2017: Dictators take charge of the UN Human Rights Council, repressive Ethiopia as one of them!

1 Mar

By Keffyalew Gebremedhin The Ethiopia Observatory (TEO)
Today, the prevailing wisdom amongst Ethiopians is that Western support is guilty of rendering the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) – Ethiopia’s ruling party – arrogant. It has emboldened it to determinedly pursue its trademark violent anti-democratic and anti-human rights policies, seen during this past quarter century.

As a not thoroughly-vetted carte blanche political gift, it has strongly and harmfully influenced the course of political history in Ethiopia.

This is not unique to Ethiopia alone. Increasingly, many developing nations are run by dictatorial regimes, most of them told as allies of the West. At times, it looks like as if the sole qualification for membership in such a club is greed of the powerful, being certified anti-people, anti-democratic and anti-human rights. These regimes behave as suits their needs and interests, mostly unlawful or bloody criminal at its worst. This is notwithstanding the prohibitions in the laws of their respective nations, not to mention international human rights laws.

Theorists affiliated with the Royal Institute of International Affairs claim that this is one consequence of the terrorist attack against the United States in September 2011. As a matter of fact, based on case studies of Chad, Ethiopia, Rwanda and Uganda, the findings of these experts has led them to establish a distinct form of Authoritarianism and the Securitization of development in Africa , tying any form of support or development assistance to political and military support to the donor nation(s).

If indeed this assumption is correct, it means that the problem is likely to become a crisis of huge implications going forward. Not only that the national objective of those recipient countries are ignored or pushed to the side. But also this strategy shows that international law and human rights are likely to be seen as anomalies, even as pertains to the rights of citizens. Put simply, international solidarity has lost its lustre, rendered incapable of managing the international system, i.e., no longer capable of serving as an instrument of regional and international diplomacy in the service of peace, justice and development.

In Ethiopia, especially from 2014 – 2016 and continuing to this day, the ethnic minority regime has resorted to utilizing state violence as both its instrument of governance and control. Consequently, the causes of the popular anger are the denial of freedoms, human rights, inequalities, abuses such as land grab, ethnic discrimination and tortures and killings. With the help of the martial law that came into force on October 8, 2016, the TPLF has persisted in home demolitions, while the residents are inside! Alas!

Certainly, there goes out the window one measure of today’s global progress the laws firmly planted in the internationally-established law by the United Nations and its recognition by nations of the right to shelter of individual citizens anchored in many international insturments, including in the 1976 International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR). It is hugely supported and strengthened in many countries by national laws and policy measures!

With the public taking matters in their hands, land seizures were stopped and the so-called Addis Abeba Master Plan cancelled at the onset of the Ethiopian protests. Now it has been revived with Addis Abeba expanding again at the expense of poor and helpless citizens. In February 2017 alone, 300 homes were demolished in two sub-districts of Addis Abeba; and farm seizures are up again. It is this criminal enterprise that has led days ago Jane’s risk analysis to dub these reversals as the most likely cause for denial of Ethiopia the peace the country and the people so richly deserves.

This is one evidence of the failure of the regime’s heavy-handed policies, coming on the back of the martial law that are intended to stamping out the anti-TPLF nation-wide anger and protests. Lately, the nation has heard that this draconian law robbing remnants of the rights of citizens is going to remain in effect indefinitely beyond its six-month initial shelf-life.

In the case of the TPLF’s terrible human rights violations, especially the taking away of lives, the West has limited its reactions to innocuous condemnations, no different from a slap on the wrist. This has surely encouraged the regime to persist on its path of human and societal destructions in Ethiopia.

What is US congressional reaction? None as the collective. However, months ago a group of senators appealed to the president to take action to curb TPLF criminality.

There is also the like of the Republican Party old timer, a long-time TPLF ally such as Senator James Inhofe of Oklahoma. He quietly flew into Addis Abeba last week and reassured the TPLF leaders of continued United States support. The quid pro quo is the TPLF would have to continue its task of stabilizing the Horn of Africa. The deafening cheers in TPLF circles hits one with disbelief and their ignorance.

How could all these TPLF supporters expect it to stabilize the condemned Horn by the actions of dictators, when the Front could not even communicate with citizens at home, save with guns and abductions?

The resort by the regime to state violence for over 16 months, compelling Ethiopia to lurch into a profound political crisis, could not deliver the much-sought containment via militaristic strategy since October 2016, despite its expanse tightly enveloping the whole country.

In other words, instead of engaging the people over their grievances and presenting solutions and fostering consensual relations between civil society and the state, the TPLF since November 2015 has shown preference to intensifying killings, imprisonments, ‘disappearances’ and torturing of citizens in Oromia and Amhara regions in particular.

It is to this cruelty that the people reacted angrily; they erupted into what looked like very well-coordinated collaborative inter-ethnic actions, that later came to be known as #Ethiopianprotests; initially its two component parts were the #Oromoprotests and #Amharaprotests. On the surface, they seemed very well coordinated, pledging their unity with common blood, one to die for the other.

After the State of Emergency Law (martial law), things now seem, in the popular slang, slam dunk, according to the TPLF, meaning it has prevailed. In truth, however, it is only temporarily contained, the fire behind the protesters’ power to revive at any point and consume everything on its path undiminished. Its underlying strength is a dangerous and widely-shared force, based on reality, which is capable in destroying its target. It is a shared popular hatred by the population of the criminal, killer and corrupt TPLF regime.

If the TPLF has truly stamped out the Ethiopian protests, why has it failed to identify, seize and eliminate its death traps, for example, in in Bahir Dar, Amhara Region? Instead, it has chosen to either postpone regional and international meetings, or transferring some meetings to the relative safety of Addis Abeba. The unvarnished truth came out only days ago from Mayor Ayenew Belay of Bahir Dar, who admitted at a public meeting of city residents that there are ghost-like groups operating in his city, the security forces have been unable to identify or apprehend.

Their best solution, as usual, is now to imprison all youths in the city and the surrounding areas!

Regional & international implications

Seen through a wider lense, one gets the sense of major power abandonment of human rights, which thus has deepened in the last several years. Some experts trace its origin to the rise of China, whose Communist Party is equally determined not to lose its power. Others disagree and advance the notion of prevalence of national economic interests that came on the heel of the crisis in the global economy, not ensuring continuing high paying jobs, good income, etc., – in short lack of sustainability especially in the northern hemisphere.

There are also concerns about the fear of terrorism across the globe encouraging new alliances and necessitating odd alliances – to borrow the language DFID employed in its 2011 country cooperation program for TPLF-operated Ethiopia in the context of the the United Kingdom’s relations with the country posing “substantive challenges to sustainable development and reputational risks to partners”, which the cooperation has entailed to the UK.

This abandonment of the human rights dimension in interstate relations had also deluded former UN Secretary-General Bank Ki-moon, when he opened the spring session of the reformed Human Rights Council in 2007. Perhaps inspired by the 1883 words of the poet Emma Lazarus, inscribed at the bottom of the Statue of Liberty in the shores of New York (“Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free…”), the secretary-general promised the victims of human rights violations to flock to “the Human Rights Council as a forum and a springboard for action.” Those words are still on the opening page of the Human Rights Council.

The reality is that today this indeed is not meant to be, as we have seen already two years after the Ban speech in the Council when the much-hyped up Universal Periodic Review (UPR) proved to be the but of dictators’ jokes. The General Assembly and the Security Council became little interested in taking up those deemed worst offenders, judged by their peers and on the basis of the universally-approved United Nations human rights instruments.

While this reality is still with us, there now is a tendency to give up; some are jumping the gun against the just arrived Trump Administration, for all intents and purposes has projected unfriendliness to fundamental human rights. In fact in a predictive conjecture, the media now is tempted to cast the onus on it – all in anticipation to the extent of alleging he has cast the dark cloud now hanging on this most important United Nations body.

For instance, Politico on February 25, 2017 reported “the U.S. considers quitting U.N. Human Rights Council…[accusing it] of unfairly targeting Israel, and Trump aides … questioning its usefulness.”

Human Rights Watch (HRW) has also added its concern, with its criticism of US possible withdrawal from the Council as “misguided and short-sighted.”

The United Nations in distress

It is against this backdrop that the month-long 34th session of the Human Rights Council began last Monday February 27, 2017; its 47 member states are now assembled in Geneva, accompanied by observer states and several non-governmental organizations active in the field of human rights.

This year’s session of the Human Rights Council, therefore, promises to be hugely instructive. The first signal is that the Council is dominated by the largest assemblage of the worst human rights violators on the planet. This range, for instance, from Africa from Burundi to Congo, Egypt, to Ethiopia, Kenya to Rwanda and Togo in Africa.

In short, every region is represented by states from within its region, sitting ready to pass judgment over the human rights behavior of other nations – mostly nations picked for the purpose.

From Asia, there are: China, Iraq, Kyrgyzstan, Mongolia, the Philippines, Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirates. Latin America is represented by Bolivia, Brazil, Cuba, Ecuador, El Salvador, Panama, Paraguay and Venezuela.

Western Europe this year is represented by Belgium, Germany, Netherlands, Portugal, Switzerland, United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and United States of America. Led by the United States, their focus is unlikely to be anything else other than Iran and North Korea.

Of course, as always, the rich and powerful capture media attention. The international media known for its little interest in the Council’s work and, if any, only for merely scratching surface of the problem, are now talking how Saudi Arabia has manipulated regional groups and top UN officials to escape scrutiny of its barbaric actions at this just started session of the Council.

In other words, it has now become common to read news stories accusing the Saudis of shedding Arab blood in Yemen – factually correct though – with no means to tackle the might of a friend with heart of a foe. From faith point of view, I have not heard Muslim nations condemning this haram (“forbidden”), the shedding of Muslim blood, permissible in Hadith 14, only in three instances – “[1] the married person who commits adultery; [2] a life for a life, and [3] the one who forsakes his religion and separates from the community.” It’s not clear how the Saudis and its coalition partners and their allies managed to get their license to kill in Yemen!

The Council at its present session is not likely to take up the massacre of Yemenis by Saudi Arabia, the Saudi royal family being writer of fatter check in voluntary contributions to the UN’s human rights funds.

Turning to the situation in Ethiopia, while the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein was forceful in August-October 2016 with his public tense statements against the massacre of peaceful protestors by the dictatorship in Ethiopia; it has in a similar manner suddenly quieted now for reasons I cannot fathom – surely not the check issue.

I recall writing on this page how ecstatic once I was about the words of the high commissioner. I have in mind specially those of August 10, 2016, which he uttered during an interview with Reuters Stephanie Nebehay, authoritatively claiming: “The use of live ammunition against protesters in Oromiya and Amhara, the towns there of course would be a very serious concern for us.” Was he signaling danger of certified impunity, crimes against humanity…?

Again, on August 19, 2016, he issued a statement, after receiving a TPLF memorandum that seemed to respond to his request about in-country investigation by UN human rights experts. As usual, the TPLF pledged it would investigate itself.

At the time, I remarked on this page: ”

“As far as the TPLF proposal to the high commissioner is concerned, the Front has now moved a meter [long] to accommodate the August 10 OHCHR requests, out of several marathon lengths. For Ethiopians that know the TPLF as the palms of their hands, it is the sly fox once again trying to wiggle out of a difficult situation.”

Then came September 2016. At the Council’s 33rd Autumn session, High Commissioner Al Hussein addressed the Council about his concern in Ethiopia, informing the member states on September 13 that the United Nations is:

“deeply concerned about repeated allegations of excessive and lethal use of force against protesters…enforced disappearances, and mass detentions, including of children, as well as by worrying restrictions on civil society, the media and opposition.”

Notwithstanding that, there has not been any action on the part of the Council, or individual member states, or a small group of interested states taking initiative from within the Council.

Who silenced the UN Human Rights Council on matters relating to Ethiopia? I have no answer to this question. In short, we cannot be clear where the pressure against the TPLF regime is coming from to force the high commissioner to desist from any action forthwith.

Evident, hwoever, is that, after so many peaceful protesters’ lives were lost, including at the Ireecha Massacre at Debre Zeit (see also my letter to the high commissioner), tragically there could not be any discussion within the United Nations about the regime’s criminal actions and the persistence of its egregious violations of the human rights of the Ethiopian people.

Consequently, with the Council being what it’s today, the situation is reflecting the reality of the international community finally persevering in its retreat from the protection of human rights, the pillar objective for the Organization by the United Nations Charter. Of this, Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said opening the Council’s meeting in Geneva: “And that truth is integral to every aspect of the work of the United Nations. Our three pillars of peace, development and human rights are inseparable and they are mutually reinforcing.”

Is the secretary-general personally convinced that the truth is alive and well at the United Nations and the Organization is shouldering its charter-mandated interrelated responsibilities, especially respect around the world of fundamental human rights?

Who else has badly failed the United Nations human rights work?

All nations are responsible, primarily its 47-members that comprise its membership, a third of whom have been there for more than the past six years. Ethiopia, for instance, has been there since 2013, which it intends to keep as long as possible to diffuse from within before things go bad for the TPLF regime.

It is imperative that all Council members accept their responsibilities; all nations have to accept the looming change before the international community, as the most terrifying declaration yet about the end of United Nations system of international solidarity and mutual respect and tolerance between states.

From the Suez crisis to Lebanon, border and water disputes, these had proved potent instruments in the defense of the defenseless, in building collective security and in use in regional and international diplomacy, from which the global community is now turning away.

It would not be lost on all of us, for instance, how this system of peace and security recently prevented conflict and bloodshed in the Gambia in December 2016 and January 2017. It came in handy, when former president Yahya Jammeh of Gambia reneged his acceptance of the December 1, 2016 electoral outcome favoring the newly-installed President Adama Barrow. Neither the Security Council nor the General Assembly could have been as effective.

In keeping with their longstanding tradition, the members of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) easily cobbled up a united front. For a back up, they appealed for the support of the UN Security Council and proceeded to giving the dictator a stern warning of invasion to dislodge him if he did not vacate by the afternoon of a given date.

Instantly, Jammeh was reduced into a thief running away with his toys In other words, he ransacked a poor nation’s treasury and got lost into the darkness loading all the posh cars he had collected with the nation’s resources during his 22 years in power. He joined friend and ally, another dictator in Equatorial Guinea President Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo, who has ruled that country since 1968.


Probably it is important the United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres led the way through the dint of the example of his office. For instance, as a former Chief of the High Commission for Refugees, he would have better insight.

It is unfortunate, however, that I have not heard his office condemning the lashing last week by Sudan of Ethiopian and Eritrean refugees and deporting them back to their executioners.

Such practice, which is a violation of the principle of non-refoulement, not returning asylum-seekers by force, used to be sacrosanct for the United Nations and the traditions of many countries – even to ancien Ethiopia!

UNHCR’s eyes closed and as dead as the Human Rights Council, there has not been reaction thus far in response to this ghastly instance. There is no pronouncement about the plight of the refugees whatsoever, whether they have been executed or sent to the gulags. Isn’t that one more indication of the Council being held hostage by divergent interests, dominated by dictators and the self-interests of others?

When the Mr. Guterres was at the UNHCR, the Kenyan government was and has allowed TPLF security forces to walk into its territory and, like a hyena stealing a lamb, it abducted refugees awaiting settlement in a third country. In like manner, more often than not the Commission was silent.

Unfortunately, perhaps encouraged by that now Kenya does it all the time, abandoning its responsibilities under international law and to the helpless refugees as well.

This has reminded me of the countless Ethiopians that the TPLF has been abducting from Kenya. I recall distinctly in particular the case of a political prisoner by the name Eng. Tesfahun Chemeda and his family’s tears on television. It was alleged that the TPLF bribed corrupt Kenyan police officers and dragged him to Addis Abeba, where in 2013 he killed there in prison.

Should humanity surrender to dictators, who cannot and would not even care to feed their hungry people?

In the case of Ethiopia, the top TPLF leadership and their allies spent three days from February 24-26, 2017 wining and dining at the exclusive Burj al-Arab Jumeirah in Dubai. This is happening at a time of hunger and drought in Ethiopia where at this very moment, according to OCHA, 5.7 million Ethiopians are at risk and the situation likely to worsen!


Are we all condemned?

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