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Ethiopia Has a Terrible Human Rights Record - Why Is the West Still Turning a Blind Eye?

Posted: 23/01/2014 11:55

Ethiopia, Prisons, Politics, Eskinder Nega, Corruption, Human Rights, Meles, Prisoners Of Conscience, Zenawi, UK News

Some disappeared, others were given lengthy prison sentences. One thing all thirty men arrested in 2012 in Ethiopia had in common was that they had criticised the state and the policies of the former Premier, Meles Zenawi.

And yet last week Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and a group of Japanese business leaders met with the current Prime Minister of Ethiopia, Hailemariam Desalegn to discuss further support for Ethiopia at "government and private sector level."

The former Meles Zenawi was a staunch supporter of American counter-terrorism policy while at the same time overseeing a country with a violent human rights record. In the eyes of the USA, Ethiopia is strategically situated. Located in the Horn of Africa, next to Somalia, northern Kenya and Sudan, it acts as a buffer zone between the growing Islamic extremism of Somalia and the West. As a result, the human rights violations of Zenawi were ignored.

As one of the first signatories of the UN in 1948, Ethiopia is a Western ally: 11 per cent of its entire GDP comes from Foreign Aid. The US is one of Ethiopia's largest donors: it is estimated that it gave $3.3bn in 2008 alone. The two countries benefited from their close relation: there have been rumours that America hosted "black sites" in Ethiopia; bases where the CIA interrogated undeclared prisoners during the "War on Terror."

But Meles Zenawi died in 2012. The opportunity for a more liberal government was not seized: Zenawi was replaced by Hailemariam Desalegn, described by critics as an "identikit Zenawi" running the country on "auto-pilot". Desalegn is following the same political manifesto as Meles - he hasn't changed one member of parliament.

The arena for debate and discussion is narrowing. Critics argue that Ethiopia is fast becoming a "one party democracy" where there are many parties but the same one wins again and again. Meles spoke to foreign press in 2005 and defended his 97 per cent electoral victory: "In democracies the party with the best track record remains in power." The years since 2005 have seen growing unrest among the Ethiopian population and serious repression against critics of the regime. Human Rights Watch reported that Ethiopia "continues to severely restrict freedom of movement and expression". It adds that "30 journalists and opposition members have been convicted under...vague anti-terrorism laws".

The day before World Press Freedom Day on May 2 2013, the Ethiopian government ruled to uphold the imprisonment of one of its most well-known prisoners of conscience, Eskinder Nega. He was jailed for being a journalist who criticised the government, and yet, by standing up for his beliefs and expressing his basic human right for Freedom of Speech, he earned an 18 year jail sentence.

Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn has denied his release. America and Britain have done little to challenge their ally, so worried are they about creating another enemy in the Horn of Africa. Britain and America have consistently failed to challenge their ally about its abhorrent Human Rights record. Ethiopia flaunts its apathy towards the UN convention of Human Rights, denying opposition members a right to fair trial and repressing people for trying to voice their opinions peacefully.

Ethiopian political repression is worsening. There have been repeated crackdowns against the country's Muslim minority. This has included arbitrary arrests as Muslims make peaceful demands for freedom of worship. Again, critics have voiced concern with the regime. Mehari Taddele Maru, head of the African Conflict Prevention Program at the Institute for Security Studies expressed concern that "if legitimate grievances are not met then there is a risk that extremist violent elements will exploit those grievances to further their own."

The world is waking up to Ethiopia's increasingly poor human rights track record and yet the United States hasn't stopped aid flowing to Ethiopia or threatened the country with sanctions. Japan still tries to conduct business with Ethiopia when instead they should be holding Ethiopia to account.

As a founding member of the UN and an "ally" of the West, Ethiopia must be held accountable for her crimes. If the West does not challenge Ethiopia and demand that it releases its prisoners who have been locked up without fair trial, then notions of democracy and human rights accountability as embedded in the Human Rights Charter look ever more vulnerable-Human Rights globally will be laughed out of the door.

Egypt may take Nile dam dispute with Ethiopia to UN (Al-Monitor)

January 21st, 2014

After all attempts to solve the Egyptian-Ethiopian crisis over the Renaissance Dam at the negotiating table ended in failure after a third round of negotiations on Jan. 4, with Egypt withdrawing from the discussions and conferences being held in Khartoum, there is now talk at the governmental level about internationalizing the issue. At the same time, Egypt is witnessing rising popular demands to resort to the UN Security Council to establish Egypt’s right to veto the establishment of the Renaissance Dam, given the potential danger it represents to Egyptian water security. Khalid Wasif, the official spokesman for the minister of irrigation and water resources, revealed to Al-Monitor that Egypt has “begun to explore international channels for setting up alternative diplomatic and political tracks to ward off the dangers that might afflict the country if the Renaissance Dam is built, in light of the announced specifications of the dam.”

He emphasized, “Egypt will not allow the dam to be built and will move to rally international pressure to prevent it from being funded. Moreover, Cairo will work [to secure] a public declaration by the international community rejecting the dam’s completion, in the absence of [Ethiopian] guarantees that Egypt and Egyptians will not suffer any loss in water security, nor will the other states of the Nile Basin. Egypt has rights guaranteed by international law and agreements, which the Ethiopian side is not respecting.” Wasif added, “According to existing agreements governing the river — which require upriver states to notify Egypt in advance and obtain its consent prior to embarking on any projects that would affect the Nile sources — Egypt’s is the stronger legal position.

Yet, Egypt has nevertheless insisted upon resolving the issue in a friendly manner, through reciprocal dialogue with the Ethiopian side, devoid of any escalation. But the government in Addis Ababa has shown no appreciation for this fact. Thus, Egypt has refused to continue the latest Khartoum meetings, given Ethiopia’s insistence on not providing the necessary guarantees that Egypt’s share of the water supply will remain secure.” Rida al-Dimak, the director of the Center for Water Projects at Cairo University’s Engineering College, told Al-Monitor, “The development of alternative supplies of water must be accelerated, to replace the water that will be lost as a result of the construction of the Renaissance Dam. Foremost among these alternative sources is the exchange of wellspring [water] with the [Democratic Republic of the] Congo, transferring water from the Congo River to the Nile, so as to guarantee that the amount of water available to Egypt remains constant.” Dimak warned against the completion of the Renaissance Dam according to its current specifications, stating that it would constitute a violation of human rights.

The social and environmental effects, he explained, must be taken into consideration whenever a new water project is built, in accordance with inviolable international conventions. Some international reports have confirmed that the Ethiopian dam will result in a shortage of drinking water and destruction of a great deal of Egyptian agricultural land. This, he states, provides the foundation for Egypt’s right to object to the dam in international forums. For his part, former Minister of Irrigation and Water Resources Muhammad Nasr al-Din Allam said in an interview with Al-Monitor that the Egyptian government no longer has any alternative but to move quickly to take steps toward international escalation.

The first of these, he states, should be to lodge an official protest against the government in Addis Ababa, formally declaring Egypt’s rejection of the project. “This right is guaranteed to us by old agreements signed and recognized internationally, and which were conditioned upon notifying Egypt in advance before any Nile-related project was established. This protest ought to be followed by the lodging of an official complaint with the UN to establish Egypt’s position and [remonstrate against] Ethiopian intransigence, as well as to formally demand the formation of an international fact-finding committee to study the points of disagreement between Egypt and Ethiopia.

These points include the dam’s capacity, the period of time needed to fill it, [details concerning its] operation, the project’s unsound and unsafe construction and the lack of rigorous Ethiopian studies demonstrating that the dam is not vulnerable to collapse, something that would have disastrous consequences for both Egypt and Sudan,” Allam noted. Allam stressed the need for Egypt to demand that construction on the Ethiopian dam be halted at once, until the fact-finding committee completes its work. According to Allam, this would require “a period of, at most, three to six months.” Moreover, he added, “A copy of the committee’s report should be brought before the UN, to demonstrate the damage that the dam would wreak upon Egypt, which should then head to the Security Council.

” In an interview with the daily El Fagr on Jan. 9, Ayman Salama, an Egyptian expert in international law, stressed that the Egyptian government would be justified in taking its case to the UN Security Council, even though “one cannot adopt international arbitration to settle the crisis, since that would require the assent of both parties to the conflict to adopt this formulation of crisis resolution.

The Ethiopian government has indicated that it will be highly intransigent on this issue. International arbitration has therefore become extremely unlikely. But Egypt might be able to turn to the Security Council. This, however, would require the preparation of a file containing documented facts of legal and material evidence of the harm that this dam would incur, both to Egypt and to its vital interests. The issue must be shown to threaten the peace and security of the two countries. [If successful], a number of measures could then be taken by the Security Council to compel Ethiopia to meet Egyptian demands.

” Egypt’s National Defense Council has already held an emergency session on Jan. 8, headed by President Adly Mansour and dedicated to reviewing internal developments and the domestic Egyptian security situation. With the irrigation and water resources minister in attendance, the council also examined the latest developments concerning Ethiopia’s Renaissance Dam and the steps being taken on that front to preserve Egyptian water security. It also noted the steps devoted to reducing or eliminating any negative effects that the soon-to-be-built dam might have on Egypt or the other states of the Nile Basin. The council also stressed that Egypt’s water rights must not be squandered, and that it would not accept any undermining of Egyptian national security. These steps, and Egyptian moves toward international escalation and the internationalization of the Renaissance Dam crisis, follow years of Egyptian insistence upon solving the crisis through mutual dialogue at the negotiating table.

How South Sudan’s Leaders Let Down the World’s Newest Nation

Two years after an optimistic beginning, South Sudan's bickering leadership has let down a new nation brimming with hope

When I first landed in Juba in the blazing hot October of 2011, all I could see was the roads. Or, I should say, all I could see was that there weren’t any. With the exception of a few paved arteries, the dusty capital of South Sudan was a patchwork of deeply pitted, stomach-churning dirt paths, and the rest of the infrastructure wasn’t much better. Many residents used untreated water from the White Nile. As for electricity, there was none. Or not much, anyway. My guesthouse, which was also a daytime shelter for at-risk girls, had a few hours of generator power each day, until the diesel stopped getting trucked in, and then that stopped too.

I spent my first days in South Sudan worrying about how the world’s newest nation could move forward without the basics — like roads, or water, or electricity, or, at that point, a functioning constitution. But I soon learned I was missing the point. Sitting one evening at an outdoor eatery where the nation’s elite indulged in cold beers, a new acquaintance from Juba said it was hard for her to understand foreigners’ myopic focus on what was wrong. Just months before, after all, her country had achieved independence, finally closing the book on decades of bloody war with the north, now Sudan. Freedom and self-determination were theirs, and people she knew were thrilled, roads or no. Not long after, as I watched a river barge packed with returning South Sudanese cheering as they floated into town after decades of exile, I saw her point.

The palpable sense of hope in the air that day has dissipated over the past two years as South Sudan has struggled to get on its feet. The fight over the region’s rich oil fields has simmered along the internecine north-south border. Development has been slow. But two weeks ago, what is perhaps the nation’s greatest challenge came back into the spotlight, after President Salva Kiir reported he had foiled a coup attempt by former Vice President Riek Machar. (Kiir dismissed Machar, along with most of the Cabinet, in July.) Fighting between supporters of the leaders, who hail from the ethnic Dinka and ethnic Nuer groups respectively, quickly broke out, and security unraveled around the country. The U.N. says more than 1,000 people have been killed in the ensuing political and ethnic clashes, and tens of thousands more have been forced from their homes. Reports of massacres and mass graves have surfaced. Over the weekend, the U.N. warned that roaming groups of armed youth were advancing on the central town of Bor, potentially adding yet another dimension of violence to the toxic mix.

In Juba, the girls that once crowded my guesthouse courtyard, shrieking with laughter as they washed their school uniforms under the glare of the equatorial sun, have been evacuated to a safer town. Tens of thousands of refugees have sought shelter at a U.N. camp in the capital, and many say they’re scared to leave for fear of being attacked for being Nuer. Ethnic strife is unfortunately nothing new to South Sudan — even as the country battled for independence from the north, it was a fractured fight — but the past few weeks have brought a level of violence that threatens to undo the state. On Dec. 24, because of “rapidly deteriorating security,” the U.N. announced it would nearly double its peacekeeping forces there. In a statement days later, the country’s U.N. special representative Hilde Johnson called upon “the political leaders of South Sudan to order their forces to lay down their arms and to give peace a chance and to do so urgently.”

Does peace still have a chance in South Sudan? Of course it does. But it is a fleeting one. Those who watch the country carefully warn that Kiir and other leaders must act quickly — in a matter of days, they say — to abandon their power-seeking agendas and mend the long-standing ethnic tensions if South Sudan is to avoid a full-blown civil war or, indeed, a collapse. In a country that lacks mature political institutions, its ruling elite must find the will to compromise and achieve consensus within themselves. So far, despite the diplomatic intervention of regional leaders, a truce has not been reached between Kiir’s government and Machar’s rebel forces.

Today when I think about Juba’s roads, I think less about the potholes and more about James Mayul, a man I met shortly before I left the country. Mayul, an entrepreneur, had imported what he said was the nation’s first limousine. It was a 2003 Lincoln Navigator, bought online from a dealer in the Netherlands, with white leather seats, internal disco lights and pretty much nowhere to go. On the surface, it was a questionable investment, but Mayul had a vision. Soon, there would be more roads, and better roads, and more money for people to spend on a night out in their very own limo. In other words, he saw only one thing: potential.

Will South Sudan’s leaders rise to the occasion and act quickly to get peace talks under way? We can only hope they are still thinking back on the first flush of independence when they, too, sensed the possibility of this new country, and that they, too, wanted something more

Nelson Mandela Dead: Former South African President Dies At 95

 Posted: 12/05/2013 4:48 pm EST | Updated: 12/05/2013 5:59 pm EST

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 Former South African President Nelson Mandela, who served 27 years in prison for anti-apartheid activities and led his continent into a new era, has died at age 95.

 South African President Jacob Zuma confirmed the news:

 "He is now resting. He is now at peace," Zuma said. "Our nation has lost its greatest son. Our people have lost a father."

 Born Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela in Transkei, South Africa, the civil rights activist would become the linchpin in South Africans' move to end the country's notorious apartheid regime. The impact of his efforts -- to reconcile generosity with pragmatism and to find the common ground between humanity’s higher values and his own aspiration to power, as journalist John Carlin once described them -- would ultimately reach well beyond South Africa’s borders, and earn him a Nobel Peace Prize in 1993.

 Prior to doing so, however, Mandela earned a Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of Fort Hare, during which time he was elected onto the Student's Representative Council and suspended from college for joining in a protest boycott.

 Mandela was qualified in law in 1942, an accomplishment that would ultimately help him make the kind of contribution to the freedom struggle of his people that he'd reportedly dreamed about since hearing stories of valor by his forebears during the wars of resistance in defense of their land.

 That law degree allowed Mandela to practice law and in August 1952 he and Oliver Tambo established South Africa’s first black law firm, Mandela and Tambo.

 But by Dec. 5, 1955, he would be on the other side of the law following a country-wide sweep by police that would put him and 155 other activists on trial for treason. The case, known as the 1956 Treason Trial, dragged on until the last 28 accused, including Mandela, were acquitted on March 29, 1961.  

During the trial, on June 14, 1958, Nelson Mandela married Winnie Madikizela, a social worker. They had two daughters, Zenani and Zindziswa. The couple divorced in 1996. 

Rising through the ranks of the African National Congress (ANC), initially by way of the organization’s youth wing, which he helped establish in 1944, Mandela was ultimately asked to lead the armed struggle and help form Umkhonto weSizwe ("Spear of the Nation"). 

On Jan. 11, 1962, using the adopted name David Motsamayi, Mandela left South Africa secretly. He traveled the continent and abroad to gain support for the armed struggle. Before returning to South Africa in July 1962, Mandela also received military training in Morocco and Ethiopia. 

His training would hardly be put to use, however. 

In 1964, alongside eight members of the ANC and its armed wing, Mandela stood trial for plotting to overthrow the government by way of violent acts. The following year he was sentenced to life in prison, a term he served until Feb. 11, 1990. 

The would-be South African president spent 18 of his 27 prison years on Robben Island confined to a small cell with the floor for a bed and a bucket for a toilet. During his imprisonment, Mandela was forced to do hard labor in a quarry and was allowed one visitor a year for 30 minutes. 

Jack Swart, who served as Mandela's chef when he was moved to a private house inside the Victor Verster prison compound in 1988, recalled encounters with Mandela on Robben Island, in an interview for PBS Frontline's "The Long Walk Of Nelson Mandela," documentary: 

...We got the order that while they worked in the quarries, we had to keep time on our watches ... of what their resting periods were, because they had to work. [A prisoner] was only allowed to rest or stop working if he wanted to go to the toilet and we had to keep note, and if one, for example, rested too much, then he was charged, and then Mandela was always the man who went to represent them ... they always went to him when there were problems, asked him for advice ... He was always the person, the central person. When they broke for lunch also, they always went to sit with him and talk to him. He was the person who sort of went to defend them when they were charged with a misdemeanor in prison.

 As Swart noted, those years in prison would prove to be transformative, leading Mandela to become the most significant black leader in South Africa and the country's first black president in 1994, the first to be elected in a fully representative democratic election in South Africa. 

During his presidency, from 1994 until June 1999, Mandela used the nation's enthusiasm for sports as a pivot point to promote reconciliation between whites and blacks, encouraging black South Africans to support the once-hated national rugby team. 

Actor Morgan Freeman's portrayal of Mandela in the 2009 film "Invictus," based on events leading up to the 1995 Rugby World Cup, is said to offer a glimpse of the leader's legendary sense of humor, which has also been described alongside his charisma and a notable lack of bitterness over his harsh treatment. 

In addition to his continued fight for the civil rights of his people -- including the creation of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), a court-like restorative justice arm of Mandela’s democratically elected government and a new constitution, which he signed into law in 1996, establishing a central government based on majority rule that would guarantee the rights of minorities -- Mandela worked to protect South Africa's economy throughout his presidency. In 1994, he established the Reconstruction and Development Plan through which the South African government funded the creation of jobs, housing and basic healthcare. 

After his health began to fail -- he was hospitalized in February 2012 for a long-standing stomach ailment -- Mandela returned to the rural community where he was born. 

Mandela’s death comes months afer his 95th birthday on July 18, which his foundation, various charities and businesses vowed to celebrate with a nationwide day of service that includes painting schools, handing out food and books, and running a 41-mile relay marathon in the spirit of Mandela's 67 years of activism and public work. 

Nelson Mandela is survived by his wife, Graca Machel, his former wife, Winnie Madikizela-Mandela and three daughters Pumla Makaziwe, Zenani and Zindziswa Mandela. 

Zuma has ordered that all flags in the nation be flown at half staff from Friday till Mandela's funeral.

 "What made Nelson Mandela great was precisely what made him human," Zuma said in his address. "We saw in him what we seek in ourselves."