?
I have come to the conclusion that it is something to worry about. It looks like our understanding of the concept of good and bad or evil is based on a shaky ground. It seems to be very fluid and open to interpretations based on other factors, which we are free to tack on. We love to qualify all our statements. He is evil but he loved his country is a common comment. I guess he loved us so much that he was willing to kill us all to see it his way.
It actually took me four days to force myself to listen to the so-called interview. It was a very difficult decision. I feel sickness when I see his name while his voice causes me nausea. His picture brings negative and violent feelings inside of me. If I have my way, I would love to live in a world where he does not exist. I braced myself and pushed play and listened. To start with I was disappointed with the interviewer addressing the individual as “erso”. I knew we were on rocky ground here. Then the monster began to speak. I got sick. My stomach was turning over. My mood became dark. I wanted it to end. I listened but I did not hear.
The Shaleka speaks in a monotone. There is no feeling or emotion in his voice. It seems like he has
rehearsed it so many times that it comes out cold and stripped of any feeling. It has a strong resemblance to some one we know. You can tell he is street smart but not intelligent. You can say the same about most dysfunctional leaders. They can talk. Most of it is garbage but they believe it.
My issue is not with the Shaleka but with our Independent Web sites. What were the editors thinking when they posted his ugly mug and the stupid interview? Did they think it was news worthy? If so in what way? Was it supposed to inform us, motivate us, make us laugh or remind us of the good old days? What exactly was the message here? I am afraid I don’t have a good explanation but I do know how it affected me personally. It got me in a very funky and ugly mood. That is not fair.
Do you think this is an issue of freedom of information and the press? In a way, yes it is. But I am not debating whether they have the right to publish or not. My issue is regarding their editorial judgment regarding using a criminal to discuss such important concept as freedom and democracy. That is what SBS Amharic radio from Australia did. Someone actually asked the monster about his feelings about our country, the current regime and independence of South Sudan.
It is very humiliating to hear this murderer talking about my homeland. It was a shame to see it prominently displayed on the Internet. It is an insult to his victims to have the criminal discuss our issue from his luxurious hiding place. The crimes he did to us is still fresh. The mothers and fathers that lost their precious children are still with us. The image of our parents that died humiliated by his tugs is etched in our brain forever. Millions of us are uprooted from our homeland due to the decisions he made as a ‘leader’. The exodus that started during his watch has continued unabated. Our country lost the best and the brightest. A generation was wiped out at a critical moment in our history. All this disaster leads to Mengistu Haile Mariam and his associates.
There isn’t a single Ethiopian family that has not been negatively affected by Mengistu Haile Mariam. His crimes are recorded by so many of his victims that there is no punishment enough fit for this monster. He made so many ill-advised policies that millions paid the price. He was not man enough to stand behind his decisions. He lacked the courage to answer for his actions. He choose to flee to save himself. He is what you call a coward.
This is the person the radio station brought out to discuss the country he left behind in the middle of the night in a chartered plane with his family and immediate criminal friends. Today he is a refugee, a Diaspora what ever you call it like the rest of us. But he did live with suitcase full of US dollars and he does not have to sweat like the rest of us. I hear he is a gentleman farmer in Zimbabwe. I also understand that he is on the look out for another location due to the precarious position his friend Mugabe is in. My only good wish to the Shaleka is may he roam the planet in search of a home and may he not find it!
What I think is that this philosophy of the enemy of my enemy is my friend is not really a winning idea. It is too simplistic and void of value. Like the FIFA rule states ‘winning is without value if victory has been achieved unfairly or dishonestly.’ Trying to use Mengistu Haile Mariam to point out Meles Zenawi’s fault is like taking a sucker punch, it might work but it is vile. Wining will be empty. I hope it is something better we are working for and aiming at. For it to work it has to be honest and fair. If not what is the point?
I have a few things to say to this sorry ass of a human being named Mengistu Haile Mariam. I would rather he shut up and stay under the rock he has been hiding under. I am saddened to think that the last twenty years have not been a time of reflection on his part. A little amount of remorse would have been better. It has confirmed my strong suspicion that he is a mentally deranged person unable to understand the gravity of his crimes and the extent of the havoc he has caused on millions of Ethiopians. The dude is not fit to be a leader. His lack of knowledge, understanding and training among other things were evident in the final result he left behind. There is no need to explain because it cannot change the result. We are living it.
This is my message to the varmint. We want you to take care of yourself. We want you to live a while longer. It is not because all of a sudden we are interested in his welfare. No sir. It is because we want to see the day that he would stand for trial and answer for his crimes. When Ethiopia becomes free and democratic, we will do all our very best to haul his sorry ass back home and face the music. He will be kidnapped by our special forces like his counterpart predecessor Adolf Eichmann. To refresh your memory Israeli agents abducted this garbage from Argentina and he was tried and hanged in Jerusalem. The Shaleka deserve no less.
Let us make something clear here. Criminals like Mengistu have no place in the Ethiopia we want to build. Twenty years ago if we have arrested this monster and his associates and brought them to justice we would not be faced with the same situation today. Our current leaders would have understood the consequences of crime and punishment. That is why witnessing the Mubaraks facing justice brings a certain amount of satisfaction to our heart. It is not really whether Mubarak is jailed or not but rather the fact that he has to answer for his actions is a lesson to future Egyptian leaders. We missed our chance and we are faced with the sons and daughters of Mengistu.
My advice to our independent Websites, please respect the sensibilities of your readers. You are our voice and use your mighty power with caution. Calling one criminal to testify against another waters down the severity of the transgression. We are not here to compare the degree of lunacy of our illegal leaders. This is not ‘Merkato’ where you can bargain over stuff but real life where the actions of monsters like Mengistu and Meles have real life consequences. Tell you what the next time we want to hear about Mengistu is to inform us his death or arrest which ever comes first.
Alemayehu G. Mariam
After the Dust Settled
After the dust settled following Meles Zenawi’s speech at Columbia’s World Leaders Forum, a dark shadow and glowing light were visible on stage to behold. The dark shadow was cast by the ghost of the erstwhile Ethiopian junta dictator Mengistu Haile Mariam. The glow of light was radiated by the spirit of Ethiopia’s First Daughter, Birtukan Midekssa.
The Q&A session after the speech showed how much Zenawi remains haunted by the ghost of Mengistu whom he overthrew nearly twenty years ago. Biting condemnation of Mengistu and scathing criticism of his atrocious human rights record during the 1970s and 80s animated a good part of Zenawi’s answers. He also surprised a few by casually announcing Birtukan, Ethiopia’s first ever woman political party leader and first political prisoner, is pretty much free to go after nearly two years of incarceration. The apparent reversal of misfortune for Birtukan came as good news. Just last year, Zenawi had promised the world with sadistic indifference that “there will never be an agreement with anybody to release Birtukan. Ever. Full stop. That’s a dead issue.” It is true that “hope springs eternal in the human breast.”
The Ghost of Mengistu
It was stunningly incomprehensible for Zenawi to resurrect and promptly hide behind the ghost of Mengistu Haile Mariam to shield his own human rights record from scrutiny. A Nigerian economics student asked:
How different is your regime from Mengistu’s since we know in 1993 there was an immense repression of a student demonstration, and the same thing happened in 2005 and these were the same types of things Mengistu did…?
Answer: … For those on the receiving end of the Mengistu regime, they would not have any difficulty distinguishing our regime from that of the Mengistu regime. The period of Red Terror… was a period where people were killed without any recourse to the courts, and their families were charged by the number of bullets that were used to kill these people. That type of criminalty is dead. It is finished and it is not coming back. I understand some people might have misgivings about it, but it is not coming back.
Zenawi is absolutely right that Mengistu, the bloodthirsty military dictator, has committed monstrous crimes in Ethiopia. He should be tried in a special U.N. court just like Charles Taylor of Liberia. But to put Mengistu’s ghost on trial at the World Leaders Forum as a straw man to deny and cover up one’s own atrocious human rights record shows astonishing arrogance or willful blindness to indisputable facts. But if the criminality of the bullet-charging Mengistu is long gone, as Zenawi asserts, how is that the murderers of 193 innocent protesters and shooters of 763 others still walk the streets free in Ethiopia today without their victims having “recourse to the courts”? No, the type of criminalty of which Mengistu is accused never left Ethiopia. It is alive and well. But it no longer wears uniforms and boots. It struts around in custom tailored suits and alligator shoes.
Zenawi’s use of what might be called the “Mengistu defense” in response to various questions about his own human rights record is insidious and demands careful consideration. His basic argument is mind-boggling: “Do not judge my human rights record on the merits; judge my record by comparing it to Mengistu’s. I may have violated human rights, but I am not as bad as Mengistu. The only people complaining about human rights violations in Ethiopia are “remnants” of Mengistu’s regime who have lost their power. Those “remnants” should be grateful because I let them speak and express themselves. There is free press in Ethiopia today; and the press elements that are complaining are “remnants” of Mengistu’s supporters. Anyone who criticizes me is, ipso facto, a “remnant” of Mengistu’s regime pining for the triumphal return of that ruthless dictator from the dustbin of history to save them.”
It was flabbergasting to hear this type ignoratio elenchi argument which conveniently circumvents the central issue. The question is not whether Mengistu is a human rights violator; he is certified as one of the monstrous human rights violators of the 20th Century. The central question is whether Zenawi himself has engaged in a pattern of gross human rights violations in Ethiopia in the first decade of the 21st Century. It is no argument to say Mengistu is a far worse human rights violator than I, and try to put him on trial at the World Leaders Forum. Attempting to build a factual, legal and philosophical defense of one’s own human rights record in the shadows of Mengistu’s ghost points to either an unrequited obsession with the long gone dictator, denial of the inescapable reality of one’s own atrocious human rights record or a poverty of imagination.
The point is nobody gives a damn about Mengistu. He has been gone nearly twenty years. Good riddance! There may be a few who may long for him, but their numbers are infinitesimally small. There is no need to trot out his ghost as a boogeyman (aya jibo) to scare Ethiopians, or to warn the world he will be back unless Zenawi stands sentry.
The fact of the matter is that after twenty years, Zenawi could not point to a single item of achievement in his human rights record. He could not produce proof to demonstrate that he has established the rule of law, guaranteed freedom of expression (without shuttering newspapers, filtering websites, jamming radio and satellite signals), promoted the independence of the judiciary, guaranteed clean elections, spread good governance throughout the land or successfully campaigned against corruption. All he could say was, “I am not as bad as Mengistu”. It is good to look at oneself in the mirror from time to time, but one ought to prudently compare oneself to others. There is always the risk of finding more similarities than differences. There is no need to shadow box with the ghost of Mengistu at the World Leaders Forum or anywhere else.
The Spirit of Birtukan
This spirit of Birtukan was also on stage at Columbia’s World Leader’s Forum. Zenawi had beamed her down from Kality “Federal” Prison. He casually said she can have her freedom by simply asking for it. It was a bold and disarming statement for those of us who have cringed listening to his vindictive, heartless and pitiless words: “Birtukan’s case is a dead issue.”
Faint rumors of her release have been circulating for days. My initial reaction to the rumors was ho-hum: “Here we go again. The European Union Election Team report is going to come out soon with its final report on the May 2010 ‘election’. What better strategy than to release Birtukan to get a softer landing?” I surmised the EU election report was probably delayed again to give Zenawi time to arrange her release at about the same time the EU report would be released. It crossed my mind that he was not doing it voluntarily but under pressure from donors. May be he thinks he is letting out a leader whose will is crushed and defeated and is unlikely to pose any challenge to him. Regardless, I was glad to hear him say she is free to go. The political calculations for her release did not matter to me much.
But I was intrigued by his legal analysis of her case before announcing his offer of a pardon. To demonstrate that she was incarcerated justly and with due process of law, he offered a check list of “evidence”: her admission of guilt, conviction “by a court of law”, request for a previous pardon and subsequent denial, refusal to acknowledge her mistakes, etc. He crowned his legal arguments by claiming, without citing article 16 (2) of Proclamation No. 395/2004 (“pardon law), that she had obtained a pardon “under false pretenses”. According to Zenawi, Birtukan
went abroad and issued a statement to the effect that she did not ask for a pardon, and she was not given a pardon. Our pardon law [Proclamation No. 395/2004] says that if a pardon is sought under false pretenses or given (sic) [received?] under false pretenses, it is automatically null and void. So if she didn’t ask for a pardon, then the pardon given to her was completely illegal. When she came back from abroad, the police told her that her statement would necessarily lead to her being detained again unless she were to admit that she did indeed seek pardon and was indeed given pardon, then the pardon given to her is legally invalid. She was given a month to think about it… Many friends including ambassadors talked to her to try and convince her…. [that] if she denied receiving a pardon, she would be put back in prison. She did not feel convinced that she should retract the statement she issued in Sweden. At that point, we had no option but to detain her.
There is not much truth in the factual analysis. Two days before Birtukan was “detained”, she put out a public statement (“Qale” [My Word]) declaring:
I have not denied signing the document which the elders persuaded us to sign on 22 June 2007 for the sake of national reconciliation. How could it be said that I denied a pardon document I signed, and whose content I accepted? How is that a crime? Where is the mistake?
In light of this statement, it is absurd to argue that she had denied receiving a pardon. No reasonable person could find this statement to be a denial of pardon.
Interestingly, the alleged statement in which Birtukan denied receiving a pardon has never been made public. The alleged fact that she has denied a pardon is taken as an article of faith without any proof of the offending statement. But what are the exact words that Birtukan said that constitute a “denial”? While Zenawi was long on allegations of denial of pardon on the part of Birtukan, he was very short on facts to substantiate them. But Birtukan has meticulously explained what it was that she said in Sweden in “Qale”.
Many other legal and constitutional objections could be raised to contest his facts and analysis, but that is neither here nor there. What is here and now is the fact that Birtukan can go free for the asking. Zenawi said: “Given her past practice, I wouldn’t be surprised if she asked for pardon again, and given the practice of the government, I wouldn’t be surprised if the government were to pardon her again.” I have no reason to second-guess the man. The whole world knows she is unjustly imprisoned, and as far as I am concerned, the release of any person from unjust imprisonment for any reason is to be hailed.
The Devil in the Details
But how could Birtukan be released on a “pardon” given the facts of her case and the arbitrary application of the “pardon law” when she was re-incarcerated in December 2008? Zenawi’s proposed procedure is to have her formally request a pardon. To me that is reminiscent of the 2007 pardon fiasco which led to Birtukan’s arbitrary re-imprisonment in 2008. Birtukan has already declared in her formal statement (Qale) that she never denied receiving a pardon. To insist that she now request a pardon and admit guilt or wrongdoing merely to justify her unjustified 2 year imprisonment is simply unfair. It would be adding insult to injury. That is the problem in Zenawi’s precondition that she request a pardon. By requesting a pardon she must necessarily admit guilt.
I know Birtukan is as an astute lawyer and learned judge and could not accept the precondition of request for pardon voluntarily. I would even argue that if she were to “petition for pardon”, she would be in technical violation of Art. 16 (2) of the Proclamation, which sanctions applications for pardon based on fraud and deceit. Simply put, Birtukan cannot say, “I did not deny receiving a pardon in Sweden.” in December 2008, and now contradict herself in a pardon petition by saying, “I did deny receiving a pardon in Sweden.” It traps her in one of the classic proverbial legal conundrums: “Were you lying when you said you did not deny requesting or receiving a pardon in Sweden in December 2008? Or are you now lying in your pardon petition when you say you did deny requesting and receiving a pardon in Sweden? It is not fair to put her in such a situation.
The bottom line is that there is the law and there is the illusion of the law. If Birtukan were to apply for a “pardon”, it would certainly not be out of a true confession of guilt or moral conviction that she has committed a wrongdoing by denying receipt of a pardon. She would do it only to serve the purposes of the illusion of the law. But no one would blame her for regaining her unjustly taken freedom even if it means petitioning for a pardon just to help Zenawi save face and avoid needless suffering for herself and her family. Birtukan has been thrown in solitary confinement, abused, insulted and mistreated. Is it necessary to humiliate her once more by forcing her to request a “pardon” to give her back the freedom that was taken away from her unjustly in the first place? Is it really necessary to play the pardon game again when the whole world knows it is just a silly game? Can we come up with a win-win solution for everyone?
A Win-Win Solution
Yes, we can! It is possible to get Birtukan released by preserving her dignity and saving face for Zenawi. As Zenawi explained at the World Leaders Forum, her pardon was revoked because she allegedly obtained it by false pretenses which makes the original grant “null and void” under Art. 16 (2) of Proclamation No. 395/2004. Is there a way to get around this problem under the law. The answer, I believe, is to be found in article 12 of the Proclamation which provides:
(2) Without prejudice to the provision hereinabove, the Ministry of Justice and the Federal prison commission may apply for pardon for persons entitled to it. Where the offices decides to apply for pardon, it shall deliver a copy of the application letter to the person in whose favour it is to be made.
(3) Where a person in whose favour a petition for pardon has been submitted pursuant to Sub-Article 2 of this Article declines it, he shall notify, the same to the Board in writing within fifteen consecutive working days from the date of receipt of the copy of the petition.
(4) Except in cases of force majeure, the acceptance of the pardon shall be presumed where the convict fails to notify about his rejection within the time specified in Sub-Article 3 of the Article.
In simple terms, the Ministry of Justice and the Federal prison commission would apply for a pardon on behalf of Birtukan and serve her notice. Birtukan would exercise her right under sub-article (2) and decline to notify the pardon board of her position on the petition. After 15 days, by operation of law (without any further action by Birtukan, the Board or anyone else), her pardon becomes effective. Voila! Done. Birtukan walks out. It is all legal, transparent and aboveboard.
Alternatively, it could be done even faster. Birtukan’s pardon was revoked in December 2008 in a summary executive proceeding (or by executive fiat). The power of executive pardon revocation necessarily includes the power of executive pardon reinstatement. Just as a directive was given to the police commissioner to arrest and incarcerate her in 2008, a directive can now be given to the Kality prison warden to release her and let her go. Birtukan can be headed home in hours. It just as simple as that.
Now, I am not naïve enough to expect Zenawi to follow the law. But it is important to make the case for the historical record. I will predict that a whole re-pardon process will be set up (or is already underway) and statements of admissions will be drafted for Birtukan to sign and so on. The whole process will be subjected to cynical public speculation, and some will even say any pardon she gets is not going to be worth the paper it is written on. After all, they can take it away any time they want. That is the reality, but I will keep an open mind.
I have heard it said that “fire, water and dictators know nothing of mercy.” I would like to see an exception to this rule in Birtukan’s case. I will offer the givers of mercy some words of wisdom from Montesquieu: “So many are the advantages which monarchs gain by clemency, so greatly does it raise their fame, and endear them to their subjects, that it is generally happy for them to have an opportunity of displaying it.” Carpe diem!
FREE BIRTUKAN MIDEKSSA AND ALL POLITICAL PRISONERS IN ETHIOPIA