Birtukan backs new EU democracy initiative By Abebe Gellaw
Ethiopian pro-democracy icon Birtukan Mideksa has joined forces with prominent leaders around the world to endorse the European Endowment for Democracy (EED).
In an endorsement petition sent to the European Union and member states, Birtukan enthusiastically supported EED, which is under formation with a view to promoting the struggle for democracy and freedom around the world. With her endorsement to the initiative, Birtukan joined hands with eminent individuals including former Czech president Vaclav Havel, Burmese pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi, former Polish president Lech Walesa, former Polish Prime Minister Tadeusz Mazowiecki and Carl Gershman, President of the National Endowment for Democracy.
“We, who have struggled for freedom and democracy, wish to express our unequivocal support for the initiative to establish a European Endowment for democracy. The winds of change in North Africa demonstrated that the need for democratization, freedom and full-fledged civil society is universal,” the signatories stated.
They further noted that the prospect for a democratic transition across the world, from Belarus to Zimbabwe, remains fragile and need to be supported. “Under no circumstances can we let down all those who have risked their lives struggling for democracy.
Shortcomings of existing EU’s democracy and governance funding mechanisms cannot be an excuse for not supporting strongly enough courageous activists,” they noted.
Birtukan told Addis Voice that she supports the EED initiative as it would add impetus to the struggle for freedom, democracy and justice around the world. “One of the reasons why there is a democratic deficit in many countries around the world including my own country Ethiopia is because there is no sufficiently robust support mechanism for freedom movements around the world. There is widespread indifference, double-standard and lack of empathy among democratic governments in the West that can make huge differences if they seriously commit resources and take practical actions to boost the struggle of people suffering under tyrannical regimes,” she said.
Birtukan expressed hope that EED, would significantly buttress independent media initiatives, democratic elections, civil society organizations and most importantly efforts to free nations from the scourges of dictatorship, which is a backward system of governance that must have no place in the 21st century.
A 2011 Reagan-Fascell Democracy Fellow at the National Endowment for Democracy, Birtukan, has been re-committing herself, after suffering greatly in jails and solitary confinement, to her struggle for freedom and dignity. Last month, she took part in Amnesty International’s Write for Rights initiative.
In a letter Amnesty sent out to millions people around the world, Birtukan wrote: “I was arrested in 2005 after my political party participated in protests disputing the results of the elections. Security forces responded to the public outcry with deadly force, shooting dead 193 people and wounding 765 others. I committed no crime. I was targeted solely for peacefully expressing my political views.”
She reminded activists around the world that words are very powerful and urged them to keep the good work alive. She appealed people across the world to take part in AI’s letter writing campaign, Write for Rights initiative.
At a candlelight vigil held recently in front of the White House, Birtukan made a rousing speech. She emphasized on the need to speak out against repressions and human rights abuses in Ethiopia. “Those who oppress us may think that we will not be heard. But we will be heard and should keep on raising our voices.” She demanded the unconditional release of journalists and activists who have been charged with fabricated “terrorism” offences in the latest round of show trial in Ethiopia.