By Yohannes Abraha
In an apparent reaction to the detention of Dr. Merera Gudina, who has deliberately breached a sovereign law of Ethiopia, and to call for a “UN-led investigation” on the violent protest that unfolded in some parts of Ethiopia last year the European Parliament has adopted a resolution on May 18. 2017.
The European Parliament has the habit of passing resolutions every month condemning three or four countries for “violating human rights”. Since any individual Parliamentarian can propose a resolution and that their merit in the European Parliament is measured, among other things, by the number of resolutions they propose, the European Parliament has probably become the most resolutions producing legislative organ in the world; and has criticized most of the countries on the planet.
Most of these resolutions – which often contain factual inaccuracies – are never implemented and have little or no impact on the lives of the peoples of the countries concerned.
But what is surprising this month is that all the countries condemned are from Africa, namely Ethiopia, Zambia and South Sudan. Even more surprising is this resolution on Ethiopia now.
Since September 2016 the Ethiopian Government has launched a process to reform the electoral law of the country, Federal and Regional Administrations have been reshuffling their cabinets to address public grievances, and EPRDF and opposition parties have established a forum for negotiations.
In addition, 20,000 individuals or close to 90% out of those detained for violent demonstrations were released after they received training on the constitutional rights and obligations of citizens. The Second National Human Rights Action Plan (NHRAP II) was approved by the House of People’s Representatives and robust discussions have been held with the people all over the country.
Officials suspected of corruption and maladministration at every level, federal and all regional states, were discharged from their positions and more than one billion USD revolving fund was made available to stimulate job creation for the unemployed youth.
On March 15, 2017, after a thorough assessment of the situation in the country, the Command Post established to oversee the State of Emergency lifted several restrictions.
Given these, pushing for a resolution on Ethiopia at this particular time when a relative normalcy has returned throughout the country, reform activities are invigorated , and the EU and Ethiopia have started sectorial dialogue on Human Rights and Governance issues tantamount to jealousy of the normalcy returned in Ethiopia. An Ethiopian music Chir sil alwedem meaning I don’t like silence and quietness may best explain the move by the European Parliament. It appears that Ethiopia has now become a fixture in the EP whenever there is any incident in the country.
The Council of Ministers of Ethiopia decided to declare State of Emergency on the 9th of October 2016 because the existing law enforcement mechanisms were not sufficient to contain the violent protests. This was approved by the Ethiopian Parliament. As in many developed countries, this is clearly enshrined in the Ethiopian Constitution. The directive issued to implement the State of Emergency under Article 2 has stipulated, among other things, that meeting with individuals or organizations proscribed by the Ethiopian Parliament as terrorists is prohibited. Dr. Merera knew this very well when he decided to meet Dr. Berhanu Nega, a leader of the terrorist group Genbot 7.
It is to be recalled that Ginbot-7 was designated as terrorist organization by the Ethiopian Parliament, for its several terroristic actions and attempts in different parts of the country. Meeting and discussing with the leader of this organization in Brussels from 7-9 November 2016 is a clear violation of the State of Emergency. As a matter of principle, one does not break the rule because he or she does not like it or do not agree with it. This is a cardinal principle of democracy.
It would be a contradiction to European values for Representatives of the European people to defend someone for breaking the law. As a leader of one of the legally registered political parties in Ethiopia, Dr. Merera is supposed to know what is legal and what is illegal. Other opposition leaders, including the former President of Ethiopia Dr. Negaso Gidada, knowing that this is an illegal action, had declined to accept the same invitation Dr. Merera accepted.
Dr. Merara’s illegal actions have been immensely tolerated by the Ethiopian Government. As a leader of a political party, he is supposed to respect and protect the law. However, Dr. Merera did not show any regard to respect the law. Laws are issued to be respected. Anyone who breaches the law will be held accountable. That is what the Ethiopian Government has done. Like any responsible government, it has the duty to ensure that the law of the land is respected and protected by all citizens. One pressing issue worth mentioning here is that, even if the Government tolerated such actions the pressure from the public to bring to justice those who breached the law would be far from ignoring.
It is surprising and even disturbing to learn that some members of the EP are rushing to issue a resolution and condemn the Government. As legislators, members of the European Parliament are in a better position to understand and fight for laws to be respected and implemented unexceptionally. Our expectation from the EP is encouragement to the Government of Ethiopia for respecting and protecting the rule of law, not blaming it for respecting the law. We also expect EP to support the broad and deep reform programs in Ethiopia.
The kind of move it made this time, however, puts me and many Ethiopians in a state of confusion to understand the interests of EP. Dr. Merera has plainly breached the law. His case is in the court of law. He is defending himself and all his rights are respected. Requesting the Ethiopian government not to hold Dr. Merera accountable for his actions is tantamount to encouraging lawlessness. Unfortunately, when it comes to Ethiopia, Members of the European Parliament fail to stand for their values, i.e. respecting the rule of law and discouraging actions of lawlessness. In Ethiopia, like in Europe, everybody is equal in front of the law. If one breaks the law, he or she will be held accountable. That is what has happened to Dr Merera.
On 18 April 2017, the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission (EHRC) unveiled the results of the investigation it carried out following the violence in some parts of Amhara, Oromia and SNNP regional states in 2016. The report was presented to the House of People’s Representatives (HPR). In its report the EHRC presented detailed information, including number of deaths and actions of law enforcement agents. It has also recommended solutions in order to ensure good governance, create employment opportunities for young people, rehabilitate those affected by the unrest, avert ethnic-based attacks, bring responsible security forces to justice, respect and promote people’s rights, and prevent movement of illegal weapons.
For a developing democracy like Ethiopia, such encouraging achievements by a local institution should have deserved applaud. Regrettably, EP called for a UN-led investigation team to look into the matter. Such calls to reinvestigate the situation are nonsense and lead to “alternative facts”. We know that democracy is a process and can only be built over time. To insure the well-functioning of democracy, encouraging and building the capacity of local institutions is of utmost priority.
The other disappointing issue is this big institution has still been adopting resolutions based on hearsay and perceptions. The reader may consider this resolution as “ignorance of the year”; but EP has proudly argued in its resolution that the Oromos are undermined in Ethiopia. Taking all the sources of power (regional administrations, both Houses of, Cabinet, budget allocation, and economy benefits etc into consideration, there is no logic to favor or disfavor a single group in Ethiopia. On the other hand, it is to be recalled that Ethiopia has garnered international appreciation for successfully containing the severe drought induced by El Nino and was invited to share its experience during the UN sponsored Humanitarian summit in Afghanistan on May 2016. But, EP is still criticizing Ethiopia for the death of Ethiopians due to the drought.
Dear European Parliamentarians, please consider the people you are representing, get the right information and act based on that.
Finally, Ethiopia is located in a very turbulent neighborhood surrounded by several conflicts and its destabilization would be detrimental not only to the Horn of Africa but also to Europe. Ethiopia is doing its level best to stabilize the region through contributing peacekeeping forces, hosting over 800,000 refugees and fighting terrorism and radicalization. The Ethiopian Government should, therefore, make it clear that such deliberate moves by EP could hamper the exemplary cooperation on migration, peace and security and the recently started sectoral dialogue on Rights and Governance issues between Ethiopia and the EU.