By Alemayehu G. Mariam* | 7 November 2010 November is a cruel month. Bleak, woeful, and grim is the month of November in the melancholy verse of Thomas Hood:
No warmth, no cheerfulness, no healthful ease,
No comfortable feel in any member–
No shade, no shine, no butterflies, no bees,
No fruits, no flowers, no leaves, no birds,
And no justice for the hundreds massacred in Ethiopia in November (2005).
No redress for the countless men, women and children shot and wounded and left for dead.
No apologies for the tens of thousands illegally imprisoned.
No restitution for survivors or the families of the dead.
No trace of those who disappeared.
No atonement for the crimes of November.
No absolution for the slaughter of November.
November is to remember.
How Does One Remember the Slaughter of November?
Elie Wiesel, a Nobel laureate and Holocaust survivor, said we remember the innocent victims of evil by bearing witness for them.
For the survivor who chooses to testify, it is clear: his duty is to bear witness for the dead and the living. He has no right to deprive future generations of a past that belongs to our collective memory. To forget would be not only dangerous but offensive; to forget the dead would be akin to killing them a second time. The witness has forced himself to testify. For the youth of today, for the children who will be born tomorrow. He does not want his past to become their future.
For the past three years, I have chosen to bear witness for the hundreds of massacre victims of dictator Meles Zenawi in Ethiopia.1 Wherever evil triumphs, all of humanity is victimized. I have never met any one of the massacre victims of June and November 2005, but that does not matter. I remember each and every one of them. So I bear witness once more on behalf of Tensae Zegeye, age 14; Habtamu Tola, age 16; Binyam Degefa, age 18; Behailu Tesfaye, age 20; Kasim Ali Rashid, age 21. Teodros Giday Hailu, age 23. Adissu Belachew, age 25; Milion Kebede Robi, age 32; Desta Umma Birru, age 37; Tiruwork G. Tsadik, age 41; Elfnesh Tekle, age 45. Abebeth Huletu, age 50; Regassa Feyessa, age 55; Teshome Addis Kidane, age 65; Victim No. 21762, age 75, female, and Victim No. 21760, male, age unknown and hundreds more shot and killed or wounded while protesting stolen elections.2 Once again, I point an accusatory finger at the policemen who pulled the trigger, the invisible hands that pulled the fingers of the policemen who pulled the trigger and the mastermind who orchestrated the whole bloody carnage.
Police Riots: Understanding the True Scope of the Massacres in 2005
There are two astonishing facts about the massacres of June and November, 2005. The first is that the policemen sent out to contain the “disturbances” literally had a riot shooting up anything that moved in the streets. The second is the manifest undercount of the actual fatalities and casualties of the massacres. When an Inquiry Commission was established by Zenawi under Proclamation 478/2005 to investigate post-election “disturbances”, its investigation of incidents was limited to specific dates and places, namely: violence that occurred on June 8, 2005 in Addis Ababa and 2) violence that occurred from November 1 to 10, 2005 and from November 14 to 16, 2005 in identified locations in Addis Ababa and other specifically designated towns and cities outside the capital.
In public presentations, Inquiry Commission Chairman Judge Frehiwot Samuel has indicated that the Commission’s charge prevented it from including evidence of casualties and fatalities that occurred in close proximity to the dates and places set forth in the Proclamation. There is little doubt that a full and comprehensive investigation of the post-election “disturbances” in 2005 would reveal casualty and fatality figures that are many times the number reported in the Commission’s report.
In its investigation, the Inquiry Commission examined 16,990 documents, and received testimony form 1,300 witnesses. Commission members visited prisons and hospitals, and interviewed members of the regime’s officialdom over several months. In the end, the Commission determined3 that the police shot and killed 193 persons and wounded 763 others on the specific dates and in the specific places identified in the Proclamation. Further, the Commission documented that on November 3, 2005, during an alleged disturbance in Kality prison that lasted 15 minutes, prison guards fired more than 1500 bullets into inmate housing units leaving 17 dead, and 53 severely wounded. Commission Chairman Judge Frehiwot commented: “Many people were killed arbitrarily. Old men were killed while in their homes, and children were also victims of the attack while playing in the garden.” Over 30,000 civilians were arrested without warrant and held in detention.
By an 8-2 vote, the Commission made specific factual conclusions about the “disturbances”: 1) The persons killed or wounded during the violence were unarmed protesters. “There was not a single protester who was armed with a gun or a hand grenade (as reported by the government-controlled media that some of the protesters were armed with guns and bombs)”. 2) No property was destroyed by the protesters. 3) The shots fired by government forces into crowds of protesters were not intended to disperse but to kill by targeting the head and chest of the protesters. 4) There was no evidence that any security officers involved in the shootings were attacked or killed by the demonstrators: “Security forces which are alleged to be killed by demonstrators were not taken to autopsy, even there is no evidence of either photograph or death certificate showing the reason of death and couldn’t be produced for police as opposed to that of civilians.”
There is a Certified List of 237 Killers in the Massacres of 2005
In 2008, a “think tank that met regularly at the Ethiopian Embassy in London” commissioned an “internal security study” to counter criticism by various international human rights organizations following the 2005 elections. In a report entitled “Modernizing Internal Security in Ethiopia”4 (see fn. 4 for copy of original study), counterterrorism expert Col. Michael Dewar, British Army (Rtd.) revealed some shocking facts about the federal police, detention facilities and riot control capabilities and procedures in Ethiopia. One of the most surprising facts revealed by Col. Dewars was the existence of a certified list of policemen involved in the massacres. Col. Dewars stated in his report that “after three hours of one to one conversation”, Werkneh Gebeyehu, the Director General of the Ethiopian Federal Police, told him that “As a direct result of the 2005 riots, he had sacked 237 policemen.” The Director General’s admission to Col. Dewars conclusively establishes the existence of a list of names of at least 275 policemen who are prime suspects in the massacres of unarmed protesters in June and November of 2005. These criminals must be brought to justice immediately for prosecution on charges of murder and crimes against humanity.
Understanding the Historic Significance of the Massacres of June and November, 2005
On March 21, 1960, South African police without provocation slaughtered 69 unarmed black protesters in the township of Sharpeville and wounded 180, exposing the savagery of the apartheid system for the world to see. In 2005, security forces loyal to Meles Zenawi slaughtered 193 unarmed protesters and wounded 763 others. As the Ethiopian protesters were “targeted in the head and chest” and shot, as documented by the Inquiry Commission, nearly all of the black South Africans in Sharpeville were shot in the back as they tried to flee the scene. The Sharpeville incident played a decisive role in the ultimate dismantling of apartheid rule in South Africa over three decades later.
Sharpeville and the massacres in Ethiopia were not random events. Both the apartheid and Zenawi’s regimes used cold blooded massacres as a deliberate tactic to ruthlessly crush and wipe out all political opposition. It was their way of saying that they will do anything to stay in power. The Sharpeville massacre was intended to “teach the kaffirs a lesson” they will not forget. Zenawi intended to teach his opposition a lesson they will not forget by indiscriminately massacring men, women and children in the streets or in their homes, as the Inquiry Commission has documented. It was a deliberate and calculated act designed to break the backbone of the opposition and make sure that no opposition will ever rise again.
It is characteristic of dictatorships to massacre their opposition as a demonstration of strength. History, however, shows that massacres are often manifestations of weakness, vulnerability and fear of popular uprising by oppressive regimes. South Africans were not intimidated by the Sharpeville massacre; they came out in full force to challenge the pass laws in every major city in South Africa as the masters of apartheid unleashed unspeakable violence against them. Sharpeville caused the apartheid regime to intensify its repression by tightening the pass laws (pass books required for black South Africans to travel within their country) and rigidly enforcing regulations to keep black South Africans in the Bantustans (black African “homelands” or “reservations”). Sharpeville also stoked the imagination of black South African youth and energized and inspired all freedom-loving South Africans to fight against apartheid with determination.
Following the 2005 elections, Zenawi went on a rampage. He jailed nearly all of the leading opposition leaders, civic society organizers, human rights advocates and journalists in the country on trumped up treason charges. He passed “laws” clamping down on independent journalists and newspapers and criminalized civil society institutions. Zenawi even jailed and put in prolonged solitary confinement Birtukan Midekssa, a young woman — indeed a highly respected former judge, learned lawyer and a much admired and loved opposition leader — openly and unequivocally committed to peaceful change and constitutional governance. A few months ago, Zenawi declared he had won the election by 99.6 percent.
Sharpeville marked a defining moment in the South African struggle for liberation from apartheid. The June and November massacres (and many others that have yet to be investigated) will in the same way mark a watershed in the march towards democracy and resistance to dictatorship in Ethiopia.
One of the most important lessons of Sharpeville is the role that massacre played in mobilizing international support for ending the apartheid regime. It was after Sharpeville that international efforts to isolate and sanction the apartheid regime began to roll unstoppably. Sharpeville gave the first signal to the foreign investors that apartheid is no longer tenable and a transition to majority rule absolutely necessary. Shortly after Sharpeville, foreign investors pulled out tens of millions of dollars out of South Africa draining that country’s reserves and bringing the economy to the verge of collapse. In the years that followed, as more countries adopted trade and financial sanctions and significant amounts of foreign investments began to be withdrawn from South Africa, it became clear to the apartheid regime that political change was inevitable and it had to accept majority rule.
End the Culture of Impunity: Demand an ICC Investigation into the Massacres of November, 2005
There is an entrenched and pervasive culture of impunity in Ethiopia as I have written previously5. Gross and widespread abuses of human rights are perpetrated without so much as a preliminary investigation being done to identify and hold the criminals accountable. Those in power feel that they can commit any act or crime and get away with it. The leaders of the ruling regime believe they are above the law, indeed they are the law. This culture of impunity must end, and a new civic culture based on strict observance of the rule of law must be instituted.
There is much to be learned about accountability from the recent history of a neighboring country. In the 2007 presidential election in Kenya, over 1,500 people were killed. Over 300,000 people were displaced as a result of the violence. The Waki Commission which investigated the violence fingered some high level government officials as prime suspects in the perpetration of the violence. The Waki Report which was passed on to Luis Moreno-Ocampo, the Chief Prosecutor at the International Criminal Court (ICC), identified 19 politicians on a list of 219 alleged perpetrators including six cabinet ministers of the Kibaki government for possible prosecution for crimes against humanity.
ICC investigations cannot be initiated at the request of private parties. The ICC Prosecutor could initiate investigations only if he receives a referral from States or the U.N. Security Council. He could also initiate an investigation on his own. Despite the procedural hurdles, an organized and sustained demand for an investigation by the Prosecutor’s office could play a decisive role in persuading Moreno-Ocampo to consider launching a comprehensive inquiry into the massacres of 2005 in Ethiopia.
Immortalizing the Victims of Police Riots in Ethiopia
In November 2005, hundreds of Ethiopian men, women and children paid with their lives for the causes of freedom, democracy and human rights. Truth be told, the world does not remember the massacres of June and November, 2005. That is in good part because many of us in the Diaspora have done a poor job of remembering them ourselves and publicizing their cause and creating awareness worldwide. Thanks to so many dedicated individuals and groups that is changing. In this month of November, Ethiopians the world over are commemorating the 5th anniversary of Ethiopian election massacres.
The Ethiopian massacre victims now belong to the whole of humanity. They must be remembered by all freedom-loving peoples throughout the world, not just Ethiopians. In the U.S., we often hear members of Congress delivering stirring floor speeches in remembrance of massacres that took place half way across the globe. We have seen official proclamations and statements in memoriam for massacre victims in remote corners of the world. We have even read statements issued by U.S. Presidents reflecting on the historic significance of such events. American newspapers report on massacres that took place decades ago; houses of worship offer special prayers and even school children do special memorial projects in remembrance of massacre victims in different parts of the world. Perhaps next year, we may be able to do more things that will help create greater international awareness of the crimes against humanity that were committed in Ethiopia in June and November, 2005. By remembering the atrocities and spreading word about gross human rights abuses in Ethiopia, we not only keep alive the memory of the innocent victims of 2005 but also hasten the day when the criminals will be brought to justice.
Defining Moments: A Personal Reflection on the Slaughter of 2005
It seems to me that in the course of human events, most people face their own “defining moments”. Often that “moment” is a point in time when we gain a certain clarity about things that may have eluded us in the past or cloud our judgment. These moments are often random events beyond our control but define us as the persons we truly are. They come to us in the form of a choice: to be or not to be; to do or not to do; to speak up or not to speak up. By making the right choice we define the moment; and by making the wrong choice or not choosing at all, we allow the moment to define us. Frehiwot Samuel, Woldemichael Meshesha and Mitiku Teshome had their defining moments when they completed their report in 2006. They could have turned in a whitewash and received riches from Zenawi beyond their imagination. They chose to carry the truth into exile at extraordinary risk to their lives and began uncertain futures in foreign lands. When the modern history of Ethiopia is written, their names will be listed at the very top for displaying courage under fire, audacity in the face of despair, bravery in the face of personal danger, and unflinching fortitude in the face of extreme adversity. We can only thank them. “Never have so many owed so much to so few!”
Tyrants also have their defining moments and their lasting legacy for which they will be remembered in history. Adolf Hitler will be remembered for the Holocaust. Pol Pot will be the eternal symbol of the killing fields of Cambodia; and Saddam Hussien’s name will live infamy for his poison gas massacre in Halabja. Omar Bashir of Sudan, an indicted war criminal, will be remembered (and one day face face prosecution in the International Criminal Court) for this his genocidal campaigns against the Fur, Marsalit and Zaghawa ethnic groups in Darfur. Mengistu Hailemariam, the former military dictator in Ethiopia, will be remembered for his ruthless Red Terror campaign; and Meles Zenawi will forever be defined by the massacres of June and November, 2005 and many others that history will reveal.
The massacres of June and November 2005 were defining moments for me as an individual. I had to make a choice. The easy thing for me to do at the time was to shake my head in disbelief, cover my eyes in horror, roll my eyes in disgust and purse my lips in sorrow and move on to something else. That would have been tantamount to capitulating to evil and turning a blind eye to monstrous crimes committed against innocent human beings in my native homeland. My other choice was to muster the energy and courage to stand up and speak up against the personification of pure evil. I now live by the timeless maxim: “All that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good men and women to do nothing.” Affirmatively stated, I believe all that is necessary to triumph over evil is for all good men, women and young people to do something.
The slaughter of 2005 must be made a warning to each new generation of Ethiopians of what happens when human rights are abused, the rule of law trashed, democracy trampled and freedom crushed. To paraphrase Elie Weisel, we must seek justice for the victims of yesterday not only because it is the right thing to do, but also to protect the youth of today, and the children who will be born tomorrow from similar injustice and wrong. We do not want the past to become the future of our children and grandchildren. That is why all of the criminals responsible for the 2005 massacre must be held accountable. Delaying justice to the Ethiopian massacre victims is to invite the harsh verdict of history upon ourselves and future generations: “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”
REMEMBER, REMEMBER THE SLAUGHTER OF NOVEMBER (2005)!
FREE ALL POLITICAL PRSIONERS IN ETHIOPIA.
* Alemayehu G. Mariam, is a professor of political science at California State University, San Bernardino, and an attorney based in Los Angeles. He writes a regular blog on The Huffington Post, and his commentaries appear regularly on pambazuka.org, allafrica.com, newamericamedia.org and other sites.