A Call for Collective Humanitarian Action
The peoples, nations and nationalities in Ethiopia always expected changes and improvements, especially following a regime change. Without going back deep into history, even the most recent replacement of the Dergue regime by the TPLF/EPRDF guerrillas, came with enormous expectations of political and economic freedoms. Unfortunately, that has not happened. If there have been changes that the peoples in Ethiopia have experienced in the last eighteen years, it is only the deepening and worsening of all kinds of crises – social, economic, political, legal, etc. Not only the Ethiopian peoples, but also the whole world, through the eyes of various human rights, humanitarian and development agencies, witnessed extra-judicial killings, kidnappings and disappearances, mass arrests and imprisonments in torturous prison situations, denials and delays of justice, discriminations in resource allocations and implementations, biased educational and development policies, denials of employment and growth opportunities and/or the misuse of such opportunities as coercive political tools, etc.
When analysed, these all point at one core issue both as a cause and an effect – human rights. These all have been consciously designed and systematically executed human rights violations, the results of which have continued to be further violations of human rights.
Consequently, the social crises are becoming deeper and deeper, while the socio-economic gap between the favoured (the politically-affiliated groups and individuals) and the disfavoured is getting wider and wider. For the majority of Ethiopians, life has become unbearable. It has become very difficult even for civil servants, who could be classified as the middle class, to support their families. Some of those favouritisms, discriminations and human rights violations, which are causing such socio-economic crises, are open and policy-based. But, the citizens could in no way express their discontents, dissatisfactions and/or protests, as the system is so suppressive; and if they attempt to do so by crossing the line of suppression, the punishment would be very harsh, as has been witnessed at different times and places in the last eighteen years.
Most of the power abuses, injustices and crimes committed in these regard have been proven by evidences from various local, regional and international sources, particularly from human rights groups and diplomatic agencies. Nevertheless, from among the culprits and the perpetrators, not a single government or party official or institution has been held accountable for what they have committed. The ordinary peoples of various nations and nationalities have been denied political representations, both regional and federal parliaments becoming camouflages built based on revolutionary democracy. As a result, their voices are not being heard, and they have no slightest role in policy and decision-making. The overall situation is very threatening not only to the present but also to the future generation.
What is more, these crises are spilling over to the neighbouring countries such as Kenya, Somalia, Djibouti and the Sudan chasing those who flee their country in an attempt to escape the injustices and human rights violations. Places where they are running to for safety and protection are becoming hell to refugees from Ethiopia in general, and to women and children in particular. They are being subjected to crimes such as child labour, human trafficking, and extra-judicial imprisonments (Please, refer for details to HRLHA’s press releases and urgent actions on: www.humanrightsleague.com).
All that we witness from day to day are very far from allowing us to sit back and watch them happening, multiplying and worsening. They are also becoming too much to be handled with a few hands. The very recent news that the chief engineer of these all crimes, PM. Meles Zenawi and his TPLF/EPRDF party are clearing the way for another five-year term in power by itself is a very powerful alarm that those situations are going to continue unabated, or even worsened. That is why we (the very few individuals in the HRLHA) decided to send out this call for action so that those of us who understand and feel the grievances of our brethrens out there could join hands in fighting on behalf of the voiceless, the defenceless and the powerless.
What HRLHA has witnessed in the last thirteen years is that fighting against human rights violations in countries like Ethiopia is not just a mere advocacy. It is a job of saving threatened and endangered lives of the innocent. Not only that the job is so big and demanding. The extreme suppression, denials of access to sources of information and of the right to exchange information, above all, the silencing of civil society organizations, human rights groups and press agencies in particular by the recently issued Civil Society law, make the activities of monitoring, detecting, investigating and reporting on human rights violations extremely difficult.
For the last two years, since it was re-launched from Diaspora in June 2007, HRLHA operated with volunteer resources. All its personnel in its main office in Toronto, Canada and its reporters in different countries in the Horn have never been paid. They have never asked even for the refund of what they spent for communication, transportation and other related purposes. Except for the very little amount of money contributed by its very few members, HRLHA didn’t receive any financial support from any source in the last two years. But, as everyone has their own personal and family lives to look after, it has become difficult for the HRLHA to pressurize its volunteers to continue to sacrifice. It has also become difficult to recruit other volunteers. Even if it is easy to recruit, it has not been easy to delegate to volunteering manpower as much duties and responsibilities as the job requires. Indeed, most of these volunteers are individuals in exile. The only difference among them is that some have resettled, while some are still on the road with their fates in the hands of a third party (we mean refugees from Ethiopia who are still in the neighbouring Horn of African countries, and who are collaborating with HRLHA).
A Bit about HRLHA
Human Rights League of the Horn of Africa (HRLHA) was formed in June 2007 in Toronto, Canada by exiled members of a human rights organization called Human Rights League (HRL), originally from Ethiopia.
The Human Rights League (HRL), on the other hand, was founded in December 1996 in Addis Ababa/Finfinne, Ethiopia by nationalist Oromos and others from all walks of life. The idea of forming HRL was conceived in URJII newspaper’s office. It was a non-governmental organization established with the aim of not only monitoring the observances of the nationally, regionally and internationally recognized human rights laws, declarations, covenants, and treaties but also promoting them in that country. Although HRL existed only for ten months, it managed to attract hundreds of members and mobilize thousands of supporters, and soon won international attention.
Unfortunately, after ten months of its formation and operation - in 1997, the board members and the executive committee members of the League, including its secretary general, were arrested and sent to prison, its office was ransacked, documents and computers were confiscated and, finally, the office was shut down. Its president, who was on international tour at that moment, remained in exile; later to join his comrades in re-launching HRL from Diaspora.
Those human rights activists faced all kinds of human rights abuses in prison for almost four years, only to eventually be acquitted, as they were all innocent people imprisoned wrongfully.
The Need for HRLHA
Countries in the Horn of Africa, Ethiopia and its neighboring countries, have become homes of widespread human rights violations. The reasons for the abuses are either political, religious, ethnic, gender or all. Even those of the victims who have already fled their homes and homelands as a result of those human rights violations, and ended up in one of the neighboring countries, could not have a safe and secured life as refugees. Because, they are chased after and, in some cases, arrested, sent back and face further persecutions. In the worst cases, they would be killed in the country where they resided. Good cases in point are a mass murder in Bossaso (Puntland, Somalia) in which 65 Oromo refugees were murdered and more than 100 others were injured in February, 2008, and the assassination of two former university students - Endalkachew Teshome and Meles (a Sidama refuge whose father’s name was not know) by Ethiopian security agents in Nairobi, Kenya in November 2007. In this regard, the governments in those countries, especially those who are friendly with each other, cooperate and conspire against refugees. Even those of refugees who managed to avoid the arrests and deportations still face a lot of problems relating to their refugee lives mainly due to lack of adequate knowledge of their rights and responsibilities as a refugee.
Female refugees in particular are the major victims of such problems. In addition to what they share with other fellow refugees, they are exposed to gender, religious and cultural humiliations as well as rape. Actually, such socio-cultural, religious and gender problems were some of what forced them, in the first place, to flee their homelands. These and other similar issues are what necessitated the re-launching of HRL as HRLHA.
HRLHA’s Accomplishments and Their Impacts
In spite of its multiple problems, HRLHA has done a remarkable job in the past two years. It has attempted a lot to cover and bring to light the human rights violations in the Horn of Africa with very limited human and financial resources obtained from its members. It has published and disseminated press releases and urgent actions on torturing, kidnapping, killings, and abductions committed against Oromos and other citizens by government security forces in Ethiopia, Kenya, Djibouti, Sudan, Puntland and Somaliland. It has also traced, investigated and reported on deportations and attempts of deportations of refugees by host governments; and in some cases avoided and/or delayed the deportations. Some of HRLHA’s accomplishments and their outcomes in the past two years are listed below:
Ø Twenty human right abuses were investigated and reported as press releases;
Ø Six urgent actions and one special report (voice of the voiceless from behind the bar) were issued and disseminated;
Ø Research paper under the title “Voice against torture-the case of Ethiopia” was presented at an international conference organized by Torture Abolish Survivors and Service Coalition (TASSC) on June 26, 2009;
Ø Letters of support were issued for refugee claimants whose case were delayed or denied (those reported before by HRLHA).
The Effects of the Reports:
Ø Refugee prisoners were released (from prisons in Djibouti, Sudan and Yemen),
Ø Refugee deportations were delayed (in Sudan and in Djibouti),
Ø Rejected refugee claims were reconsidered,
Ø Managed to attract other (international) human rights groups such as Haman Rights Watch to some relatively complicated issues (e.g. one case in Yemen) so that extra actions could be taken.
We would like to bring to everyone’s attention that all those works were accomplished by volunteered HRLHA staff members in Diaspora and reporters back home as well as in neighbouring countries. HRLHA would like to express its deepest appreciations for their invaluable efforts; and say thank you on behalf of the targeted peoples.
Our Future Plan
In order to effectively and adequately fight the ever worsening deepening human rights violations in Ethiopia and other Horn of African countries, HRLHA has a plan to:
Ø Build its capacity to be more operational and competent
Ø Continue monitoring, detecting, investigating, verifying and reporting on human rights violations against Oromos and other people in the Horn of Africa, and communicating the reports to concerned national, regional, international human rights organizations and others
Ø And, to this effect, open branch offices in the Horn of Africa Countries, priorities being Uganda and Kenya.
We would like to remind each other one more time that this job is too big and too heavy to be handled with a few hands. And we all understand that the peoples back home, on behalf of whom we are fighting, are in no position, particularly politically and economically, to do a lot. That is why HRLHA is turning its face towards those of us who are in Diaspora, who are free to act and react, and who are in a relatively better socio-economic and political situations to participate in saving threatened lives. This is the collective job to be executed collectively; but participations could be personal and in different ways. HRLHA is looking for support, financially or in kind, from organizations and individuals.
For those of us who are willing and ready to participate, let’s thank each other for joining hands for such a common goal of fighting for and defending human rights in order to save threatened human lives.