anuary 25, 2013
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton
US Department of State
2201 C Street NW
Washington, DC 20520
Oromo opposition politicians, Bekele Gerba (left) and Olbana Lelisa (right)were arrested in August 2011 after speaking with Amnesty International officials. They were sentenced with seven other Oromos in November 2012 to long prison terms for working against the government.
Dear Honorable Secretary, The Oromo Studies Association (OSA), the Oromo Community Organization (OCO) of Washington D.C. Metropolitan area, the Oromo Youth Self-help Association (OYSA), the Human Rights League of the Horn of Africa (HRLHA), and the Oromia Support Group (OSG) are a diverse group of scholarly, community, and human rights organizations focusing on Ethiopia, particularly Oromia, the Oromo regional state in Ethiopia. We are writing this joint appeal letter to you to express our deep concern about the widespread human rights violations that continue unabated in Ethiopia and to request that the U.S. Department of State, under your able leadership, use its enormous influence with the government of Ethiopia to stop its arbitrary arrests, kidnappings, tortures and killings of innocent Oromos and other peoples of Ethiopia. The Oromo who constitute more than forty percent of the population of Ethiopia have become the target of attack by the minority Tigrayan Peoples Liberation Front’(TPLF) dominating Ethiopian regime.
Release Political Prisoners in Ethiopia
On November 1, 2012, two well-respected Oromo opposition politicians, Mr. Bekele Gerba (professor) and Mr. Olbana Lelisa, and seven other Oromo nationals, Welbeka Lemi, Adem Busa, Hawa Wako, Mohamed Melu, Dereje Ketema, Addisu Mikre and Gelgelo Gufa, were convicted and later sentenced to long term imprisonment under the charge of “working underground to secede Oromia from the federal government” and other concocted charges after being kept in jail for more than a year. The two opposition leaders were arrested in August 2011 after speaking with Amnesty International officials.
On September 30, 2012, about 200 Oromo youth, were rounded up and arrested when they were peacefully celebrating the annual Irreechaa festival (thanksgiving) at Lake Arsadi, Bushoftu, Oromia. Four months after their arrest, they are still held without any charge. The Human Rights League of the Horn of Africa (HRLHA) has published1 the names of 50 of the youth arrested at this festival. Moreover, arbitrary arrest of hundreds of Ethiopian Muslims on almost weekly basis has continued for about a year and there seems no end in sight to it. Just recently, on January 2, 2013, HRLHA has also published2 the names of 99 students of Addis Ababa University, mainly Oromos, who have been arrested and severely beaten.
Dear Honorable Secretary,
Over the past 21 years, the TPLF-led and dominated Ethiopian government, has imprisoned tens of thousands of political opposition and citizens, mainly Oromos. As the result of the government’s repressive policies, thousands of innocent citizens have been languishing in prisons and secret camps, and many have been severely tortured, deformed and/or killed. Others have been abducted and made to disappear. Hundreds have been murdered in broad day-light. Well respected human rights organizations such as Amnesty International3, Human Rights Watch4, and the US State Department’s5 own annual reports have documented rampant arrests, unlawful killings, abductions, tortures and other human rights abuses by the Ethiopian government. These reports are consistent with our own reports6 and direct experiences. We are frustrated because, despite these glaring facts, Ethiopia’s allies and Western donors are reluctant to restrain the government and halt its flagrant human rights abuses. Some donors even go on record to support the government’s wrong claim that Ethiopia is “on the road to democracy.” It is troubling that despite these well documented human rights abuses, the Ethiopian government continues receiving billions of dollars of aid money every year. Using over one third of its budget from foreign aid, Ethiopia has built one of the biggest and best-equipped armies in Africa, while millions of its citizens seek food aid. In fact, the aid money is used to impose the Tigrayan dictatorship and ethnocratic regime on Oromos and other peoples in a multinational society.
While thousands of Oromos and others are languishing in prisons under bogus terrorism charges, at a recent session of the parliament, the current Prime Minister of Ethiopia, Mr. Hailemariam Dessalegn, made an utterly false claim in public that there are no political prisoners in Ethiopia. Such blatant misinformation has been the norm of the entire leadership of the regime that is intended to deceive international donors and allies. In his inauguration speech, the new prime minister also promised to continue implementing the policies of the late dictatorial Prime Minister Meles Zenawi; this, is a clear indication that the new prime minister is under the control of the Tigrayan elite and that he cannot make any reform and democratic changes in Ethiopia.
Observing the painful agony and sufferings of the ordinary people, the political prisoners in particular, and the lack of any progress towards democratic change in Ethiopia, we earnestly appeal to you and the US government to use your influence with the Ethiopian government and facilitate the release of all political prisoners and to take practical action to promote real democratic changes in the country. We specifically request that you and the US government:
1. Use your enormous influence to put political, economic and diplomatic pressures upon the Ethiopian government to unconditionally release Mr. Bekele Gerba and Mr. Olbana Lelisa, and seven other Oromo nationals, who were sentenced to long term imprisonment on purely political grounds.
2. Advise the government of Prime Minister Hailemariam Dessalegn to respect the current Ethiopian constitution, and stop the regime’s extrajudicial killings and arbitrary arrests of innocent people and prolonged detention without trial.
3. Insist on the unconditional release of all political prisoners before providing economic aid to the regime.
4. Demand that the regime is committed to respecting human rights of the Oromo and other peoples of Ethiopia and allow freedom of expression and assembly.
5. Demand the repeal of all new laws that violate the fundamental freedom of citizens: particularly the so called Anti-terrorism Law, Press Law, the current law that prevents charitable organizations from freely moving in the country, and the most recent law that criminalizes the usage of Skype and other media tools.
6. Demand the regime to stop harassing journalists and jamming VOA and other free radio stations broadcasting to Ethiopia.
7. Demand to stop the unlawful evictions of Oromos and illegal selling of Oromo land immediately.
8. Demand that the regime respect freedom of religion and stop interfering in religious affairs.
Finally, we believe that unless international donors, mainly the US government, use their leverage and make meaningful pressure, the Ethiopian government will continue with political repression of the Oromo and other nations and nationalities. Therefore, we humbly request you to exert your energy and diplomatic skills to create conducive political environment for establishment of the rule of law in Ethiopia. We earnestly believe that as America’s top diplomat and principal voice on international issues, you have an extraordinary opportunity to alleviate the incredible human sufferings of the Oromo and other peoples in Ethiopia. We thank you for your interest in the wellbeing of the Oromo and other peoples of Ethiopia.