Why Diaspora Ethiopians Must Engage in Human Rights Advocacy

“We must always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.”  Elie Wiesel

Advocate10Lately, I have been talking to some young Ethiopian Diaspora activists in the U.S. about their views on the human rights situation in Ethiopia.

The consistent response I have gotten is a question: “Why can’t we get together and do something?”

It is indeed a very timely, timeless and compelling question. Of course, the real issue is who “we” are and what is the “something”  that we need to do.

As most of my readers who have been following me over the past ten years know, my involvement in Ethiopian human rights advocacy was entirely fortuitous. I consider myself an “accidental”  human rights advocate.

Following the May 2005 election in Ethiopia, the late thugmaster Meles Zenawi declared a “state of emergency” and brought the security and military forces under his personal command and control.  Within weeks, Meles’ thugs were indiscriminately massacring unarmed protesters throughout the country.

Human Rights Watch documented the massacres at the earliest stages: “Ethiopian security forces again reacted with brutality, killing at least 46 people and arresting more than 4000 in Addis Ababa and other towns.”

In May 2006, I suddenly found myself looking at the photographs of the innocent protesters massacred by the personal order of the late criminal against humanity Meles Zenawi following the 2005 election.

The rest, I might say, is the history of  my “Monday Commentaries”, to some people “sermons”.

For years, I have written annual memorials in remembrance of the victims of the Meles Massacres.

(I consider my Monday Commentaries to be weekly memorials in remembrance of the Meles Massacres of 2005, the  Gambella Massacres of 2003, Ogaden Masscares of  2007, the Oromiya Massacres of 2015 (which in one form or another continue in these locations to the present day) and other victims of crimes against humanity in Ethiopia and the tens of thousands of political prisoners held in officials and secret political prisons.)

In November 2007, the Inquiry Commission established by thugmaster Meles Zenawi and his rubberstamp parliament to look into the 2005 massacres returned an “indictment” a devastating against Meles Zenawi.

The Inquiry Commission by an 8-2 vote determined:

There was no property destroyed [by the 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). [parenthesis original]

Shots fired by government forces were not to disperse the crowd of protesters but to kill by targeting the head and chest of the protester. For this reason, it was clear that the law was violated, and government forces had used excessive force.

Police and security officials intentionally shot and killed 193 persons and wounded 763.

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.

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.

(Watch video of actual vote of the Inquiry Commission HERE.)

The Inquiry Commission Chairman Judge Frehiwot Samuel noted:

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.

The Meles Massacres of 2005 were a defining moment for me. The Meles Massacres made me a relentless advocate for human rights in Ethiopia.

As I explained in my December 2010 commentary, 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 clouded  our judgments. The defining moments are often random events beyond our control and 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.

In the face of the Meles Massacres of June and November 2005,  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 the country of my birth.

My other choice was to muster the energy and courage to stand up and speak up against the evil and inhumanity of  thugmaster Meles and his band of thugs.

I 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.

I have been speaking up (advocating) for human rights in Ethiopia every Monday for the last ten years. More accurately, I have been the self-appointed voice of the victims of the Meles Massacres, the other T-TPLF massacres and the tens of thousands of victims of crimes against humanity, famine victims  and political prisoners in Ethiopia. I am proud of that achievement and consider it all a blessing.

I have long argued that the Meles Massacres 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.

Regrettably, the Meles Massacres have been repeated time and again since 2005.

Just in the past 8 months, the Meles Massacres have been visited anew on innocent protesters in Oromiya region of Ethiopia. This time by the leaders of the Thugtatorship of the Tigrean Liberation Front (T-TPLF), the ruling regime in Ethiopia, itself a terrorist organization listed in the Global Terrorism Database.

According to a June 16, 2016 Human Rights Watch Report  (Watch video of  Oromiya Massacres and torture by the T-TPLF HERE.):

State security forces in Ethiopia have used excessive and lethal force against largely peaceful protests that have swept through Oromia, the country’s largest region, since November 2015.

Over 400 people are estimated to have been killed, thousands injured, tens of thousands arrested, and hundreds, likely more, have been victims of enforced disappearances.

Security forces, according to witnesses, shot into crowds, summarily killing people during mass roundups, and torturing detained protesters. Because primary and secondary school students in Oromia were among the early protesters, many of those arrested or killed were children under the age of 18.

Security forces, including members of the federal police and the military, have arbitrarily arrested students, teachers, musicians, opposition politicians, health workers, and people who provided assistance or shelter to fleeing students. Although many have been released, an unknown number of those arrested remain in detention without charge, and without access to legal counsel or family members.

Security forces regularly arrested dozens of people at each protest, and in many locations security forces went door-to door-at night arresting students and those accommodating students in their homes.

Security forces also specifically targeted for arrest those perceived to be influential members of the Oromo community, such as musicians, teachers, opposition members and others thought to have the ability to mobilize the community for further protests. Many of those arrested and detained by the security forces have been children under age 18.

Security forces have tortured and otherwise ill-treated detainees, and several female detainees described being raped by security force personnel. Very few detainees have had access to legal counsel, adequate food, or to their family members.

There is no Inquiry Commission to look into the Oromiya Massacres. There is no doubt that if an investigative commission were to look into the Oromiya Massacres, the the number of victims would be much , much higher.

What is the “something” that we can all do? What can we all do to establish the rule of law, free and fair elections and democratic institutions in Ethiopia?

There are now  various Ethiopian Diaspora groups and individuals who have resolved to work together across ethnic, religious, regional and linguistic lines for a common cause human rights agenda in Ethiopia.

These groups and their members have come to the realization that the cause of human rights is the one thing that can bring all Ethiopians together. In other words, they understand that when the human rights of  Oromos are violated and desecrated, the human rights of all Ethiopians are violated and desecrated. They understand that when the human rights of Amharas, Tigreans, Somalis, Anuaks, Gurages, Welayitas, Hadiya, Afaris, Gamos and many others are violated and desecrated, the human rights of all Ethiopians are violated and desecrated.

These groups are committed to the rule of law.  They embrace all of the 30 rights enumerated in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

They are interested in four areas of human rights defense in Ethiopia:

Human Rights Advocacy:

Develop a legislative advocacy agenda.

Build grassroots networks for human rights advocacy.

Coordinate and facilitate protest actions and campaigns.

Human Rights Education:

Conduct human rights conferences, seminars and workshops.

Publish educational materials on human rights.

Maintain information database, clearinghouse online and on social media.

Develop multi-lingual human rights educational materials.

Human Rights  Monitoring and Networking:

Create and maintain a database of human rights violations.

Link up with international human rights organizations to monitor human rights violations.

Disseminate information to government agencies and international organizations.

Human Rights Mentoring:

Develop opportunities for youth to engage in human rights analysis and advocacy.

Develop special human rights leadership training programs.

The main purpose of Diaspora Ethiopian human right advocacy is to bring about positive changes in the human rights climate in that country.

The word “advocacy” means “to add a voice” or “to plead on behalf of” someone’.  Advocacy in human rights has to do with “pleading” on behalf of those who are denied human rights and making sure their voices are heard and their needs met.

There are many opportunities for human rights advocacy in the U.S.  to influence polices and build support and networks.

We have a good and practical example of effective grassroots advocacy.

I am sure many of readers remember the kind of formidable grassroots advocacy effort we put out to get H.R. 2003  which passed the U.S. House of Representatives.  I recall the participation of so many Diaspora Ethiopians and their American supporters batting for H.R. 2003. I recall with grateful appreciation the contributions of the two New Jersey members of Congress, Christopher Smith and Donald Payne.

H.R. 2003 can be reborn as H.R. 2016 or H.R. 2017.  My personal motto is: “Don’t be scared of failure. Learn from it and try again.”

I believe there are many Diaspora Ethiopian young men and women (Cheetahs) who are willing to learn from our failure (I mean my Hippo generation) and try again until they succeed.

I am confident that in the coming weeks and months, these advocacy groups will make themselves known. I  urge all Diaspora Ethiopians in the U.S. and elsewhere to join them as they make their advocacy agenda public.

Those who do not learn from history…

I naively thought that the Meles Massacres of 2005 in which 193 innocent protesters were killed and 763 wounded would be the last massacre to be witnessed in Ethiopia.

I failed to heed the old saying, “Those who do not learn from the past are condemned to repeat it.”

In 2016, we have learned that in the Oromiya Massacres, the T-TPLF has massacred over “400 people in Oromiya, mostly children, and injured and arrested tens of thousands”.

Because we did not speak up (advocate)  against Meles Massacres in 2005, we had to face the T-TPLF Oromiya Massacres of 2015.

How true it is: “Those who do not learn from the past are condemned to repeat it.”

Is it not time to say enough is enough to the T-TPLF. NO MORE MASSACRES!?

To paraphrase Elie Weisel, the holocaust survivor and Nobel laureate, 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 Meles Massacres and 2015 Oromiya Massacres  must be held accountable.

Speak up! Advocate for Ethiopian human rights.

Be an Ethiopian Human Rights Advocate!