Where in the World is Ethiopian PM Meles Zenawi?

By IndepthAfrica
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Aug 7th, 2012
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by Mitmita Girls

Like much of the world, including organizations such as the Committee to Protect Journalists, the Mitmita Girls have been spending the past couple of weeks wondering where oh where is our esteemed Prime Minister? Could he be at a Belgian hospital? Is he at a resort somewhere in the islands? Is he emptying out his Swiss Bank accounts? Did he “go long on the euro” and is now regretting it in hiding? Could he be seeking a much needed spiritual guidance at an ashram—constantly thinking of ways to torture your opponents IS mentally exhausting! Is he going to stun us by joining the first ever Ethiopian Men’s Synchronized Swimming Olympic Team? Perhaps he ran away with the circus! Anything is possible!

Meles might be pulling off the greatest disappearance act since Houdini but it has the Mitmita Girls wondering if this is all just subterfuge. Is this melodrama a way to distract us from what is already happening in Ethiopia and whatever other delightful surprises the ruling regime has coming our way?

As a public service, we have decided to keep you abreast of some other happenings related to Ethiopia having nothing to do with Meles’ hide and seek shenanigans. We know you would rather engage in idle gossip, grab some Tej and continue to play a round of “Where in The World is Meles Zenawi?” and while the Mitmita Girls are always game for some mischief making, sometimes, we have to put down that glass of Tela, take out our pens and get to work.

Meles’ absence (whether by death or illness) is a moot issue—he has already set in place policies and rules, which fundamentally alter the future of our country. Unless we continue our work to shift the paradigm towards one of justice and human rights, whether Meles returns or someone else replaces him, his ethnocentric and genocidal policies will remain. Because while you have been busy worrying about your “investments” in Ethiopia, your revered leader has been killing off the opposition, consolidating power and subverting the good work of human rights organizations.

Of course you know all about those developments; obviously Meles’ regime has been trying to “modernize” the country and these are merely byproducts of bringing Ethiopia into this century! Or it the last century? Surely the forced resettlements and migration of people from the Gambella region is for their own good! It’s also good for you and your “investments” in Ethiopia. These lands are the very same ones that the government has leased/is leasing to foreign investors. Never mind that our beloved Ethiopian Security Forces are violating all manners of human rights while forcibly removing the villagers, including raping women. Bah! Those Mitmita Girls are making up things again because they hate Meles so so much! Unfortunately we couldn’t conjure up this gruesome a scenario:

“The lack of available water at the new villages has increased the risk of sexual assault as women are walking longer distances to access water sources. Human Rights Watch is aware of about 20 rapes in three areas, most of which were alleged to have occurred when women were alone or travelling long distances to access water. Most of the rapes were alleged to have involved more than one soldier. Victims of sexual assault with whom Human Rights Watch spoke displayed various visible injuries. There were also multiple interviewees from one village that told us that when the army left after tukul construction, they took with them seven girls to become “their wives.” One eyewitness said: When the soldiers finally left after the construction period they took seven young girls with them “for forced marriage.” They took them back to the Highland areas. I know the girls personally. They were taken right in front of their parents. They did not resist because the soldiers have guns. They were all taken in the same day, just at the end of construction. At the time of the interviews there was no information of the girls having been returned to their village.
(See Human Rights Watch report’s from January 2012).

Aren’t you glad you invested in that land in Ethiopia? We hope you are sleeping well at night, quite confident that it wasn’t your mother, sister, daughter, aunt or cousin who are being forcibly abducted and raped by Meles’ henchmen.

These occurrences are commonplace under a junta that values foreign investment over Ethiopian lives.

In June, the United Nation’s Universal Periodic Review (UPR) released its Mid Term Implementation Assessment for Ethiopia. No doubt you were concentrating on what to wear to your third cousin’s second wedding at the Sheraton and paid scant attention to this report. So, your legal eagles, the Mitmita Girls, have taken the opportunity to highlight some of the salient parts of this report.

You may recall that Ethiopia was initially reviewed in 2009 under the UPR and many groups including the much respected human rights organization, Ethiopian Human Rights Council (renamed the Human Rights Council—we will get into that story a little later) and that troublesome lot of misbehaving women, the Ethiopian Women’s Human Rights Alliance(EWHRA), contributed to that report. You can read the 2009 reports from NGOs here.

Earlier this year, the UPR put out the call for organizations to submit information as to Ethiopia’s implementation of the 160 recommendations that were put forward in 2009. You can just about imagine our delight in getting a version of the final report from the UN: what lies, misdeeds and misfortunes did Arat Kilo report we wondered? You can read the full 2012 report on Ethiopia here.

We have to preface this discussion by commenting about the machinations of the Ethiopian government. The genius of Meles’ regime lays in their ability to co-opt existing human rights mechanism and pretending that they are not only complying with the spirit of these systems but with the actual laws in place. In a way, Meles has a very “American approach” to compliance—lots of bells and whistles but in the end, the emperor still has no clothes. Unlike other “rogue” nations, Meles does not refuse to participate in the United Nations review process. The government responds to requests for information on the human rights situation in Ethiopia. They do not at first engage in dogmatic rhetoric about the futility of participating. Instead, they subvert the work of the NGO through pretense. And while their information is inaccurate, full of omissions and/ or often fabricated, they pretend to respect the process by participating. This gives the illusion that Meles’ regime is playing by the rules and that the government is an actual democracy that provides information on the status of its citizens and its compliance with various international instruments. However, a closer examination of Meles’ response to the inquiry from the UPR, reveals a government very much at odds with its human rights obligations.

Case in point: the establishment of an office of the “Ethiopian Human Right Commission” by Meles. For the uninitiated and by that we mean those who have been living under a rock or are in denial about Meles’ atrocities, the opening of an office of human rights is a positive step. But the Ethiopian Human Right Commission is an arm of the Ethiopian Government and lacks the independence necessary to make it a legitimate agent for holding Meles’ junta accountable for its actions. You don’t have to take the Mitmita Girls’ words for it—here is the United Nations Human Rights Committee’s review of this so-called human rights organization: “… not only was the [Ethiopian Human Rights Commission] not yet compliant with the Paris Principles, but also that it appeared quite inactive given…the fact that it has not made any recommendation regarding existing or new laws, it has undertaken very few investigations on alleged human rights violations, and its recommendations and suggestions following its monitoring of correctional facilities were not implemented by [Ethiopia].”

Well. There you have it! The UN wants to know exactly what has the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission been doing! Moreover, it is not even in compliance with the Paris Principles, which sets out the minimum standards required by national human rights institutions to effectively fulfill their duties. In laymen’s terms, the UN is calling out the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission for being what it is: a sham effort by a sham government to make it look like real work on human rights is being done—again bells and whistles with no substance behind it.

Secondly, the organization’s name, the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission is brilliantly close to the former name of the oldest and most respected human rights organization in the country—Ethiopian Human Rights Council (now known as the Human Rights Council). This creates confusion for both Ethiopians and foreigners, giving the impression that the newly formed and arm of the state, Ethiopian Human Rights Commission and decades old legitimate human rights organization, Human Rights Council, are one and the same. Obviously Meles thinks we are easily fooled: a quick play on a name, an office here and there and we are supposed to genuflect to this alleged grand gesture of establishing a so-called “human rights” organization. That is even more bizarre than a midyear disappearing act!

Third, the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission’s submission to the UPR make it exceptionally clear that it is an appendage of the government. Consider for instance, the issue of the Charities and Societies Proclamation of 2009, the repressive law which has decimated the work of national and international human rights organizations in Ethiopia. Every other respondent to the UPR process, commented on the devastating impact of the law on civil society. Not the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission; on one of the most damaging pieces of legislation to ever be enacted in Ethiopia, this alleged human rights organization was silent. Instead, the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission provided mainly perfunctory responses about progress being made in human rights, citing translations of human rights agreements (because it is important to understand in Amharic what rights you do NOT have) and trainings on human rights given to government officials (ha!). They also included obligatory language about how difficult it is to change society’s view of women “in a country like Ethiopia where the practice is entrenched in the long standing culture of undermining women.” We hate to state the obvious but patriarchy and gender oppression know no boundaries—Ethiopia is not unique in its “long standing culture of undermining women.” The question, is aside from adopting an ominous sounding “Gender Policy with the aim of harmonizing all its efforts to tackle gender based discrimination and promote the rights of women” what has this organization done to promote justice in Ethiopia? The record shows nothing.

So there you have it: while you were busy wringing your hands and saying weyneh weyneh and wondering about the whereabouts of your beloved Melese, the Mitmita Girls have been asking about real absences–those of political prisoners, whether journalists, human rights defenders, attorneys, or simply citizens of Ethiopia who disappear into Meles’ prisons.

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