Home | Press Releases    Sunday 11 December 2005

Advocacy Group calls on Bush to condemn Ethiopian violence, impose sanctions


Ethiopian-Americans for Democracy

Dece 11, 2005 — Ethiopian Americans for Democracy (EAD), a US-based advocacy group today called on US President George Bush to personally speak up against the ongoing slaughter in Ethiopia before it is too late.

EAD also called on Mr. Bush to pressure Zenawi to step down to spare the country further blood shed, and to impose Zimbabwe-style sanctions if he refuses to go.

The group criticized US policy that has closed its eyes to the massive violence unleashed by Prime Minister Meles Zenawi of Ethiopia. According to EAD, Zenawi has effectively marketed himself as the only reliable US ally to fight terrorism in the Horn of Africa, giving him a blank check to hunt down and destroy domestic opponents.

EAD expressed its concern about reports of the US embassy in Addis Ababa undermining the pro-democracy forces and creating divisions within their ranks at a time when their leaders and supporters are in jail.

Other EAD requests to the President included: to push for the visit of prisoners by the Red Cross and Amnesty International; release of all opposition leaders, supporters and journalists; and an immediate halt to government-sponsored violence.

At least 88 civilians have been killed and perhaps as many as 70,000 arrested since the May 15, 2005 elections, according to EAD. Some of the prisoners are reportedly being held in malaria-infested, open-air concentration camps such as the one in Dedesa, southern Ethiopia, according to the group.

EAD said the US was instrumental in bringing the Zenawi regime to power 14 years ago; now it has the moral and practical responsibility to help Ethiopians rid of the regime and to avert a large-scale bloodbath.

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Letter to President Bush

Ethiopian-Americans for Democracy

December 11, 2005

President George W. Bush
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Washington, D.C. 20500

Dear Mr. President,

We are dismayed that the United States has chosen to look the other way as Prime Minister Meles Zenawi hunts down and slaughters innocent Ethiopians. We appeal to you to speak up personally and clearly against the ongoing carnage.

We are also troubled by persistent and credible reports of the US embassy in Addis Ababa working to undermine the pro-democracy forces and to create divisions within their ranks in the guise of promoting negotiations.

The decision to keep the Zenawi regime in power has put the US on a collision course with the democratic aspirations of the Ethiopian people. Many Ethiopians feel let down by a US policy that insists on creating a moral equivalence between a murderous regime and a democratic opposition that is at the receiving end of the regime’s violence.

The US was instrumental in bringing the current regime to power. Ethiopia now is on the verge of a large-scale bloodbath. The US has a moral and practical responsibility to put a stop to the killings, to the reign of terror and to the untold suffering. We are writing to once again call on you to act now and not after the facts. We plead with you to:

- Personally speak up against the state-sponsored terrorism unleashed against the Ethiopian people.
- Ask for immediate visit by the International Red Cross and Amnesty International to all prisons and concentration camps.
- Press Mr. Zenawi to stop immediately the indiscriminate killing, violence and intimidation targeting opposition party leaders and supporters, journalists, civil society leaders and the youth;
- Use your considerable influence to demand the immediate and unconditional release of leaders of the opposition and all other political prisoners, including journalists;
- Impress upon Mr. Zenawi to step down immediately to spare the country further bloodshed.
- Impose sanctions similar to those applied to Zimbabwe — cut off all military cooperation, freeze assets of high officials and party businesses and impose travel restrictions.

We are concerned that a United States preoccupied with Iraq is willing to appease Zenawi because it considers him an important ally in the war against terrorism. The fight of the Ethiopian people for democracy has sadly been viewed as an inconvenience and a nuisance at best. Ethiopians have often been told, in diplomatic lingo, to grin and bear whatever comes their way.

The Zenawi government has gone on the offensive ever since it suffered heavy losses at the polls on May 15, 2005. It has shown absolutely no desire to compromise or share power with the opposition. Instead it has gone on a violent rampage, destroying elected opponents and their supporters.

The US clearly lacks a coherent policy towards Ethiopia. Your diplomats have been reactive instead of proactive. They were caught unprepared by the popular fury against Zenawi and the unprecedented vote for the opposition. They continue to underestimate the intensity of the popular fury against Zenawi and company. In the absence of a better alternative, US policy in the post May 15, 2005 election has been guided by what appears to be improvised, ad hoc decisions.

US diplomats essentially bought into the regime’s definition of the opposition as ingrates and revanchists bent on violence and on upsetting the status quo. There was the initial denial about electoral fraud. Then came the call for “all parties” to abide by the decision of the government-appointed electoral board.

When government forces shot and killed stone throwing demonstrators both in June and November, a confused policy that called on “all sides to refrain from violence” emerged. The victims were blamed for the violence. As Zenawi’s response grew more violent, the diplomats continued to put further pressure on the opposition to enter a parliament in which they had no chance of playing a meaningful role.

Following electoral defeat, Zenawi had hastily changed parliamentary rules to deny the opposition any meaningful role. Senior US diplomats know the regime has no intention of sharing power. It had no such intentions in 14 years.

The diplomats also know full well that joining Zenawi’s parliament has absolutely no impact on advancing democracy in Ethiopia. Yet, incomprehensibly, all the current commotion about “negotiations” revolves around pressuring - and occasionally threatening - the opposition to join parliament.

The US has played down electoral fraud and government-initiated violence. It has applied unrealistic and unethical demands of the opposition. The victims of state-orchestrated violence are told to behave and to play within a “legal and constitutional framework” that does not exist.

Convenience appears to be the one true thread that runs through US policy. US diplomats took the easy way out in the absence of a clear-cut policy. Maintaining the status quo and keeping Zenawi in power regardless of the realities on the ground was the outcome of this policy.

We believe these misguided policies of the US government have sent the wrong signals to the Zenawi regime, resulting in unprecedented killings, mass arrests, concentration camps, house-to-house searches and a general state of terror that now prevails.

Sean McCormack, the State Department spokesman, for example, at the November 2, 2005 briefing put equal blame on the opposition and the government. McCormack’s “balanced” statement was offered on the second day of one of the bloodiest days of the massacre unleashed by the Zenawi government in Ethiopia. At least 46 civilians were shot dead in Addis Ababa alone by the end of that fateful day.

Mr. McCormack said,

“We call on all parties to immediately show restraint ....We deplore the use of violence and deliberate attempts to provoke violence in a misguided attempt to resolve political differences....We call on the opposition to refrain from inciting civil disobedience during this time of heightened tension... violent demonstrations pose a substantial threat to public safety and do nothing to advance democracy... The United States believes that the best way forward for Ethiopia is through full participation of all political groups in the democratic process, including for elected members of the opposition to take their seats in parliament...”
In response to a question whether Ethiopians had a right to civil disobedience, Mr. McCormack responded by blaming the opposition: “there are cynical, deliberate attempts to provoke violence, provoke a violent reaction from the other side and that is what — the heart of what we’re commenting on.”
Zenawi was clearly emboldened by what appeared to be a green light from the US. The killings continued, especially in the countryside and out of public view. The concentration camps that recently were uncovered came in the wake of US reluctance to take a firm stand.
US policy has clearly failed the millions of Ethiopians who stood in line for hours to cast their votes on May 15. This policy of convenience is premised on two false assumptions: 1) the Zenawi government is a force for stability; and 2) there is a legal and constitutional framework for a legitimate opposition to operate.

Zenawi has cleverly exploited US concern with terrorism to keep his party in power and destroy all opposition. In truth, Zenawi and his “liberation front” pioneered terrorism in Eastern Africa. Although Zenawi and company continue to brandish before the US the presumed existence of Islamic radicalism, David Shinn, former US Ambassador to Ethiopia asserts “by and large, the Ethiopian Islamic community is a benign one.” Fighting terrorism is in Ethiopia’s own national interest no matter which government is in power. Ethiopia has been combating terrorism instigated by neighboring countries since the 1960s.

The Zenawi government is now a source of instability. A small group that claims to represent six percent of the population has been reigning supreme over some 70 million Ethiopians for the last 14 years. The heavy-handed, non-transparent and exploitative methods of the ruling party have antagonized the majority of Ethiopians. More bloodshed and instability will follow if this group is allowed to continue to cling on to power.

The regime has been the primary abuser of its own Constitution. Electoral fraud, systematic violations of human rights and extra-judicial killings have been extensive in the last 14 years. These repeated, egregious human rights abuses have been documented by the Department of State, Amnesty International, Genocide Watch International, Human Rights Watch, World Commission of Jurist, among others.

Similarly, the violent manner with which the ruling party dealt with all opposition is extensively documented. There is no rule of law. There is no transparency. There is no separation of powers. The law is what Zenawi says it is. Yet, the US continues to tell the opposition to play by legal and constitutional rules that do not exist.

The Prime Minister changed parliamentary rules as soon as he realized his party was in trouble. He has stacked the system in his favor, rendering all opposition ineffective. But the State Department continues to repeat the virtues of joining parliament. Regrettably, US statements and policies have emboldened Zenawi at a time when he needed to be restrained. The consequences for the Ethiopian people have been dire.

As we write this letter, Mr. Zenawi’s special forces, trained and equipped by the United States and other Western powers are terrorizing a civilian population. The equipment and training supplied to fight terrorism is being used to kill men, women and children. Sophisticated intelligence gathering equipment supplied by the US is diverted to intercept the routine conversations of elected opposition members and to throw them in jail.

Hundreds of civilians have been killed, an unknown number wounded and perhaps as many as 70,000 arrested.

Mrs. Teshome Legesse, the wife of an elected opposition leader, was among the ones shot in cold blood in front of her own children and neighbors, according to reports by the New York Times. Her only crime was protesting the arrest of her husband. A four-month old baby boy was also shot dead in the arms of his mother. Similarly, the wife of a university professor died a few days ago following severe beatings by the police.

The top leaders of the opposition, the Coalition for Unity and Democracy (CUD), and dozens of journalists are among those arrested. They are being subjected to sinister forms of torture designed to break their will. The torture includes solitary confinement, a half-hour break per day outdoors, being kept in dark rooms without electricity and being limited to two bathroom visits in a 24-hour period.

Except for a brief, supervised contact with foreign journalists, an independent body such as the International Red Cross or Amnesty International has not visited opposition party leaders and journalists. They still have not been charged with any crime, although Ethiopian Law stipulates that anyone arrested should be charged within 48 hours or released immediately.

Addis Ababa today is a city under siege. It is a city of fear and terror. Innocent people are picked up in the middle of the night and made to disappear without any trace. The November 17, 2005 issue of the Dutch newspaper NRC Handelsblad describes explicitly the agony Ethiopians are undergoing to find out whether a loved one is dead or alive.

“Desperate Ethiopian civilians have crowded round in front of the offices of the Red Cross and the Ethiopian Human Rights Council in Addis Ababa. They are looking for missing family members who have disappeared without any trace.”

Under Meles Zenawi’s14-year rule it is generally difficult to get exact figures of the dead, as his security forces quickly try to bury them in unmarked mass graves. The British newspaper, the Observer on December 4, 2005, quoting Ambassador Timothy Clarke, the British European Union member regarding atrocities being committed in one of several concentration camp-like prisons far from the capital city, writes:

“We’ve been hearing from Dedesa camp about atrocities taking place. It’s extremely worrying. We have not witnessed anything like this in Ethiopia before.” Upwards of 43,000 prisoners are held mostly outside in the open without any kind of shelter. Some 500 young people are reportedly dead from torture, beatings, hunger, malaria and other diseases. They are being buried in unmarked mass graves.

We are getting more disturbing reports about similar secret concentration camps dispersed throughout the country. These include: Ber Sheleko, Denkoro Chaka, Ziway and Shoa Robit. Genocide of unknown proportions is being committed out of the view of the international community.

The current systematic terror is meant to instill fear in the civilian population. It reminds many Ethiopians of the reign of terror unleashed by the fascist Rodolfo Graziani’s occupation forces in 1937. Graziani’s “blackshirts” went on a three-day killing rampage that especially targeted the educated and the young.

The United States was instrumental in bringing Meles Zenawi’s minority regime to power in 1991. At the time, the US had identified Zenawi and his Tigrai People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) as terrorists (See for example, http://www.tkb.org/Incident.jsp?incID=3981) Yet, the US provided money and much-needed legitimacy to an otherwise obscure terrorist organization.

For the last 14 years the Western world closed its eyes to many horrific reports of human rights abuses and electoral fraud. Reports of abuse fell on deaf ears as most donors wanted to believe they were helping to build a democracy and making a difference.

The ruling group for the benefit of foreign donors maintained a veneer of democracy. In practice, however, any opposition who got in the way of this group was discredited, falsely charged, convicted, jailed or murdered.

Mr. Zenawi’s government, controlled by the Tigrai People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), is a monster created and financed by the Western world willing to believe it was promoting democracy. Ethiopia today is anything but a democracy.

Mr. Zenawi’s small, secretive group was emboldened by Western money and newly gained respectability. Fourteen years later, this shadowy group has grown into one of the wealthiest and most lethal ruling regime in Africa. The result for Ethiopia’s 77 million people has been disastrous.

The “liberation front” has operated very much like a mafia organization. Many of the top leaders are connected by blood or marriage. This tightly knit group controls all land, major business enterprises, the media, the police, the army and the secret services. Any threat to this enterprise is dealt with decisively and violently.

The Western world had been calling on Ethiopians to engage in a peaceful struggle to redress grievances. Consequently, Ethiopia’s democrats bought into the idea of parliamentary contest. They accepted the idea knowing full well the intolerant, violent history of the incumbent regime.

Ethiopia’s opposition had faith in the Ethiopian people’s aspirations for democracy; they also believed the international community’s promise to level the playing field. Unfortunately, the international community has chosen to abandon Ethiopia’s democrats in their hour of need - in the face of electoral fraud and subsequent violence unleashed by the ruling party. Meles Zenawi and his associates are allowed to have their way with those who defeated them at the polls.

Mr. President,

We are also troubled by reports that the US embassy in Addis Ababa is working to weaken the opposition, playing into Zenawi’s hands. It’s no secret that the ruling party has been using its tremendous financial resources, the secret services and the state media to create rifts within the opposition.

We are disturbed to hear that the Embassy has joined the regime in creating divisions among an opposition that has already been cornered and badgered by the full weight of a violent state. Among other things, instead of pressing Zenawi to release the arrested opposition leaders, the Embassy continues to engage in a charade of inviting minor opposition parties to negotiate with the regime.

Meanwhile, the top leaders of CUD along with tens of thousand of their supporters are illegally jailed. Their offices are ransacked and shuttered. Whose interests are these negotiations designed to serve?

Zenawi has already convicted the leaders of the opposition and journalists of treason threatening them with the death penalty. Although they have appeared in court twice, they have not been charged with any crime. A trumped up charge now appears imminent, as the police are coercing those who lost loved ones into signing false documents stating that opposition leaders are responsible for the loss of lives. False charges, supported by fabricated evidence are used to destroy any one who challenges the ruling party.

A double standard dictated by strategic considerations appears to be in play in Ethiopia. What was good for Ukraine, Georgia or Zimbabwe is deemed not good for Ethiopia. Ethiopian democrats are pressured and undermined, instead of receiving encouragement and support. Meles Zenawi, this darling of donors, in truth makes Robert Mugabe look like a boy scout.

If the international community does not stop Meles Zenawi, opposition leaders are likely to spend years in jail as their case drags on through the court system. As the New York-based Freedom House has reported it is not uncommon for political detainees to go back and forth to court for over 10 years.

Freedom House wrote earlier this year,
“The judicial system barely functions, civil society is constricted, and the executive branch of government issues decrees against political opponents and arrests them on dubious charges of corruption or supporting armed rebels. Journalists, academics, and others who question government policies are intimidated and sometimes jailed.”

The Prime Minister controls every aspect of politics and economics in the country. Hence, there will not be any “independent trial,” as Zenawi cannot be counted on to investigate himself. The Prime Minister is the sole interpreter and enforcer of the law. In the past, detainees who were released by the courts have been thrown right back to jail on the orders of Zenawi. The law is only there to serve his Party’s objectives and to destroy political opponents.

After 14 years of fear, despair and poverty, the Ethiopian people had hoped that the West would be on their side - the side of freedom and democracy. There are indications that they may be losing their patience. Mr. Zenawi’s totalitarian rule is shaping up to be the single most destabilizing factor in the Horn of Africa. Ethiopia and the entire region may very well become a vortex of violence and instability if Mr. Zenawi and his minority regime are allowed to stay in power at any cost.

Mr. President,

Ethiopians believed you when you said, “America’s vital interests and our deepest beliefs are now one.... It is the policy of the United States to seek and support the growth of democratic movements and institutions in every nation and culture, with the ultimate goal of ending tyranny in our world.”

In this season of peace, Ethiopia’s millions have no peace. A disaster is in the making in Ethiopia. It is a disaster that can dwarf what happened in Rwanda. As the major backer of the Zenawi regime, the United States has the power to stop this newly unfolding genocide. Once again, we ask you to act now and not after the facts.

- Ethiopian Americans for Democracy
- ethiodemocracy@yahoo.com

- Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice
- Jendayi Frazer, Under Secretary of State for African Affairs
- Donald Yamamoto, Deputy Under Secretary of State for African Affairs
- Vicki Huddleston, Charges d’Affaires, US Embassy, Addis Ababa

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