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Amnesty’s report should serve as call for reform, not bickering!

Amnesty’s report should serve as call for reform, not bickering!

Damning as the report published by Amnesty International a week ago may be there is no denying that it helps the Government of Ethiopia and Ethiopians from all walks of life draw important lessons. The report should not be cause for overjoy by some quarters nor prompt hair pulling by others. If one were to ask if it gives the full picture, it does not; it never has. Nevertheless, the government needs to give serious consideration to accusations that its security forces committed grave human rights violations. Successive Ethiopian governments have not escaped censure for similar transgressions in the past. What is new is that in recent years non-state actors have been able to perpetrate egregious crimes with impunity. Instead of lambasting Amnesty International the federal government as well as the Amhara and Oromia regional administrations ought to furnish to their people and the international community facts they believe have not been disclosed. If they failed to respond to questions put to them during the preparation of the report they should acknowledge their mistake. And if they did respond it is incumbent on them to challenge the rights group for its omission. Most of all though the government should not criticize the report for overlooking the horrendous acts of other forces for the simple reason that this does not excuse its behavior. It has to face the uncomfortable truth head-on and engage in house cleaning. Then it will not need the testimony of anyone but the people it governs.

As a matter of principle the conduct of affairs of government should be transparent in order to ensure accountability. In Ethiopia, however, government institutions continue to be synonymous with opacity. Let alone citizens living in areas far from the center and are conflict-ridden people dwelling in the capital Addis Ababa and other major cities are crying out for justice due to the injustices they are suffering at the hands of government officials. Given this backdrop it is pointless to try and refute something that is public knowledge. As the Attorney General announced this week the right thing to do is to undertake an independent investigation into the accusations and work with Amnesty International to fill gaps in the report, prosecute the perpetrators of the violations and issue a formal apology to the victims. The whole purpose of the wide-ranging political reforms introduced by the administration of Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed (PhD) was to eliminate if not minimize incidences of the violations documented in the report. It’s then that it can be deemed to have duly discharged its primary obligation—to protect the rights and welfare of the public.

Unfortunately for Ethiopia it is on the verge of missing yet another that has come its way owing to the absence of the willingness and farsightedness to collaborate on matters of mutual interest. The transition underway since Prime Minister Abiy took the reins of power in April 2018 has been plagued with challenges which have resulted in a humanitarian crisis. Thousands have died and millions more injured, displaced from their homes and traumatized from intercommunal conflicts instigated by elements with a nefarious agenda. The government was found wanting in terms of averting the conflicts and bringing the culprits to justice. In fact its security forces were involved in some of the skirmishes. Consequently, Ethiopians both at home and overseas have demanded time and again for top priority to be given to upholding the rule of law. The government owes the public a positive obligation to protect the safety and security of its citizens and demonstrate the commitment to redress any lapses in this regard. Denying the truth or trying to externalize is a hallmark of dictators.  

The deathly struggle between implacably opposed groups claiming to be have the public interest at heart threatens to fracture the nation. It’s the height of naïveté to believe that the kind of real change Ethiopians aspire for can be brought through internecine conflicts. History is replete with examples demonstrating that adding fuel to the fire as political foes go at each other’s throat only serves to sow destruction and mayhem. Those looking for an angle to deepen the open hostility on display following the publication of Amnesty International’s report are conflict merchants playing a dangerous political game. It’ sad that in a country possessing indigenous conflict resolution mechanisms that have proven to be effective innocent citizens face the brunt of the conflicts instigated by these characters. If the hopes of the people to see peace, justice and equality reign in Ethiopia is not to be dashed it’s incumbent on everyone to put a stop to the forces of destruction and persuade rival parties to engage in a peaceful struggle.

At this juncture it’s appropriate to make mention of a fundamental principle. The state is ultimately responsible for upholding law and order. At the same time it is the main perpetrator of rights violations given it has a monopoly on violence. As it faithfully discharges this responsibility the culture of institutional and individual accountability will begin to take root. This can only succeed insofar as the government commits wholeheartedly to perform its law enforcement duties lawfully and respond duly to citizens’ legitimate demands. As a nation whose people have long suffered from tyranny and injustice Amnesty International’s report should be an eye-opener for Ethiopia and remind it that it has to abide by its obligation to enable citizens to exercise their rights.   

Rights violations are not carried out by the Ethiopian government alone, though. Non-state actors are culpable of atrocious wrongdoings as well. These ragtag bunches of opportunists are good at nothing but exploiting the reputation and wealth they somehow earned to foment unrest instead of promoting a constructive dialogue; playing the victim game and accusing the government of the crimes they committed; and using their proxies within the ranks of the government to undermine it. Rabble rousers masquerading as rights activists need to desist from shedding crocodile tears lest their peccadilloes cheapen the suffering of the real victims. But if they are not held to account despite continuing to inflict harm on the public, the future will not bode well for the country and its people. Taking delight in a report that should be a source of national shame while trying to absolve themselves of complicity in the violations documented therein is textbook hypocrisy. It’s not difficult to imagine the crisis that would ensue if these forces were to take the helm of government. Be that as it may it’s not too late to probe the veracity of the report within the shortest possible time and disclose the finding to the Ethiopian people as well as the global community. Until then the report should serve as a call for reform, not bickering!