‘No Tomorrow Without Yesterday’ – By Yilma Bekele

November 2nd, 2008 Print Print Email Email

The November 2005 massacre of 193 Ethiopians by government forces is one of the darkest days in our ancient history. (more…)

The November 2005 massacre of 193 Ethiopians by government forces is one of the darkest days in our ancient history. It was the final deathblow to any hope and reconciliation wished by all war and conflict weary Ethiopians. It was a day that the Ethiopian government decided to rule by any means necessary.

This was not the first time that the regime has used lethal force to settle differences. Here are some of the hallmarks of “single party” rule; the December 13 Gambella Massacre, 1 the Awasa killings of May 2002, 2 the ongoing war crimes in Somalia, the human rights abuse of our citizens in Ogaden, the illegal detention of thousands of citizens and the frequent flare-ups of ethnic conflicts.

In November 2005 all avenues of peaceful co-existence were sealed. The murder of a democratically elected parliament member is the ultimate fascist act. The regime entered a no turning point in its relationship with the Ethiopian people. It made it loud and clear that there is only one way and one way alone. It was step behind or step aside.

Rule by coercion and force is nothing new. We do not have to go far to cite an example. It is all around us. It will take generations for the ghosts of Colonel Mengistu, Idi Amin or Mobutu to leave our conscience.
The TPLF regime thus made a conscious effort to use the power of the ‘State’ to impose its rule. The last three years have brought further untold agony and suffering to all our friends and relatives.
On the other hand, November is also a special month. It is a month that opened a new avenue for oppressed people to redress their grievances in front of all of humanity.

This is the story of Chile the country, President Salvador Alliende the first democratically elected Socialist leader in the Americas, and General Augusto Pinochet leader of the Chilean Junta or Derg. On the morning of September 11, 1973, Salvador Alliende was violently ousted by Chile’s armed forces, led by General Pinochet. From 1973 to 1988 the General ruled Chile with an iron fist. His regime is known for its brutal repression, and for causing the disappearance or death of over 3000 Citizens and migration of thousands. He is quoted to have said ‘”Not a leaf moves in Chile if I don’t know about it”

Based on the provisions of his own Constitution, a referendum was held in 1988. The ‘No’ vote that required presidential and parliamentary elections within a year won the day. He was forced to relinquish power within a year. As an insurance policy, the dictator had previously inserted provisions in the 1980 Constitution that granted the office of ‘Senator for life to all ex-presidents with at least six years in office’. Crafty fellow. this Pinochet is. After the elections he was sworn as Senator for life. His official status gave him ‘immunity from prosecution’ thus protecting him from legal action.

This house of cards built so carefully fell apart on October 17, 1998 while the dictator was in the UK for medical treatment. Who is responsible for upsetting the apple cart? It was none other than a Spanish judge named Baltasar Garzon who charged the dictator with ‘systematic torture, murder, illegal detention and forced disappearances’ and issued an arrest warrant. The British police were left with no choice except detain the General.

Global Policy Forum said ‘The 1998 detention of former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet in London and the subsequent legal proceedings against him marked one of the most important events in international law since Nuremberg’.

It was the first time a former head of state was arrested for crimes committed while in office. The act pitted two opposing views. ‘… traditionalists argued that the maintenance of serene relations between states required the courts of one state to refrain from sitting in judgment over the highest officials of another; the modernists argued that no person was above the law where the most serious international crimes were involved’.

It was gratifying that the British House of Lords based their decision to allow his extradition to Spain on the UN General Assembly resolution 39/46 of 10 December 1984 commonly referred to as ‘the 1984 convention outlawing torture’. According to the law lords, immunity was removed from crimes covered by the United Nations Convention Against Torture. They also said ‘that crimes against humanity could not be considered as the normal acts of a head of state.’

It was an important watershed in the war against injustice. The concept of ‘Universal jurisdiction’ took center stage in combating these serial murderers hiding behind sovereignty. The British court decision opened the floodgates.

It gave rise to the establishment of the International Criminal Court. Solbodan Milosevic, Charles Taylor, Radovan Karadzic, were made to answer for their crimes. The current President of Sudan is trying to wiggle his way out to no avail.

The Pinochet case showed that no amount of rewriting of the Constitution will erase criminal acts committed using the power of the state. In the words of Mrs. Mary Robinson, the UN High Commissioner of Human Rights ‘torture is an international crime subject to universal jurisdiction.’

Interpreting the concept of sovereignty in a very narrow manner could lead to erroneous conclusions that will have grave consequences. The current Draft submitted by the government regarding NGO’s is based on false assumptions regarding sovereignty. According a senior advisor ‘”It is not repressive, because this is a matter that is between Ethiopia and foreigners, so foreigners have their domain, we have our domain. As a sovereign state which runs Ethiopia, we are designing our own law, and any foreigner who is ready to work in Ethiopia should come and see the law, and if it feels comfortable with the law, it can continue to work. If he does not feel comfortable, then we are not going to force them to work here.”

Unfortunate for them, that was yesterday. Today there is a new international situation confronting ‘Nation States’. The shift is towards ‘I am my brother’s keeper’ and acceptance of the world as one small village. It is futile to think that forcing NGO’s not to report Human Right Abuses will make the problems go away. The abused are a living testimony. The result of this unjust system is chronic civil strife, food shortages, spiral inflation and migration of the young.

Human Rights knows no boundaries and local laws enacted using kangaroo parliaments do not stand a chance in the court of International scrutiny. In August of 2000 the Supreme Court of Chile voted to strip Pinochet of ‘parliamentary immunity’. By December, the Chilean people overwhelmed the capacity of the judicial system to handle the cry of the victims.

Die hard Pinochet supporters used to defend him by claiming that he did not ‘steal’. How unfortunate that a ‘US Senate Permanent sub-Committee on Investigations pointed at Riggs Bank as a money launderer for the dictator and facilitated up to $28 million in stolen funds. 5 How ironic that his kleptomania landed him in hot water more than his thirst for blood. Al Capone was convicted for income tax evasion, go figure.

The BBC quotes a former prisoner of the dictator, a Mr. Navarrete, explaining his reason for supporting bringing Pinochet to justice as saying ‘..trial is a closure, our country is profoundly undemocratic because of things like this being swept under the carpet. But I do think he should be charged in court for what he did. This has nothing to do with vengeance. This has to do with justice.”’

General Pinochet died before he was thrown into the slammer for crimes against humanity. But the point was well made that no one is above the law. His contribution in the assertion of ‘Universal jurisdiction’ paved the way for his future demented children to pay the price both for his and their sins.
The title of this article is from a proposal put forward by former President Lagos of Chile to help reconcile the victims of the coup and bring the extcuitioners and tortures to justice. True justice will take some time but the journey has started.

1] http://www.genocidewatch.org/EthiopiaANUAKSMASSACREDGAMBELLAREGIONDEC13-15.htm
2] http://lists.sn.apc.org/pipermail/pol.ethiopia/2002-June/012165.html
3] http://www.globalpolicy.org/intljustice/universal/2004/0524ripple.htm
4] http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2008/oct/16/pinochet-law
5] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Augusto_Pinochet%27s_arrest_and_trial#cite_not

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