Birtukan Mideksa’s Speech at Amnesty International

December 14th, 2011 Print Print Email Email

“ Amnesty International, My Release, and Human Rights in Ethiopia: A Perspective from a Former Political Prisoner” (more…)

“ Amnesty International, My Release, and Human Rights in Ethiopia: A Perspective from a Former Political Prisoner”

Good evening ladies and gentlemen,

Listen the audio here:

It is my pleasure to be in your presence today and to speak at this Write‐a¬thon event. Similar events that Amnesty International has hosted in the past years have made my appearance today possible. Thousands of letters written through this same project made sure my name was not forgotten. The pressure exerted by Amnesty and others made it impossible for my captors to keep me behind bars. I would like to use this opportunity to appreciate what the staff and action members of the Amnesty did in defense of my case in the difficult times of my imprisonment.

When I was thrown to federal prison of Ethiopia in the year 2008, no one expected that I would be locked up in solitary confinement and that I would not be allowed to have a visit from my friends, my relatives and my lawyer. That was not because people believed in the track record of Ethiopian prisons but because that did not happen in the first round of my incarceration as a political prisoner. In that lonely time of mine, I did not have a chance to see or greet any fellow human being over the weeks and days, with the only exception of my momentary encounter with the wardens who used to lock and unlock my cell. But things changed a little bit when I was mingled with other two cellmates and when I get transferred to another cell. This time around, six women wardens were assigned to monitor and supervise us. Every one of the wardens had spent a good deal of her life in the guerrilla warfare led by the political party which has stayed in power for the last twenty years. For reasons I didn’t know, the situation was set in a way that I could talk to these ladies. But their bias, considering me a troublemaker, did not allow me to make up for what I missed in solitary confinement. Nevertheless, I developed a conversational relationship with one of them through time. Initially we did not chat on anything substantive. We tended to talk about our kids, and about the life she is leading as a prison police and other mundane life matters.

Along the process, the perception of my new friend became entirely changed. In fact she became confused. She was not able to understand why I was in prison with a life sentence just for making a political statement, just for expressing my beliefs. But it was naïve of her not to realize how her former guerilla leaders got changed a lot and alienated themselves from their comrades like her. She felt like she could express whatever discontent she had about the activities of her party, and she believed that her say would be taken into consideration. And then, she directly contacted one of the officials of the prison to tell him how she found my arrest to be ridiculous. Unfortunately, the only great friendship I enjoyed for a while had to end at that moment. My friend was transferred to another section immediately. But I will remain indebted for the invaluable companionship she gave me and for the positive energy she bestowed on me which really helped me not to lose my humanity. When this lady knew me in some abstract sense I was someone who is committed to creating a nuisance in the system. But when she grew to know me personally, she could not close her eyes to the interconnectedness we have as human beings, and that in turn led her to see my case in the new light of rationality. Finally, she was unable to disregard the injustice I was subjected to. Dear friends, As you might all know, the raison d’être of all kinds of atrocities which expose the evil in the human race were doctrines, ideologies and views which failed to view each fellow human being as a part of one universal whole. In fact the basic commonality that we can see in these inhumane worldviews is their vehement attempt to divide that whole and to impose such a strong sense of “us versus them” among fellow human beings. On the contrary, the belief in our Brotherhood and Sisterhood has been sustaining all the meaningful activities, like that of Amnesty, which have been carried out in defense of citizens’ rights. I think one can recognize the equality and liberty of other people just to not relapse to the of state of nature as it is illustrated by Thomas Hobbes. One can respect another’s rights because he is afraid of the retaliation that might compromise his own rights. But to fight for the rights of others, one needs to consider others as part of oneself. In the 21st Century, there is no Nazism with its bold narratives with an intention of subduing certain sector of the public .We don’t have the strong block of the Marxist countries which presses a doctrine of totalitarian coercion in the name of the oppressed. Nevertheless, people who are obsessed with greed for power and who failed to see themselves within their co‐citizens are still widely engaged in brutal abuse of human rights all around the world.

But there is another aggravating factor which emanates from another corner as well .We have world leaders who have a hail of zeal and passion to protect and respect the rights of their citizens but who somehow loose that intense passion when it comes to the liberties of a fellow human being, who accidentally happens to be a citizen of another country. I don’t think these leaders and politicians are endorsing what is being done by the real observant tyrants. But it is a pity that their immersion in the numerous details and tactics of short term political success, curtails their empathy for the plights and suffering of their co‐citizens in this world .Their assessment is too general and their direction is very impersonal .That made them loose an element of humanity in their transactions.

This is exactly what is happening regarding numerous political activists, journalists, and opposition party supporters who are languishing in the horrible prisons of Ethiopia while I am speaking. The fact that democracy is getting new grounds in our world leads the rulers of Ethiopia to intensify their repressive actions against all their citizens who have dissenting opinions. The renowned journalist of our country, Eskinder Nega, is in prison because of what he wrote and spoke for the 8th times in his life. The young political party leader ,Andualem Arage, is taking the bitter experience of incarceration without committing any crime for another second term. The brave woman journalist Reyot Alemu has spent the last several months in the horrible Ethiopian prison for allegedly reporting for some website which is being run from here. These are only some of the names which headline the list of political prisoners who are victimized by the recent repressive measure of the regime. Funnily enough, all are charged with acts of terrorism. I think the charge is named after the terrified state of mind of the rulers than the actual acts of the prisoners. Of course it was easy to give a legal face for these cases since Ethiopia had adopted an anti‐terrorism law which criminalizes every types of dissent in the country. While our citizens are being inflicted with angering injustice, we never heard a word from any major actors of the international community who are supposed to stand with people, who are suffering for the values we share as members of human race. It is because of this kind of gap that Amnesty International’s Write‐A‐Thon project has an indispensable role. It somehow utilizes the power of ordinary citizens to humanize the policies and transactions of their governments.

So,if any one of you would like to give new life to a person who is thrown in the darkness, write those letters to the politicians in your country. If you want to stop the unimaginable agony and pain of someone who is entirely innocent, write and send those letters to people in higher places. If you want to change the confusion and helplessness created in minds of the little ones as a result of their parent’s incarceration, I tell you it is a good idea to write those letters. Those letters has helped me, those letters has given relief to my daughter ,of course those letters has stopped the mourning of my aging mother. Don’t consider it as something insignificant. It would definitely attack all the tyrants of the world in the battlefield they don’t like to have: the battlefield of truth and justice. But I don’t want to hide one fact from you. I always long to see a world that doesn’t need Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch or Reporters without Borders. Who knows‐one day we all could share the poetic inspiration of John Donne and sing the refrains together:

No man is an island, entire of itself every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main………….. any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls it tolls for thee.

  1. MELKAMU
    | #1

    It is good work by Birtukan to expose the misery of Ethiopians under TPLF junta.However,we have to know that such human rights organizations like Amnesty or Human Rights Watch are main invisible Instruments and guardians of the Western upper class elitist oligarchies and Western Governments.Therefore such organizations usually target to attack countries and respective regimes whenever such regimes and countries are not in line with the interest of Western Governments.This is what is behind the curtain we well know.For example if the Western governments do not want regimes like Ghadafi then all human rights violations are fabricated from scratch and then disseminated through the mainstream media.However if the Western governments are in support of the incumbent regime then such organizations keeps quite or give deaf ears to such human rights violations as long as it is possible to hide it.Therefore now days human rights and democracy are becoming an insidious tool to attack alleged belligerent and independent countries not in line with the imperial interest of the Western governments.
    Any way it is good to expose such human rights violations.
    However it is also better to understand the inner workings of such organizations so that we shall nor make unwarranted reliance and trust on them for our true liberation.

  2. Anonymous
    | #2

    WOOOOOOOOOOOOW it is great speech BURTUKAN

  3. Bright Hope
    | #3

    Britukan,

    I commend you on your excellent speech!

    Ethiopia is entering a new era. Ato Meles and his gang do not have time or history on their side. It is a matter of time before Ethiopia erupts like a volcano and burns these fascists.

    I am also touched by the warned that spoke up against your arrest. It is clear that the leadership is the toxic part of Woyane not its members.

    Thank you for your sacrifice for justice and human dignity. Keep up what you are doing!

  4. Bright Hope
    | #4

    Correction: *warden

  5. እኒም አንዱአለም ነኝ
    | #5

    ወ/ሪት ብርቱካን በጣም እንወድሻለን በርች ይህ የበርሀ አውሪ በቅርቡ ይሰናበታል ሀገራችን የሁላችን ናት በዘርና በቃንቃ ያልተከፋፈለች ኢትዮጵያ ትኖረናለች ተስፋችን አምላካችን ነው አንዱለም እስክንድርም ርዮትም ውብሸትም ሁሉም የፖለቲካ እስረኞች ያለምንም ቅድመ ሁኒታ ይፈታሉ አውሪውም አብሮ ከሚያስደነብረው ከሚያስጨንቀው በጠላትነት ከፈረጀው የኢትዮጵያ ህዝብ ጋር ለመኖር ጊዘው ለሱ ነው ከተጠቀመበት አሁንም አልመሽም አልረፈደበትም ኩሩ ህዝብ ይቅር ባይ ህዝብ አላት ኢትዮጵያ እና አይዞሺ የምትወጃትን ሀገርሺን በእውቀትሺ ታገለግያታለሽ እታለም ስሚኝ እውነት እውነት እልሻለሁ የዚህ ሁሉ መከራ የተሰጠንን የቢት ስራ በትክክል ባለመስራታችን ነው; ካሁን በኅላ በትክክል ሁሉንም ለሚያደርገው ለሱ ከአውሪው በፊት ስለምንሰጠው ሁሉም የኛ ነው;;
    እኒም አንዱአለም ነኝ መናገር መጻፍ ቲሪሪስት የሚሰኝ ከሆነ አዎ ነኝ ምን ይጠበስ መለስ? ወይስ ስብሃት ነጋ አዋጅ አዋጅ አዋጅ የትግራይ ተወላጅ የሆናችሁ በሙሉ የአውሪው መለስ ስብሀትና በረከት በስምህ እየነገዱብህ ነውና አይንህን ክፈት እና ከወገንህ ከ ኢትዮጵያ ህዝብ ጎን ቁም እኒ ኢትዮጵያዊ እንጅ ሀገሪን የምጠላ የምሺጥ ባንዳ ሰላቶ አይደለሁም ብለህ ተናገረው አውሪው በስምህ እየተጠቀመብህ ነው;; ስለዚህ ተንስ ባንድነት ቁመህ ያባትና የናትህን ደም ደመ ከልብ እንዲሆን በስምህ የሚምለው የመለስ ስብሃት ቅርሻት ይብቃህ;;

    አመሰግናለሁ እንም አንዱለም እኒም እስክንድር እንም ርዮት እኒም ውብሸት ነኝ;;

  6. Kef Gebremedhin
    | #6

    Thank you Birtukan, for your thoughtful and inspiring speech.

    There are moments in my life when I have been moved to tears because of the power of words, the speeches of people, people who speak of their ordeals in prisons and lives of isolation they have suffered.

    Not only that such people have intimated me to their unyielding spirits and love of freedom. But also in them I have seen hopes. With age, experience, exposures and the changes in human societies around us, especially as the situation in our country fast deteriorates the speech by Judge Birtukan has proved soothing and uplifting.

    Indeed it is one of those great moments in the power of the human spirit!

    In recent memory, the last time I was swept of my feet by speech was on 15 July 2011. It was when I heard Aung San Suu Kyi speak as the annual Reith Lecturer on BBC on the theme of Securing Freedom. She delivered that elevated and inspiring lecture from her family house, the powers to be converted to a prison—isolated from other people.

    As a matter of fact, The Lady had spent a greater part of her political life in Burma under imprisonment either in jail or in her house. I should thank the BBC for secretly recording and smuggling her Reith Lecture out of that country. She has since been freed and Burma is keeping hope alive anticipating that would indeed usher in freedom for the whole country.

    Among the many pertinent truths that Aung San Suu Kyi spoke of in that Lecture was her view of commonality of the struggles of peoples in different countries and backgrounds. Of that she said; “[But) the struggle to survive under oppression and the passion to be the master of one’s own fate and the captain of one’s own soul is common to all races: ”

    Similarly, Judge Birtukan Mideksa stressed that both in Ethiopia and in some other countries, there still are people in power unconvinced by the power and determination of the people to free their societies and themselves. Of them she said:

    “In the 21st Century, there is no Nazism with its bold narratives with an intention of subduing certain sector of the public. We don’t have the strong block of the Marxist countries, which presses a doctrine of totalitarian coercion in the name of the oppressed. Nevertheless, people who are obsessed with greed for power and who failed to see themselves within their co-citizens are still widely engaged in brutal abuse of human rights all around the world.”

    That indeed is true, as all defenders of freedom and dignity share the same qualities—vision, love of freed and selfless courage of Aung San Suu Kyi, Birtukan Mideksa, and et al. They all have an indomitable will that no incarceration and isolation can break. That is what is fueling the silent and sometimes not so silent protests in Ethiopia.

    After Judge Birtukan Mideksa was released from her life sentence in prison and when she decided to leave the country, the Meles regime must have breathed a sigh of relief too early. In today’s interconnected world, she need not be in Ethiopia to continue the struggle. To their disappointment, she is now continuing in an environment free of threats, breathing the air of freedom, admiration, support and respect. She would continue to do doing what she is good at–fighting for freedom–with the world as her stage to expose that brutality she endured and that many thousands still remain its victims today.

    I am as proud of Judge Birtukan Mideksa, our Ethiopian heroine, who has courageously fought to expose systematic and naked brutality in Ethiopia.

    This is a very powerful and inspiring speech. I commend it to all around the world.

  7. Mengistu Teshale
    | #7

    I agree with assertions of author fully, but I would also like to plead with Ethiopians to stop trusting these guys too easily. Although we should give people like Seye the benefits of doubts embrace them when they leave TPLF, we should never trust them fully, not the extent to give them a leading position in opposition party. In fact we have to find a way to bring new leaders, who has never been incremented in any type of crime in the past, to the forefront. T

    Dear Butukan,
    For a person of my age who lived through three regimes in Ethiopia, they last bit of hope for my beloved country becomes bigger when I see a relatively young people like you, with a great deal convections, uncorrupted integrity and stilly discipline takes to task, the corrupt, sadistic, narcissistic child killer like Melese. I always thought that you are larger than life and even Ethiopia. I am glad to see you that you have already taken positions to serve humanity. The mere fact that you exists makes the despot and his followers in Ethiopia dwarf and worthless, even with billion stashed in foreign bank. You are his nightmare. He must be biting his nail for letting you go. Burtu, Life test better when you know that a person like you is coming back to the forefront to fight for Ethiopia, Ethiopians, humanity and for common good.
    Burtu, as far I am concerned, you are my leader and I will always remain your solder because you are tested time and time again with fire, you have come shining away like bright star a winner, even after the dwarfed despot tried to crash your spirit. Please remain active.
    Shame on the so called elderlies (shmaglie) for not defending the truth and you!
    May God bless you?

  8. Mengistu Teshale
    | #8

    Dear Butukan,
    For a person of my age who lived through three regimes in Ethiopia, they last bit of hope for my beloved country becomes bigger when I see a relatively young people like you, with a great deal of convections, uncorrupted integrity and stilly discipline takes to task, the corrupt, sadistic, narcissistic child killer like Melese. I always thought that you are larger than life and even Ethiopia. I am glad to see you that you have already taken positions to serve humanity. The mere fact that you exists makes the despot and his followers in Ethiopia dwarf and worthless, even with billion stashed in foreign bank. You are his nightmare. He must be biting his nail for letting you go. Burtu, Life test better when you know that a person like you is coming back to the forefront to fight for Ethiopia, Ethiopians, humanity and for common good.
    Burtu, as far I am concerned, you are my leader and I will always remain your solder because you are tested time and time again with fire, you have come shining away like bright star – a winner, even after the dwarfed despot tried to crash your spirit. Please remain active.
    Shame on the so called elderlies (shmaglie) for not defending the truth and you!
    May God bless you?

  9. Gigi
    | #9

    Great speech Birtukan. You spoke with a lot of objectivity and about what really matters. The point you made is showing
    A good Picture of the TPLF/ EPRDFs true face to the world about human writs abuse that is taking place in Ethiopia
    Among other things that you can’t talk about in Ethiopia or any where in the world if you don’t have freedom of speech.

    When they arrested you last time, it was because of what you said some where in Europe I believe.

    Thanks Birtukan.

  10. Kitaw
    | #10

    Birtukan u did not commit a crime, it is the most appalling, brutal and untold cruelty to incarcerate u as a criminal. It simply tells of the unbounded wildness of the Meles regime that is hell bent on ruling Ethiopians with an equivalent of a thug dictating his wish through a bush knife. Meles is walking naked…exposed for his brutality for the last 20+ years. He for sure will be thrown to the dust bin of history and forgotten. Meles is a vivid expression of an abnormal and wicked brain.

  11. Anonymous
    | #11

    Great speech Judge Birtukan, proud of you. Thank you for being the voice for the voiceless Ethiopians. The story about the warden shows me that, the opposition leaders indeed failed to inform Ethiopian people about the true nature of TPLF. Yes, the bloody hand tyrant and his thugs have all the money in their hands, but the opposition leaders could have used the power of eighty million Ethiopian people if they had inform them about the enemy of Ethiopians.

  12. Anonymous
    | #12

    Thanks Birtu! Alehegne

  13. Alehegne
    | #13

    Thanks Birtu!!

  14. Inde Hewan – TPLF propaganda-buster
    | #14

    Re “Melkamu”: This one is a classic among TPLF propaganda efforts, with the usual predictable steps:

    Step 1: Start out with praise for the dictator’s critique (in this case Birtukan), and in fact pretend to be a critic oneself

    Step 2: Launch the salvo of attack, displaying your real colours. In this case, target of attack are int’l human rights organisations (IHROs).

    Step 3: In so doing, present incredulously twisted analysis to make one’s case — in this case, conflating IHROs with western governments … although in reality it’s well known that IHROs and Western administrations are on opposite ends on Meles: the former critique the Meles dictatorship while the latter consdier Meles an ally!

    Step 4: End on an “inspirational” note, reverting back to the pretense of Step 1 that one is a govt critic (vague language of liberation).

    My recommendation: Try out your own deconstruction of TPLF propaganda, and you’ll be surprised how formulaeic and predictable it is!

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