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Speech for the speechless

Few days ago, I heard on Sheger FM radio station about a lawyer who went out of his way to defend the rights of Addis Ababa’s residents that were victims of pollution caused by institutions nearby their homes. In his interview with Sheger, he explained that he defends the residents for free, and at his free will with no one asking him for his service. He just felt that that was the thing that is expected from a lawyer that considers himself/herself as defenders of people’s rights. And what sparked his dedication to defend the speechless residents was a TV show he watched on the waste that Addis Ababa University negligently disposed of in its neighborhood. Through more research, he realized that such problem persisted in every corner of the city and that victims do not know that they have the right to defend their rights for a clean living environment. That’s went he decided to sue Addis Ababa University as well as other institutions negligently releasing waste in their neighborhoods. In the western world, it is common practice for an individual or a community to sue an institution for pollutions by hiring a lawyer. In Ethiopia, let alone hiring a lawyer to defend your rights for a clean living environment, most people do not even know that they have such rights. According to the lawyer interviewed on Sheger, it is the obligation of lawyers in the country to make sure that people know that they have such rights, even if that means serving pro bono. Who knows the kind of change this guy is going to bring in the country? I bet that he will have to have loads and loads of patience to see the fruits of his dedication. But if he keeps strong, I have no doubt that he will be a winner at the end either by successfully creating awareness among people about their rights to defend their rights for a clean and livable environment, or by winning the legal battle with the irresponsible institutions that he sues.  

Maybe I’m wrong, but we Ethiopians are not so strong at defending our rights. We tend to wait on few bold and brave individuals to speak for us. In general, we tend to prefer for our rights to be stumbled upon and crumbled up than having to face the hustle of making sure that our voices are heard, our rights are defended and our battle won. Again on Sheger radio, a woman called the radio to make her complaints about a lady at the immigration office who refused to give back changes after collecting cash to process applications for passports simply saying that she did not have any changes to give back to the clients. She even threatened that she won’t give any service for those who do not p9ay the exact amount requested, or else that she would keep the changes for herself. So, in the interview with Sheger, the woman explains that no one dared to speak up against this woman and defend their rights for a change, and simply chose to have their application for a passport processed at the expense of whatever change the lady owed them. I think it’s just sad!

I wonder why many of us (if not all) are so afraid to speak up and defend our rights? We prefer to complain in the background than putting it all on the table and trying to find a solution for our problems. I wonder if Ethiopian lawyers can do something to defend the rights of all those Ethiopians that are mistreated, disrespected, made to be disappointed each time they visit government institutions for some kind of service! Lawyers are the speech to the speechless, particularly in a country like ours in which many of us are speechless and too quiet when it comes to defending our rights. We need more of our guy dedicated to give themselves for the very cause every lawyer is supposed to stand for!

Contributed by Tsion Taye
Contributed by Tsion Taye