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On government response to human rights reports (part 1)

By Genenew Assefa
Tigrai Onlne - May 06, 2014

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A seemingly endless series of complaints, decrying abridgements of basic political freedoms and reversion of human rights continue to be lodged against Ethiopia, albeit on the flimsiest of foundations in fact. The jarring cry of lamentation over Ethiopia’s putative curtailment of space for dissent is most pronounced among the dwindling, but vocal minority of political relics of the discredited past.

Genenew Assefa

Destined, to be sure, to oblivion, like all hangers-on in history, as the rapid transformative changes taking place up and down the country enters the next higher stage. In the meantime, much will be made of Ethiopia’s shortcomings, drawbacks and even failures, though each pales in comparison to its impressive achievements that have earned it international accolades. Indeed, Ethiopia is roundly praised as one of Africa’s promising emergent democracies, and will continue to retain its lead insofar as the principle of unity in diversity  continues  to sustain the ties that bound its distinct peoples, each autonomous in its  own jurisdiction.  This is the secret why, despite countless forecasts of its inevitable breakup, the country is held as Africa’s bastion of peace and stability. In consequence, Ethiopia today is a frontrunner in the race f to catch up with the world’s mid-income countries, on the back, no doubt, of its accelerated growth, second to none in its ranks, save the few fastest growing national economies of the planet.

As a democratic development federal state of multiple nationalities, Ethiopia is, by all post-conflict global standards, a multi- party democracy, governed by an elected coalition of quadruple  parties that reflect the ethno-linguistic diversity of  the country’s population. Cynicism aside, each these parties eagerly embrace constructive criticism in the shared belief that genuine feedback redounds to greater compliance with the human rights laws of the Ethiopian federal constitution. It is in this spirit of openness, then, that a competent panel of high policymakers examined the 2013 State Department Human Right Report, but found the content wanting for any measure of inspiration.  A small wonder, that in its March 14 written response, the government expressed its dismay at the lack of even a modicum of improvement in this year’s human right write-ups, albeit the voluminous publication was launched, as often, with pomp and funfair.  Much hype certainly preceded the release of the voluminous global survey of human rights, in which the US Secretary of State himself gave the keynote speech at the auspicious launch. But, on the EPRDF -government’s reading, at least the Report on Ethiopia turned out to be “a rehash of previous allegations, sprinkled with newly-added indictments’' that can barely survive cross examination.  

Indeed with a quick scan, it becomes apparent that the 2013 Report is, from the outset, severely fraught with skewed selection of sources and self-serving informants on which those who commissioned the writing base their truth claims. Naturally, the State Department has to vouch for the credibility of its nameless stool-pigeons whose words no one with even a fleeting familiarity with the facts on the ground can take seriously. Yet the Report is said to be grounded in eye-witness accounts that, for safety reason, must remain anonymous. Leaving aside the validity of this concern, from a modern-day perspective, shielding the identity of the accuser from the accused, is rather a throwback to medieval justice that had been long discarded: Largely for innocence of any notion of what modern jurists refer to as law of evidence.  In any event, the self-referentiality of these informant’s accounts betrays their true identities and secret political agendas, divergent though their ultimate ideological vision for Ethiopia might be. But, judging by the tone and language of the accusatory statements contained in this year’s Report, the unnamed sources cannot be any other than the same fugitives from the law with vested interest in hiding their identities and true political goals. Obviously these so-called witnesses are adept at concealing their vertical liaison with either the centrist or separatist subversive organizations, banned in Ethiopia for grave transgression of the supreme law. Thus, it comes as no surprise if every one of them tries to pass themselves off as bonifide whistleblowers with much to expose that the Ethiopian government is desperate to hide from the world.   

The shrewdest among these self-described whistleblowers, in fact, claim to be privy to secret skeletons in the government’s closet, before they fled to the USA, leaving behind only traces of the consequences of their populist politics of reckless havoc. With no qualms, today these political adventurers openly vow to continue, albeit, from safe distance, with their unfinished business of upending the lawful government of Ethiopia by any means they deem necessary. Yet in an eyebrow raising judgment, these hawks cloaked as doves to mislead the gullible, are presumed to be a disinterested lot with useful testimonies that merit congressional hearing.  If for nothing else than the information that these well-placed informants can provide on which of the parties in Ethiopia the US must rely on to rid the country of tyranny. Obviously, given the publicity that comes with  the rare chance of being called on to provide testimony in the presence of  US  legislators, the limelight-seeking elements in the State Department’s witness list openly go by their given names. Unlike their counterparts who prefer to remain anonymous, the latter see no reason to assume pseudonyms when they appear before US congressional sub-committees to lodge their complaints with tears in their eyes. Nor do these star testifiers, not at least at this level, openly condone violence as a legitimate means of attaining a political end. But, when addressing an all Ethiopian fund-raising rallies, the chameleons are unafraid to show their true color.

This is to say that, though they hide their true intention from Congress, they broadcast in fervent language, no less, their plan to launch an armed rebellion against the EPRDF government. They reconcile the contradiction in their double-stance, at least to their own  satisfaction, by rehashing the much publicized narrative of closure of political space in Ethiopia, believed to have followed in the wake the 2005 post-election crisis. The irony is it is these double-dealers themselves who, under a smokescreen of election fraud, instigated the 2005 street turbulence, but lacking the courage of their conviction shirked from taking responsibility for the consequences.  Today, far from where neither their courage nor their  conviction cannot be tested, they are often heard quoting Patrick Henery’s famous quote, “Give me liberty, or give me death!’’ Whilst, at same time, pleading with the most powerful country in the world to grant them protection against what they describe as the most tyrannical regime in Africa. Knowing what sails and where, they claim that, if forced to return to their country of origin, they would be condemned to life without liberty in “the land of the unfree”, where as freedom-lovers, they can’t bear to stay even for a two-night stand.  But clever as they are, if only by half, they sense that the gap between their either-death/or--liberty rhetoric and safety-first approach could be interpreted as wanting to have their cake and eat it too.

But no dummies, the double-faced political aspirants figure that the way out of this embarrassing dilemma is to pretend that their stay abroad is only temporary, pending completion of a preparatory task in the led-up to setting in motion the much vaunted armed rebellion: The only rout left, so we are told, if Ethiopia is to be delivered from EPRDF’s repressive system of divide and rule.  This clever self-positioning, no doubt affords them the best of all possible worlds where they can, at no risk to their personal safety, raise funds for liberty, leaving the dying to others in the remote-controlled liberation war, promised to be launched at the first ripe subjective and objective moment. Theirs is apparently a risk-free world wherein they enjoy the liberty to play a double role at a time and place of their choosing.  The most visible of their dual functions appears to be shuttling between America, Europe, Egypt, and Eritrea, providing testimonies and updated lectures on the latest human rights violation in Ethiopia, and promising secrete offers in exchange for sizable financial deals. In-between lectures, their other herculean task involves managing the satellite television command-post, from which they direct the virtual armed insurgency to wrest power from ostensibly a crumbling regime.

Now this is intense activity even for a prize fighter of immense energy. Energy aside, the question is, whence comes the courage to engage in such tasking multiple risky business for comfort all year round?  Well, in large measure their boldness stems from knowledge that the State Department prefers to turn a blind eye to even their most glaringly illicit activity. Why the host country tolerates these naturalized émigrés to engage in activities prohibited by its emigration laws, is an unexplained puzzle. Perhaps, one explanation might lie in shrewd calculation that these pretenders for power, on a fading cheap popularity at that, could potentially play a useful role for Uncle Sam when, and if the time comes. For this reason alone, the home of the brave and land of the free could not deny these self-styled freedom fighters political asylum. Lest, so we are told, these former ‘prisoners of conscious’ again fall prey to vindictive reprisal at the hands of a paranoid state, whose ruling party, in their words, is terrified of even its own shadow.

By any stretch, it is hard to imagine that anyone familiar with the all-round positive transformative changes taking place in Ethiopia would second this wild characterization of the EPRDF government. Save those who stand to gain by taking this twisted designation of the governing party as a starting point to draw an even more contorted pre-conceived conclusion about the dire human rights situation in Ethiopia. We are referring hear to  armchair research centers that the State Department outsource to compile and submit human rights  reports  on every country in the world except its own.  No wonder that the so-called impartial research findings of the Ethiopian human rights landscape is invariably flawed by wild speculations, groundless conjunctures, and duplication of previous allegations with no supporting evidence much less proof.  Most of it in fact is little more than compilations of the secret deposition of faceless informants, believed to be ‘corroborated’  by the indicting disclosure  of those who are willing to be identified as the face of the extremist opposition. Thus, it is on such dubious sources that the Ethiopian government is maligned and its commitment to human rights is written off as farce. No doubt this speaks to the devilish cleverness of the slick operatives of subversive outfits assigned abroad to bash Ethiopia on every conceivable occasion imaginable.

The deftness with which these Ethiopia-bashers operate can be gauged from the cunning way they play the human rights card each time their sleeper-cells inside Ethiopia are caught red-handed in criminal acts of sabotage.  Obviously the cry of human rights violation is loudest whenever the accused are brought before an impartial court of law to defend themselves against well-founded charges of grave offense, including acts of terror against innocent civilians. If--God forbid, as elsewhere in countries of due process, the accused defendants are found guilty and sentenced according to the laws in Ethiopia, the trial is instantly dismissed as a miscarriage of justice. No sooner, the court’s decision is flagged as yet another instance which graphically shows the degree to which human rights is trampled underfoot in Ethiopia.

 How can one respond to such manifestly circuitous contrivance of criticism by double-standards which leaves the Ethiopian government in an inevitable situation of “dam if you do, dam if you don’t.  Except perhaps to say that by some misfortune, as it were, it is this kind of adversity that the Ethiopian government has been contending with ever since rule of law prevailed in this country after countless years of unlimited exercise of power   by the few over the many. This is emphatically no longer the case in federal democratic Ethiopia where no one, regardless of ethnic origin, gender, social status or academic credential is above the law. The same applies to civic organizations and political parties no matter high-sounding the cause which the leaderships may claim to promote in the interest of national unity. Yet,   as much as no one in this country is more equal than others in front of the law, it is useful to reemphasis  that, like democracies everywhere, all legally registered parties in Ethiopia bear a constitutional right to peacefully compete for public office in a level playing field. But, as no right comes without a corresponding duty, each party is legally bound to abide by the laws of the land, without which neither due process nor multiparty democracy can be imagined.

However, lacking anything positive to offer by which they could attract public following, the extremist bands know that they stand no chance in a free and fair multiparty electoral bout. Foreign to the notion of loyal opposition, as they are, the extra-legal parties remain confined to the political underworld and the Diaspora where they can disseminate hate speech without accountability. But, hoping against hope, these hate mongers reckon that they would one day return and reclaim their rightful place on the back of  pressure brought to bear on the Ethiopian government, on the prompting  their agents abroad. The sad irony is that not a few of among the fringe groupings at the far end of the political spectrum take their own rhetoric too seriously. If proof need be, witness how, in concert with their Diaspora funs and funders, this desperate lot cheer and celebrate each time a negative human rights report is issued against Ethiopia. The gullible even believe that inconsequence some foreign power would come to their aid as they scurry to the summit of power on the ruins of the EPRDF government.  Recall the excitement with which they sought, with Western funding no doubt, to duplicate first the color-coded revolution of Eastern Europe. And, later the Arab revolt, which unfortunately quickly lost its appeal, no sooner than the  much talked about spring-time romance with freedom  gave way to a bone- chilling winter of sectarian infighting of unprecedented human toll. In the meantime, much to the chagrin of ill-wishers in the Diaspora, all was quiet on the Ethiopian front. To their despair, time and events proved that neither the East European nor the Mid-Eastern type of regime-changing mass convulsion was never in the cards where Ethiopia is concerned. In frustration, those who thought otherwise, gave up on Western goodwill and pinned their hopes on the only country that, save the means, has the motive and the political ambition to destabilize Ethiopia. Nonetheless, tempting as it is, assistance from a rouge government that conspires against its neighbors always comes with a political price.  That is why those who only recently denounced the independence of the very country on which their fait now lies are currently heard singing its praise. Witness how, with a straight-face, as it were, they press on their compatriots at home to emulate the leadership model of their host and sponsoring country, despite the menace this state has been to the entire East African region.  In a way there is nothing new here, since the wretchedly desperate of the earth have no choice but bank on covert external backing, regardless of what they might have to eventually repay in return.

In the Ethiopian case, however, there is a strange twist to this sorry pattern.  This is to say that, reliance on foreign quid is more pronounced among the chauvinistic groups whose claim to fame is leveling charges of treason against the EPRDF government. Indeed these parties excel in two things. In brave rhetoric, often promising to teach those they brand as national traitors a lasting lesson. And in exalting themselves as the truest and purest of all Ethiopians, to whom alone is given the right to rule this country. On both counts, despite years of bold talk, these retrograde parties have little to show for it, except foreign funding, which by no means can buy them the one thing they crave for most, state power. Apparently, reliance on a hostile pariah regime is what the increasing consolidation of democratic rule in Ethiopia has in store for saber-rattling relics, who seek to drag this country back to the pre-federal system of national inequality. For, none among them can justify their seditious oscillation between legal and illegal means of politicking in this stable multinational country, where the legal regime provides for broad latitude for peaceful dissent. And, even opportunity to rise to the level of a parliamentary majority, if only through proper channels.  Nor can these violent-prone parties expect any public sympathy so long as the constitution provides, as it does, for peaceful democratic transfer of power. But, let it be underlined, the supreme law permits orderly change of government through, and only through, periodically held fair and free elections. Such, then, is the route to the apex of power, as there is no other way of ascertaining the consent of the governed.

The problem is these foreign-backed extremists are averse to any constitutional process, the only guarantee of peace and stability. But none are loathe to employing a cunning stratagem with operational tactics set to inflict maximum damage on the Ethiopian government in a spirally ascending stages. On a quick probe, however, for all its elaborateness, this stratagem bears an uncanny resemblance with the now-defunct money laundering scheme by which the crime- family used to “rinse” and recycle its ill-gotten piles of dirty cash as legal tender. Let us explain. First the masters of deception deftly concoct a seemingly credible secrete brief which is quickly brought to the attention of an elite foreign intelligence community and human rights activists.  An inside scoop, as it were, that ostensibly lay bear the secrete doings of the EPRDF government beneath the gaze of the international diplomatic community and NGOs, on the lookout as ever for any state misconduct to report to their superiors. Second, the well-crafted forgery is superficially processed through a US information filtering-mechanism only to pop-up bearing the State Department’s stamp of approval. No sooner the brief is rushed through this interim sanitization phase, than it is recast as irrefutable evidence of Ethiopia’s wanton behavior beyond the threshold level of international human rights conventions.  Subsequently, with the aid of a licensed human rights advocate with global name-recognition, the shameless defamation brief is papered to appear respectable in the eyes of the target audience.

Enter Human Rights Watch! The modern-day grand inquisitor whose high priests readily endorse, embellish and disseminate such anti-Ethiopian disinformation with its own remarks and punishment recommendations. In no time, regardless of the integrity of the sources on which Human Rights Watch bases its damning report, excerpts quickly appear in all major corporate-owned global media outlets. Each adding its own commentary, decrying human rights abuse in Ethiopia in sentimentalist language which betrays disingenuous concern for the supposed helpless victims. Hence, with incredible media blitz of human rights atrocity in Ethiopia, the whole capricious process of denigrating the country’s profile comes to a full circle. Culminating, as it has on occasions, in shrill clamor for punitive action against the EPRDF government.

Viewed in this light, the whole orchestration of breast-beating over the human rights plight of the Ethiopian people smacks as insincere as it is counterproductive. By no reckoning can constant reliance on dubious sources as an alibi for cascading condemnatory reports serve to advance the cause of human rights in Ethiopia.  Especially, if the planned end-game is, as it seems on its face, eroding the legitimacy of the Ethiopian government – though the primary domestic partner of all bonafide human-rights promoting external actors. It is a pity, then, that the likes of Human Rights Watch believe that their openly stated, much less, hidden agenda, can be best served through non-state-actors as if Ethiopia is a failed state where NGOs, donor-dependent civic societies, and rug-tag armed gangs ran the show. All the same, Human Rights Watch, sad to say, seems to think that it can make headway in Ethiopia only in the guise of a militant mouthpiece of the  extremist opposition who, ironically are  themselves  notorious human rights offenders. Yet contrary to well-established international norms, Human Rights Watch prefers to bypass the Ethiopian government in favor of working hand-in glove with the foreign agents of the proscribed fanatical outfits, as much alien as they are hostile to any notion of human rights. These subversive parties are obviously elated to have Human Rights Watch on board.  For who else would lend credence to their campaign of demonizing the EPRDF government as the world’s worst violator of human rights, except Human Rights Watch, AL Shabab and the leadership in Eritrea. Given the position they are in, no one   can blame these parties for being cheerful, even ecstatic, at having Human Rights Watch by their side. All the more so, since these desperate clandestine movements need every help they can get, if they are to have even half a chance at unseating the entrenched incumbent An incumbent  unlike any, which they know they can’t beat in the open even level domestic political arena, where only a party with a sound political program prevails.

On their part, it seems that from the very outset the puritanical crusaders of Human Rights Watch too, have realized one thing. Namely that they cannot isolate Ethiopia from the rest of the world by the prescribed conventional means delimited in their terms of reference as syndicated overseers of human rights. That is why its managing directors had from the start aligned Human Rights Watch’s mission in Ethiopia with the openly stated agenda of the subversive groups whose violent behavior in part stems from belief in the cynical adage --- the end justifies the means. This is, then, how an unholy alliance was formed between two unlikely sides, Human Rights Watch and the Ethiopian extremist opposition who are now bound the confluence of their ultimate interests vis-à-vis Ethiopia. Not least of their common concerns, at least as far as one can tell, is shattering the ties that bound Ethiopia and the West: Particularly, with the United States, which they self-deceivingly believe calls the shots in Ethiopia.

Initially many Ethiopians were confused by the parallels between Human Rights Watch’s ceaseless negative reporting and the torrent of defamatory statements that the banned opposition churns out regularly. Up until recently, few Ethiopians were unaware that the undisclosed overriding motive behind Human Rights Watch’s unrelenting hostile campaign against Ethiopia had always been eroding the legitimacy of its elected government.  The public was only disabused of its confusion after it became clear that the managing directors of Human Rights Watch are not exactly paragons of what they preach, often with an air of  superiority as if they  the fate mankind lies in their hands.  The condescending manner in which they pontificate about the need to bring light to the pitch-dark human rights environment in Ethiopia, in fact, tells it all. At the very least, it speaks more to their own foible than those they claim to impugn on fabricated grounds of human rights abuse. Speaking of foible, perhaps it behooves Human Rights Watch to remind itself of one  of the most sobering and insightful  saying  Jesus’ is reported to have uttered  in defense  his earliest female followers that  were  about to be stoned to death  by a self-righteous  mob on charges of adultery. If not verbatim, the evil stopping power of the redeemer’s saying goes something very close to, “let the sinless among you cast the first stone.” A timeless  instruction of enduring  moral weight if any, one must add, that Human Rights Watch ought to heed before cascading tons of bricks on Ethiopia on spurious charges based on hearsay. In truth, Human Rights Watch would do well to rethink its holier-than-thou attitude towards Ethiopia, particularly with the likes Marc Garlasco and who knows who else on its research staff. Granted, under pressure from the Jewish lobby, Garlasco was fired no sooner than it came to light that he had a warped secret habit of collecting Nazi memorabilia. But not for working for the Pentagon, where he proudly served as “chief of high-value targeting’’ during US air raids and missile attack on Baghdad. In which, according to a John Hopkins University research team, one hundred thousand civilians, mostly women and children died, as a direct result of saturated bombing on Iraq’s most dense population center. Referring to what he encountered in his brief visit in bombed-shelled Bagdad, Garlasco relates:

I’m standing   with in a crater with this   a 70-year –old man who’s got tears in his eyes and he’s telling me how 17 members of his family, including his grandchildren, were killed. I still have very mixed emotions about the whole situation, the whole experience. Well, on the one side, I feel like I took part in this wholesale slaughter of this guy’s family which is very difficult to swallow.  But on the other side, I know that we truly, truly did what we could do. We were going after some very bad people.

According to Alex Blumberg of This American Life Newsletter, Mr. Garlasco “doesn’t see moving from the Pentagon to a human rights nonprofit, as a 180 degree flip most people might. He says all he’s ever wanted to do was fight bad guys, and both organizations do that, just in different ways.” There you have it!  A small wonder, then, that Human Rights Watch’s project in countries like Ethiopia is targeting   ‘bad’ governments ran by very “bad people.’’ But, badness, like beauty, as they say, is in the eyes of the beholder. Ergo, Ethiopia is singled out for a bad rap for choosing a state-directed development path —a path apparently destined to a bad end in the eyes of the big moneyed benefactors of Human Rights Watch and neo-liberal promoters of color-coded  revolutions.  Recall, if you will, Human Right Watch’s 2010 pre-scripted statement on the fourth national election, issued barely before the polls closed. Understandably, as it was a thinly veiled pre-planned move aimed at tarnishing the integrity of both the process and outcome of the 2010 election, the statement triggered intense anger among the voting population of Ethiopia.  The fury that reverberated across the nation was compounded by gut-feeling that second-guessing a country’s electioneering process  might not even fall under whatever mandate Human Rights Watch claims to have. But in advance of clarity on this issue, its high-paid mangers had long abrogated to themselves the right to act as the world’s judge and jury of not only acceptable and unacceptable  human rights behavior, but also of legitimate and illegitimate election outcomes.  

Read Part 2