Open Letter to Secretary Clinton – by Robele Ababya
The Honorable Secretary Hillary Rodham Clinton
U.S. Department of State
2201C Street NW
Washington, DC 20520 (more…)
The Honorable Secretary Hillary Rodham Clinton
U.S. Department of State
2201C Street NW
Washington, DC 20520
Re: Chairwoman Birtukan of UDJP illegally in jail
The audacity for my writing this letter is inspired by your enviable noble qualities as a forgiving wife, loving mother, distinguished lawyer, and renowned champion of the human rights of women. You have earned the accolade of a champion of human rights, democracy and civil society as a result of your extensive travels to various parts of our globe. As representative of the USA at the Women’s Conference in Beijing in 1995 you delivered a famous speech. In that famous speech you are quoted as saying: “Human rights are women’s rights, and women’s rights are human rights”. These immortal words will be indelibly etched in the minds of young men and women of the present and future generations. Your famous speech unleashed a global movement for the right of women.
It is also the case, Honorable Secretary, that you were instrumental in launching the Vital Voices Democracy Initiative (VVDI) of the US government in collaboration with the former Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright. I find it appropriate to recall that the present government of Ethiopia expelled the VVDI just before the historic election of 15 May 2005 and showed its true color of a non-democratic regime in sheep’s clothing. It was obvious by that expulsion that the regime was not prepared to accept defeat in that election.
Birtukan Midekssa was born at the time of raging political flame, fuelled by competing ideologies at the height of the Cold War. The flame was consuming young Ethiopians of my generation. Birtukan inherited the political mess engendered by my generation and I feel guilty and owe a sincere apology to the present young generation. She grew up through the lingering political upheaval exacerbated by the TPLF regime since 1991. She decided to struggle for freedom and democracy and paid as she is also now paying the heavy price of serving in jail. She wrote “What is man without his freedom” in her famous letter from her prison cell at the infamous Kaliti dungeon.
So, Birtukan is a fighter for human rights and you are, Madam Secretary, the right person with great distinction to assist in the advancement of her cause.
I have constantly watched presidential elections in the USA for several years. I remain positively impressed to this day by the civilized manner in which transfers of power materialize peacefully.
In the recent campaign unprecedented for the long time it took and the money spent, I was torn between the wish to see the first woman or the first African American in the White House. It is now history that Barack Obama won and other contenders bowed out gracefully setting a spectacular example to the international community which I believe hold you with high esteem for your spirited campaign for Candidate Obama to win the Presidency.
Unfortunately peaceful transfer of power such as in the USA remains illusive to us Ethiopians. As you will note in the following paragraph, it is not because the Ethiopian people are not ready for democracy and peaceful transfer of power; it is because political leaders have failed them. I am also to blame although I am not a politician.
On the historic election day of 15 May 2005 Ethiopians took a glimpse of the prospect of peaceful transfer of power for the first time in their ancient history. One week before the election more than 2.5 million citizens of Addis Ababa and its environ inundated the streets and squares of the capital city in support of the opposition. On the Election Day, over 90% of 26 million registered voters went to the polls in a magnificent display of decorum, discipline and patience and cast their votes and dealt a heavy defeat to the ruling party. Unfortunately victory was denied to the victors because the ruling party declared itself the winner and sent the victors to jail – including Judge Birtukan Midekssa who is now back again in jail. She did nothing wrong other than exercising her freedom of speech in truthfully clarifying the process of protracted negotiations that led to the eventual ‘pardon’ of her group. Birtukan had every right to make the said clarification, more so in her capacity as Chairwoman of the most popular home-based “Unity for Democracy and Justice Party (UDJP)” committed to peaceful struggle for change.
Judge Birtukan is a woman “prisoner of conscience” whose right has been twice grossly violated by the ruling regime. Her only ‘crime’ was winning an election in the first instance (2005) and telling the truth in the second instance for which she is now serving a life sentence.
The distinguished Member of the European Parliament, Honorable Ana Gomes asked the Speaker of the Ethiopian Parliament “not to leave a stone unturned until Birtukan Midekssa is released” – adding in the course of discussion “In which civilised country is someone sentenced to life imprisonment only for speaking publicly about the negotiations preceding her release from prison?!”
The European Parliament passed last January a Resolution on the Horn of Africa, which asks for the immediate and unconditional release of Birtukan Midekssa, leader of the opposition party Unity for Democracy and Justice (UDJ).
Judge Birtukan was bombarded by the government media for days vilifying her for telling the truth in Europe about the so-called ‘pardon’ granted to her and other illustrious colleagues who won in the historic election of 2005 and were thrown to jail for lawfully defending their convincing victory in that election.
The Commissioner of Police repeatedly summoned her to his office with the aim to coercing her to recant her statement. The icon Judge refused to lie. Eventually, a contingent of security people in plain clothes manhandled and shoved her into a waiting vehicle and whisked her to prison without court warrant of arrest. Professor Mesfin Woldemarriam, the 78-year old venerated founder and relentless champion of human rights was beaten with the but of the gun for protesting that there was no need to manhandle Birtukan in the way those security people did. I would add that it would have been sufficient to call Judge Birtukan on the telephone and ask her to report to prison. In a cultured ancient country the rude behavior of the security people is unprecedented. All in all, if what Birtukan was subjected to is not both a physical and psychological torture, one would ask what is.
Ethiopian Women Human Rights Alliance (EWHRA) is enraged at the thuggish abuse meted out to their innocent sister, Birtukan. They are furious at the stance of the ruling regime to curb civil liberties in Ethiopia as in the enacting of the infamous NGO Law. The Law is to eventually decimate such liberties and kill burgeoning political parties such as UDJP thus paving the way to a totalitarian state. EWHRA in their recent Press Release emphatically said “Enough” to the abuses of the regime. A lady by the name Kebebush Ayenatchew so far wrote three poems that I read on the website with tears teeming in my eyes; Kebebush vividly expressed the depth of anguish she feels for her compatriot Birtukan in jail. I am sure all others of her gender and all men of good will fee the same. The spirit of unity against injustice is spreading throughout Ethiopia.
Judge Birtukan, a charismatic and intelligent leader with impeccable integrity, has been in jail without trial for the last 51 days at the time of this writing. Her admirable qualities and her legal profession are locked up with her in her tiny cell at the infamous Kaliti prison where hundreds of political dissidents are held under inhuman conditions. You have a beautiful daughter, Chelsea Clinton, about her age and I am sure you will understand the agonizing experience of Birtukan’s mother of over seventy in the care of the 3-year old granddaughter cruelly missing her illegally imprisoned mother.
The USA is home of the brave and bastion of liberty, thanks to your founding fathers for their vision in crafting the Constitution coveted by the free world. You are a champion of human rights in your own right. To this I would add the undertaking of President Obama that the USA is in the saddle to provide moral leadership in the world once again.
It is my fervent prayer and ardent hope that the past practice of recording atrocious violations of human rights in Ethiopia on the one hand and including the ruling regime as an ally on the war on terrorism on the other would stop under the new Obama Administration. As Congressman Chris Smith said in the aftermath of the Ethiopian election of 2005, “No regime that terrorizes its own citizens can be a reliable ally in the war on terror”.
I submit that Birtukan is a prisoner of conscience. I am confident this time that double standards rampant during the Bush Administration would not stand on her way for immediate and unconditional release.
I most humbly urge you to invest in the friendship of the majority of Ethiopian people. That will start with demanding the immediate and unconditional release of Judge Birtukan Midekssa and all other political prisoners from prison.
It is my wish that a democratic Ethiopia will emerge and prove a lasting friend of the USA in terms of fundamental values of liberty, freedom common to all humanity.