TPLF claims ‘UN accords its human rights accomplishments highest regard & acknowledgement’, Part II

25 Jul

By Keffyalew Gebremedhin, The Ethiopia Observatory (TEO)

    “Authorities have always recognized that to control the public they control information. The initial possessor of news and ideas has political power – the power to disclose or conceal, to announce some parts and not others, to hold back until opportunistic moments, to predetermine the interpretation of of what is revealed.”

    Prof. Ben H. Bagdikian, The Media Monopoly (1987)


        I. The clash between lies & reality & the inescapable consequences

Part I of this article appeared under the title: Are official lies becoming TPLF’s preferred ways of running Ethiopia? That article’s goal has been to expose the endless lies and political propaganda by the TPLF regime, which in this case relates to what transpired in the morning of May 6, 2014 in Geneva when the United Nations examined Ethiopia’s human rights record under what is commonly known as the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) mechanism.

By so doing, that article and this present one are trying to make known to the world how much political propaganda has become an addiction in Ethiopia, which coupled with official lies and media control have become the major tools of state misadministration and misgovernance of Ethiopia.

In exposing that, the articles are also underlining the importance for states to show respect to international processes such as the UPR. To put it in simple terms, their higher goal is to minimize human distresses wherever, and thereby prevent needless tensions and conflicts within and between nations. If states could demonstrate their commitment to respect human rights, this endeavor is believed to go distances in making contributions toward turning the world into a better and safer place, where human dignity is given utmost respect immensely benefiting the wider society.

The starting point for this hardly is international law (conventions and declarations); rather it is the respect by states of their own laws. Without it, it is foolhardy to expect a state to be more loyal and respect international law, especially human rights laws. This is to say, by encouraging states to show greater commitment to human rights laws and principles within their dominions, mechanisms such as the UPR could serve important purposes, especially in safeguarding helpless peoples under the clutches of ignorant and self-serving rogue elements in power.

Ethiopia’s human rights record was thus investigated by the United Nations in early May 2014 under the auspices of the Human Rights Council (UNHRC) – its 47 member states transformed into a working group known as the the UPR mechanism. Following the open, televised interactions between Ethiopia and the members of the Council, the observations and concerns of member states were finally assembled as conclusions and recommendations and officially distributed to assist the state concerned (Ethiopia) to take appropriate action.

In this draft document, the conclusions and recommendations by states, 170 in total (see para. 155) have been made avaialble to anyone around the world with access to computers, the UPR being an instrument of peer pressure on states by states and citizens around the world.

As usual, nonetheless, feisty Ethiopia has already made known its likes and dislikes about these recommendations, the latter dominating its mortal distaste for respect for human rights. Accordingly, of these 170 recommendations, it has accepted 11 (see para. 156) and rejected 48 of them (see para. 158). Key are its attitude, a flavor of which has already been noted for which the delegation has pledged to 18 others to make known its position to the working group, when the Council reconvenes not later than September 27, 2014.

Nonetheless, the picture is not likely to be made any clearer whether it responded already in May or later in September. The 21-member delegation (see the composition in the annex) was already in Geneva for the UPR with an attitude that seemed to signal its mere participation in the procedure was the most Ethiopia could give and it cared less who said what.

As a first step, for instance, perhaps neatly exposing the insincerity of the regime regarding this international process are those 11 recommendations, which the Ethiopian delegation told the Council members in a public session its full supports and acceptance of them, pointing out that they are already being implemented across the entire nation.

It behooves us to see and raise a basic question whether this indeed is the case. For that, let us first see what the areas these recommendations relate to:

     *   Giving independent observers access to places of detention

     *   Developing programs to combat violence against women

     *   Respecting the rights of all persons to due process of law, particularly the presumption of innocence

     *   Protecting the rights of opposition groups

     *   Removing any structural and institutional impediments that hinder the implementation of the Freedom of the Mass Media and Access to Information Proclamation

     *   universal health care and free primary education

     *   Providing the proper framework for appeals within the 2009 anti-terrorism law to guarantee the respect of fundamental rights.

With a cursory glance, most Ethiopians would confidently say that it is not a prerequisite to be political scientist or sociologist to make an easy mental diagnosis of Ethiopia’s human rights situation and reach a conclusion that is entirely different from what the delegation had told the international community during the UPR. Anyone who could read the papers or listens to the news could fathom that the core of those recommendations constitutes the very point on which the state under the TPLF has opened and been at war against civil society in Ethiopia.

As an anecdote, for instance, recall that a year ago about this time the world heard news about a delegation of the European Human Rights Committee, headed by its Chair Barbara Lochbihler, was turned away by a guard from gate of the notorious Kality Prison in Addis Abeba. It was clear to the delegation that this action was not in concert with the official understanding reached early on with the Ethiopian officials. Understood from this is that Addis Abeba had clear awareness of EU’s concerns about Ethiopian journalists and opposition members jailed under pretenses of the country’s anti-terrorism law and consequently they had interest in visiting prisons to see and understand how Ethiopia treats its prisoners.

After coming all the way down to Addis Abeba and their reaction to this sudden change of mind by the officials was summed up their perception of the human rights situation in Ethiopia, which VOA reports about, quoting the delegation leader and EU Human Rights Committee Chair Ms. Lochbihler:

    “We strongly encourage the government to give more space on the domestic levels for civil society organizations to operate independently and in a meaningful way. We think the restrictive NGO framework should be urgently revised”…

Amplifying this concern further, Parliamentarian Jacek Protasiewicz, a member of the delegation observed:

    “We were more than disappointed. Personally I cannot understand the reasons behind it … Because if you don’t want to show the parliamentarians how people are detained and the conditions in the prisons, it is clearly that something is to be hidden.”

This raises the question now of how Ethiopian officials could hold an untruthful view in connection with the 11 recommendations that they claimed are already under implementation in the country. Yet, in a country where neither family members, nor health worker or lawyers have easy access to prisoners, we see that the first of the 11 recommendations, for instance, is about “Giving independent observers access to places of detention.”

Then there is problem also surrounding the right of prisoners and presumption of their innocence. Another problematic area for Ethiopia is the absence of protection of the rights of opposition groups and the ever shrinking political space in the country. There is also the denial of possibilities for independent activity by civil society organizations. Most of these issues were touched upon during the discord surrounding the desire of the EU delegation to visit Kality prison.

Moreover, in the course of this year, Ethiopians have witnessed too many imprisonments, without charges, and rendered guilty without court pronouncements, as if innocence itself has become crime in Ethiopians.

Therefore, contrary to the delegation’s false claims in Geneva during the UPR, the above discord as manifestation of the existing tension between civil society and the Ethiopian state go far to affirm propriety of the criticisms constantly directed against Ethiopia. These come from diverse sources: the media, researchers in different regional and international institutions and in reports by member states of the United Nations, such as US State Department’s annual human rights report or UK’s foreign office inconsistent touch and go on human rights – almost all of them portraying the Ethiopian state as intolerant and better known for its notoriety for the disregard of its own laws.

It follows from these that both at home and abroad many have constantly pointed fingers as public expressions of their concerns at the lack of commitment by the Ethiopian state to human rights, the rule of law and respect for fundamental freedoms.

Pretense aside, the more the state has been in denial, the more has the human rights situation in the country gotten worse. And the more one closely one reviews Ethiopia’s human rights situation against the backdrop of the above recommendations, the clearer it becomes that the monster is getting ready to cause even considerable damages to Ethiopia as a state, its people and the neighborhood in general.

            II. When lust for political propaganda explodes on the face

State Minister for Foreign Affairs Berhane Gebre Christos – an experienced TPLF foreign relations hand for most of the time since founding of the Front in mid-1970s – used the privilege and opportunity of serving as leader of the Ethiopian delegation to Geneva for a few hours last May to misinform an Ethiopian News Agency (ENA) reporter. As an ENA news item of July 20, 2014 on the subject indicates, he falsely claimed that the UNHRC has accorded Ethiopia “its highest regard and recognition for its achievements in the field of human rights in these past years”.

The Amharic rendition of that claim, in his words, read:

“ኢትዮጵያ ባለፉት ዓመታት በሰብዓዊ መብት ግንባታ ባከናወነቻቸው ተግባራት ከተባበሩት መንግስታት ድርጅት የሰብዓዊ መብት ምክር ቤት ከፍተኛ ተቀባይነትን አገኘች።”

I am inclined to believe that the state minister has done the nation and himself a great disservice quoting himself from his spiced statement, as summed up by the United Nations in paragraph 7, under IA, wherein he stated:

    “Ethiopia has made major strides in the promotion and protection of civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights. It had registered double digit growth for the last ten years and had integrated the goal achieving good governance, rule of law and human rights in the ongoing five-year Growth and Transformation Plan.”

Clearly, the claim to ENA reporter is literally picked up from his presentation. In other words, the UNHCR has not yet adopted any official position on Ethiopia’s human rights records. Not that the recommendations have not such claim, they also are still in draft form – good or bad – as observations/perceptions of the countries that have affixed their names to them in each of the paragraphs. How is it possible for the Ethiopian delegation to show temerity to put words in the mouth of the Organization or other member states? Above all, as indicated above, Ethiopia is also still being awaited to make known positions on certain issues to the Council by September 2014, at the latest.

In the circumstances, one cannot help the conclusion that the state minister has chosen to quote his own statement and the figment of his imagination and impose it on the the people of Ethiopia and the rest of the world as the Council’s position. He is falsely saying to them that the UNHRC has praised TPLF’s “promotion and protection of civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights” of the Ethiopian people.

With this, Ato Berhane Gebre Christos leaves me no option but to disappoint him. Because of such dishonor to the nation, the United Nations and the international process – the UPR – I have to dispute his false claim and state loud and clearly that nowhere in any United Nations document has his propaganda bounced back to become the UNHRC’s position.

Therefore, the first part of my article as well as this second part present challenges to the governance of Ethiopia with lies, misrepresentation and falsehoods. Therefore, as stated above, the two articles’ purpose is to show the world that on something like this, even where there is public record, Ethiopian officials love to deceive and expect dividends from it.

If I am wrong or have misunderstood what he is trying to say, I would kindly request him to explain himself. All that he needs to do is produce source materials for his claim, i.e., – where, when and in what form or document the UNHRC has given Ethiopia such recognition or acknowledgement – notwithstanding it being one of the world’s saddest and cruelest human rights records.

Sordid as that record has been for long time to citizens and friends alike, suffice to quote testimony from perception of theUK’s Department for Development Cooperation (DFID) – the country’s seond largest bankroller – which, within the framework of its Ethiopia country program, described the government’s general “approach to political governance [as causing] both substantive challenges to sustainable development and reputational risks to partners.”

I would have liked the human rights situation in my country to be much more different than it has been for decades or today, which is not likely to be the case, unless there comes some sort of jolting that induces far-reaching reforms. Anyways, in the unlikely event the state minister would see benefit in coming back with further information, I would like to assure him that I remain all ears and eyes for any supporting evidence or explanation to the contrary.

It should be added that, it has already become a cliché to state that we live in a digital age. Nonetheless, its truism gives pride of place to the fact that technology is making contributions toward ensuring that freeloaders cannot get away with official lies and robbery of this sort. It is an amazing time when and where news and information have become mass circulation businesses, at the same time undermining those that seek to prevail through information control and monopoly, keeping people in the dark to achieve their lust with power behind the veil of secrecy.

The internet, mobile phones, video links and the immediacy of twitter, etc., have all made it easier for nations and peoples to know what transpires in any public event anywhere in the world, without waiting for officials to print documents and make their insincere pronouncements. These fruits of human advancements are bustling every minute of the day to serve the cherished values of openness and forcing transparency. Although the companies are profit driven, they have kept on competing amongst themselves each trying to be the first to reach us as their audiences. In a way, this is a giant leap into the democratization of information, on which the TPLF is trying to turn the hands of time to society’s medieval era.

In exposing TPLF’s lies, I bear testimony we have immensely benefited from these gates to information in following up the Ethiopian UPR process and receiving unadulterated information the very same day as it happened. In my case, they have enabled me to write my review and assessment of Ethiopia’s dialogue with other nations, the lies thereon, on its troubled human rights records.

(To be continued…)

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