Ethiopia: Genocide and the unfinished debates By Abebe Gellaw

January 3rd, 2011 Print Print Email Email

First of all, I would like to commend Ethiomedia for publishing two contrary on genocide, which is one of the most controversial legal issues among scholars and legal practitioners around the world. In response to Eskinder Nega’s article, “Derg: Guilty of genocide or politicide?” (more…)

First of all, I would like to commend Ethiomedia for publishing two contrary on genocide, which is one of the most controversial legal issues among scholars and legal practitioners around the world. In response to Eskinder Nega’s article, “Derg: Guilty of genocide or politicide?” another writer, Tecola Hagos, tried to pointedly dismantle the latter’s argument with his rejoinder, “The crime of genocide vs. the crime of politicide.” Considering the fact that healthy debates on many contentious issues deepen our understanding and widen perspectives, I have found both arguments quite fascinating.

As a matter of fact, I hold both writers in high esteem and have no desire to take sides except for the content of the arguments made with regard to genocide in the Ethiopian context. I would, however, be disingenuous if I fail to point out the fact that Tecola’s argument seems to make a pointed attack on the validity of Eskider’s analysis. Moreover, the writer used accusatory statements and phrases that have negatively impinged upon the quality of his points. According to Tecola, Eskinder has made a “stupendous assertion…after going through some torturous and wrong analysis of the Genocide Convention and the meaning of Genocide.” In the last lap of his argument, Tecola even dismissed Eskinder’s well-articulated and highly informative piece as “puzzling and bizarre,” which seems to me quite inaccurate.

Needless to say, I had many opportunities to debate with Eskinder before I fled Ethiopia over a decade ago. While so many of us decided to run away, he has resolutely decided to stay at home and boldly fight the injustice being perpetrated by the tribal movement, the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF). Debating with Ekinder is as fascinating an experience as reading his articles and stories. We had agreed and disagreed amicably on a number issues. Eskinder is one of the boldest and well-informed Ethiopians I have ever met. Nonetheless, my position on this particular controversy has nothing to do with my admiration for an old comrade, who was once accused of committing genocide by the Meles regime and suffered in harsh jails with his wife Serkalem Fasil, who gave birth to their first son while in custody. In my view, he only committed what I call “journalistic genocide” which can only be achieved by fearless journalists like Eskinder trigger nightmare, who made tyrants suffer from fear and trepidation until a point where they started mistaking every critical article, story and exposé as an act of “genocide” against them.

Though I would not dare to present myself as an expert in the field, I have attended a class and a couple of scholarly debates among leading academics and legal experts on genocide and crimes against humanity at Stanford University. After all the debates and arguments, what I noticed is that even the most renowned scholars in the field depart with a footnote, i.e., “genocide” is not only controversial but also an evolving terminology whose meaning needs to be expanded or re-examined. For instance, in his new book, Stalin’s Genocide, Stanford professor, Norman Naimark, has proposed that the definition of genocide as “the systematic mass murder of national, ethnic, racial and religious groups” should include “social classes and political groups”, using Joseph Stalin’s crimes as a case in point. In fact, that argument concurs with Tecola’s, who also appears to favour an expanded definition of genocide. He contended that there is no ambiguity over the genocidal nature of Derg’s crimes, which he sees in a cut-and-dried manner.

Contrary to what Tecola asserted, I could not find a single instance where Eskider defended Derg officials despite the fact that he pointed out that there was a glaring error of law during the controversial “genocide trial.” My understanding is also that Derg committed crimes against humanity during its reign of terror. Crimes against humanity, as far as I know, is no less grave than genocide and would not reduce the gravity of the crimes perpetrated against so many innocent citizens who were brutally and ruthlessly murdered and tortured. If I am not mistaken, this is the sentiment that has been well reflected throughout Eskinder’s commentary which concluded that Derg officials were wrongly convicted of genocide rather than “politicide.” In my view, Eskinder’s argument is very sound as genocide is still a gray political area in countries like ours where it is not an objective legal matter left to the jurisdiction of independent judiciary, which has never existed in the entire history of Ethiopia.

What is more glaring is the fact the rogue regimes of Derg and TPLF have committed similar crimes that have no less severity. Even so, one can argue that the Gambella massacre is more genocidal than the Red Terror, which was an indiscriminate politically-motivated massacre. While both are heinous mass killings, regardless of the number of victims, the Gambella massacre targeted the Anuak ethnic group with the objective of exterminating members of a certain minority ethnic group in part or in whole. That’s a view consistently articulated by a number groups and scholars including Dr. Gregory Stanton, founder and president of Genocide Watch. In a letter he wrote last March to the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Justice Navanathem Pillay, Dr. Stanton noted: “As a result of our investigation and based on our experience in international law and genocide, we concluded that the killing of the Anuak in Gambella, Ethiopia, fit the definitions of genocide and crimes against humanity.” A WikiLeaks cable has recently revealed that Meles, according to his evil security chief, is very worried about the efforts of Genocide Watch and others to bring a forgotten genocide he masterminded to the attention of the international community, which has, at times, a habit of exercising selective outrage. Despite all that, the highly tainted Ethiopian penal code, which Tecola used as a reference, will not help Dr. Stanton for obvious reasons. The penal code, for instance, has no practical application against the corrupt criminal ethnic junta in power.

History has always been the most credible witness. Pardoned or not pardoned, Derg and TPLF officials remain criminals. They know it and we all know it, no matter how hard they pretend in public. In fact, it is quite entertaining to see one group of criminals, with no moral authority in their veins, pardoning and damning other criminals they arrested in the course of snatching state power by brute force. But we surely know that both sides never worry about justice except for making utmost efforts not to be held accountable for their crimes.

Eskinder has suffered and is still suffering under the Meles regime. Likewise, Tecola has sadly suffered at the hands of Derg officials. Despite all that, both sides should not close the debate as Tecola seems to have done already. As a final verdict, he wrote: “I would like to see these brutal murderers [Derg officials] punished properly by hanging them in public squares.” In other words, Tecola wants to see Derg officials to be hanged by Weyane, whose crimes are as horrible as the latter. But where is the justice that he wants to see fully displayed and exhibited in public squares? In my opinion, his emotive conclusion defeats his own reasoning. After all, vengeance is not justice which must not be overshadowed by one’s victimhood. For justice to reign, reason and dispassionate judgment must be ensured. In Ethiopia, let alone justice, almost everything is in short supply.

If victims become judges over those who hurt and brutalized them, every criminal may end up hanging on gallows or being guillotined in public, which will only repeat the same scenario of injustice. In a similar vein, if we task Meles with the job of hanging people for genocide, he will not even have mercy for people like Tocola Hagos and Eskinder Nega, as he sees critical thinkers and those who expose his crimes more genocidal than Derg officials. How can we forget? Abraha Belai, Elias Kifle, Sisay Agena, Dawit Kebede, Professor Mamo Muchie, Dr. Hailu Araya, Professor Getachew Haile, Birtukan Mideksa, five VOA journalists including Solomon Kifle and Tizta Belachew…were accused of committing genocide and other capital crimes by none other than Meles Zenawi, the genocidal ruler of Ethiopia…. Strangely enough, the majority of the people mentioned above have never been to Ethiopia for decades. But for Meles and his servile lawyers like Million Assefa, one of the people who authored the genocide charge sheet and has just joined Zenawi’s absolutist parliament, there is a uniquely elastic definition of genocide making Ethiopia the first country in the world where criticising a criminal regime, or for that matter reading the news on the radio in Washington DC, is tantamount to genocide and crimes against humanity. One does not need to massacre anyone. Publishing a critical article or airing views can be a genocidal act in Ethiopia under Meles! Nothing is impossible for the “genius” dictator-in-chief, who is not afraid to commit all kinds of stupid absurdities. We may forget, but history never does.

Leaving aside Zenawi’s idiotic judicial parody, there is a wider consensus that genocide is a moot question in so many instances. That is the very reason why even the Darfur case is still being debated globally; some say it is genocide, others are certain that it is crimes against humanity and people like Meles Zenawi argue that nothing punishable had happened in Darfur for fear of setting a precedence that can be turned against him. Meles has shamelessly emerged as one of the guardian angels of Al Bashir trying to protect him from justice. This is the kind of a pitiful world we live in where ruthless criminals have still more power than those who fight for justice in many parts of the world… Had it not been for this sad reality, the likes of Al Bashir, Mengistu and Meles would not have been living in the lap of luxury while the bloods of millions of their victims cry for justice from their graves..

Genocide, which is mostly tainted with political overtone, is not totally black and white. So it is very logical to let the debate rage…. I am pretty sure that both Eskinder and Tocola will not disagree with the last point.

  1. geresu abdi
    | #1

    genocide is exageration! tecola is emotional.

  2. tewbel
    | #2

    This debate about the semantic definition of genocide may be solved by asking what the victimes thought of their horrid fate. Unfortunately being in some unreachble dimention they cannot be consulted. I rather agree with Skender than Tecola’s longwinded speculation.

  3. Anonymous
    | #3

    Fantastic point written by a very level minded journalist. Abebe, yes, Derg has commited a very heinous crime against humanity but not a genocide against one particular race, ethinic group or a nation. Derg killed the amharas, the Oromos, the Gurages, the Tigres, the Wolaytas… etc, who organised in their ideaological line, not in ethnic line, and fired the first bullet against the Derg. However, when it comes to the TPLF, it selectively and deliberately killed people along their ethinic line. TPLF deliberately killed the Amharas becuase they are Amhars; it intentionaly killed the Anuak because it wanted to exterminate them. So who comitted genocide, Derg or TPLF? Obviously it is TPLF, who fulfill the meanings of Genocide.

    The other thing what we should not forget is Derg has not started the killing, except the 60 people, just out of blue,rather it was proboked by EPRP, EPLF, ELF and TPLF, Meison and others. Derg members, supporters, Kebele guards,journalists and other civil servants ..etc. were guned down by EPRP squads & TPLF memebers, mainly. People have beenkilled from allwalks of life, i.e, from Derg side and opposition side. Thus far people are talking only about the killings of Derg not the oppositions. Is the blood of the innocent people killed by EPRP, TPLF and Meison is not crying? Was it only Derg who Killed people brutaly for the last 37 years? I think everybody who was involved in the bloodshed should take its share and being judgded by un independent judicial body, not by TPLF, which is more genocidal and criminal than all others.

  4. Teshale Mengistu
    | #4

    Hey, Teqqola is not emotional, dear geresu, he knows what he does. He is an absolute idiot and a ‘man’ of vengeance. He hasn’t been satisfied yet, I recommed that he eat those criminilas of the Derg in case they are released shortly. Otherwise, I think this lunatic individual will never be replete with the satisfaction of the suffering of those unlucky people.

    Look what this mad “professor”, a professor massacre, a scholar of guillotine and beheading, an intellectual of the Ethiopian Al Qaeda group, a scholastic personality of nihilism, says:

    “I would like to see these brutal murderers punished properly by hanging them in public squares.”(source: ethiomedia)(rasu ferdobachew arefew! Yehig tebeqa mihur, yehager alegnta akuri dedeb professor male engdih endih new! anjeten aqatelew’ko bakachihu? yichi ethiopia sintun gisangis felfilalwalech jal!)By the way, it is my coviction that no body shall trespass any law, and if they do so, they must be liable for what they do based on the rukes and regulations. But justice must be served equally to all. And I totally believe that the Woyannes along with their myopic “intellectuals” do by no means have any moral efficiency to judge anybody. Otherwise, it is just a parody and we cannot help laughing sarcastically. Yitayachihu nef’se geday benef’se geday lay siferd! Ye’azo enba eyyaneba … min aslefelefegn lenegeru? mins agebagn? Teqola lemin siashaw tebsona qeqlo … siashaw agenflo sifelig degmo betrew aybelachewm sewochun? enenis derg lilugn aydel bezih comment?

    Where shall he go, anyhow, to get relieved from his maniacal disease of revenge? His emotions have never calmed down even after 20 years.
    Is enhancing killing the quality of professors? Then, who is going to teach us, the illiterates, how to become forgiving? From which sky has God brought us such cannibalistic citizens?
    Min aynet hager asedabina kiletam sew getemen ebakachihu? Ahun benezih aynet balege gileseboch hagerachin gedel tigba? Moron Hitler!!!!(teshalem1@gmail.com)

  5. Teshale Mengistu
    | #5

    4.

    Hey, Teqqola is not emotional, dear geresu, he knows what he does. He is an absolute idiot and a ‘man’ of vengeance. He hasn’t been satisfied yet, I recommend that he eat those criminals of the Derg in case they are released shortly. Otherwise, I think this lunatic individual will never be replete with the satisfaction of the suffering of those unlucky people.

    Look what this mad “professor”, a professor massacre, a scholar of guillotine and beheading, an intellectual of the Ethiopian Al Qaeda group, a scholastic personality of nihilism, says:

    “I would like to see these brutal murderers punished properly by hanging them in public squares.”(source: ethiomedia)(rasu ferdobachew arefew! Yehig tebeqa mihur, yehager alegnta akuri dedeb professor malet engdih endih new! anjeten asarerew’ko bakachihu? yichi Ethiopia sintun gisangis felfilalwalech jal!)By the way, it is my conviction that no body shall trespass any law, and if they do so, they must be liable for what they do based on the rules and regulations. But justice must be served equally to all. And I totally believe that the Woyannes along with their myopic “intellectuals” do by no means have any moral efficiency to judge anybody. Otherwise, it is just a parody and we cannot help laughing sarcastically. Yitayachihu nef’se geday benef’se geday lay siferd! Ye’azo enba eyyaneba … min aslefelefegn lenegeru? mins agebagn? Teqola lemin siashaw tebsona qeqlo … siashaw agenflo sifelig degmo betrew aybelachewm sewochun? enenis derg lilugn aydel bezih comment?

    Where shall he go, anyhow, to get relieved from his maniacal disease of revenge? His emotions have never calmed down even after 20 years.meche new yebeqel timatuna araraw gabb woym bered yemililet? Awure!
    Is enhancing killing the quality of professors? Then, who is going to teach us, the illiterates, how to become forgiving? From which sky has God brought us such cannibalistic citizens?
    Min aynet hager asedabina kiletam sew getemen ebakachihu? Ahun benezih aynet balege gileseboch hagerachin gedel tigba? Moron Hitler!!!!(teshalem1@gmail,com)

  6. Emu
    | #6

    ተኮላ ገና በብቀላ የፈላው ደሙ አልሰከነም።

  7. Firdawek Bekalu
    | #7

    Now the real face of fascism is coming out. All the monsters the, Nazis, the criminals and the children of Derg have come out naked once Eskinder and Abebe paved the way for them to spit out their ardent support for crime and criminals. Eskindir and Abebe were trying to beautify the atrocities of the derg through their “analysis”, “philosophical approach”…The criminal derge are arguing that because Woyanne is no less murderer than Derg, the fascists should be set free or they should never be brought to justice by Woyanne. Interesting!!! Ethiopians who suffered under the Derg regime do not need to be preached about the definitions of genocide and no one is interested to read about philosophical and legal arguments about what genocide is. Leave that text book kind of argument for your own mental excersise. What Ethiopians faced under the derg was not a drama or fun as Eskinder and Abebe tried to portray it. What a shame!!! Eskindir and Abebe can give it a name and can keep on philosophizing. That does not heal the wounds of so many who suffered the atrocities of the Derg. I for one do not believe in vengeance and I do not completely agree with Tekola’s conclusion. However, the fascists should never be condoned and should be punished to the fullest extent of the law of the land. I know those of you who are collaborators of the Derg criminals might argue Woyanne/Melese is a criminal and hence does not have the moral or legal authority to punish criminals. This is a lame excuse for the butchers you adamantly support to be set free. This will never happen. Criminals will be punished severely if their crime warrants harsh punishment. Woyanne will not be excused for all the crimes it committed. It is a matter of time. However, to argue that Derge criminals should be excused simply because Woyane is no less a criminal is an extremely weak argument thrown by the Dergoch and their supporters.

  8. Teshale Mengistu
    | #8

    Firdawek, beregitm fird tawikaleh jal! Who says criminals shouldn’t be prosecuted? yedenkoro lekso yibalal yante/yanchi kirkir.
    Enedergoch eko 83 lay mottu! beka, kezia behuala yelum. ahun yalew leal derg new, liawum kefitegnaw derg weder yemaygegn’let chekagn derg. gebah? tadia yemin sheshet sheshet new? beklo abatsh manew biluat enate feres nech yalechiwun tastawisaleh? bemote anbesa lay aytem tiseletinbetalech enkuan dmetna wusha. bemote anbesa lay kemenchercher hizbun bemiasrbutna bemichefechifut woyanewoch lay bians yehilina firdn mestet yishalal. alebelezia bemenfesm bemoralim be’edimem bemotu sewoch lay menchachat lela dibik alama yalen yasmeslal getaw. Fikre Silasie teklehaymano kababi tenteletele woy betyt tekola yetechanebinin yemekera dof aygefilinm wodaje woyanew ‘firdawek’. lene bleh asib, tenager, nur. kezia wuch masmeselunina lelawn legizew nikeh tewewu.

  9. Drama
    | #9

    WHAT ISSUE THAT MAKES KILLINGS GENOCIDAL IS THE REASON BEHIND THE MURDERS. IF THE REASON BEHIND THE GENOCIDER IS ATTACHED TO THE VICTIMS’ INSEPARABLE TANGIBLE OR INTANGIBLE IDENTITIES, SUCH AS COLOR OF SKIN, RACE, GENDER, BELIEF, ETC, THEN IT IS GENOCIDE. IF THE SOCIAL CLASSES OR POLITICAL GROUPS THIS WRITER IS TALKING ABOUT ARE FUNDAMENTALLY CREATED BEHIND THESE “IDENTITY INSEPARABLE” ISSUES, THEN AGAIN IT IS GENOCIDE. HOWEVER, MOST SOCIAL AND POLITICAL GROUPS (OVER 99% OF THE CIVILIZED WORLD) ARE NOT FUNDAMENTALLY CREATED BY IDENTITY IDEOLOGIES. THEY ARE CREATED BY HUMAN RACE FUNDAMENTALS (ALL MEAN ARE CREATED EQUAL). SOCIAL, AND POLITICAL CONSEQUENCES THAT ARE CLASSIFIED UNDER INTRA OR INTER HUMAN IDEOLOGIES ARE NOT GENOCIDE. HIGH DEATH RATE DUE TO THESE FACTORS DOESN’T NECCESSARILY MEAN GENOCIDE IS TAKING PLACE. IF ALL SOCIAL AND POLITICAL VICTIMS ARE INCLUDED IN THE GENOCIDE W/O REASON, THEN THE US WOULD HAVE BEEN THE #1 GENOCIDER IN THE WORLD. POLITICAL WAR IS A SETTLEMENT OF IDEOLOGY DISPUTE.
    SO LET US MAKE IT SIMPLE.
    DERG WAS NEVER INTERESTED IN CHASING PEOPLE BECAUSE OF THEIR GOD GIVEN, INSEPARABLE, IDENTITIES OF ALL ETHNIC ETHIOPIANS, WHILE TPLF IS. PERIOD.

  10. abay
    | #10

    The whole problem boils down to our mental capacity.did you listened to Deuche Welle program comparing the outgoing illiterate Brazilian president and the Ivorian ‘professor’ president?pls do.

    Ethiopia has so many ‘professors’.good for them.they are professors anyhow!

  11. aha!
    | #11

    I applaud the timely intervention by Abebe Gelaw, a journalist on topic about the definition of genocide and charges imposed on the Dergue officials for genocide rather than politicide substanciated by a laweyer/authority on the subject by Eskinder Nega, another journalist and Tecola Hagos, an ordinary commentator like the rest of us. To begin with he should have presented his response or commentary in the discussion forum like the rest of us to vent his vindictiveness for the Dergue regime, denying him the opportunity to present his argument in a rational manner had he applied inductive logic.

    Here is my take on the prevailing concepts:

    Perpetrators &/or Victims. Genocide.War Crimes. Human Right. Politicide
    . . . .
    TPLF
    . . . .
    TPLF/eprdf
    . . . .
    Derg Regime
    . . . .
    EPRP
    . . . .
    MEISON
    . . . .
    OLF, etc.
    . . . .
    EPLF
    . . . .

    One can make a tick mark on the above concepts with respect to Perpetrators &/or victims in terms of evidences presented towards each allegations to get the rational outcome. While Derg massacred EPRP, who stood up against Military Dictotorship in favor of Civilian Rule with underlying communist ideology and a common frame work for maintaining the unity and territorial integrity of Ethiopia, TPLF with its entourage were engaged in a liberatin movemnts for their ethnic groups, aserting the oppression of the nations and nationalities under a communistic revolution/ideology, rather than class struggle, event after the fall of the Monarchy. After, coming to power and implementing ethnic and secessionist politics, of a divide and rule policy, TPLF/eprdf was engaged in all sortes of attrocities: incarcerations, extrajudicial killings to those who stood up to regime in terms of Unity, territorial integrity, sovereignity of Ethiopia and Ethiopians and war crimes agaist the secessionist liberation movements, granted in the constitution but not yet fullfiled, which put the country in a war mode, and border disputes, loss of territories and west and annexations of districts from Wollo and Gonder to Tigrai region and maintaining the constitution at gun point and lateley by scare tactics and seduction into TPLF/eprdf membership to secure jobs and receive benefits donated from other countries.

    To the contray Derg fought back with Somalian regime to regain its invaded territories and fought hard with TPLF and EPLF to maintain unity and integrity of Ethiopia, where both sides will have to be examined from the stand point of war crimes and human right violations.

  12. ተኩዋለ
    | #12

    የአበበ ገላዉ ነገር – ራስ ሲመለጥ ነገር ሲመለጥ!
    አበበ ገላዉ፣ እስክንድር ነጋ፣ … የሩቅም ሆነ የቅርብ ዘመድ፣ ወዳጅ፣ ወገን ወይም ጉዋደኛ በፋሽስቱ ደርግና በተባባሪ ባንዶቻቸዉ የተነካ ላይኖራችሁ ይችላል። የእናንተንም ዝንብ እሽ አልብለዉም ይሆናል። ወይንም ደንታ ቢስ መንፈስ የሰፈርባችሁ ትሆኑ ይሆናል – ማን አዉቆ።

    በሰዉ በላዉ ደርግ ያላግባብ የተጨፈቸፈዉ ያትዉልድ በማያያችሁ በማይሰማችሁ ሁኔታ ላይ ቢሆንም እንኩዋ ተቆርቁዋሪ የቅርብም ሆነ የሩቅ ዘመዶቻቸዉ በህይወት እንዳሉ ብታዉቁ፤ ወገን እና ጉዋደኞቻቸው ሁሉ ክፉኛ እንደሚታዘቡዋችሁ ብታዉቁ፤ ከሁሉም በላይ ደግሞ ሞትን በክብር የተቀበሉለትን አላ ያነገቡ ጉዋዶቻቸዉ በትግሉ ሜዳ አሁንም እይተዋደቁ እንዳሉ ብታዉቁ ኖሮ ጉዳዩን እንደዉሻዎቻችሁ (ካሉዋችሁ) ደም ባላያችሁት ነበር። የዚያን ትዉልድ ዉድ ደም እንደ ትንኝ ደም እንዳልቆተረዉ ፈርጣጩ ኮሎኔል መንግስቱ ባትሆኑ ኑሮ ጉዳዩን የስነ-ፅሁፎቻችሁ ዉበት መለኪያ ባላደርጋችሁት ነበር። በፅሆፎቻችሁ በምትስቡዋቸዉ ስለምንታዎች ለመዝናናት ባልዳዳችሁም ነበር።

    መጥኔ! ትዉልድ ይፋረዳችሁ!

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