President of the United States
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW
Washington, DC 20500
Re: REQUEST FOR SANCTIONS AGAINST PERSONS AND ENTITIES INVOLVED IN THE IRRECHA MASSACRES ON OCTOBER 2, 2016 AND OTHER CRIMES AGAINST HUMANITY COMMITTED IN ETHIOPIA
Dear Mr. President:
I am writing this letter for two purposes. First, I wish to thank you for imposing sanctions on certain senior current and former South Sudan government officials and South Sudanese companies responsible for undermining peace, security and stability in that violence-wracked country.
Second, I am writing to request imposition of similar sanctions against members of the ruling regime in Ethiopia self-styled as the “Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front” led and dominated by the Tigrean People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), an entity listed as a terrorist organization in the Global Terrorism Database (GTD).
I believe it is fair and proper to give credit where credit is due. While some have claimed the sanctions imposed on South Sudan’s leaders and their accomplices are meager and inadequate, I believe the action sends a clear and unambiguous message to all Africans in positions of power that protection of human rights is a central component of an America-first U.S. foreign policy in Africa, a fact that has been underscored by Secretary of State Rex Tillerson.
I am especially elated to learn the U.S. Treasury Department “will forcefully respond to the atrocities ongoing in South Sudan by targeting those who abuse human rights, seek to derail the peace process, and obstruct reconciliation in South Sudan.” Such a resolute statement goes a long way in reassuring not only the people of South Sudan but also all Africans that the U.S. will not merely talk the talk about being on the “right side of history” but also walk the talk by acting decisively and selectively against individuals and entities engaged in gross human rights violations.
I wish to point out for the record that the sanctions you have imposed in South Sudan are in stark contrast to the Obama administration’s lifting of sanctions against the Sudan in its last week in office.
During his presidential candidacy in 2007, Barack Obama said, the “genocide in Darfur [Sudan] is a stain on our souls… As a president of the United States I don’t intend to abandon people or turn a blind eye to slaughter.”
In the final week of his presidency, on January 13, 2017, Mr. Obama turned a blind eye to the genocidal Sudanese regime and stood on the “wrong side of history” when he rescinded sanctions authorized pursuant to Executive Order 13067 of November 3, 1997 and Executive Order 13412 of October 13, 2006 related to the policies and actions of the Government of Sudan.
In issuing his rescission of Executive Order 13761, Mr. Obama whitewashed the bloody genocidal crimes of the Sudanese regime by speciously claiming that regime has shown “positive actions over the past 6 months”. The “actions” allegedly included maintaining cessation of hostilities in conflict areas in the Sudan, improving humanitarian access and counterterrorism cooperation.
It is said, “one swallow does not make a summer.” It is incomprehensible to me how Mr. Obama could gloss over and excuse atrocities committed over a period exceeding two decades on mere gestures of good behavior over six months.
What is even more appalling is Mr. Obama’s duplicity and hypocrisy in completely ignoring Sudan’s close ties with North Korea and purchase of weapons from that rogue regime for use in the commission of human rights violations and atrocities. In lifting sanctions against the Sudan, Mr. Obama also conveniently ignored the fact that Sudan has been on the list of state sponsors of terrorism since 1993 and had provided a haven to Osama bin Laden.
Perhaps one should not be surprised by Mr. Obama’s stratagems and sophistry in exculpating those on the “wrong side of history”, as he used to call them. When Mr. Obama visited Ethiopia in July 2015, he unabashedly declared the TPLF regime, which claimed electoral victory by capturing 100 percent of the “parliamentary” seats, as “democratically elected.”
In light of Mr. Obama’s double-speak and duplicity on human rights in Africa, I find your recent targeted sanctions against South Sudan and the tenor of your administration’s emerging human rights policy forthright, refreshing and encouraging.
I believe selective and targeted sanctions such as the one imposed against South Sudanese leaders and companies can serve as effective tools of an America-first foreign policy in advancing the cause of human rights globally, and particularly in Africa. Targeted sanctions selectively and purposefully focus on leaders, their family members and supporters, political elites and segments of society known to be directly responsible for human rights violations or in aiding, abetting and giving material support in the commission of such violations. Blanket sanctions are more likely to inflict greater hardship and suffering on the general population, and often those engaged in gross human rights violations find ways to circumvent them. It has been observed that “targeted sanctions” or “smart sanctions” are like “smart bombs”, considerably reducing collateral damage on civilian populations.
I believe in the old saying, “What is sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander.” What is good for South Sudan is good for Ethiopia.
I am requesting that you follow up with targeted sanctions against current and senior members of the “Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front” led and dominated by the Tigrean People’s Liberation Front and other entities aiding and abetting that regime in the commission of human rights violations in Ethiopia. The evidence of human rights violations supporting targeted sanctions against the TPLF regime is overwhelming, incontrovertible, substantial and compelling.
The Irreecha Massacres of October 2, 2016
On October 2, 2016, troops loyal to the ruling Tigrean Peoples’ Liberation Front opened fire indiscriminately on crowds at a religious festival known as “Irreecha” attended by an “estimated 2 million people” in the town of Bishoftu, some 45 miles southeast of the capital Addis Ababa.
The TPLF regime reported 52 dead from what it said was crowd “stampede caused by anti-government elements”. In a televised address, the regime’s prime minster blamed the victims for provoking troops into using indiscriminate deadly force.
On October 3, 2016, Freedom House issued a statement on the Irreecha Massacres demanding an independent investigation: “The deaths in Bishoftu occurred because security forces fired tear gas and live ammunition at a crowd of over a million people celebrating a religious occasion. The government of Ethiopia should allow a truly independent body to investigate the tragedy at Bishoftu as well as security forces’ well-documented record of using excessive force against peaceful gatherings.”
Eyewitness reports including statements by accredited Voice of America Amharic Service program journalists revealed that heavily armed regime troops had taken tactical positions behind the VIP grandstand hidden from direct view of the crowd and suddenly opened live fire on the unarmed and peacefully protesting crowd after the official program could not proceed due to crowd demands and chants against the regime.
On November 12, 2016, the regime officially reported arresting “11,607 people, including 347 women”. The U.S. State Department in its 2016 human rights reportstated, “Many [of the thousands arrested] were never brought before a court, provided access to legal counsel, or formally charged with a crime.” The actual number of persons arrested was significantly higher than officially reported. In March 2017, the Command Post “announced that 4,996 of the 26,130 people detained for allegedly taking part in protests would be brought to court.”
An “investigative report” on the Irreecha Massacres released by the regime’s human rights organization in April 2016 rubberstamped the regime’s original position: “The violence happened because the protesters were using guns and so security forces had no other option.”
In its June 2016 report entitled “Such a Brutal Crackdown’: Killings and Arrests in Response to Ethiopia’s Oromo Protest”, Human Rights Watch stated, “security forces in Ethiopia have used excessive and lethal force against largely peaceful protests that have swept through Oromia, the country’s largest region, since November 2015.”
On September 19, 2017, Human Rights Watch in its 33-page report entitled “Fuel on the Fire’: Security Force Response to the 2016 Irreecha Cultural Festival” provided details on the regime’s “use of force in response to restive crowds at 2016’s Irreecha.” The report “found evidence that security force personnel not only triggered the stampede that caused many deaths but subsequently shot and killed some members of the crowd.”
Over the past year, the TPLF regime has committed unspeakable atrocities in Northern Ethiopia including Gonder, Wolkait, Bahr Dar and other locations.
The Irreecha Massacres are only the latest in the 26-year sordid history of gross and egregious human rights violation by the TPLF regime in Ethiopia.
On May 16, 2005, one day after the general election, the late leader of the TPLF regime, Meles Zenawi, also declared a state of emergency, outlawed all public gatherings and placed under his direct personal command and control all police, security and military forces in the country. Zenawi personally authorized the use of deadly force against any protesters in the post-election period. As a result, nearly a thousand people were either killed or severely wounded by regime troops. Zenawi subsequently set up an Inquiry Commission. That Commission was forced to go into exile following harassment and threats by the TPLF regime to falsify its findings. In November 2006, that Commission shared its findings with members of the Africa Subcommittee in the House of Representatives. The Inquiry Commission laid the entire blame at the feet of the TPLF regime and rejected their spurious claims and justifications for use of deadly force.
A partial list of the names of the victims of the Meles Massacres is publicly available.
A list of names of those security, military and police officials directly involved in the post-2005 election massacres is also available. The TPLF regime to date has taken no action against these officials.
In May 2014, troops loyal to the TPLF regime massacred at least 47 university and high school students in the town of Ambo 80 miles west of the capital Addis Ababa. Eyewitnesses reported significantly higher casualties and fatalities than officially reported. 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.
In December 2003, the TPLF massacred hundreds of Anuak people in Gambella in Western Ethiopia. Human Rights Watch documented that TPLF troops “subjected Anuak communities throughout the region to widespread and systematic acts of murder, rape, torture, arbitrary imprisonment and the destruction of entire villages.” Genocide Watch sent a fact-finding team in Gambella and secured authentic documents “proving that the Gambella massacres were planned at the highest levels of the Ethiopian government, and even given the code name “Operation Sunny Mountain”. A report by the Harvard Law School Human Rights Program on the Anuak Massacre concluded, “From December 2004 to at least January 2006, the ENDF (Ethiopian National Defense Forces) attacked and abused Anuak civilians in Gambella region – wantonly killing, raping, beating, torturing, and harassing civilians.”
In 2007, the TPLF regime massacred hundreds of people in the Ogaden region of Ethiopia. Human Rights Watch in its June 2008 report entitled “Collective Punishment: War Crimes and Crimes against Humanity in the Ogaden area of Ethiopia’s Somali Region” documented, “Ethiopian troops have forcibly displaced entire rural communities, ordering villagers to leave their homes within a few days or witness their houses being burnt down and their possessions destroyed and risk death.”
The TPLF regime has refused to undertake meaningful and credible investigations into these crimes against humanity despite requests by human rights groups and even the U.N. The TPLF regime has refused entry to all UN special rapporteurs since 2007 to investigate human rights violations in Ethiopia.
The TPLF regime has dismissed and ignored all calls for an independent investigation of the Irreecha Massacres by United Nations top human rights official, the African Commission, the European parliament, and members of United States Congress.
The difference between the South Sudanese regime and the TPLF regime on human rights is the difference between Tweedledee and Tweedledum. Both regimes are peas in a pod. Thus, what is good enough for the South Sudanese regime is good enough for the TPLF regime.
I believe an America-first human rights policy which employs targeted sanctions to promote human rights, democracy and peace in Africa is not only necessary but also likely to produce outcomes that are consistent with the values and principles of American taxpayers.
Millions of refugees are leaving Africa to come go to Europe and North America because life is hell for them in Africa under brutal and bloodthirsty dictatorships, not merely to seek better economic opportunities. The U.S. can effectively deal with this problem by addressing the root cause of migration out of Africa, namely, brutal and oppressive dictatorships that treat their citizens as slaves and their countries’ treasuries and resources as their private estates. Selective and targeted sanctions aimed at the financial and logistical incapacitation of leaders, political elites and segments of society known to be directly responsible for human rights violations or engaged in aiding, abetting and giving material support in the commission of such violations in Africa is the proverbial two-by-four that will quickly get their attention.
For well over a decade, I have argued without pause that the best way to help Africa is to let Africa help itself. Africa can never be free until African leaders are held to account and forced to abandon the culture of panhandling, which have perfected as an art form. The U.S. must end its aid welfare program to African dictators who siphon off much of that aid and deposit it in their private offshore bank accounts. Your transition team hit the nail on the head when it demndaed answers from the State Department to the following question: “With so much corruption in Africa, how much of our funding is stolen?”
I wish I could definitively answer that question for you. But I can say definitively that to begin the effort to find out “how much of our funding is stolen” in Africa, we must make targeted sanctions a central part of the America-first foreign policy in Africa.
Mr. President, what I am asking is not anything extraordinary. I am merely requesting that you impose the same targeted sanctions you imposed on the leaders, supporters and business entities in South Sudan to the leaders, supporters and business entities responsible for human rights violations in Ethiopia. What is good enough for South Sudan is good enough for Ethiopia.
Mr. President, when Mr. Obama visited Ghana in his first trip to Africa in July 2009, he said, “Now, make no mistake: History is on the side of these brave Africans, not with those who use coups or change constitutions to stay in power. Africa doesn’t need strongmen, it needs strong institutions.”
The people of Ethiopia and the people of Africa are on tenterhooks to find out if you are going to stand with African dictators or the common people yearning to breathe free.
I am betting my bottom dollar that you will stand with the people of Africa and not the dictators who lord over them, as did Mr. Obama.
I will guarantee that you will have 100 million fans in Ethiopia if you institute targeted sanctions against members of the TPLF regime and its cronies involved in gross human rights violations, and win more than a 1.2 billion Africans if you make targeted sanctions a core part of your America-first policy in Africa.
I guarantee it!
Alemayehu (Al) G. Mariam, M.A., Ph.D., J.D.
Professor and Attorney at Law
Cc: Hon. Rex Tillerson, U.S. Secretary of State
Hon. Steven T. Mnuchin, U.S. Secretary of the Treasury
Hon. Nimrata “Nikki” Haley, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations
Professor Alemayehu G. Mariam teaches political science at California State University, San Bernardino. His teaching areas include American constitutional law, civil rights law, judicial process, American and California state governments, and African politics. He has published two volumes on American constitutional law, including American Constitutional Law: Structures and Process (1994) and American Constitutional Law: Civil Liberties and Civil Rights (1998). He is the Senior Editor of the International Journal of Ethiopian Studies, a leading scholarly journal on Ethiopia. For the last several years, Prof. Mariam has written weekly web commentaries on Ethiopian human rights and African issues that are widely read online. He blogged on the Huffington post at http://www.huffingtonpost.com/alemayehu-g-mariam/ and later on open.salon until that blogsite shut down in March 2015.