By Keffyalew Gebremedhin, The Ethiopia Observatory (TEO)
If there is truthfulness in Ethiopia today, which has become a rare commodity in the governance system of the mafia operated the Tigray People’s Liberation Front-(TPLF) – still as the system in power – it must be, and it is, the TPLF that should adequately respond to the title question, above. The TPLF’s highest national responsibility in the land, assumed by force and through crookery, should require of the Front to honestly and openly respond whether it wants Ethiopia to survive as a nation.
As usual, if the Front has resolved only to continue to remain in power by any means, i.e, against the wishes of the Ethiopian people, Ethiopians are now saying that has happened since 1991 the past quarter century and that this is not acceptable. Any further continuity of the TPLF would only deepen the tension in the country and unstoppable conflicts would force it in unpredictable direction(s).
It is a matter of commonsense that this would make things worse off for everyone, as is happening now. Put differently, it means that Ethiopians are determined to get rid of the TPLF after exactly 25 years of dictatorship and ruthless killings and denial of freedoms, which has not been of any benefit to the country.
The latest crimes of the regime include the firing of live weapons at peaceful protesters, as happened before and during the weekend of August 6th, 2016 and after, especially in Oromia, which is continuing. This time around, the killing of over hundreds of peaceful protesters has clearly established the regime’s deliberate commission of crimes against humanity, as per the laws of Ethiopia as well as international law, even those Ethiopia has accepted under the TPLF.
TPLF is in killing spree in a changing Ethiopia, as The New York Times acknowledges
The question above in the title, “Is Ethiopia about to crack?” is raised, ironically by The New York Times in its August 12, 2016 edition. That is in view of the country’s uncertainty as of the very moments of the state on August 6 2016 started killing citizens. The article is examining the causes of mass protests in the country against the TPLF regime, titled ‘A Generation Is Protesting’ in Ethiopia, Long a U.S. Ally. It shows extent of how much the rest of the world has been troubled by the TPLF crimes of shooting live ammunition against peaceful protesters, demanding respect for their fundamental human and civil rights.
Since its tragic shift to the right and after it has become thoroughly pro-establishment, this article by the Times probably is reminiscent of its rare insight the paper used to be famous for in the past. In that regard, this article is one of those few exceptions in recent years in the sense of it being free from ideological baggages, i.e., strict advocacy without any balance to benefit United States interests only.
The article is the work of a seasoned journalist Jeffrey Gentleman, who has let the dice fall wherever, and freely. I picked up his signal that he wanted to report on everything as is. This means that Mr. Gentleman was prepared to go where the facts on the ground took him. As a consequence, this has allowed the gravity of a terrible situation and the human conscience and judgement to fall down on the real culprit – the TPLF.
Again, it has been shown repeatedly and by many that the TPLF is an undeserving ally of the United States in a relationship in which America seems to have chosen to sacrifice its longstanding friendship with the people of Ethiopia. Its making has elements of the vintage Bill Clinton-Boris Yeltsin ties, which ignored the Russian people, because of which the relations between the two countries had to suffer known adverse consequences, from which the have hardly healed to this day.
After all, for all we know, the Amhara and Oromo protests are not a run of the mill demonstrations – to borrow dictator Meles Zenawi’s 2005 phrase after he hired the election commission and took control of the electoral boxes. In the same manner, the forbidding TPLF also likes the world to believe its lies right at this very moment. Time and again, it has alleged that mass protests in Ethiopia are organized by foreign forces, terrorists, bank robbers and anti-Ethiopia hooligans – a reference to the Ethiopian diaspora.
It is in response to the mass uprising that the TPLF turned its guns on the protesters; and the country lost hundreds of peaceful citizens in just one weekend. In the ranks of the TPLF victims are young pupils and university students, especially in Oromia, where Agazi mowed down including professionals, such as teachers, pharmacists, writers, fresh university graduates, etc., – I repeat shooting live weapons on unarmed and peaceful protesters.
It is a fact that the TPLF crimes have also visited thousands of innocents and peaceful protestors that to this day are locked down and being tortured in both Amhara and Oromia regions. This violation of rights is also spreading in other regions, where Oromos are residing, for which Gambella is one example, under instruction from the TPLF, taking the lead in arresting Oromo residents of the region. It is no secret that the regime has had a history of being terrorist against non-TPLF member Ethiopians, as it is also a practitioner of terrorism and torture from the moment it set out as a liberation movement in the mid-1970s.Not even the young have been spared from TPLF’s imprisonment of Ethiopians that hold views different from the regime’s. It is also the illegality of this action, prohibited by law that the United Nations Human Rights High Commissioner (UNHCHR) Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein has chosen to demand “any detainee who had been peacefully protesting should be released promptly.”, following the August 6 and 7, 2016 TPLF massacre of Ethiopians imprisonment of thousands of others.
Crime Against Humanity and the laws
By law, to no avail though, the Ethiopian constitution of 1994 in Article 28 clearly speaks of Crimes Against Humanity in the context of:
- “Criminal liability of persons who commit crimes against humanity, so defined by international agreements ratified by Ethiopia and by other laws of Ethiopia, such as genocide, summary executions, forcible disappearances or torture shall not be barred by statute of limitation. Such offences may not be commuted by amnesty or pardon of the legislature or any other state organ.”
Similarly, the Constitutive Act of the African Union (AU), adopted in July 2000 with dictator Meles Zenawi as one of its main actors, in Article 4, under the enumeration of its 16 principles, asserts “(h) the right of the Union to intervene in a Member State pursuant to a decision of the Assembly in respect of grave circumstances, namely: war crimes, genocide and crimes against humanity”.
While no definition of War Crimes Against Humanity is provided in either case, the meaning has been clarified in the case of the Ethiopian Constitution is made clear by the TPLF regime pledging to live by all “international agreements ratified by Ethiopia and by other laws of Ethiopia”. As far as the AU is concerned, the 16 articles of principle in Article 4 of the Constituent Act in the same article make references to all forms of human rights violations, vowing to fight “impunity”. Standard dictionary defines ‘impunity’ as “exemption or freedom from punishment, harm, or loss – example [when] laws are flouted with impunity>.”
Therefore, the AU Constituent Act states as follows:
“(o) respect for the sanctity of human life, condemnation and rejection of impunity and political assassination, acts of terrorism and
In Article 7, the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (ICC) clearly extensively defines Crimes against humanity in the following manner, as applicable to Ethiopia under the TPLF today:
“1. For the purpose of this Statute, “crime against humanity” means any of the following acts when committed as part of a widespread or systematic attack directed against any civilian population, with knowledge of the attack:
(e) Imprisonment or other severe deprivation of physical liberty in violation of fundamental rules of international law;
(g) Rape, sexual slavery, enforced prostitution, forced pregnancy, enforced sterilization, or any other form of sexual violence of comparable gravity;
(h) Persecution against any identifiable group or collectivity on political, racial, national, ethnic, cultural, religious, gender as defined in paragraph 3, or other grounds that are universally recognized as impermissible under international law, in connection with any act referred to in this paragraph or any crime within the jurisdiction of the Court;
(i) Enforced disappearance of persons;
(k) Other inhumane acts of a similar character intentionally causing great suffering, or serious injury to body or to mental or physical health.
Notwithstanding United States attempt to circumscribe the ICC jurisdiction, legal experts have effectively argued “official policy of a non-party state would not be contrary to the principle regarding consent for the exercise of jurisdiction of the ICC over non-party nationals.”
UN makes a welcome noise, but can it act before many more Ethiopians are sacrificed?
On August 10, 2016, the United Nations Human Rights High Commissioner (UNHCHR) Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein did not seem to want to be labeled the man who plays the hush hush game with those that commit crimes against humanity. Under international law, what has been happening in Ethiopia has long been recognized as serious offense and morally and spiritually reprehensible to human decency and the Charter for the United Nations and other international human rights instruments. The Organization’s signatory member states have voluntarily pledged loyalty to those instruments – including Ethiopia – as a founding member of the United Nations.
In terms of background, the high commissioner comes with education in law and training in military science. It would be recalled that he is credited as one of the individuals who has played a central role in the establishment of the International Criminal Court (ICC), where he served as the first president of the Assembly of State Parties to the Rome Statute of the ICC in September 2002.
Moreover, he is also known to have served as a Political Affairs Officer in the United Nations Protection Force in the former Yugoslavia (from its French name, UNPROFOR) from 1994 – 1996, where the international community rushed to save members of that country that has collapsed from human cruelty, such as mass massacres, war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide in the scale witnessed only during the Second World War. It is because of that horror in 1993 the international community established the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) to bring to justice the perpetrators of those crimes.
Looking at Mr. Al Hussein’s August 10 statement he intimated to Stephaniie Nebehay of Reuters in Geneva, in response to the crimes committed by TPLF security forces under the orders of the the Front’s known hardheaded strongmen, I strongly believe, the high commissioner has implicitly accused the Front leaders of their actions likening to crimes against humanity against the people of Ethiopia.
During this interview, belated and cryptic though to the uninitiated, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (UNHCHR) unhesitatingly employed the spirit of those words against the TPLF regime’s shoot to kill policy against protesters, irrespective of their being peaceable and unarmed.
For what it is, we all agree, Mr Al Hussein would have to prove his case why he went to where his legal mind and professional experiences have taken him in asking the TPLF to allow international investigations, which they refused.
Ironically, the language of TPLF’s rejection of international investigation was couched in a such a manner, the TPLF, a regime known around the world for its consistent patterns of murders of citizens, while a wolf should portray itself as the one responsible for the safety of the calf (citizens) – in the language of TPLF spokesperson Getachew Reda. He said, “The UN is entitled to its opinion but the government of Ethiopia is responsible for the safety of its own people.”
For now, High Commissioner Al Hussein needs to be congratulated for becoming the first United Nations senior official in daring to say in public even that much from within the human rights crucible of United Nations efforts and struggles to realize the lofty objectives of the Charter around the world – especially this time against a presumed anti-terrorism ally of the United States,caught redhanded committing crimes against humanity. Ethiopians now have substantial evidences of its authorizing specialized commandoes and sharp shooters of an entire Tigrean crack Agazi force to shoot to kill unarmed and peaceful protesters. It has also incited the commandos under its control to be determined to eliminate the protesters lest they perish, like the former Dergue soldiers.
What is left now is whether the high commissioner has taken such courageous stand for forms sake, i.e., to avoid accusations of double talk, as the first royal and non-Christian, or if he means it.
At the same time, he recognizes that this unbridled state violence situation, with a mix of ethnicity in it in a multi-ethnic nation such as Ethiopia, is full of danger in a volatile region. He knows that it has left many wondering whether Ethiopia could survive this latest of its curses, more particularly the habitual killings of protesters by the regime that the international community has witnessed many of its repeats. Every time, it happened it has led to unimaginably huge losses of lives of Ethiopian citizens in the hands of unaccountable regime.
Here is what the high commissioner said:
“The use of live ammunition against protesters in Oromiya and Amhara, the towns there of course would be a very serious concern for us”.
Ethiopia’s 1994 constitution in Article 30 provides for the right to demonstrate and petition the government. This clearly affirms legality of the protesters’ actions in keeping with the law: “Everyone has the right to assemble and to demonstrate together with others peaceably and unarmed, and to petition.”
On the contrary, it was the Ethiopian prime minister who went against the law, trying to curb constitutionally granted rights by via media
announcement of curtailing this right.
What makes this uprising by the majority members of the Oromo ethnic group is the resistance of the population to the veiled threat by the prime minister, who on August 5, 2016, he said: “The government is aware that the ideas and slogans reflected in the demonstrations do not represent the people of Oromo or Gondar”. Accordingly, he made it clear that, if the said demonstrations are held, they are illegal, adding that they would be dealt with accordingly.
Fully aware from experience what the brutal TPLF regime would do, i.e., if the Oromos went out in a protest marches throughout Oromia, notwithstanding the official threats announced by the prime minister.
Anyone reading this crucial sentence by the man in charge of all human rights issues in the United Nations is saying something of critical importance, as our country journeys through one of this critical period in our history.
The August 6 and 7 Saturday and Sunday of that weekend are equally important in our history. For the first time, Amharas and Oromos put away their differences. Both sides have pledged to put their strength to fight the horribly cruel TPLF regime. More than past criticisms and condemnations, this has terrified the TPLF regime.
One more time, but what is the high commissioner saying?
High Commissioner Al Hussein was implicitly referring to the likelihood of crimes against humanity being committed in Ethiopia during the weekend of August 6 and 7, 2016. Therefore, coming as these words do out of a professional diplomat and a person with huge responsibilities for human rights on behalf of the United Nations system, he knew what he was talking about; these words need not, should not and cannot be taken lightly, since for the first time they address a charge of crime against humanity in Ethiopia.
The United Nations concern about the human rights situation in Ethiopia is very well known and has long history. The violations of the human rights of Ethiopians and killings of young boys and girls under the TPLF, to put it mildly, have become too frequent and that they are the regime’s habit – quite gruesome at that.
Already on January 21, 2016, a group of independent United Nations human rights experts had publicly spoke out
their concerns about the massacre by the TPLF regime of hundreds of Oromos, especially those shoot to kill policy of the TPLF regime that took place in a few months since November 2015.
Human Rights Watch estimates over 400 people were killed at that time, a huge number considered disappeared persons, i.e., eliminated in secret. Notwithstanding its lies in public and on the media, the regime is known to be committed to silence dissent by using lethal force.
In 2014, research by Amnesty International highlighted that Ethiopian prisons are teeming with Oromo prisoners, their estimated number as high as five thousand – highlighting the members of the ethnic group are TPLF’s target of persecution. AI’s report underlines: “Many of those arrested have been detained without charge for months or even years and subjected to repeated torture.”
This repeated massacre of citizens, with no one to answer for, worries United Nations, as it quietly goes about the business of initiating international investigation of these terrible crimes against humanity.
Recall that in January 2016, the United Nations independent experts publicly warned: “The role of security forces should be to protect demonstrators and to facilitate peaceful assemblies, not suppress them.” They thus expressed the fear that this situation in the country could escalate. These experts operate within the United Nations in the following areas, each expert leading the work in his sector referred to as Special Rapporteur, as follows:
(a) the Special Rapporteur responsible to oversee the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association experts are respected;
(b) the Special Rapporteur responsible for the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression;
(c) the Special Rapporteur responsible to oversee respect for the rights of human rights defenders; and
(d) the Special Rapporteur responsible to oversee and report on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, along with its subsidiary Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances.
The independent experts observed, “The sheer number of people killed and arrested suggests that the Government of Ethiopia views the citizens as a hindrance, rather than a partner”. They also expressed their deep concern about allegations of enforced disappearances of several protesters, just as the news reports are also reporting at present, even since the weekend of the 6th and 7th of August 2016, when Oromo and Amhara protesters launched their protest rallies.
Reactions to this horrendous action by the regime have also been witnessed from across the globe how a bunch of former guerrilla fighters, claiming to be a government for a quarter century in the country and a buddy of the United States do this now – if the wide coverage and editorials of the major papers in major capitals and around the world is the measure, as it usually is, especially the killing of unarmed and peaceful protesters.
The international community and crimes against humanity
Regarding these unlawful killings of citizens, torture and war crimes related matters in general, I started collecting materials. On August 9, I tweeted the following:
A brave and principled police commando by the name Tibesso Xaji, about whom I read about in the social media, was shot by his Tigrean commander for refusing to shoot on unarmed youngsters. The youngsters angry at the abusive and corrupt TPLF were loudly shouting to make known their refusal their country to be run by the deceptive brutes, such as the TPLF strongmen. Some day, I hope in earnest, Ethiopians would make it their point of decency to honor this policeman.
This is another good example of crime against humanity, i.e., the shooting of this man lying in the picture, a man-in-uniform in Nekempte, Wollega, who jumped to help a wounded woman. He was considered ‘collaborator with the enemy’ and was shot by an Agazi commando, the picture of whose dead body was circulated in social media.
This cruel act the TPLF has perpetrated against the Ethiopian people has only one name: Ethic cleansing. It is a very well defined and established crime in national, regional and international law, as discussed above.
In Ethiopia, its targets range from those that oppose the Front’s continuity in power to whoever questions whatever illegal things it does. Therefore, in Ethiopia the members of the Amhara and Oromo communities – the two majority and dominant ethnic groups in the country – are considered the TPLF’s mortal enemies. They are targeted and have been made targets of its policy of deliberate oppression and repression.
At the same time, lured by the investment interests of their international companies and the states’ anti-terrorism objectives in the Horn of Africa, the TPLF and our country’s allies now find themselves in the unfortunate position of being on the wrong side of facts and history.
The TPLF and foreign nations have ignored the fact that a combination of the Ethiopian sense of honor and survival instinct has finally kicked in to bring Ethiopians together against the TPLF regime.
That’s why now Amharas and Oromos, the two largest ethnic groups in the country, are resolved in the short-term to make the country ungovernable to the brutes in power. The demands of the Ethiopian people are simple, principled and aim at the peaceful resolution of the country’s dangerous situation.
Ethiopians are requesting in unison their rights to human freedoms, equality in their country to be respected as citizens to live under an accountable system of governance. As part of that effort, strikes are beginning to roll down south, from Gondar to Debremarkos, etc.
The demands of citizens have become a poison pill to the TPLF strongmen, who fear they cannot live without the power to imprison and kill citizens!