(Own report) – Ethiopian human rights proponents pressed charges against the German government yesterday, because of Berlin’s long term support of the regime in Addis Ababa, accused for years of serious violations of human rights. There are sufficient grounds for a “reasonable suspicion” that the German government has committed “complicity in violations of the Völkerstrafgesetzbuch (VStGB – German international criminal code)” declared the Ethiopian Human Rights Committee – Germany and calls on the Office of the Federal Prosecutor in Karlsruhe to initiate the relevant investigations. In fact, over the past few years, Berlin has even intensified its cooperation with Ethiopia, even though government advisors and organizations engaged in development programs have pointed to the Ethiopian regime’s extreme repressive character. German complicity even extends to military support for Ethiopia, which is waging a proxy war in Somalia in support of western interests. Behind this complicity is Ethiopia’s high strategic significance for Berlin’s foreign policy – expounded upon in detail a few years ago by Germany’s ambassador to Addis Ababa.
Yesterday, the Ethiopian Human Rights Committee – Germany declared that it had pressed charges against German Chancellor, Angela Merkel and Foreign Minister, Frank-Walter Steinmeier with the Office of the Federal Prosecutor in Karlsruhe. There are sufficient grounds for a “reasonable suspicion” that the German government has committed “complicity in violations of the Völkerstrafgesetzbuch (VStGB – German international criminal code) in connection with its support for the Ethiopian regime” declared the human rights committee. According to the committee “voluminous human rights reports on the Ethiopian government’s or the Ethiopian security forces’ massive violations of human rights and international law” are available and the German government cannot deny its awareness of these reports. Yet Berlin supports “the Ethiopian regime at the political, technical as well as the police/military levels,” allowing therefore “the initiation of a penal judiciary investigation.”1
In fact, for years Germany has been one of the Ethiopian regime’s closest collaborators. In 2006 the German ambassador to Addis Ababa, Claas Dieter Knoop explained why.2 In a “special report” to the CSU affiliated Hans Seidel Foundation, Knoop wrote that Ethiopia is destined to play a special role in German foreign policy for several reasons. “In light of preliminary, promising discoveries,” the country has a considerable potential in “strategically important raw materials (for example gas, oil and minerals).” In addition, because the source of the “Blue Nile,” furnishing four-fifths of the Nile water volume, is on Ethiopian territory, the country plays a “strategic role” in the precarious North African water supply. But above all, because the security of maritime routes along the East African coastline is “particularly of German interest,” transit from the Indian Ocean to the Red Sea is “of eminent importance” to the export-oriented German economy. Even though Ethiopia is not a coastal nation, it is still considered a regional power in East Africa because of its military weight and, through its intervention in Somalia, it has proven that it is prepared to defend western interests along the East African coastline.3
At the beginning of 2005, the German government significantly intensified its cooperation with Ethiopia along the lines of Knoop’s appraisal. Government negotiations between Berlin and Addis Ababa led at the time to new German support agreements with this East African nation. Germany would send up to 500 “specialists” for “key positions in the Ethiopian industry and administration” 4 declared the GTZ “development” agency at the time. Among these “key positions”, one was for an “advisor” to the Ethiopian speaker of parliament, who, according to the announcement profile, in another German “development” agency, was expected to establish “instruments for sharing experiences internationally (contacts to parliamentarians of other federal states).”5 In 2005, German-Ethiopian cooperation was significantly expanded. The Ethiopian President, Meles Zenawi met with his German counterpart, Horst Koehler, in spite of massive international protests.
Even at that time, it was obvious that Berlin sought this cooperation in full knowledge of Ethiopia’s human rights violations. According to concurring reports, President Meles could only win the elections, in 2005 through massive electoral fraud. The ensuing protests of the opposition parties were repressed with brutal force. Human rights organizations calculate the number of demonstrators killed at 187 and thousands of government critics were incarcerated in prison camps. The government financed Institute of African Affairs in Hamburg reported at the time in an analysis that “the repressive policy of the government had not even spared the leaders of the opposition.” The analysis was recalled soon after its publication – “for revision,” was the reason given.6 The “revision” of the analysis was ordered right at the time of the Meles – Koehler talks – in spite of Ethiopian protests. “With immense shock and consternation” wrote Imru Zeleke, former Ethiopian ambassador to the Federal Republic of Germany, to the German President, at the end of 2005, “I watched Your Excellency and Chancellor Schroeder welcome Meles Zenawi, whose hands are freshly drenched in the blood of Ethiopian men, women and children.”7 In protest Imru Zeleke returned his German Federal Cross of Merit.
Since that time, similar protests by Ethiopian and international human rights organizations have been accompanying a German foreign policy still focused on cooperation with Ethiopia. This cooperation includes the armed forces of both countries, including the training of Ethiopian military personnel in Germany and the export of military communications equipment to this East African country.8 Not even the Ethiopian invasion of Somalia and the brutal warfare in the Ogaden region are preventing the German government from continuing its full scale cooperation with Addis Ababa – including at the repressive level. Berlin is of course aware of the reports on the Ethiopian armed forces’ war crimes. Just one year ago, Human Rights Watch reported on arbitrary executions, torture and the rape of civilians by Ethiopian troops in the Ogaden region.9 And this was not the first and will not be he last report on the criminal activities of Germany’s cooperation partner.
Even the US State Department has reported on serious human rights violations in Ethiopia, including summary executions, persecution of dissidents and journalists and encroachments on basic democratic rights such as the freedom of the press and the freedom of assembly. But Germany refuses to “distance itself” from its support of the Ethiopian regime and its repressive apparatus, writes the Ethiopian Human Rights Committee – Germany, which filed charges against the German government. If the Federal Prosecution would seriously initiate investigations, it would certainly run into conflict with important German interests – not a very good perspective for the outcome of the inquiry and for human rights in Ethiopia.
1 Pressemitteilung des Äthiopischen Menschenrechtskomitees Deutschland; Tübingen, 16.09.2009
2 Anmerkungen zur politischen Lage am Horn von Afrika von Dr. Claas D. Knoop und Dr. Peter Roell; Sonderbericht Afrika der Hanns Seidel Stiftung, Oktober 2006. See also Sonderbericht
3 see also Interests of the Superpowers
4 see also Key positions
5 see also Berater
6 see also Indispensable Rights
7 see also Governance Aspects
8 see also Military Aid for Africa (I)
9 Ethiopia: Army Commits Executions, Torture, and Rape in Ogaden; Human Rights Watch 12.06.2008