By Keffyalew Gebremedhin – The Ethiopia Observatory (TEO)
I. Security Council seat, a lotto or blackmail?
The dawn of 2016 – more precisely the mid-afternoon of the New Year day – was not as smooth and easy for me like its start under Helsinki’s sunny morning with temperature -4 celsius. This change of mood got me after I read an unpleasant news from Addis Abeba on the ruling party’s media. If indeed the scenario, as reported by the nation’s foreign minister is true and correct, the TPLF has managed to seize the opportunity to make Ethiopia sole candidate for seat in the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) during the 2017-2018 term in a mysterious horse trading with two other East African candidate nations.
At the outset, let me be upfront in stating here that, while aware the elections from the African Group and the Western European and Others Group are uncontested at the General Assembly due to their settling of any disputes and contestations at the Group level before the elections, on grounds of principle and as a person who had served Ethiopia in the Security Council during its second ever term from 1989–1990, among others, as its Deputy Representative on the Council, it is with full awareness of the responsibilities involved against the backdrop of the misbehavior of Ethiopia under the TPLF in this past quarter century, I strongly oppose my country’s candidature.
Having scoured UN and AU official document hubs, for all I know and understand, thus far there is no statement from the two presumed candidates – Kenya and the Seychelles – confirming Foreign Minister Dr. Tedros Adhanom’s claims.
I have made every effort to be careful in everything I state here, in particular making Foreign Minister Tedros Adhanom my sole source of information, given his unsavory reputation, especially his enormous capacity to misrepresent, exaggerate things and, when the need arises, even to fabricate bizarre stories. In that context, recall the link he had established, citing US officials as his source, between Guantanamo prisoners and Ethiopian Muslims struggling for religious freedom and respect – along with the rest of Ethiopians – for their fundamental human rights.
At the same time, while possibly attributable to the AU sleeping on the switch, there hardly is an official notification thus far from the Union notifying the African Group in New York on behalf of the sub-regional group. It is a standing practice to notify United Nations member states in good time for an election that would take place in June 2016 during the resumed 70th session of the General Assembly.
I am not also discounting the possibility that the AU may also be awaiting endorsement of the presumed outcome by the summit of African Heads of State and Government Summit – a futile exercise – which takes place at the end of this month. In regional groups, however, once decision is arrived at the group level, it is also common practice to directly inform member states through a note verbale addressed to the secretary-general of the United Nations, or directly communicating with member states.
For unknown reasons, Ethiopia has not done that thus far, despite the confidence exuded by Foreign Minister Tedros Adhanom about Ethiopia winning by a whopping majority vote of 186 nations. While I can boast to know one of them – Eritrea – he has not been forthcoming to help on the other six that will not cast their votes to the TPLF regime! How he knew about the magic number of 186 is part of the problem I mentioned about his inadequacy and badly wanting personality!
II. Ethiopia, Kenya and the Seychelles candidacies: Possible instances of trampling on UN Charter?
Ethiopian officials are silent on Kenya’s candidature. By all indications, however, Nairobi is still internally tangled by the fallout of the 2007/2008 election, especially the violence perpetrated by individuals the International Criminal Court (ICC) has held responsible, including the country’s present president and vice-president. On account of that, the country remains divided with fresh crisis brewing before next election, as much by its mishandling of the cases of Kenyan leaders’ the ICC has indicted.
The president and Kenya government not fully cooperating with the ICC, his case at present has been off the dock, without the ICC exonerating him of the charges. Therefore, at the moment there is a sense of urgency within the government about not abandoning its vice president William Ruto and broadcaster Joshua Sang to international justice. In all this, no indication has been given that Kenya has renounced its candidacy for the UNSC seat.
Nonetheless, the Kenyan dilemma is that the ICC indictment of its officials is not a situation it can shrug off; nor has it found easy resolution of the problem, according to an opinon by a person close to the situation, whose views he has recently shared on the Daily Nation. And yet, Kenya has not still found way of cleaning the deck, as it should – assuming that its candidacy to UNSC membership is still alive and kicking.
In June 2015, Kenya’s Foreign Minister Amina Mohamed spoke to Kenya’s interest in the Security Council seat, about which she stated: “Kenya has never been a member of the security council and it was time that the country sought the position due to the pivotal role it plays on security in the region.” On this, let me point out with due deference, the foreign minister has it wrong about her country not ever being UNSC member. The fact of the matter is that, like Ethiopia, Kenya had served two terms in in UNSC in 1973-1974 and 1997-1998. Ethiopia served in the Council for the first time in 1967/1968 with great distinction under Lij Endalkachew Mekonnen as its Representative, whose role and calibre brought glory to our country, among others, fighting to get boycott of apartheid South Africa and eventually Ethiopia, along with Liberia, taking the case to the International Court of Justice (ICJ).
The Kenyan foreign minister also added: “The position we are seeking at the UN security council is not linked in any way with the International Criminal Cases facing the President and his deputy at the Hague.” Whatever that means, the fact remains that in May 2015 Kenya’s UN Ambassador Macharia Kamau had in a confidential letter requested “the Security Council to halt the trials” impressing on it that “the prosecutions could destabilise Kenya.”
Again, in a letter Kenya wrote to the president of the Security Council as recently as October 23, 2015, it has made known its frustration over the whole ICC situation, as follows:
- “Kenya regrets to inform the Council that the concerns of Kenya, and indeed of the African Union on this matter remain unresolved to date…The case at the ICC continues to pose serious political and social distraction within Kenya and by extension, continues to undermine the immediate and long term political stability of Kenya and threatens of the sub-region of Eastern and Africa and Horn of Africa,” Kenya’s ambassador to the UN Macharia Kamau wrote to the president of the UNSC as he forwarded the petition by Mr Pkosing [Pokot South MP] David.”
In the circumstances, if at all there is a deal between Ethiopia and Kenya, I submit, the international community’s concern should be whether the plan is to snipe at the ICC using the Council’s, which Kenya must pass to Ethiopia. This helps Kenya to avoid the concern by others – not an entirely misplaced one – that its presence in the Council would be to save its ICC-indictees and eventually bunker the ICC. Recall that this shameful position of African leaders – save Botswana’s – was given boost in Addis Abeba at the AU summit in 2013 in Addis Abeba during Ethiopia’s chairmanship. Therefore, let there be no mistake that underlying the whole exercise of these backhanded deals aims at sparing Kenya’s vice president and possibly Sudan’s Omar Al-Bashir from the ICC dock wotu Ethiopia becoming UNSC’s non-permanent member. For Kenyan officials, they have spoken out that, as shown above, this has become a pressing national agenda, though acting cagey.
Nevertheless, what is not clear is what makes Kenyan officials trust that Ethiopia, if it gets to becoming UNSC member or Rwanda and Uganda from the outside, vocal advocates of Africa for Africans, could either help spare vice president William Ruto or become more successful in nipping the international court out.
Fortunately, notwithstanding conspiracy theorists’ hodgepodge about international intrigues against Africa, on this matter the international community is disappointed by the positon of those AU countries such as Ethiopia, Rwanda and Uganda, which are as much tainted as Kenya in fighting the system of international justice the ICC represents.
As regards, the Seychelles, a country that has been looking for a seat on the Council since 2012, Ethiopian officials have openly stated that Victoria volutnarily has relinquished its chances to Ethiopia. This has aroused strong suspicions about some kind of important deal between the two, or if it were the case of the small island nation, its economy dependent on tourism, blackmailed by the TPLF regime.
Nevertheless, the conspiracy of silence on this is deafening, since the Seychelles has as yet to pronounce itself on the Ethiopian foreign minister’s claim of January 1, 2016 regarding its alleged withdrawal of UNSC membership bid. Nor is there official information on any deal with Ethiopia.
Employing the power of conjecture, however, we recall that the toughest negotiations ‘the pleasure island’ had in recent memory was with Ethiopia; this was regarding the number of weekly Ethiopian Airlines flights to Victoria, or its threats of none at all.
In fact the airlines resumed its flight in October 2014, after a six-month interruption, sending Victoria delegations to scramble in every direction. Even during the interruption of Ethiopian flights to Seychelles, the island nation had made it public that its tourism business was severly affected, tourists from the Americas, China and Europe totally cut off, according to Transport and Home Affairs Minister Joel Morgan.
We have been made aware since December 1, 2015, there have been fresh terms and conditions Ethiopian Airlines has imposed on the Seychelles concerning “discounted fare and other privileges”.
In the light of this, is it possible that there is a covert blackmail to which the island nation has been subjected by the TPLF regime of Ethiopia to save its economy from collapse?
Ethiopians have repeatedly expressed their anger and frustration with the TPLF’s efforts to use Ethiopian Airlines for political purposes, as if it were a personal property for the Front’s strongmen; they have been seen using it as political instrument for their ethnic domination of non-Tigrayan Ethiopians, when it suits them, instead of keeping it just a business enterprise beyond the reach of political interference by the state, policies that have served it well throughout its life, thereby contributing to the national icon’s success since its establishment in 1949.
II: Essentials for membership into UNSC, guidance by the Charter
Ethiopia’s entry to membership in the UNSC at this point could only bring into the Security Council the lethargy of an uncommitted representation to the ideals, goals and visions of the Charter. In fact, the TPLF could use Ethiopia’s membership to promote its self-serving interests rather than the international community’s. That is why, I would insist that the Council be allowed to focus on its work of maintenance of international peace and security, in concert with Articles 24-26, 39-51 of the Charter. This is in the interest of the Organization’s effectiveness and mission bestowed on it by the Charter, which is needed now more than any time before in recent memory.
Each and every member state, north and south, have interest in doing so at this time in particular.
Thinking of this on New Year’s day, I was reminded of the words of Willy Brandt, a statesman, soldier of peace and human solidarity and an intellectual, the part of which I am quoting here from his lengthy introduction to the report of the ‘Independent Commission on International Development Issues’. The commission is a body he launched in 1977, with the UN actively involved, and 18 commissioners drawn from different countries servicing it, including Henry Kissinger, among other intellectuals. They were selected for their vision and capacity to save the world from itself.
Ethiopia’s candidacy has compelled me to turn to Mr. Brandt’s appeal to the international community not to let the ‘abuses of power by élites’, as he put it, and temporary interests of other nations to derail efforts at creating a better world. Brandt laid bare issues of the day then as follows, which unfortunately still are with us today:
- “If we are honest and want to promote international understanding, we should not avoid any serious exchange of views. Waste and corruption, oppression and violence, are unfortunately to be found in many parts of the world. The work for a new international order cannot wait until these and other evils have been overcome. We in the South and the North should frankly discuss abuses of power by é1ites, the outburst of fanaticism, the misery of millions of refugees, or other violations of human rights which harm the cause of justice and solidarity, at home and abroad.”
I am sure that those who have followed events and developments in Ethiopia, especially including the inching by the day of the internal popular resistance against the regime, easily guess how much I have been horrified by the prospect of my country becoming UNSC member at this particular time.
While there are no hard and fast Charter-specific qualifications for membership of the Security Council, over the years informal practices, including specific interests of the powers, have given weight to a candidate’s profile showing participation in United Nations peacekeeping operations and financial contributions to the UN budget, extrabudgetary mainly.
However, this peacekeeping criteria has long been outmoded in an era of securitization of development that I discussed in my article “Case studies: Authoritarianism and the securitization of development – Chad, Ethiopia, Rwanda, and Uganda” of January 30/2015.
The outmodedness of contributions of peacekeeping to UNSC membership is mainly because it has been a long time now since 97-98 percent of the time, manning United Nations peacekeeping operations has become a mission assigned to poor developing countries. In other words, the developed countries no longer participate in peacekeeping operations, save China, although they foot substantial part of the bill and France gets involved from time to time in its ex-colonies in West Africa. Also Beijing is doing it for self-interested reasons, i.e., to protect its growing investments in developing countries, especially in Africa, and also to gain international experience from these operations.
Therefore, as I tried to explain in my article of December 4, 2014 in the context of Ethiopia’s extensive involvement in peacekeeping operations, driven by the United States and United Kingdom, the attraction for most poor countries to join UN peacekeeping operations on one hand is the political cajoling by the big powers, especially the United States (recall President Obama’s speech in Addis Abeba on July 27/2015 during his visit of Ethiopia devoting substantial part of it to Ethiopia’s peacekeeping role). The other attraction is UN’s financial reimbursement for contingent weapons and the relatively better pay for their soldiers.
In a way, in most of these poor countries participation of their troops in UN peacekeeping operation is also considered another way of earning foreign exchange to defense ministries, in Ethiopia in particular. Further, it earns a poor nation the appreciation of the big and medium powers in the West, as well as financial incentives in the form of aid and political and diplomatic support, like the one that has given the TPLF in Ethiopia a pass on all its horrendous human rights violations.
It must be recalled here that in an indirect way, the Charter also has negative factors that affect a country’s eligibility to participate in the UN Security Council, as a non-permanent member. The first that comes to mind is its human rights situation; there is fear that it becomes cause in aggravating its domestic instability and thus a factor in affecting the maintenance of international peace and security. Who would pick today Burundi to become UN Security Council member, or the Central African Republic, whose human rights situations are far worse and their stability a concern of the international community? Ethiopia’s atrocious record on human rights is very well known, well sheltered though by the powers to be.
On of that, the United Nations has poor record of coordination of its activities, i.e., not being able to ensure improvements in its practices so that such nations are not elected, not only into the Security Council, but also in the United Nations Human Rights Council (HRC). For this, of course member states are to blame, while there is no record the secretary-general has raised at any time as a problem in his annual report to the General Assembly On The Work of the Organization.
For instance, last October the United Nations General Assembly elected Burundi to membership of the HRC, a country the High Commissioner for Human Rights has on several occasions reminded the United Nations and member states that it was “on the very cusp of a civil war.” Why should the world cast such judgement on Burundi and not on Ethiopia, the latter of which was also elected along with Burundi and all the same a regime that maintains itself in power with bloodshed and Nazi-type repression?
Just imagine who Burundi and Ethiopia, as members of the HRC and acting as both judges and jury on the Council, what they fight for and who they systematically defend from the Council’s investigations and censures. The point is whether the interests of peoples and objectives of the Charter are upheld by such countries as HRC members, or whether they stand in defense of the violators of human rights, which also has bearings on their interests. We know from the complaints of international human rights organizations how much a major drawback this has become for the Council’s work, as we have seen from the May 6, 2014 Universal Periodic Review (UPR) of Ethiopia and the subsequent substantial criticisms registered.
In that context, I would refresh memories from especially what Ethiopia had done going through its UPR processes in 2014.
On its return home from the May/June 2014 HRC session, the TPLF delegation headed by State Minister for Foreign Affairs Berhane Gebre Christos lied to the public on the national media. In July 2014, he claimed on the Ethiopian News Agency (ENA): “the United Nations accorded the highest regard for Ethiopia’s achievements in the field of human rights”.
In reality, what happened to the TPLF delegation is that it was severly castigated and grilled by members of the Council, especially regarding the violations of the rights of the Ethiopian people with the anti-terrorism and anti-civil society laws of 2009 as the main instruments.
The Council finally adopted several recommendations, calling for the dismantling of these laws to alleviate the fear and injustices the citizens of the country have been suffering from. While the United States has been repressive Ethiopia’s foremost ally, it also joined in the call to exactly do that. Unfortunately, today Ethiopia looks back at the Council with scorn, while continuing to repress and oppress the Ethiopian people.
In brief, the interesting story here is that the United Nations General Assembly, on the powers of the African automatic majority that churns in and out members to United Nations bodies, did not even care to its own name and reputation, when to the dismay of many UN member states and observers, re-elected Ethiopia to membership for the second time on October 28, 2015, among others, along with Burundi, a nation at war with itself.
Such compromises by other nations have hurt the United Nations, the Security Council, the HRC and other vitally important bodies.
Is it not out of such frustration that the second Secretary-General of the United Nations Dag Hammarskjold – the person who had charted the Organization’s path and its evolution and had given it his life – rightly observed in his Annual Report for 1959-1960?:
- “It is my firm conviction that any result bought at the price of a compromise with the principles and ideals of the Organization, either by yielding to force, by disregard of justice, by neglect of common interests or by contempt for human rights, is bought at too high a price. That is so because a compromise with its principles and purposes weakens the Organization in a way representing a definite loss for the future that cannot be balanced by any immediate advantage achieved.”
It is, therefore, imperative that for a country aspiring for a Security Council seat, the state of its domestic security and stability be carefully scrutinized by other member states to ensure that the rights of citizens are fully respected. The limitation, however, is that the UN cannot have an opinion who is elected, since sovereign member states take decision on questions of candidatures. And yet solutions must be found, as since 2013 to 2015 the Organization has been very much hurt by African automatic majority and its ‘brother to brother’ candidature system.
In its Preamble, the United Nations Charter does give succinct and brilliantly summed up four areas of action, which over the years have been translated programmatically and institutionally. These are:
- * “To save succeeding generations from the scourge of war, which twice in our lifetime has brought untold sorrow to mankind, and
* To reaffirm faith in fundamental human rights, in the dignity and worth of the human person, in the equal rights of men and women and of nations large and small, and
* To establish conditions under which justice and respect for the obligations arising from treaties and other sources of international law can be maintained, and
* To promote social progress and better standards of life in larger freedom.”
In concrete terms, these four areas of activities can be aggregated into:
- (a) Peace and security;
(b) Human rights;
(c) The rule of law; and
In concrete terms, these being the primary missions of the Organization and in the interest of member states, they need to be given a mental note, when a nation is asked to give its support for membership by a member state to this committee or that organ of the United Nations.
III: Ethiopian candidacy must be stopped!
In the light of the above, closer and unbiased review would reveal that the TPLF in Ethiopia has been violating each of the four sacrosanct missions the Charter has assigned to the United Nations and its member states, as individuals and the collective.
For the TPLF at this point joining the ranks of other members of UNSC for the 2017-2018 season is an idea that has come late in the day. I presume this is because the Front has been engulfed by the first serious internal strife since it seized power in 1991, which in many respects the public uproar and apathy finds parallel only in the 1973/1974 pre-revolutionary days of Ethiopia.
It took this step because the TPLF must have strongly felt the need to divert the public’s attention from its continuing massacre of students at high schools and universities that still are continuing their self-less struggle, as the peoples of the world read this sordid news in this blog in 184 nations, according to year-end assessment for 2015 WordPress – owner of this blog’s platform has informed me.
The students seem determined to give their lives and thus their protests peaceful and unyielding. This is part two of their operations, after the massacre of over 100 university students in April/May 2014, days before the visits to Ethiopia of Secretary of State John Kerry and Prime Minister Li Keqiang of China. The students’ sources of strengths are the grabbing by the TPLF regime of their parents and relatives’ lands in and around Addis Abeba under the guise of the so-called Addis Abeba Master Plan. This, in a different way, has expanded the application in the country of the Chinese-inspired so-called Industrial Parks and Economic Zones.
For all we know, these have further contributed to the worsening of the country’s human rights situation, the untold inequality and extreme poverty in the face of the regime’s tiresome bravado about double-digit economic growths and poverty reduction, they claim, for a little over a decade now, known to have expanded inequality in the country by the testimony of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) National Report for 2015 on Ethiopia.
The TPLF regime members are known for their rabid hunger for land, as a source of their enrichment, primarily Ethiopia being an agricultural country. Already, TPLF members have seized close to 80 percent of the farmlands in Gambella. They deployed soldiers and evicted traditional communities and indigenous people during the last twenty years, only in 2015 summarily killing over 500 Mezhenger ethnic groups, according to the Human Rights Project in Ethiopia. Similar fate has been suffered by Afar region, as neighboring state to Tigrai, the regime considers its home base.
In Gondar, there has been prolonged bloodshed, due to TPLF incitement of ethnic conflict between Amharas and Wolkaits, Gondar being an adjoining administrative zone to Tigrai. The Front has been hungry to acquire the lands, and force upon the Wolkaites Tigrayan language and culture.
The regime’s crimes are too many; and certainly one cannot compile an exhaustive list in a fast changing volatile situation. For the record, suffice to mention, as discussed above, that these include: massacre of students even when they have been peaceful in their protests, agents of the regime throwing grenade in a place of worship , as happened in Addis Abeba’s Anwar Mosque in mid-December 2015, the slitting of throats of students in a southern university, fire gutting educational institutions, bombs exploding in schools, security personnel seizing female students and subjecting them to rapes, etc.
The regime’s sole intent in intensifying violence by the state on one hand is to intimidate the students to end the protests. The other motive is to get the student protesters blamed for the violence both at home and abroad, although so far it has only worsened its plight by the rejection of parents and residents supporting the student protesters.
The cost to the nation has, however, been too much. The number of students killed so far is estimated to be over 140 in eight weeks, while the number of those that have ‘disappeared’ is not known, although considered to be around 800. Close to 5,000 students and the leaders of opposition parties have been incarcerated. In addition, some individuals are reported to have been subjected to tortures at the notorious Maekelawi Prison in Addis Abeba, as well as in the regions.
Therefore, many Ethiopians strongly feel that their country’s membership in the UNSC is only aimed at subverting the present popular struggle against its oppressive rule and the repressive system. At the same time, the international system would also be affected, Ethiopia transferring its horrendous experiences from the post-reform Human Rights Council that the peoples of the world no longer think it stands in the interest of justice and human dignity.
It is also my seriously considered view that no nation with such horrendous human rights record, undermining the peace and stability of a multi-ethnic state in a volatile region, should be allowed to become a member of the United Nations Security Council. As mentioned earlier, this primary organ of the United Nations is tasked by the Charter to ensure the maintenance of international peace and security.
In 2015, the United Nations turned 70; it is a mature plus age at least in human terms. Without sounding a person in search of perfection, however, I share the view that the United Nations’ maturity and accomplishments, measured against the visions of the Charter, have left many hard to fill gaps.
Over the years, to its detriment, the United Nations has evolved more likening itself to its members. Among the Organization’s problems is the original sin of member states, which denied it independence. This of necessity has pushed it into the arms of the big and medium powers that pay a bulk of its bills.
Of necessity, this has made the United Nations look like one of the departments in the foreign ministries of rich and powerful nations, which have been utilizing their privileged positions to run the world to their liking and interests with the United Nations as their instrument, respect to the Charter predicated to the respective national interests.
While the Charter’s opening words are “We the peoples of the United Nations”, it is no wonder that the United Nations that has evolved in such a world has been faced by lower public perception of its ability to do good job. A 2015 Gallup Daily of public opinion of the United Nations – ‘daily opinions’ – has on average returned 45.2 percent thinking it is doing “good job”. The reading of the chart (below), however, presents a sliding 35 percent performance rate.
Certainly, there is no denying that by no stretch of the imagination can the behavior and performance of the United Nations be considered today consistent with promises of the Charter and the spirit that underlay its founding in some respects in the first place right at the end of World War Two seventy years ago.
Let me state in conclusion that, this ghastly news of the TPLF regime entering the UNSC has come for most Ethiopians, as stated above, in the wake of the regime’s massacres of hundreds of Ethiopians in Oromia and Amhara regions. Oromo secondary school and university students have been killed in cold blood; this is because of their daring to protest – for that matter peacefully – against the policies of the regime, which includes seizing their parents and relatives’ lands around the Ethiopian capital, Addis Abeba, the challenge by the students angering the TPLF members. Land robbery by officials has become common practice. It may submerge Ethiopia, a population of 95 million, into greater conflict.
In light of the four visions/focus of mission the United Nations has iterated, listed above, member states last September agreed and brought into sharper focus in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development what needs to be done. Agenda 2030 expressed the global determination of nations coalescing the pledge “to foster peaceful, just and inclusive societies which are free from fear and violence. There can be no sustainable development without peace and no peace without sustainable development.”
That is why, if it were up to me, I would like Ethiopia’s candidacy not to succeed in this latest bid – until and when the country changes course and atones for the crimes thus far committed as appropriate, i.e., before the country abandons the criminal path – the TPLF has pushed it into in these 25 years.
While it enjoys chieftainship, appointed by the Obama Administration, to those who do not know it, it is a regime seriously menacing the Ethiopian people – possibly in the long run the sub-region itself – simply to satisfy its greed for power and resources.