Since the 15 May 2005 elections, there has been a historic clash between the yearning by the people to found a democratic order, and the derailment of this democratic process by Prime Minister Meles Zenawi's government in order to perpetuate its rule through repression. The world must take a stand on this clash. The stakes are so high, the decision is so urgent, and the risk of letting repression decide the destiny of this old country is so great, that all in the world who have power to contribute to name and shame, must do it by acting right now. Tomorrow is too late. Words are not enough. Empathy is not enough. Only action and deed count to make a difference.
Why do we need action? The following are some of the things that have happened since the elections: The Meles government, fearing that the youth may come out in protest due to the opposition call for lightning strikes, used indiscriminate and brutal preemptive force to herd 43,000 people into the malaria-infested Dedessa concentration camp. The government then unleashed its troops against them.
A large-scale human rights disaster was engineered on a false pretext in response to what the government claimed as opposition calls for "insurrection". The government stands accused of violating human rights, democracy, rule of law, and the constitution. The local Human Rights Council has recorded over 3,500 deaths due to human rights violations by the government between 1991 and 2003. This figure relates only to the reported cases. There are clearly many cases of unreported violations--probably more than the number reported.
What is remarkable is that all along, the government has been welcomed by the donor community despite the fact that the donors knew about the human rights violations. The donors even congratulated the Ethiopian people for their historic turnout at the May elections. And when election fraud became evident and key independent observers corroborated it, the donors (except Britain, and now the EU threatening to cut aid) continued their support of the government.
Thankfully, on 15 December, the EU Parliament passed a resolution calling for an international inquiry into the killings in Ethiopia, targeted sanctions against members of the Meles government, and the consideration of Ethiopia's exclusion from the ACP-EU partnership. The resolution, passed 93 votes to zero, also called for the release of all detainees, and expressed the EU's concern over the "unsubtantiated" allegation of treason levelled against opposition leaders.
Independent observers believe that the government held the May elections to buy "respectability" from the donors to attract further aid rather than from any commitment to human rights, democracy and good governance. Meles entered the election certain that he would win. According to the opposition and some observer groups, the government lost the election. It panicked at this news and, true to form, resorted to force and violence. The 8 June massacre in Addis Ababa in which 46 people were killed, was followed by the arrest and detention of thousands more.
Days after this, the British prime minister, Tony Blair invited Meles to the G8 summit in Gleneagles, giving him the clear signal that large-scale repression in Ethiopia is fine. If it were Zimbabwe, Blair would have been hollering mad to get regime change in Harare. But Meles has been selected arbitrarily as "a darling of the West" deserving an invite to the Blair Commission for Africa.
Interestingly, 90% of the voting population turned out to vote--indeed making this a founding democratic moment in the nation's long history. It was the first of its kind. …