Are official lies becoming TPLF ‘s preferred ways of running Ethiopia? Part I

21 Jul

By Keffyalew Gebremedhin, The Ethiopia Observatory (TEO)

                                                     — I —

    “Newspapers are read at the breakfast and dinner tables. God’s great gift to man is appetite. Put nothing in the paper that will destroy it.”

    W. R. Nelson, Publisher of the Kansas City Star, 1915, quoted in Ben H. Bagdikian’s The Media Monopoly 1987

This article is an expression of this writer’s disappointment at a news item that appeared Saturday on the Ethiopian News Agency (ENA) page regarding the investigation by the United Nations Universal Periodic Review (UPR) on May 6, 2014 of Ethiopia’s commitment, behavior and human rights performance as the Organization’s member, signatory to its Charter and several international human rights instruments.

Created in 2006, the UPR is a mechanism by which the human rights records of all United Nations member states are reviewed, based on advance notification, schedule and information circulated by the United Nations to all member states, national and international civil society organizations and the relevant inter-governmental international organizations. A working group, operating on behalf of the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC), comprising all 47 members of the Council, leads and carries out this task. For further details on UPR, consult an earlier article on this blog Review of human rights records of 42 states begins next week in Geneva, Ethiopia’s included (Part I).

The ENA story claims that the Human Rights Commission (UNHRC) at its May 6 UPR session accorded Ethiopia “the highest regard and recognition for its achievements in the field of human rights.” ምክር ቤቱ ኢትዮጵያ በሰብዓዊ መብት ዙሪያ ላከናወነቻቸው ተግባራት እውቅና ሰጠ

In my experience, to date this is the most despicable lie I have ever come across, with implications not only to our nation, but also to countries following up the UPR processes. Clearly, the aim of the authors of this lie is to boost TPLF image for no said accomplishments, while misleading the public through the media the TPLF controls. There is no doubt that it is also wrong of the journalist to swallow the lies the official pushed down his/her throat, without any efforts to counter-check the facts.

This is said, because this writer happens to be a former international civil servant in the service of the United Nations, now in retirement. But also, like many others, he is one of those individuals fully engaged in following the Organization’s activities and its agencies pertaining to and about Ethiopia and a number of other things as well. Moreover, please note that he had followed start to finish Ethiopia’s UPR event of Tuesday, May 6, 2014; he has also reacted to it by writing in this blog his assessment of how the investigation of Ethiopia’s human rights record, behavior and commitment transpired.

That very same day, he wrote on this blog the article titled, TPLF officials grilled at UPR over Ethiopia’s human rights record: Learn from Amy’s tweets how things went for them in Geneva.

In the circumstances, if by any chance I have missed the said recognition given Ethiopia by the United Nations on that day for its human rights record – important as it is – I would greatly appreciate any indication of where, when and in what form or document the UNHRC took such action. Not only that it would contribute to my education. But also, as a blogger, such information would save me from unintentionally misleading my readers with mistaken information.

If not, this writer would persist with his present position, i.e., Ethiopia’s human rights record is one of the worst in the word and that at no time has the UNHRC either given any formal recognition or thumbs-up to Ethiopia’s human rights human rights accomplishments. If that were the case, this could be found in the Organization’s official statements archives, in remarks from the Council’s chair – including during Universal Periodic Review (UPR) – or in Council decision/resolution on Ethiopia during 2014, or last year, in 2009 during the first UPR or at any time during the last decade or in the past half century.

On the contrary, it must be pointed out that, if there has been any official statement from the United Nations during 2014 regarding Ethiopia, it is condemnation of TPLF’s crackdown on journalists and the increasing restrictions on freedom of opinion and expression. In fact, in her statement High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay stated only a little over two months ago:

    “I am deeply concerned by this recent wave of arrests and the increasing climate of intimidation against journalists and bloggers prevailing in Ethiopia… Over the past few years, the space for dissenting voices has been shrinking dramatically in Ethiopia.”

In short, I contend that the above-mentioned ENA story – attributed to Ato Berhane Gebre Christos, State Minister of Foreign Affairs – the second in command of our nation’s foreign policy – and leader of the 21-member Ethiopian delegation (see composition in the Annex) to the May 6, 2014 session of the UPR procedure on Ethiopia, I regret to say, is replete with lies and misrepresentations.

I am certain that, since every activity in which Ato Berhane participated in those three hours on Tuesday May 6 in the UPR has come out as United Nations official document for the benefit of UN member states and the wider international community, especially those closely monitoring Ethiopia, nothing of the sort has ever transpired in these public documents, in the UN video, summary records, or the audio releases.

This shameful distortion of facts by a senior official reminds me of the words of one of the most famous orators of ancient Rome. Marcus Tullius Cicero (106 BC – 7 December 43 BC), who is remembered for teaching his people the distance between truth and lies. Once he said something very important, which is even an essential for today’s executives for its lessons on caution – a lesson that should not have escaped an intelligent person such as Ato Berhane Gebre Christos. Cicero said: “So near is falsehood to truth that a wise man would do well not to trust himself on the narrow edge.”(

What I cannot understand about this scandal is why the state minister of foreign affairs needed to seek recognition and credit through falsehoods. Is it that he still has to prove himself to his TPLF bosses? Or is it the case of he preparing himself for something not yet public, or campaigning for Tedros Adhanom’s post to become foreign minister, whether his present boss moves up or out or re-assigned somewhere else in the post May 2015 election morning?

                            II. How the story builds and why such reaction

In very limited instances, I knew Ato Berhane from remote acquaintances in the Sidist Kilo Campus at Haile Selassie I University (HSIU) in the early 1970s. The last time I spoke to him was on the telephone from New York in April 1992, when he was the head of the Ethiopian Embassy in Washington DC as TPLF representative.

I must admit that, from the human angle, this anomalous situation has made me feel bad, thinking that there must be something wrong that has pushed Berhane Gebre Christos, one of TPLF’s most experienced senior persons who joined the Front in 1976 to try to benefit either its troubled leadership and governance role and cause he has espoused by so doing or serve his personal interests through such dishonest claims.

Even if an experienced person, I also wondered whether the state minister was susceptible to malleability. This is said because it is possible that at the Palais des Nations in Geneva the herd mentality of like minded delegations that live in glasshouses from which the UNHRC has won great deal of notoriety may have misled him.

Otherwise, there is no possibility for the Council to extend “its highest regard and acknowledgement” to ‘Ethiopia’s accomplishments in human rights areas’, even for a moment one ignores its terrible human rights record the world has been well aware of for such a long time.

Nonetheless, the state minister chose to feed the ENA reporter the following lies:

    “መንግስት የተሟላ የዴሞክራሲ ስርዓት ለመገንባት ቁርጠኛ አቋም መያዙ፣ በግንባታው ሂደትም ህዝቡ ከፍተኛ ተሳትፎ ማድረጉና ለሂደቱ የሚያስፈልጉ ተቋማት መመስረታቸው ከጊዜ ወደ ጊዜ ለሰብዓዊ መብት መሻሻል ምክንያት ሆነዋል።”

    Unofficial translation:

    “The government’s unflinching commitment to building democracy and the public’s full participation in the processes and also the establishment of the requisite institutions have become cause for improvement of the human rights situation in the country from time to time.”

Ato Berhane knows that this is not true, since the TPLF has no commitment to human rights whatsoever. Nor is there any improvement at all in the worsening human rights situation in Ethiopia.

In addition, Ato Berhane took the liberty of going against established international human rights laws, principles and the practices of nations by denying the indivisibility of human rights. In that regard, he informs the media something that is neither right nor in Ethiopia’s reality. He thus states: “መንግስት የተሟላ የህዝብ መብትን የሚያየው ሃሳብን በነፃነት ከመግለጽ፣ ከመፃፍ፣ ከመቃወምና ከመደገፍ እንዲሁም የሚያስፈጽሙ ተቋማትን ከመመስረት ብቻ ሳይሆን ከህዝቡ የተሟላ ኑሮ ጋር ነው።”

The above assertion in Amharic is taken to mean that Ethiopia’s view of complete respect for human rights is premised not through freedom of speech and the free expression of opinions or the freedom to write opposing views and the right to assembly. He underlined that human rights must be realized through building of institutions and uplifting the life standards of the people, which he said would become testimony to the efforts underway as measures leading to Ethiopia’s high-level development and prosperity, where human rights would be respected.

Bizarre as this bifurcation of human rights sounds, it certainly is very mischievous. As to the high standard of development and prosperity, suffice to refer to the recent update by the Oxford University about Ethiopia in 2014 being the second poorest country in the world after Niger. Recall that already in March 2013, the same conclusion was reached in the context of its study on global human development index, which the UNDP’s study placed Ethiopia 173rd, the severity of its poverty at 71.1 percent, all the same, ahead of Niger from the bottom with its 81.8 percent poverty level.

The above statement by the state minister is also inconsistent with Ethiopia’s reality of persistent violations of human rights. This is the case on account of the TPLF’s human rights approach, which is designed to ensure its continuity in power through repression of civil society. What they tell the Ethiopian people to wait and wait, until one fine morning both development and respect for human rights suddenly arrive.

Most troubling however is the fact that the state minister says the report Ethiopia has submitted as a requirement to the UPR process (Corrigendum) has been well received by members.

የሪፖርቱ ተቀባይነት መንግስት ለመልካም አስተዳደር መስፈን ቁርጠኛ መሆኑንና ከፍተኛ ልማትና ብልጽግና የሰፈነባት አገር ለመመስረት የሚያደርገውን ጥረት ማሳያም ይሆናል ብለዋል።


The acceptance by Council of Ethiopia’s report is the indication that there is recognition of the government’s effort to build a peaceful and prosperous country.

Where is this indication given anywhere in the UN document? This too is an outright lie. If Somalia and Djibouti said, where Sudan was restrained, that in their statements, since they have acted in the Council on Ethiopia’s behest for reasons the international community knows full well, that does not make it the position of the Council or the other member states in the UPR. Therefore, it was an outright lie.

In a manner least expected of an official at a high position of responsibility, Ato Berhane told the media non-truth in the remotest, claiming:

የቀረበው ሪፖርት የተሟላና አቀባበሉም የተሳካ ስለነበር የሰብዓዊ መብት ተሟጋች ነን የሚሉ ተቋማት ቀደም ሲል ይሰጧቸው የነበሩ አስተያየቶችን የሚያስቀር እንደሆነም ነው አምባሳደር ብርሐነ የተናገሩት።


Ethiopia’s report was complete and its reception capable of forestalling known allegations by those institutions that masquerade as advocates of human rights and henceforth silence them for good.

This is wishful thinking that a man of Berhane’s intelligence should not or could not have lost sight of, as a person who is best placed to better understand the irreconcilable contradictions between the interests and aspirations of the Ethiopian people for freedom, peace, democracy and human progress and societal prosperity and that of the TPLF, characterized by its desire for permanence in power through repression and denial of freedoms and corrupting political and ethnic forces lacking foresight and vertebrae.

Most importantly, were Ato Berhane’s assertions to be true, it would not have become necessary for Council members to issue on May 6, 2014 at the UPR 170 recommendations for Ethiopia. They contain expressions of their concerns about all sorts of human rights violations in the country – from torture to disappearances, non-recognition of the innocence of detainees until proven guilty principle to prison conditions, from denial of freedom of the press, opinion and right of assembly to the TPLF’s deliberate propagation and perpetuation of inequality, discrimination problems, unlawful anti-terrorism practices, anti-civil society measures, forced resettlements and displacements of people, etc.

As a piece of information, it should be mentioned here that the Council does not reject or state its acceptance of UPR reports. If preceding the actual processes there are certain things lacking, the secretariat would request the government concerned to provide additional information or to put its report in the official United Nations standard format.

If after this the information provided to the Council members months well in advance is not satisfactory, it is up to individual representatives of governments to raise them in writing seeking further clarifications, explanations and responses to be provided during the official encounter at the UPR. This has already happened and the 170 recommendations are a product of that.

After Ato Berhane and his colleagues’ unconvincing explanations during the UPR, several responses are still being awaited to the numerous issues covering the whole gamut of the country’s human rights problems. If the delegation had come to Geneva Council members that would receive them with spears in their hands, Ato Berhane is mistaken. After all, diplomacy is a polite world unto its own, where murder and assassinations takes place with least demonstration of rudeness and violence.

It is sad that it has now become necessary to explain about the workings of the Council. When a state fails to assume its responsibilities towards its people, and also fail to cooperate with the Council, what the mechanism does is bring for discussion by members and adopt decisions, as first instance, to reschedule its UPR once again. When failure to cooperate persists a resolution would be adopted citing the country for non-cooperation and this information is passed to the General Assembly for any action it may deem necessary in the circumstances. To often, we read in the media about such states cited by the United Nations, having implications in its diplomatic relations.

For now, it is important to realize that the Council expects Ethiopia to provide sufficient explanations by September 27, 2014 to 18 further questions, which appear in para 157 of the above-cited draft report of the Council. Its concerns and contents deal, among others, with Ethiopia giving its response to the need to inviting the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture and other Cruel, Inhumane or Degrading Treatment or Punishment to visit the country and evaluate the situation for further action.

Ato Berhane has not said anything about this being an indication of the severity of the country’s human rights problems, as understood by the outside world. Furthermore, issues pertaining to the independence of the judiciary, organizational independence of civil society groups, integrity of the 2015 election, freedom of Ethiopians to exercise their right of association and expression and the elimination of possible cases of arbitrary arrests and detentions, etc., freedom of the press, are among those for which Ethiopia would have to explain its actions sufficiently and the measures it is taking.

This time, the response of Ethiopia would be given serious scrutiny since it has miserably failed by the international in 2009, none of the pledges it entered unrealized, and the human rights situation in the country being further deteriorating, including possibility of repeat of the gruesome situation in 2005 and the 2010 electoral deceits and losses of life.

Finally, it was very sad to hear the leader of the Ethiopian delegation stating to the media how brave and muscled Ethiopia was in rejecting outright some of the the 170 recommendations issued by other nations to Ethiopia. He put this as follows to ENA in Addis Abeba as follows:

ከተለገሱት ምክረ ሃሳቦች አብዛኞቹ ተቀባይነት ቢያገኙም የፀረ ሽብር ህጉንና የበጎ አድራጎት ማህበራት ማቋቋሚያ አዋጅን ሰርዙ የሚሉና መሰል ከዴሞክራሲ ግንባታ ውጭ የሆኑ ጥያቄዎች ውድቅ ተደርገዋል።

While most of the 170 recommendations by the UPR mechanism issued to Ethiopia have been accepted, those that requested the country to cancel or review its anti-terrorism and anti-civil society laws have been totally rejected.

There may be resistance for now, but days would come when Ethiopia realizes its folly, as intensity of domestic resistance to repression forces what we see as popular reaction, which would also pressure those allies of Ethiopia that need to consider their interests.

History speaks on both sides of its mouth of Nero (Nero Claudius Caesar Augustus Germanicus) as both genius and mad emperor of ancient Rome. In his days, Rome won important victories and subjugated its opponents. Rome was also turned into center of highest civilization, diplomacy, trade, and culture.

In 64 A.D., unexpectedly Rome ended up burning. During this time, the famous expression emerged: Nero fiddled while Rome burned. Romans knew he did it on purpose, because he had wanted to build the Golden House, a palace complex known as the Domus Aurea, as a crown to his achievements.

It took the Romans, four years of popular rebellion to chase the master builder of Rome and its civilization away from the throne he so much loved.

People have eyes and ears; they easily recognize when they see the pile of lies, which they consider sign of governance failure because of internal decadence. In history, these are assumed to have led to the shameful collapse of several empires and their civilizations.

No exception here and now.
*Updated with added materials.

(To be continued)

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