Is European Union (EU) automated teller machine (ATM) for dictatorial regimes? By Kiflu Hussain
As per the invitation I received from East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Project (EHAHRDP) to attend the launching of the establishment of Pan African Human Rights Defenders (HRDs) Network in Kampala, I took part in a rather distinguished gathering of diplomats and renowned human rights activists on February 4,2013.A few minutes later after I arrived at the venue alongside an exiled journalist from my own country, we were both confronted with a bit of an awkward moment.Apparently, the person who extended the invitation to us by phone on behalf of EHAHRDP, should have explained that among the dignitaries attending the launching is the ambassador of the Ethiopian regime with whom both of us have serious beefs. To apologize for this oversight, the senior protection officer of Pan African HRD Network approached us before the good ambassador of “ours” arrived at the venue. Being a young blood, wherein it’s natural for youngsters to express outrage against injustice and all its symbols without beating around the bush, my friend told the protection officer that he can’t sit in a gathering for human rights with a representative of a regime notorious for violating rights. He also informed her as to how just “yesterday the regime that this ambassador represents shut down one of the few independent paper called Addis Times.” Despite the protection officer acknowledging all these while trying to sell the idea that human rights groups should engage governments at the end of the day to achieve their objectives, he didn’t budge and so he walked out.
At the time, I had no problem agreeing with the different position taken by the right group and the individual human rights defender, who incidentally was a fellow at Stanford University. Since the Ethiopian regime is beyond any engagement due to its perennially egregious human rights record, I fully understand why my friend doesn’t want to be seen associating with one of its official in a “human rights” gathering. What he did, after all, isn’t anything different from what Archbishop Desmond Tutu did. In August 2012, Tutu withdrew from a platform in order to avoid being with Tony Blair. Tutu found Blair’s support for the invasion of Iraq by the U.S to be “morally indefensible” thus his avoidance to associate with the former UK PM in a platform where lofty ideals on humanity were supposed to be entertained.
My own dilemma
Having decided to remain after justifying that it would be pretty awkward for a right group that launched or transformed itself into a Pan African HRD Network without inviting a representative of an African nation that hosts the headquarter of African Union, I turned my attention to the occasion. As the meeting progressed, however, I noticed that apart from the renowned regional and international human rights activists listed as speakers in the programme, some diplomats too began to make impromptu speeches. I was really afraid that despite incisive remarks by an Egyptian human rights activist,Mr.Ziad Tawab who rightly pointed out that any claim of economic development without respect for human rights is a falsehood, that the Ethiopian ambassador,Mr.Degife Bula would stand up and give us the hackneyed phrase on Ethiopia’s “grand economic transformation.”My mind was racing as to what I should do, if the ambassador pulls such a stunt. Should I merely boo him or dress him down like his former master Meles Zenawi (RIP) who was dressed down by another exiled fellow called Abebe Gellaw during the G8 summit at the Ronald Reagan Building in May 2012?After all, while this joker was sitting with us in a human rights platform, his top brasses in Addis added their latest “conquest” by stifling one more independent voice wherefore they jailed a journalist named Solomon Kebede for covering the consistent Ethiopian Muslim protests./See the statement released by CPJ on February 1,2013./Thankfully, the ambassador saved me as well as himself from such embarrassment.
Unfortunately,I wasn’t able to escape from the usual hypocrisy of the “international community” which I witnessed it first hand during this occasion. The EU Ambassador in Uganda, Mr. Roberto Ridolfi who officially launched the Pan African Network alongside Mr. Hassan Shire Sheikh piqued my interest negatively by saying “if HRDs look for money from EU, forget it.EU isn’t an ATM for HRDs.If you need political assistance, we’re available.”The EU ambassador might not have uttered these words had he arrived punctually to listen to the Egyptian activist’s speech. This was what Mr.Ziad earlier said. “We aren’t looking for funds from donors. We want political assistance from them.”Sadly, the political assistance which we always crave in a form of pressure like the one exerted on states such as Eritrea, Zimbabwe etc will never materialize on other “rogue” states such as Ethiopia. On the contrary, the “international community” such as EU will continue to be ATM to tyrannical regimes so long as they continue to pander to its interests. While the EU ambassador in Uganda was making insincere promise to assist human rights politically, a pro government “independent” paper called The Reporter revealed that very day EU’s announcement of a “strategy” to assist the Ethiopian regime with over 100 million Euro annually. What better example than this that EU is ATM to dictators but not ATM to HRDs?
An Ethiopian social & political commentator exiled in Uganda