“Justice for One, Justice for All”
The Daniel Bekele Project Press Release | February 8, 2007
We are writing to request your legal, social and political intervention on behalf of Daniel Bekele, a human rights attorney, activist and scholar who is a Prisoner of Conscience in Ethiopia. At the University of Oxford, Daniel is a Ph.D. candidate with a Masters degree in Legal Research, in addition to a L.L.B in Law and a Masters degree in Development Studies from Addis Ababa University. As an attorney, Daniel’s fields of expertise are in Public International Law, Human Rights Law and Law in Development. Daniel actively participated in the Global Call to Action Against Poverty and he worked as a policy and advocacy manager to push for civic engagement in the political process at ActionAid Ethiopia, the South Africa-based international development organization. He also published papers with a focus on the freedom of expression and the application of international human rights law in his homeland of Ethiopia. Daniel’s contribution of his knowledge and his passion for peace shows his dedication to his belief in a peaceful and democratic change in Ethiopia.
The European Union Commissioner for Development and Humanitarian Assistance and the Carter Center, a non-profit organization with the central purpose of advancing human rights, observed that although ninety percent of Ethiopians voted in the May 2005 national election, Prime Minister Meles Zenawi’s ruling party rigged the election in its favor. Leading members of the opposition party, Coalition for Unity and Democracy, protested the electoral fraud. Clashes with Zenawi’s ruling party led to the murder of eighty-six protesters and the wounding and illegal jailing of tens of thousands of civilians in the June 8th and November 1st Addis Ababa massacres. Ethiopians faced displacement and the destabilization of their country at the hands of the Zenawi regime, while it seemed that the international community turned a deaf ear to Ethiopians’ cries for help.
Those who are entrusted with the force of governmental power should apply that power with justice and equity, not silence those individuals who express views contradictory, yet respectful, of the government’s stance. Many Ethiopians chose to oppose the repression of the Zenawi regime through political activism, peaceful protests and strikes. The regime retaliated with the arrest of thousands. Ethiopian Security Forces brutally pistol-whipped Daniel two weeks prior to his arrest for allegedly making statements critical of the regime. Daniel and others who did not participate in the demonstrations were later arrested on the suspicion that they had fomented the alleged civil unrest. On November 1st, Daniel, with 128 people and four organizations, was officially charged with “˜the crime of outrage against the Constitution and the constitutional order’. Individuals, such as Daniel, should not be condemned to harassment, intimidation, unlawful imprisonment and death for expressing their beliefs in a lawful manner against the Zenawi regime. Amnesty International believes that Daniel and the other defendants are Prisoners of Conscience who should not be facing charges carrying possible death sentences. Capital punishment or the threat of death should not be used as vengeance against the opposition and those unpopular with any government. It is also highly doubtful that a fair trial is possible when a government not only denies its citizens the freedom of assembly and expression, but replaces basic and fundamental human rights with oppression and systematic murder. Although the Zenawi regime claims that all the defendants will get a fair trial, Daniel has been subjected to both psychological and physical torture, including sleep deprivation. He was moved from his cell, forced to sleep in a shipping container and was subsequently moved into a crowded cell with more than 250 inmates. As a result, it has been exceptionally difficult for him to adequately prepare for his trial. Violence to life and person, outrages upon personal dignity, in particular, humiliating and degrading treatment, and the passing of sentences without previous judgment by a regularly constituted are recognized as indispensable by civilized people. All of these violations are proscribed not only by international law, but by the belief in common decency and human dignity.
A fair and just government should correct social and political injustices and advocate a humanitarian sensibility, not degrade and undermine the humanity of an individual and society as a whole. The Zenawi regime raises crucial questions of freedom, liberty and justice. The injustices committed in Ethiopia should shock the conscience of the global community so as to propel it into action to end the massive violations of human rights by the Zenawi regime. Human rights initiatives such as the Geneva Convention, the European Convention of Human Rights, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the United Nations Convention Against Torture share the same fundamental principle, the protection and guarantee of fundamental human rights regardless of an individual’s nationality. The internationalization of human rights sets in motion a legal obligation not to disregard the gross human rights violations in Ethiopia just because these actions are outside our own borders.
Silence is not golden. It is non-reactive, unproductive and leads to inhumanity. We risk our humanity by allowing ourselves to close our eyes to the atrocities that are committed by the Ethiopian regime against its citizens. It is crucial to recapture the moral authority that has vanished in the wake of the Zenawi regime. The evil is not that the laws are wanting, but that they cannot or will not be enforced. We need to regain a commitment to redress the wrongs against humanity and justice. To paraphrase Jean Jacques Rousseau, to renounce liberty is to renounce one’s humanity and such a renunciation is incompatible with the nature of humankind. Today, the lives of hundreds who are facing the death penalty hang in the balance. We seek your help in addressing the human rights violations already committed by the Zenawi regime and to prevent innocents from walking the path to the death chamber. It is not simply the lives of a handful of Ethiopians, but the very life of Ethiopia and our humanity which is threatened.
Very Truly Yours,
The Daniel Bekele Project