The House of Commons of Canada Subcommittee on International Human Rights Brief

23 mins read

Prepared by:
Fitsum Achmayelh  Alemu , JD
6161 Fuller Court
Alexandria, Virginia 22310
Fitsumka@aol.com
Submitted on February 11, 2021

The House of Commons of Canada Subcommittee
The House of Commons of Canada Subcommittee

Honorable Members of House of Commons, Ladies, and Gentlemen, and guests:

Thank you very much for giving me this great and historic opportunity.

My name is Fitsum Achamyeleh Alemu. I am an Ethiopian American currently residing in the USA.

On behalf of Ethiopians living both in Canada and the U.S.A, I would like to express my sincere gratitude for Canada’s long-standing support to the advancement of human rights, democracy, and economic development in Ethiopia.

In this brief, I would like to convey to you my concerns about the one-party dictatorship in Ethiopia, the ongoing ethnic conflicts, genocidal acts, illegitimate detentions of opposition leaders, government-sponsored atrocities, killings, and suppression of free speech.

Distinguished Members of this committee,

I believe, the government in Ethiopia is unwilling or unable to stop ethnic cleansing and genocidal acts against Christians, and Amharas in Benshangul Gumuz and Oromia Regional States. The political crisis in Tigray led to a civil war causing civilian deaths. The ongoing crisis in Ethiopia not only caused the deaths of thousands of men, women, and children but also caused the displacement of millions, and refugee crisis for neighboring countries, and political instability in the region. Ethiopians across the globe are deeply troubled about the growing political instability in Ethiopia.

Ethiopia has been ruled by the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Forces (hereinafter called “EPRDF”) since May 1991. It was a coalition of rebel groups. The Tigray Liberation Front (TPLF) was the dominant party of that coalition.  EPRDF elected Abiy Ahmed as its party leader and Prime Minister three years ago. EPRDF changed its name to Prosperity Party (hereinafter referred as “PP”). But TPLF did not join the PP. Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed began ruling Ethiopia by promising a democratic transition after 27 years of political and economic repression.

 Distinguished Members of this committee,

Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed was elected by EPRDF to lead and rescue EPRDF. Some analysts considered him as “the Gorbechev of Ethiopia.” He was the leader of the reformers. The reformers agreed to release political prisoners, allow dissidents to openly participate in the political process, invited armed political groups to enter the country and continue their activism, and promised free media.  As a part of the reform, the Abiy-team named new Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, Ethiopian Human Rights Commissioner, and new Chairman of the Election Board.

However, he failed to initiate constitutional reform; he failed to hold an election in a timely manner mandated by the constitution [1], filled the judiciary and the executive branch with supporters and sympathizers, jailed opposition leaders, like Eskinder Nega, and banned anti-government rallies.

 

 

Dear Distinguished Committee members,

Allow me to talk about Human rights in Oromia, Benshangul Gumuz and Tigray Regions.

In today’s Ethiopia, civilians are repeatedly targeted for killing and uprooting by organized armed groups in collaboration with local and regional officials. The government of Ethiopia itself admitted that around 2.5 million Amharas were missing after a previous census. [2] In the past year alone it is estimated that about 2600 Amharas [3], Agews, and Christians have been killed [4], churches have been burned, about 500, 000 ethnic Amharas have been displaced. [5]

These regional states are governed by the ruling party PP. Even though it has arrested some police officers and security officers and low-level administrators, the government of Abiy Ahmed is unable or unwilling to stop such genocidal acts. Some human rights groups and western media have reported the atrocities, but it did not get so much attention as the crisis in Tigray.

The root causes of these targeted attacks and instability of Ethiopia are the ethnic-based federal and regional constitutions. I believe that the current constitutional system has created regional apartheid systems.  This ethnic-based government system is not based on historical facts or tradition.   For instance, the constitutions of the Oromia [6] and Benishangul-Regional states [7] consider “indigenous” people of the region as only Oromos and Gumuz, Berta, and Shinasha, respectively.  Thus, the “non-indigenous” people within those regions have no political, economic, or cultural rights in their own country. As a result, neither the regional nor the Federal government provides protection for “non-indigenous people”, i.e., Amharas, Agews, and others in their respective regions.

 Dear Distinguished Committee members,

Even though we don’t have sufficient information from an independent source, the “campaign of the government of Ethiopia to catch or kill TPLF leaders” has resulted in a humanitarian crisis. According to UNOCHA, 4.5 million people in Tigray reportedly require emergency food aid [8] . Moreover, 60,000 refugees fled to Sudan.  [9] The total number of internally displaced people in Ethiopia is estimated to be 3.1.  Million. [10]

I believe that Ethiopia has failed in its obligation to protect vulnerable people from ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity.  Thus, it is critical international community and donor countries like Canada take decisive diplomatic and economic measures to protect the susceptible population from further ethnic cleansing and genocidal acts.

 Dear Distinguished Committee members,

Now, I would like to talk about what factors caused the worsening of the human rights situation in Ethiopia.  Several factors affect human rights in Ethiopia.

But I believe the main factors are:

  • The Region’s unique geographical location. Ethiopia has attracted the attention of regional powerhouses and big world powers, like the USA, Russia and China. In this new scramble for the region, the military and civil dictatorial rulers enjoyed the economic, military, political, and diplomatic support from Middle East powerhouses as well as the East and West.
  • A Backward Political Culture.  Ethiopia’s political culture is very backward. A backward political culture disallows debate or the formation of political parties. Where there is no debate, political problems are solved by weapons with the cost of many lives and economic destruction. Most of the politicians in the country do consider their counterpart as an enemy who should be destroyed. “The one who is not with us is against us” – principle is valued here. Therefore, pro-democracy and human rights activists, elites in the law, the academy, and the press, are in unsafe conditions to express their views and help the advancement of this backward political culture. That is why peace processes, mediations, or roundtable talks have failed a lot of times.
  • Religious Intolerance and Violent Extremism are also other factors that greatly contributed to the worsening of human rights in Ethiopia. The government is unwilling or unable to control violent extremists.
  • Armed Conflicts. As mentioned above, a backward political culture is a huge obstacle to healthy political debate. In the absence of debate, political groups wage a war. That is what we see today. It is well known that the current war or “Law Enforcement Campaign”, as it is called by the Government, has caused thousands of deaths and the displacement of millions.
  • Lack of Democracy and Rule of Law. Human rights and Democracy are interrelated. In the absence of democracy, rule of law, and independent judiciary, flagrant human rights violation is a day-to-day phenomenon. That is the case in Ethiopia.
  • Unemployed and Radicalized Youth. The number of unemployed youth in the region is one of the highest in Africa. [11] These millions of unemployed, underemployed, unskilled, and undereducated youth have been manipulated and influenced by many religious or political groups to commit human rights abuses. Experts believe that “unemployed youth are not only victims but also active participants of socio-political instability in the region.”[12][13]

 Dear Distinguished Committee members,

Allow me to say few words about Freedom of Assembly, the Right to Participate in an Election, and the case of Eskinder Nega.

Freedom of Assembly and the Right to Participate in an Election is universally recognized rights. [14 These rights are also recognized by the Ethiopian Constitution [15]. The ruling party “PP” continues to suppress freedom of expression and association. Its actions have been demonstrated through the repeated prohibition of peaceful demonstrations, assemblies, and gatherings called by opposition parties like Balderas and NAMA [16]. Currently, opposition parties do not have equal access to all eligible voters, are not allowed to hold rallies, and are otherwise prohibited from exercising their constitutionally mandated rights. As mentioned above, without the participation of opposition political parties, in the absence of an independent judicial system and an independent electoral commission, political parties can’t contest elections.  Therefore, it would be impossible to conduct a fair, free, participatory, and transparent election when opposition political leaders are in jail or otherwise be prevented from accessing eligible voters.

Since 1991 Ethiopia has never conducted a fair, free, participatory, and transparent election. For instance, the capital city – Addis Ababa- has been ruled by successive Oromo mayors, except for two brief periods when one Amhara and one Tigre mayor was appointed and presided over the city. Almost all of the mayors of Addis Ababa were appointed, except for one or two who “won” a sham election.

 Dear Distinguished committee members,

I am afraid that the forthcoming election lacks transparency and independent institutions to conduct, participatory, fair, transparent, and free elections.  You cannot conduct such an election, when you have more than 3 Million of your people have been displaced [17], you cannot have such an election when prominent opposition leaders like Eskinde Nega is languishing in jail, and you cannot conduct such in the absence of independent judiciary.

For instance, Eskinder Nega and his party, Balderas for True Democracy, have strived for giving power back to the people. Their aim is to ensure that Addis Ababa has an elected mayor.  They demanded the city council election be held in time as stipulated by the constitution.   Addis Ababa did not even see a sham election in the last 7 years. This move of Balderas made Eskinder and his party a number 1 enemy of the Prime Minister and the PP. At one time- in a live television -about two years ago -the Nobel Peace Prize winner – Prime Minister stated that “we are going to war against Balderas”.[18] So, I believe, Eskinder’s arrest stems back to his determination to get Addis Ababa its day for a fair and free election.

Balderas is a legally registered party. It aims to struggle peacefully. The -13 page- charge filed against Eskinder and his colleagues is full of allegations of falsehood, legally allowed activities, and bogus claims. The charges also include acts committed while Eskinder and his colleagues were in jail. Other alleged activities were also mentioned in the charges which fall under free speech and the right to assembly. Moreover, some of the alleged activities that the government claims Eskinder and his colleagues committed did happen while Eskinder and his colleagues were in jail.

Eskinder and his colleagues were beaten and otherwise mistreated while they were taken into custody and during their detention. The government repeatedly asked the court for an extension of time to file charges and conduct preliminary hearings.  Charges were not filed in a timely manner and a Preliminary Hearing was not conducted for 3 months.  In short, they did not get a speedy trial and were not allowed to adequately defend their case.

I believe Eskinder is incarcerated because he exposed the government of its failures to protect citizens from genocidal acts and, most importantly, the government is afraid that it will lose the election if Eskinder and his colleagues were allowed to run for election in Addis Ababa.

In conclusion, this situation in Ethiopia is very Déjà vu, if you will, it is Groundhog Day in Ethiopia. There is a massive displacement, civil war, flagrant human rights violations, genocide acts, and one-party dictatorial rule.

In light of the above and other that may be apparent, I urge you to:

  1. Make human rights central to Canada’s relations with the Government of Ethiopia.
  2. Do everything you can to prevent the usage of Canadian taxpayers’ money for cruel and inhuman activities of the Ethiopian regime
  3. Fund only those projects that improve the lives of ordinary Ethiopians but not those that support the authoritarian regime in Ethiopia.
  4. Demand the government of Ethiopia to immediately and unconditionally release all prisoners of conscience, including Eskinder Nega, Sentyehu Chekol, Askale Demele, Keleb (Aster) Seyoum, and others.
  5. Demand the government of Ethiopia to ensure due process of law and fair trial according to international standards for all detainees.
  6. Demand the government of Ethiopia to ensure a thorough, impartial, and independent investigation of genocidal acts committed in Oromia and Benshangul Regional states.
  7. Demand the government of Ethiopia to ensure a thorough, impartial, and independent investigation of the death of civilians in the Tigray Region.
  8. Demand the government of Ethiopia to ensure that all political detainees are treated humanely in accordance with international and regional standards and Covid 19 protocols.
  9. Demand the government of Ethiopia to recognize and respect the right to freedom of speech, assembly, association, and press.
  10. Demand the government of Ethiopia to facilitate access to humanitarian and human right organizations to Tigray, Benhsangul, and Oromia Regions.

 

I very much thank you,

[1] Article 53 (1) of the Ethiopian constitution  provides “Members of the House of Peoples’ Representatives shall be elected by the People for a term of five years on the basis of universal suffrage and by direct, free and fair elections held by secret ballot., see, https://www.constituteproject.org/constitution/Ethiopia_1994.pdf?lang=en

[2] The report of the head of Ethiopian Statistical Agency, https://www.youtube.com/watch?app=desktop&v=ndSzSPskwAw&t=34s https://ecadforum.com/2015/03/24/three-million-amara-are-missing/ .https://www.reddit.com/r/Africa/comments/as4jmy/the_case_of_the_25_million_missing_amharas_in/Retrieved on February 11, 2021.

[3]  https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2020-09-17/at-least-120-killed-in-ethiopian-ethnic-clashes-this-month, retrieved on September 21, 2020; https://addisstandard.com/news-more-than-20-people-killed-in-fresh-attacks-in-benishangul-gumuz-region/,retrived on October 1, 2020; http://crimewatch.ethioportal.org/link-farm. Retrieved on September 21, 2020

[4] https://news.barnabasfund.org/At-least-500-Ethiopian-Christians-reported-slaughtered-in-relentless-door-to-door-attacks/?gclid=EAIaIQobChMIo-, C56MyM7AIVjeSzCh0VOA_8EAAYASAAEgJJovD_BwE, retrieved on September 21, 2020; https://ethioexplorer.com/atrocities-committed-against-innocent-civilians-in-the-arsi-and-bale-regions-of-ethiopia-dr-assefa-negash/, retrieved on September 21, 2020; https://minorityrights.org/2020/07/22/ethnic-cleansing-oromia/, retrieved on September 21, 2020. https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/africa/ethiopias-week-of-unrest-sees-239-dead-3500-arrested/2020/07/08/8eb30952-c100-11ea-8908-68a2b9eae9e0_story.html, retrieved on September 20, 2020. https://www.seattletimes.com/nation-world/world/watchdog-more-than-80-dead-in-new-massacre-in-ethiopia/. https://www1.cbn.com/cbnnews/2020/september/report-500-ethiopian-christians-killed-in-targeted-genocide-by-muslim-extremists-since-june. https://afro.news/2020/12/24/ethiopia-ethnic-clashes-leave-at-least-100-villagers-dead-in-western-ethiopia/.  Retrieved on February 11, 2021.

[5] https://reliefweb.int/sites/reliefweb.int/files/resources/flash_update_metekel_zone_29_january_2021.pdf. Retrieved on February 11, 2021.

[6] Article 14(6) of The Oromia Constitution,  see, http://www.ethcriminalawnetwork.com/system/files/Lak_1_Bara_1987%5B1%5D.pdf , and Article 2 of the Benshagul Guzum Constitution , see, http://www.ethcriminalawnetwork.com/system/files/BENSHANGULE%5B1%5D.pdf.

[7] http://www.ethcriminalawnetwork.com/system/files/BENSHANGULE%5B1%5D.pdf.Retrieved on February 11, 2021.

[8] https://reliefweb.int/report/ethiopia/finding-path-peace-ethiopia-s-tigray-region-crisis-group-africa-briefing-n-167-11.Retrieved on February 11, 2021.

[9] https://www.aa.com.tr/en/africa/over-60-000-ethiopian-refugees-flee-into-sudan/2101344#:~:text=Following%20conflict%20in%20Ethiopia’s%20Tigray,International%20Rescue%20Committee%20(IRC).&text=Two%20days%20after%20the%20attack,locations%20in%20the%20Tigray%20region. Retrieved on February 11, 2021.

[10] See,  https://reliefweb.int/report/ethiopia/ethiopia-national-displacement-report-6-round-23-august-september2020#:~:text=Ethiopia%20faces%20significant%20internal%20displacement,ethnic%20and%20border%2Dbased%20disputes. Retrieved on February 11, 2021.

[11] See, https://africaupclose.wilsoncenter.org/rethinking-the-relationship-among-youth-unemployment-structural-violence-and-migration-in-the-horn-of-africa/, visited on December 15, 2020.

[12] Ibid.

[13] http://crimewatch.ethioportal.org/stop-human-atrocity-by-ethno-religious-hooligans-in-ethiopia/. Retrieved on September 20, 2020

[14] Article 18, 19 and 21 of ICCPR., see https://www.ohchr.org/documents/professionalinterest/ccpr.pdf

[15] See, Article 30 and 31 of the Ethiopian constitution. https://www.constituteproject.org/constitution/Ethiopia_1994.pdf?lang=en. Article 30:  The Right of Assembly, Demonstration and Petition 1. Everyone has the right to assemble and to demonstrate together with others peaceably and unarmed, and to petition. Appropriate regulations may be made in the interest of public convenience relating to the location of open-air meetings and the route of movement of demonstrators or, for the protection of democratic rights, public morality and peace during such a meeting or demonstration. This right does not exempt from liability under laws enacted to protect the well-being of the youth or the honour and reputation of individuals, and laws prohibiting any propaganda for war and any public expression of opinions intended to injure human dignity.

Article 31: Freedom of Association: Freedom of Association Every person has the right to freedom of association for any cause or purpose. Organizations formed, in violation of appropriate laws, or to illegally subvert the constitutional order, or which promote such activities are prohibited.

[16] National Movement of Amhara, a legally registered political party in Ethiopia.

[17] https://reliefweb.int/report/ethiopia/ethiopia-national-displacement-report-6-round-23-august-september-2020#:~:text=Ethiopia%20faces%20significant%20internal%20displacement,ethnic%20and%20border%2Dbased%20disputes. Retrieved on February 11, 2021

[18] See, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EZ69b8xcpT0. https://addisstandard.com/news-more-than-20-people-killed-in-fresh-attacks-in-benishangul-gumuz-region/,retrived on October 1, 2020; http://crimewatch.ethioportal.org/link-farm.Retrieved on September 20, 2020.