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Stand for Silenced Ethiopians: Reports of torture in Ethiopia are understated: Fulbright scholar

Friday, November 17, 2006

Reports of torture in Ethiopia are understated: Fulbright scholar

Panelists shed light on human rights issues in Ethiopia
By Dr. Berhanu Alemayehu Novemeber 16, 2006

WASHINGTON, DC - Reports of torture are understated and more prevalent in Ethiopia than what the international community is led to believe, a Fulbright scholar who spoke as one of four panelists has told a human rights conference in Washington, DC.
Chuck Schaefer, a Valparaiso University professor who had the taught at Addis Ababa University as a Fulbright scholar in the early 1990s, said a 2005 U.S. Department of State Country Report had said up to 18,000 prisoners were held in Dedessa Camp but the figure was much lower than what was released by the state-sanctioned Inquiry Commission, which also reported that the number of civilians killed by government forces was 193, a figure three times greater than an official report.
"Evidence provided by the recently exiled Inquiry Commission members and judges only confirms Amnesty International’s allegation about the nature and scope of arbitrary killings and detentions of civilians that has taken place in the post-election period," Schaefer told the conference held November 4, 2006 at American University Washington College of Law.
The human rights activist also cited the contribution of Amnesty International toward the release of Ethiopian political prisoners such as Wasihun Melese and Anteneh Getnet of the Ethiopian Teachers Association (ETA), Alemayehu Fantu and Yalemzewd Bekele and the over 100 students who were detained in connection with the distribution of an opposition calendar bearing the pictures of opposition leaders jailed at Kaliti Prison. He said the government responded positively for the release of the political prisoners, and he expressed his hope that the government would abide by international human rights norms and release the prisoners at Kaliti, recognized by Amnesty as prisoners of conscience.
Prof. Schaefer said Amnesty International supports H.R. 5680 because the "bill prioritizes the necessary ingredients to ensure human rights, which, in order of importance, include establishing human and civil rights organizations, the independence of the judiciary and democratization efforts as prerequisites to economic development."
Ted Dagne, Africa specialist with the Congressional Research Service, and professional staff member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Subcommittee on Africa, on his part said Ethiopian Americans have come a long way in exerting influence on U.S. Congress toward human rights issues in Ethiopia.
Dagne, who along with Congressman Donald Payne had visited opposition leaders at Kaliti and met with government officials on pressing issues, said the Congressman had made important provisions aimed to help strengthen democracy, hold people accountable, strengthen human rights institution, offer reconciliation support for those willing to participate in this process.
Mr. Gregory Simpkins, a specialist in African policy and professional staff member of the US House Subcommittee on Africa, Global Human Rights and International Operations, said HR 5680 has become a central rallying point for Ethiopian Americans, and a renewed effort must be made in both the House and Senate and outlined a series of steps for next year and into the future, in an effort to respond effectively to human rights abuses in Ethiopia.
"The various Ethiopian-American organizations must work cooperatively to build on what has been achieved thus far, and this alliance should include those civil society groups and political parties on the ground in Ethiopia to be effective over the long run," Simpkins said.
He said HR 5680 has the bipartisan support and sponsorship of Reps. Chris Smith and Donald Payne, well known human rights advocates who would ensure success for the bill even during a change of party leadership in Congress.
Prof. Al Mariam of California State University, San Bernardino and a defense attorney, warned Ethiopians in the Diaspora can not be effective advocates of human rights in Ethiopia unless they share a common understanding of core human rights values.
Prof. Alemayehu explained that international human rights laws are part of the Ethiopian constitution under Article 10. He said Article 15 of the Ethiopian Constitution guarantees every person the right to life which can be taken away only for a “serious Crime."
The "extrajudicial killings" or politically motivated killings of the 193 peaceful demonstrators in June/November, 2005, or the thousands of others massacred in Gambella, Oromia, Sidama and Somali regions were not for “serious crimes” recognized by law; rather those killings were political motivated to destroy opponents of the government. Such extrajudicial killings are a gross violation of human rights, according to Al Mariam.
Concerning the "trial" of the opposition leaders at Kaliti, and if the "trial" would be free and fair, the defense attorney said it is impossible to have an independent judiciary when the judges are handpicked to deliver a pre-determined result. "The trial was a charade staged for the international community, adding that the charges would have been thrown out of court a long time ago in a real court of justice."
Al Mariam used the example of one of the charges against the defendants -- the charge of “outrage against the constitution” -- to show that such vague and hazy allegations are used to prosecute anyone the government does not like.
The presentation of Professor Alemayehu was so impressive he worked the audience like a jury panel listening to closing arguments.

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