5:16 pm - Sunday May 24, 1339

Ethiopia: Crimes Against University Students and Humanity (Prof. Alemayehu G. Mariam)

On May 2, 2014, BBC reported that the security forces of the regime in Ethiopia had massacred at least 47 university and high school students in the town of Ambo 80 miles west of the capital Addis Ababa. The regime dismissed the massacre and tried to sweep it under the rug claiming that a “few anti-peace forces incited and coordinated the violence”. There has been little international coverage or outrage over the massacre.

Human Rights Watch (HRW) issued a statement condemning the “shooting at and beating [of] peaceful protesters in Ambo, Nekemte, Jimma, and other towns”. According to HRW, the student “protests erupted over the release of the proposed Addis Ababa Integrated Development Master Plan” which would “expand Addis Ababa’s municipal boundary to include more than 15 communities in Oromia” and displace Oromo farmers and residents. HRW demanded an immediate end to the excessive use of force by the regime’s security forces against peaceful student demonstrators.

I am outraged beyond my ability to express my outrage in words. I grieve and ache for the students cut down by hails of bullets in the prime of their lives. They had an undeniable constitutional right to peacefully petition for grievances; because they exercised that right, we must now all grieve for them. I grieve for Ethiopia for it has lost its best and brightest children. I extend my deepest condolences to the families and friends of the victims of the massacre.
I abhor massacres. I got involved in Ethiopian and African human rights advocacy following the post-2005 election massacres of unarmed protesters in Ethiopia. Prior to that time, I had virtually no involvement in Ethiopian politics. I did not know the name Meles Zenawi “from Adam’s off ox”.
When troops under the personal control and command of the late Meles Zenawi massacred some 200 unarmed demonstrators and shot and wounded nearly 800 more (the actual figure is documented to be much more than that), I was hopping mad as hell. I just could not let Meles and his criminal gang get away with mass murder. For the past eight years, I have been advocating and promoting human rights in Ethiopia and Africa every single Monday without missing a single week.
I am hopping mad as hell today over the massacre of the dozens of unarmed university and high school students in Ambo and elsewhere as I was in 2005 when hundreds of unarmed protesters were slaughtered. I am hopping mad as hell that no one is ever held accountable for massacring innocent people in Ethiopia. There is a long and shameful culture of impunity in Ethiopia. Mengistu Hailemariam committed mass murder and has not been held accountable. That mass murderer said he “did not hurt a fly” while he was in power. He did kill tens of thousands of innocent people. He is comfortably living out his twilight years in Zimbabwe writing fiction and fables about his time in office.
Meles Zenawi received divine justice. His surviving disciples and comrades today thumb their noses at justice. The perpetrators of the massacres of 2005 today roam the streets free. Yet we know the names of each and every “federal police” thug who participated in the massacres. In a report entitled “Modernizing Internal Security in Ethiopia” counterterrorism expert Col. Michael Dewar, British Army (Rtd.) revealed that the Director General of the Ethiopian Federal Police Werkneh Gebeyehu told him that “as a direct result of the 2005 riots, he [had] sacked 237 policemen.” Not a single one of these criminals who committed the massacres or the criminal bosses who ordered the massacres have been brought to justice. Meles’s own Inquiry Commission in 2007 damned Meles for the use of deadly force and absolved the peaceful unarmed protesters of any criminal or civil liability.
In December 2003, Meles Zenawi’s troops in a series of attacks in Gambella killed 400 Anuaks and destroyed over 1000 homes. The Meles regime subsequently issued a statement “apologizing for not acting proactively and promised to stand on the side of the victims to see that justice is done.” At the time, the regime claimed to have identified dozens of suspects in the Anuak massacres. No soldier, police or security official has ever been prosecuted, held accountable or sanctioned for those crimes against humanity in Gambella.
Beginning in October 2007, Meles Zenawi launched a crackdown against insurgents in the Ogaden region which quickly expanded into a program of collective punishment for Ogadeni civilians. Meles’ troops destroyed entire villages and committed rape, murder and pillage. They hanged and beheaded suspects to terrorize the population. A Human Rights Watch told the U.S. House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Africa and Global Health that “the Ogaden is not Darfur. But the situation in Ogaden follows a frighteningly familiar pattern”. Retired general and former U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell declared genocide had occurred in Darfur. By the same token, in 2007-08 a “mini-genocide” occurred in the Ogaden. No one has been brought to justice for the Ogaden massacres. The catalogue of massacres by the regime in Ethiopia is voluminous.
I have no illusions that those who committed the “Black Tuesday” massacres at Ambo University and other institutions and towns will ever be brought to justice under the current regime. Not only will there be no prosecution, there will not even be an investigation. The best that could be expected is a kangaroo police investigation if the public could bring sustained pressure on the regime. Of course, the outcome will be a surefire whitewash. The final report of that kangaroo investigation will conclude that a “few anti-peace forces incited and coordinated the violence.”

Opposition leaders inside the country and in the Ethiopian Diaspora must speak in one voice in demanding a swift and independent investigation into the massacres in Ambo and elsewhere. We have to go beyond moral condemnations and demand legal action in local kangaroo courts and international tribunals. We should put the kangaroo courts on trial in the court of international public opinion. We must take advantage of remedies available in international bodies and political institutions in donor states.
I am calling on the regime to launch an independent investigation into the massacres of Ambo University students and other peaceful protesters in Nekemte, Jimma and other locations. I am under no delusion or illusion that the regime will heed my call. I know they do not give a rat’s behind about anything I say.
I am calling for an independent investigation for a different reason. I want to name and shame the Obama Administration, the Cameron Government in the U.K., the European Union, the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund and the rest (except China for whom a single death is a tragedy and thousands of deaths a statistic) who provide billions of dollars annually to a regime that massacres its best and brightest youth. I want to call attention to the fact that American, British and European taxpayers are bankrolling child killers in Ethiopia. I want to call attention to the fact that the silence of the West in the face of such horrific crimes against schoolchildren and university students cries out to their complicity in crimes against children, crimes against the most vulnerable members of humanity.

Only the Western donors and loaners have the financial muscle to demand and insist on an independent investigation so that the police and security officials who committed the killings of the Ambo schoolchildren and university students and those who authorized or condoned it could be brought to justice. I also know for a fact that the Western bankrollers of the regime will never call for an investigation because they don’t give a s _ _t about Ethiopia’s children. I am calling them out though!!!

In my call for an investigation, I accuse the Obama Administration, the Cameron Government, the European Union, the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund as the silent aiders and abettors before and after the fact in the commission of crimes against humanity in Ethiopia. They know in their own laws that those who aid and abet directly or indirectly in the commission of a crime are just as guilty as those who actually committed the crime. George Bush said, “We will make no distinction between the terrorists who committed these acts and those who harbor them.” Well said.
I have a personal confession to make. Perhaps it will help my reader understand why I am hopping mad about the massacre of Ambo University and high school students and others. The Ambo massacres are not mere issues of human rights advocacy. They are personal. As I imagine things, I tell myself that in a different place and in a different time, the massacred students could have been MY students taking my courses. They could have been in my lecture classes or sitting in my advanced special topics seminars. I would have known each one of them by name. I would have read their papers and graded their exams. I would have stopped them on campus and asked them why they missed class and enjoy watching them squirm trying to come up with excuses. I would have challenged them to achieve academic excellence. They could have been my advisees. I could have mentored them for a career in the legal profession or other areas of public policy. I could have written them recommendation letters. I may even have been able to help place the most able ones at some of the best graduate and professional schools in the world. They could have been MY students!!!

I would have been very proud to have them as MY students. I would have challenged them to think critically. I would have challenged them not to think outside the box but to make their own thought boxes. I would have taught them to challenge the orthodoxy of ideas and always be skeptical of dogma and ideologies. I would have taught them to be open and independent-minded and act on evidence instead of hunches and emotions. Above all, I would have taught them to stand up for their beliefs and never, never back down from speaking truth to tyranny. How I would have been proud to be their teacher and mentor!
Just as I believe Ethiopia’s youth are Ethiopia’s future, I also believe America’s youth are America’s future. American college and university students have been the tip of the spear in social and political change. So have Ethiopian university students. From the days of the Freedom Rides to the Free Speech Movement at UC Berkeley to the anti-war movement in the 1960s, American university students remained in the vanguard of social and political change. So were Ethiopian university students from the days of imperial rule.
Things changed on American campuses on May 4, 1970 at Kent State University in Ohio when Ohio National Guardsmen opened fire on unarmed college students firing 67 rounds over a period of 13 seconds. Those students were protesting President Nixon’s expansion of the Vietnam War into Cambodia. The Kent State massacres were the only time in American history that tens of millions of American university and high school students went on strike and closed down their institutions. The Kent State killings were the straw that broke the camel’s back. By 1973, the Vietnam War had effectively ended as the U.S. began withdrawing its combat units.
For the past 44 years, the U.S. government has refused to acknowledge responsibility for the Kent State killings. That has not stopped patriotic Americans from seeking accountability for the massacre, including efforts to hold the U.S. government accountable before the United Nations Human Rights Committee. The Kent State killers may never be brought to justice, but the ongoing efforts on their behalf sends a clear message to the U.S. government that it cannot use its armed forces (or its drones) to kill citizens for expressing their dissenting political beliefs.
The Ambo University and high school students and others at least deserve as much as the Kent State University students. We must never stop demanding justice for them before domestic courts or international tribunals. I call for an investigation not only to name and shame the regime’s international supporters but also because I believe, as did James Russell Lowell, that “Truth (will not) forever (remain) on the scaffold, (nor) Wrong (remain) forever on the throne.” I believe that “behind the dim unknown, Standeth God within the shadow, keeping watch above his own.”
Speak up and demand justice for the massacred Ambo University and high school students and others!
When Ambo University students were massacred, not all of Addis Ababa University students came out. Many remained silent. Mekele University students did not protest. They stayed put and remained silent. Students at Bahr Dar, Gondar, Dire Dawa and other universities also remained silent.
Silence in the face of crimes against humanity — my silence, your silence, the silence of the Obama Administration, the Cameron Government, the European Union, the World Bank, the IMF and the African Union — is the real criminal as we have learned from Martin Neimoller, the German anti-Nazi theologian and Lutheran pastor:
When the Nazis came for the communists,
I remained silent;
I was not a communist.
When they locked up the social democrats,
I remained silent;
I was not a social democrat.
When they came for the trade unionists,
I did not speak out;
I was not a trade unionist.
When they came for the Jews,
I remained silent;
I wasn’t a Jew.
When they came for me,
there was no one left to speak out.
I feel the same way as Nimoller.
When they came for the Amharas “sefaris from North Gojam” in Bench Maji,
When they ethnically cleansed the Amharas in Benishangul,
I remained silent;
I was not an Amhara.
When they hunted down and killed the Anuaks in Gambella,
I remained silent;
I was not an Anuak.
When they strafed and bombed the Ogadenis and burned their villages,
I remained silent;
I was not an Ogadeni.
When they built dams and damned the Omotic peoples,
I remained silent;
I was not Mursi, Suri, Nyangatom, Dizi or Me’en.
When they massacred Oromo students in Ambo,
I remained silent;
I was not an Oromo student.
When they came for me,
there was no one left to speak out.
For me, it does not matter if you are an Oromo, a Tigrean, an Anuak, a Gurage, an Amhara, an Ogadeni, a Mursi… For me, you are an Ethiopian. I love you just as you are! I will NEVER, NEVER remain silent when you are victimized by human wrongs and deprived of your human rights!
Lately, I have been cross with Barack Obama. In as much as I was his staunchest supporter in 2008, I am his staunchest critic in 2014 on his human rights (wrongs) policy in Africa. Regardless, I will always agree with his fundamental values about America. “There is not a liberal America and a conservative America—there is the United States of America. There is not a Black America and a White America and Latino America and Asian America—there’s the United States of America.”
For me there is not an Oromo, a Tigrean, an Amhara, a Gambellan, an Ogadeni, a Mursi, a Gurage… Ethiopian – there is only an Ethiopian. For me, our humanity in our Ethiopianity is infinitely more important than our identity in our ethnicity. This is my simple creed!!!
Professor Alemayehu G. Mariam teaches political science at California State University, San Bernardino and is a practicing defense lawyer.
Previous commentaries by the author are available at:

Filed in: Current Affairs / News