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Humanity before Ethnicity

It is time to end Canadian aid for tyranny in Ethiopia

April 6, 2009

Meles may have to face still another front directed at him thanks to the efforts from the people of the Ogaden Human Rights Committee. They have now won over another new advocate for justice in Ethiopia, Lorne Waldman, the Canadian lawyer for Bashir Makhtal, a Canadian citizen who has been held without trial for the last two years in Ethiopia. 
(http://www.hiiraan.com/news2/2009/Apr/lawyer_for_jailed_canadian_seeks_end_to_aid_for_ethiopia.aspx )  This lawyer is now exerting pressure on Canada to stop giving Ethiopia financial aid “for a legal system he characterizes as corrupt, lacking in transparency and subject to political interference.” The article also reports that two Canadians federal cabinet members, Immigration Minister Jason Kenney and Transport Minister John Baird, are now also supporting Makhtal and the effort to gain his release. Let us stand up together with our brothers and sisters of the Ogaden for until justice comes to the Ogaden, sustainable justice will not come to any within Ethiopia.

The events of this past week in London, gave Meles an unpleasant foretaste of the accountability he might have to face in the future for any criminal actions he has taken against the people of Ethiopia. 

We thank Greg Stanton, the president of Genocide Watch, for taking a courageous stand against genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes in Ethiopia when he called for an investigation by the UN Human Rights Commission into the ongoing massive human rights atrocities being carried out in Ethiopia under the government of Prime Minister Meles Zenawi. We also thank the hundreds of faithful Ethiopians who staged a very effective and eye-opening rally in a prime location, which could be viewed by leaders of the G-20 countries as they left their meeting. 

This effort was also supported by many hundreds of other Ethiopians, rallying in front of embassies all over Europe and the world.  It was truly a group effort and was covered by major news sources. The sudden cancelling of the press conference on all of Africa that Meles was to hold—where some believed Meles would also be questioned about his human rights record—appeared to be another indication of Meles’ aversion to this new level of accountability. It is a disappointment for the people of Africa, but it is time for Africans to expect our representatives to be those who truly care about the people of this continent.

On an encouraging note, it may be that our voices are finally becoming loud and united enough to be noticed. We have heard rumors from within Ethiopia that this has been the worst week for Meles and his government since the election protests in 2005.  Some have told us that support for this regime is deteriorating due to inner division between avid supporters/collaborators and those who do not want to be part of any government that may later be brought to trial by the International Criminal Court (ICC). This may be further reason why the information and pictures of Meles coming out of London and the Genocide Watch letter calling for a UN investigation are all, reportedly, being repressed, under threat of severe penalties of imprisonment for breaches.

In closing, we need your help to continue to reach out to new partners, including non-Ethiopians, who can work on behalf of freedom and justice in Ethiopia. The strategy of the SMNE is to reach out to those who can advance the work as part of the mandates of their own organizations.

 There are many such organizations ready to help if given the right information and a specific achievable task, but unless they are approached, their skills, connections and resources will never be utilized. This is where each of you is needed—to find such new partners and resources.

Creative Ethiopians can certainly think of others in their spheres of influence who could contribute to this struggle from various angles.  An example might be contacting women’s groups that might take on the struggle for Birtukan and other prisoners.  Recently, the New Yorker published an article on the long-term isolation of a prisoner which they indicate can be more destructive long-term than physical torture.

(Please see: http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2009/03/30/090330fa_fact_gawande. This is an excellent article for your review and to support your case.) A group of musicians, including non-Ethiopians, might do the same for Teddy Afro, even holding a concert or another type of awareness-raising event. Do not forget about the many other prisoners and include them in all efforts.

We encourage you to be creative in thinking about what you could do to reach out to “new advocates” and “friends of Ethiopia.” We are all unique people with unique opportunities around us. What you, others and I do, will make a difference!