Bahr Dar and the wonderful art of silence. By Yilma Bekele
Last Sunday May 12 a Federal police officer opened fire and murdered twelve or eighteen people depending on who is doing the counting in the City of Bahr Dar by the shores of Lake Tana. It was a random killing and the only reason he stooped shooting was because he run out of bullets. What makes this crime unique is that it was committed by some one that is trained to protect and serve. At least in most places that is what we think of the armed officers that move around with loaded guns amongst us. I said in most places, our Ethiopia is not such a place.
The Federal Police serve the TPLF party that is in charge of our country. Meles Zenawi set up the Federal Police to be accountable to him and his party and used this force to quell down any kind of native unrest against his group. The Federal Police is the most fearsome weapon of the TPLF party. Like everything else concocted by the late criminal the Federal Police is a uniquely Ethiopian force supposedly created to resemble other Federal institutions in the developed West. The name is the same but the purpose and mission is different.
In Ethiopia the TPLF party’s Federal Police is an instrument of terror. Their motto is shoot first, ask questions later. You will not find a single Ethiopian that would not be engulfed with fear when the Federal Police is mentioned. The force was purposely designed to instill fear. From what I know of the Federal system here in the US the FBI does not involve itself in local matters. The local Police that are answerable to the Mayor or elected official is the first line of response. The State Police is under the elected Governor who is accountable to the citizen. There is a clear line of jurisdiction built into the system.
Meles Zenawi’s Ethiopia is different. The Federal Police force under him is the ultimate arbitrator of justice or injustice in this case. The Different Kililis or Bantustans have no power or authority on this rogue force. No sane Kilil head will challenge the power of the Federal Police. I can safely say that regarding all Killis except the Sovereign State of Tigrai. Abay Woldu would not allow a Kenbata, Oromo, Amhara or Somali Federal Police to roam around in his State with immunity.
When the late dictator copied the Kilil system from Mussolini with upgrades from the South African Bantustan system he made a few improvements of his own. Bahr Dar is the capital city of the Amhara Kilil. What in the world is a Federal Police doing in the streets of Bahr Dar with a loaded is gun is one of the peculiarities of the Ethiopian scene. That practice is one copied from Apartheid system. Why the local Police are not enough to keep the citizens of Bahr Dar safe is not clear at all.
Thus on the evening May 12 a certain Federal Police officer opened fire and killed all he can find in his aim of fire. No one confronted the individual and once he run out of bullets in his high capacity gun he left the area. Things got more interesting after that. First there was a lot of argument regarding the numbers killed. Apparently counting dead bodies lying on the street is not an easy task. Before the blood was dry on the highway Awramba a new and obscure Website here in the US that seems to be on the know felt it was important to label the ethnic origin of the killer as if that will make the heinous act more palatable or clear.
This childish attempt to misinform was followed by the TPLF party in a more bizarre press release that defiantly can only happen in a country where there is no independent press to raise questions and demand answers or by a government that does not have an iota of respect for its citizens.
According to the Ethiopian government the above is the picture of individual that committed the crime. His dead body was fished out of a river. They did not bother to name the river. A body left in the water for a day or two will show all the symptoms of death by drowning. Our killer shows none of the effects of being in the water dead. His shoes are polished, his uniform is crisp and the blood on his face is not of someone left in water for any length of time. Do you think the rope tied around his feet is how he was dragged out? It is just curious he did not get dirty and with all that blood on his face no fish bothered to nibble. It is a miracle.
The story did not end there. While the Federal Police was displaying his dead body the Kilil administrator was issuing press release regarding the ongoing search to look for the criminal. It is just two versions of the same lie. The newly minted Prime Minter whose force murdered fourteen people did not even bother to go to the scene and console the victims’ families. He choose to send a high sounding message promising further investigation. What is the death of fourteen citizens when you can stay in the palace and play host to some Arab delegation? To add insult to injury several high ranking officers of the Federal Police in full uniform showed up at the funeral location the next day. I can see the whole drama from here with the officers arriving in their four wheel Range Rovers accompanied by zillions of security while descending on the poor folks sitting in a tent trying to console each other.
A week later the Federal Police put out a press release that they have detained ten members of their force for ‘neglecting and failing to act’. Do you mean to tell us there were armed police around while he was shooting randomly and they just watched, or did they know he was intending to do just that and they kept quiet which one is it my dear Workeneh?
No matter how you look at it the whole story is bizarre. Starting with the action of the insane individual to the conflicting press reports by the officials and the reporting by ETV that doesn’t even ask why the criminal’s clothes don’t show any signs of being in the water – it is vintage Woyane drama.
The report by the Diaspora press was something to behold too. We were told the citizens of Bahr Dar were fuming. They were showing signs of anger and were seating ready to let of steam. No adjective was spared to describe the mental and physical anguish of Bahr Darians. Thus I waited to see how this criminal act of an invading force was going to manifest itself by the citizen reacting back. Pictures of Palestinian citizens under the watchful eyes of the Israeli Army burying their dead clad in their beloved flag and defiant in their tone passed thru my head. I remembered the scene from Cairo where the citizens carried the dead bodies of their martyrs shot by the Mubarak’s police during the Arab spring as it flashed vividly in front of my eyes.
Nothing like that happened. Someone once said we Ethiopians have even lost our capacity to be angry. The best explanation that comes to mind is what was said by our Holy Father Abune Melkesedek explaining the silence of his people a while back as ‘Bechelema Gelmecha’. That is what took place in the city of Bahr Dar ‘Bechelema Gelmecha’. It must be very satisfying to the individuals but no one saw it. What is the point is a good question to ask. How is the evil doer going to understand the hurt inflicted on those families and the entire city? Is a simple defiant procession to protest and let the regime know the citizens feeling much to expect? Isn’t there one brave soul in the whole of Bahr Dar that is not afraid to respond in kind?
Well to settle the matter once and for all the Woyane government brought in ‘Special Forces’ unit to Bahr Dar to even control the thought of defiance let alone the act. I still do not understand the presence of all this armed groups in such an idyllic location. Bahr Dar is far from any border and currently there is no one threating the peace and harmony of the city. I just don’t understand why our cities are military camps during a peaceful time. I also don’t understand why we have so many people serving the military while so many of our schools are starving for teachers and books, our hospitals and clinics are poorly stocked and our children and grandparents are fed once a day if lucky. I guess it is all about priorities. The regimes first order is to protect itself from the people and it is perfectly understandable budget allocation favors security over anything else. As for the citizens of Bahr Dar I say to you no one can save you from yourself you just have to figure a way out of the current dilemma of occupation by an outside force of course in collaboration with you present day bandas. It has been done before and I have no reason to think you will not rise up to the challenge. We can echo your scream from afar but there is just no one like you to do the job. Good Luck!
Alemayehu G. Mariam
November is a cruel month. Bleak, woeful, and grim is the month of November in the melancholy verse of Thomas Hood:
No warmth, no cheerfulness, no healthful ease,
No comfortable feel in any member–
No shade, no shine, no butterflies, no bees,
No fruits, no flowers, no leaves, no birds,
And no justice for the hundreds massacred in Ethiopia in November (2005).
No redress for the countless men, women and children shot and wounded and left for dead.
No apologies for the tens of thousands illegally imprisoned.
No restitution for survivors or the families of the dead.
No trace of those who disappeared.
No atonement for the crimes of November.
No absolution for the slaughter of November.
November is to remember.
How Does One Remember the Slaughter of November?
Elie Wiesel, a Nobel laureate and Holocaust survivor, said we remember the innocent victims of evil by bearing witness for them.
For the survivor who chooses to testify, it is clear: his duty is to bear witness for the dead and the living. He has no right to deprive future generations of a past that belongs to our collective memory. To forget would be not only dangerous but offensive; to forget the dead would be akin to killing them a second time. The witness has forced himself to testify. For the youth of today, for the children who will be born tomorrow. He does not want his past to become their future.
For the past three years, I have chosen to bear witness for the hundreds of massacre victims of dictator Meles Zenawi in Ethiopia. Wherever evil triumphs, all of humanity is victimized. I have never met any one of the massacre victims of June and November 2005, but that does not matter. I remember each and every one of them. So I bear witness once more on behalf of Tensae Zegeye, age 14; Habtamu Tola, age 16; Binyam Degefa, age 18; Behailu Tesfaye, age 20; Kasim Ali Rashid, age 21. Teodros Giday Hailu, age 23. Adissu Belachew, age 25; Milion Kebede Robi, age 32; Desta Umma Birru, age 37; Tiruwork G. Tsadik, age 41; Elfnesh Tekle, age 45. Abebeth Huletu, age 50; Regassa Feyessa, age 55; Teshome Addis Kidane, age 65; Victim No. 21762, age 75, female, and Victim No. 21760, male, age unknown and hundreds more shot and killed or wounded while protesting stolen elections. Once again, I point an accusatory finger at the policemen who pulled the trigger, the invisible hands that pulled the fingers of the policemen who pulled the trigger and the mastermind who orchestrated the whole bloody carnage.
Police Riots: Understanding the True Scope of the Massacres in 2005
There are two astonishing facts about the massacres of June and November, 2005. The first is that the policemen sent out to contain the “disturbances” literally had a riot shooting up anything that moved in the streets. The second is the manifest undercount of the actual fatalities and casualties of the massacres. When an Inquiry Commission was established by Zenawi under Proclamation 478/2005 to investigate post-election “disturbances”, its investigation of incidents was limited to specific dates and places, namely: violence that occurred on June 8, 2005 in Addis Ababa and 2) violence that occurred from November 1 to 10, 2005 and from November 14 to 16, 2005 in identified locations in Addis Ababa and other specifically designated towns and cities outside the capital.
In public presentations, Inquiry Commission Chairman Judge Frehiwot Samuel has indicated that the Commission’s charge prevented it from including evidence of casualties and fatalities that occurred in close proximity to the dates and places set forth in the Proclamation. There is little doubt that a full and comprehensive investigation of the post-election “disturbances” in 2005 would reveal casualty and fatality figures that are many times the number reported in the Commission’s report.
In its investigation, the Inquiry Commission examined 16,990 documents, and received testimony form 1,300 witnesses. Commission members visited prisons and hospitals, and interviewed members of the regime’s officialdom over several months. In the end, the Commission determined that the police shot and killed 193 persons and wounded 763 others on the specific dates and in the specific places identified in the Proclamation. Further, the Commission documented that on November 3, 2005, during an alleged disturbance in Kality prison that lasted 15 minutes, prison guards fired more than 1500 bullets into inmate housing units leaving 17 dead, and 53 severely wounded. Commission Chairman Judge Frehiwot commented: “Many people were killed arbitrarily. Old men were killed while in their homes, and children were also victims of the attack while playing in the garden.” Over 30,000 civilians were arrested without warrant and held in detention.
By an 8-2 vote, the Commission made specific factual conclusions about the “disturbances”: 1) The persons killed or wounded during the violence were unarmed protesters. “There was not a single protester who was armed with a gun or a hand grenade (as reported by the government-controlled media that some of the protesters were armed with guns and bombs)”. 2) The shots fired by government forces into crowds of protesters were not intended to disperse but to kill by targeting the head and chest of the protesters. 3) There was no evidence that any security officers involved in the shootings were attacked or killed by the demonstrators: “Security forces which are alleged to be killed by demonstrators were not taken to autopsy, even there is no evidence of either photograph or death certificate showing the reason of death and couldn’t be produced for police as opposed to that of civilians.”
There is a Certified List of 237 Killers in the Massacres of 2005
In 2008, a “think tank that met regularly at the Ethiopian Embassy in London” commissioned an “internal security study” to counter criticism by various international human rights organizations following the 2005 elections. In a report entitled “Modernizing Internal Security in Ethiopia” (see fn. 4 for copy of original study), counterterrorism expert Col. Michael Dewar, British Army (Rtd.) revealed some shocking facts about the federal police, detention facilities and riot control capabilities and procedures in Ethiopia. One of the most surprising facts revealed by Col. Dewars was the existence of a certified list of policemen involved in the massacres. Col. Dewars stated in his report that “after three hours of one to one conversation”, Werkneh Gebeyehu, the Director General of the Ethiopian Federal Police, told him that “As a direct result of the 2005 riots, he [had] sacked 237 policemen.” The Director General’s admission to Col. Dewars conclusively establishes the existence of a list of names of at least 275 policemen who are prime suspects in the massacres of unarmed protesters in June and November of 2005. These criminals must be brought to justice immediately for prosecution on charges of murder and crimes against humanity.
Understanding the Historic Significance of the Massacres of June and November, 2005
On March 21, 1960, South African police without provocation slaughtered 69 unarmed black protesters in the township of Sharpeville and wounded 180, exposing the savagery of the apartheid system for the world to see. In 2005, security forces loyal to Meles Zenawi slaughtered 193 unarmed protesters and wounded 763 others. As the Ethiopian protesters were “targeted in the head and chest” and shot, as documented by the Inquiry Commission, nearly all of the black South Africans in Sharpeville were shot in the back as they tried to flee the scene. The Sharpeville incident played a decisive role in the ultimate dismantling of apartheid rule in South Africa over three decades later.
Sharpeville and the massacres in Ethiopia were not random events. Both the apartheid and Zenawi’s regimes used cold blooded massacres as a deliberate tactic to ruthlessly crush and wipe out all political opposition. It was their way of saying that they will do anything to stay in power. The Sharpeville massacre was intended to “teach the kaffirs a lesson” they will not forget. Zenawi intended to teach his opposition a lesson they will not forget by indiscriminately massacring men, women and children in the streets or in their homes, as the Inquiry Commission has documented. It was a deliberate and calculated act designed to break the backbone of the opposition and make sure that no opposition will ever rise again.
It is characteristic of dictatorships to massacre their opposition as a demonstration of strength. History, however, shows that massacres are often manifestations of weakness, vulnerability and fear of popular uprising by oppressive regimes. South Africans were not intimidated by the Sharpeville massacre; they came out in full force to challenge the pass laws in every major city in South Africa as the masters of apartheid unleashed unspeakable violence against them. Sharpeville caused the apartheid regime to intensify its repression by tightening the pass laws (pass books required for black South Africans to travel within their country) and rigidly enforcing regulations to keep black South Africans in the Bantustans (black African “homelands” or “reservations”). Sharpeville also stoked the imagination of black South African youth and energized and inspired all freedom-loving South Africans to fight against apartheid with determination.
Following the 2005 elections, Zenawi went on a rampage. He jailed nearly all of the leading opposition leaders, civic society organizers, human rights advocates and journalists in the country on trumped up treason charges. He passed “laws” clamping down on independent journalists and newspapers and criminalized civil society institutions. Zenawi even jailed and put in prolonged solitary confinement Birtukan Midekssa, a young woman — indeed a highly respected former judge, learned lawyer and a much admired and loved opposition leader — openly and unequivocally committed to peaceful change and constitutional governance. A few months ago, Zenawi declared he had won the election by 99.6 percent.
Sharpeville marked a defining moment in the South African struggle for liberation from apartheid. The June and November massacres (and many others that have yet to be investigated) will in the same way mark a watershed in the march towards democracy and resistance to dictatorship in Ethiopia.
One of the most important lessons of Sharpeville is the role that massacre played in mobilizing international support for ending the apartheid regime. It was after Sharpeville that international efforts to isolate and sanction the apartheid regime began to roll unstoppably. Sharpeville gave the first signal to the foreign investors that apartheid is no longer tenable and a transition to majority rule absolutely necessary. Shortly after Sharpeville, foreign investors pulled out tens of millions of dollars out of South Africa draining that country’s reserves and bringing the economy to the verge of collapse. In the years that followed, as more countries adopted trade and financial sanctions and significant amounts of foreign investments began to be withdrawn from South Africa, it became clear to the apartheid regime that political change was inevitable and it had to accept majority rule.
End the Culture of Impunity: Demand an ICC Investigation into the Massacres of November, 2005
There is an entrenched and pervasive culture of impunity in Ethiopia as I have written previously. Gross and widespread abuses of human rights are perpetrated without so much as a preliminary investigation being done to identify and hold the criminals accountable. Those in power feel that they can commit any act or crime and get away with it. The leaders of the ruling regime believe they are above the law, indeed they are the law. This culture of impunity must end, and a new civic culture based on strict observance of the rule of law must be instituted.
There is much to be learned about accountability from the recent history of a neighboring country. In the 2007 presidential election in Kenya, over 1,500 people were killed. Over 300,000 people were displaced as a result of the violence. The Waki Commission which investigated the violence fingered some high level government officials as prime suspects in the perpetration of the violence. The Waki Report which was passed on to Luis Moreno-Ocampo, the Chief Prosecutor at the International Criminal Court (ICC), identified 19 politicians on a list of 219 alleged perpetrators including six cabinet ministers of the Kibaki government for possible prosecution for crimes against humanity.
ICC investigations cannot be initiated at the request of private parties. The ICC Prosecutor could initiate investigations only if he receives a referral from States or the U.N. Security Council. He could also initiate an investigation on his own. Despite the procedural hurdles, an organized and sustained demand for an investigation by the Prosecutor’s office could play a decisive role in persuading Moreno-Ocampo to consider launching a comprehensive inquiry into the massacres of 2005 in Ethiopia.
Immortalizing the Victims of Police Riots in Ethiopia
In November 2005, hundreds of Ethiopian men, women and children paid with their lives for the causes of freedom, democracy and human rights. Truth be told, the world does not remember the massacres of June and November, 2005. That is in good part because many of us in the Diaspora have done a poor job of remembering them ourselves and publicizing their cause and creating awareness worldwide. Thanks to so many dedicated individuals and groups that is changing. In this month of November, Ethiopians the world over are commemorating the 5th anniversary of Ethiopian election massacres.
The Ethiopian massacre victims now belong to the whole of humanity. They must be remembered by all freedom-loving peoples throughout the world, not just Ethiopians. In the U.S., we often hear members of Congress delivering stirring floor speeches in remembrance of massacres that took place half way across the globe. We have seen official proclamations and statements in memoriam for massacre victims in remote corners of the world. We have even read statements issued by U.S. Presidents reflecting on the historic significance of such events. American newspapers report on massacres that took place decades ago; houses of worship offer special prayers and even school children do special memorial projects in remembrance of massacre victims in different parts of the world. Perhaps next year, we may be able to do more things that will help create greater international awareness of the crimes against humanity that were committed in Ethiopia in June and November, 2005. By remembering the atrocities and spreading word about gross human rights abuses in Ethiopia, we not only keep alive the memory of the innocent victims of 2005 but also hasten the day when the criminals will be brought to justice.
Defining Moments: A Personal Reflection on the Slaughter of 2005
It seems to me that in the course of human events, most people face their own “defining moments”. Often that “moment” is a point in time when we gain a certain clarity about things that may have eluded us in the past or cloud our judgment. These moments are often random events beyond our control but define us as the persons we truly are. They come to us in the form of a choice: to be or not to be; to do or not to do; to speak up or not to speak up. By making the right choice we define the moment; and by making the wrong choice or not choosing at all, we allow the moment to define us. Frehiwot Samuel, Woldemichael Meshesha and Mitiku Teshome had their defining moments when they completed their report in 2006. They could have turned in a whitewash and received riches from Zenawi beyond their imagination. They chose to carry the truth into exile at extraordinary risk to their lives and began uncertain futures in foreign lands. When the modern history of Ethiopia is written, their names will be listed at the very top for displaying courage under fire, audacity in the face of despair, bravery in the face of personal danger, and unflinching fortitude in the face of extreme adversity. We can only thank them. “Never have so many owed so much to so few!”
Tyrants also have their defining moments and their lasting legacy for which they will be remembered in history. Adolf Hitler will be remembered for the Holocaust. Pol Pot will be the eternal symbol of the killing fields of Cambodia; and Saddam Hussien’s name will live infamy for his poison gas massacre in Halabja. Omar Bashir of Sudan, an indicted war criminal, will be remembered (and one day face face prosecution in the International Criminal Court) for this his genocidal campaigns against the Fur, Marsalit and Zaghawa ethnic groups in Darfur. Mengistu Hailemariam, the former military dictator in Ethiopia, will be remembered for his ruthless Red Terror campaign; and Meles Zenawi will forever be defined by the massacres of June and November, 2005 and many others that history will reveal.
The massacres of June and November 2005 were defining moments for me as an individual. I had to make a choice. The easy thing for me to do at the time was to shake my head in disbelief, cover my eyes in horror, roll my eyes in disgust and purse my lips in sorrow and move on to something else. That would have been tantamount to capitulating to evil and turning a blind eye to monstrous crimes committed against innocent human beings in my native homeland. My other choice was to muster the energy and courage to stand up and speak up against the personification of pure evil. I now live by the timeless maxim: “All that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good men and women to do nothing.” Affirmatively stated, I believe all that is necessary to triumph over evil is for all good men, women and young people to do something.
The slaughter of 2005 must be made a warning to each new generation of Ethiopians of what happens when human rights are abused, the rule of law trashed, democracy trampled and freedom crushed. To paraphrase Elie Weisel, we must seek justice for the victims of yesterday not only because it is the right thing to do, but also to protect the youth of today, and the children who will be born tomorrow from similar injustice and wrong. We do not want the past to become the future of our children and grandchildren. That is why all of the criminals responsible for the 2005 massacre must be held accountable. Delaying justice to the Ethiopian massacre victims is to invite the harsh verdict of history upon ourselves and future generations: “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”
REMEMBER, REMEMBER THE SLAUGHTER OF NOVEMBER (2005)!
FREE ALL POLITICAL PRSIONERS IN ETHIOPIA.
 http://www.abugidainfo.com/?p=6709 ; http://ethioforum.org/wp/archives/1515