Monday, 14 April 2008

I have been observing the increasing sexual exploitation of refugees in Kampala. The concerns are increasingly worrying. This is no longer rumor as it has become a common problem for many. Sexual exploitation is now openly discussed among young female asylum seekers who are regularly being pressurized or asked to do sexual favors and/or to pay bribe by refugee workers employees of intergovernmental agencies in Kampala, otherwise their case can be delayed and/or even disappear.
I, myself, have experienced the pressure and I am outraged by the behavior of some male refugee workers/officers and their madiators who directly and/or indirectly ask for sexual favors in order to speed up my asylum case.
I have also been in contact with several other young females, especially from Ethiopia and Eritrea who have categorically been under similar pressure by these Ugandan officers who deal with asylum cases.
Many of these young women have language barrier and lack of information which make them totally dependent on refugee workers to acquire knowledge about their rights and status. This dependency makes them vulnerable to sexual exploitation. In many cases, dependency on refugee workers has led to personalized communication resulting unprofessional conducts by some of these officers who have taken advantage of these young women.
Already prior to arriving Uganda, a great number of these young women, including myself, had to handle with serious dramatization: violence, imprisonment, torture, oppression and fear of being discovered during flight. Asylum seekers in general leave their homeland both to get protection from repressive regimes and in order to claim their internationally recognized rights for protection through the UNHCR.
It obvious that the exploitation of female asylum seekers and refugees is well known by these international agencies, NGOs and the UNHCR. Unfortunately, their failure to address the assistance needed adequately, especially for younge female asylum seekers, has resulted in serious consequences in the form of sexual exploitation and prostitution.
There are a number of accounted cases in Kampala where female asylum seekers have been forced into prostitution because they have been asked by refugee workers to pay bribe.
These girls go through high risks of infection with sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), including HIV/AIDS, which accompanies all sexual exploitation against these young women. Lack of knowledge and lack of income to use the health services worsen the impact of diseases and chances for treatment.
While the Ugandan people in general are welcoming, peaceful and generous, there are, unfortunately, few civil servants/refugee workers who use their authority to selfishly take advantage of asylum seekers who desperately need their help to seek protection.
It is inexcusable for those authorities involved including those international agencies to keep silent as they already know about these abuses.
Something has to be done soon!

Seblework Tadesse

Friday, 8 February 2008

Recent picture from a meeting with human right defenders February 2008
Daniel Bekele -
Policy Manager, ActionAid Ethiopia

Netsanet Demissie -
Director of the Organization for Social Justice in Ethiopia

Daniel Bekele and Netsanet Demissie were arrested during major political unrest following the national elections of May 2005. In the aftermath of the demonstrations, tens of thousands of opposition Coalition for Unity and Democracy (CUD) party members were detained without charge or trial, some for several months. In December 2005, 131 CUD leaders and officials, journalists and human rights defenders were put on trial (several in their absence) for political offences punishable by death or life imprisonment.
In July 2007, a further 38 who had refused to present a defence, were convicted and sentenced to life imprisonment or long prison terms. These 38 were pardoned and released on 20 July with the agreement of the Prime Minister, Meles Zenawi, after they signed a letter apologizing for “mistakes” in regard to the demonstrations. A similar pattern of convictions, guilty pleas and pardons followed for the others who had been arrested. Both Daniel Bekele and Netsanet Demissie pleaded not guilty and both presented their own defence in court.
On 26 December 2007 the court announces prison sentences of two and a half years each. Since Daniel and Netsanet have already spent more than two years in detention, there should be a strong possibility to be freed on parole. However, this never happened. In contrast, the “attorney” opposes the ruling and intends to appeal their release which may result in long-term detention.
Amnesty International believes them to be prisoners of conscience.
Immediate Call !!
To all Ethiopians & human rights defenders all over the world:
Express your concern & join the call for unconditional & immediate release of Daniel and Netsanet !

Seblework Tadesse


Wednesday, 31 October 2007

There was a massacre. These demonstrators were unarmed yet the majority died from shots to the head... There is no doubt that excessive force was used
.................................... Judge Wolde-Michael Meshesha
November - a tragic month for Ethiopia
Kinijit’s loss of popular respect and division
..... - A time of great grief

In November 2005, the TPLF security forces committed serious crimes against humanity where innocent civilians were massacred in the streets of Addis Ababa. It is time that we offer our prayers and our support to those who lost their lives and their loved ones.

The Ethiopian people have demonstrated that they can, through democratic and nonviolent protests, resolve political differences even in the current political system. The May 2005 election, which pitted Kinijit and the ruling Woyanne against each other in a run-off vote for the National and the Regional Parliaments, was compromised by massacres, voter intimidation, electoral fraud, triggering popular protests all over Ethiopia. In the wake of the election, a number of complaints regarding voting irregularities in favor of the government supported were raised and under intense scrutiny by domestic and international observers the election was declared undemocratic.

In the aftermaths of the election, the nationwide democratic struggle was highlighted by a series of acts of public meetings, followed by peaceful civil disobedience organized by the Kinijit movement. Student demonstrations followed by mass arrests and massacres in various parts of Addis Ababa and throughout the country. Since May 2005, Ethiopia has been under de facto Marital Law where the TPLF army has taken control of almost the entire administration and the justice system. During the October and November 2005, we were thrown into Kaliti jail and became victims of the TPLF-controlled judiciary system along with thousands of others prisoners.

Even now, there are several credible evidences that persons accused of anti-government crimes are denied fair trials. Such trials are commonly held in secret, and the defendants in many cases are not permitted to speak with an attorney until their appearance before the judge at the hearing. Today, thousands of Ethiopians in Oromia and Ogaden are subjected to killings, detention, torture, rape and harassment for being (suspected) members of respectively the OLF and ONLF. In the urban Oromia, the TPLF authorities treat Oromia’s student population in particular with suspicion and mistrust. Students who have the misfortune to be labelled subversives by government officials have been imprisoned, tortured or expelled from school. The ruling party still controls over this vast territory through a highly repressive system of governance that grants power to the local level armed foolish OPDO to harass non-Oromo settlers whom the TPLF referrers to as neftegna. Hence, by fuelling conflicts among ethnic groups, the TPLF leadership is responsible for several cases of killings, arrests, tortures and widespread harassments in rural Ethiopia. The arbitrary arrests, torture, extrajudicial killings and disappearances are all purely politically motivated of innocent people in the face of the ruling party's police and security forces.

The ruling party, TPLF, is the worst ever regime in Ethiopian history when it comes to human rights violations. This dictatorial political system is not pressured into prompt and adequate action to deal with human rights violations because there are no real opposi­tion parties or inde­pen­dent and vigorously active newspapers to campaign on behalf of the masses. In fact, Kinijit is the only political party that could potentially be the strongest opposition to challenge the TPLF regime on human rights issues. As we observe, however, Kinijit itself has become suicidal and self-distructuve. Moreover, it is losing a widespread support and confidence from the voters when its elites are proposing and taking actions without consulting the stakeholders of the party.
Now is the time for Kinijt leadership to work hard in order to legalise the party and solve the internal differences in collaboration with the voters in Ethiopia. The Executives seem have made themselves hostages to the Diaspora public, whose contribution should have been nothing more than financial support and advocating human rights affairs in Ethiopia. They have to make sure that they only serve the primary stakeholders of the party i.e. the Ethiopians people.
In the memory of those who lost their lives in 2005, I pray and hope that the leadership will remain loyal and accountable to those millions of voters in Ethiopia.

I hope the November 2005 violence will not be taken in vain by the Executives of Kinijit. We have learned a lot from the May 2005 election and the horrific massacre that followed. Now it is time go back to Ethiopia, become united again and continue the struggle for freedom and democracy. It is my hope that the leadership will soon pursue the building up and the democratization of the party itself in order to challenge the ruling party, fight for the human rights and continue the struggle in a transparent and democratic manner in Ethiopia.

Let’s remember and commemorate those young boys and girls who never returned to their respective homes for two years ago. May God bless us with enough compassion to pray and comfort those families who mourn everyday and every year.


Monday, 27 August 2007

The Politics of Including & Excluding:
- A Challenge to the CUD Delegation Team

Some individuals may want to create a political monopoly of their interests. I believe having diversity of thoughts and perspectives in party politics is of real value. It is expected that any democratic political party gives a platform to all political ideologies and thoughts but most importantly a democratic party has to be inclusive in engaging non-partisans civic organisations to be the major part of the democratic system.

The Ethiopian Diaspora community has existed long before the establishement of the CUD. I believe it is those several civic activities that have maintained the unity of the Ethiopian communities for decades and these civil societies are the basis for the unity and shared values by the Diaspora community. By civil societies, I mean formally organized non-governmental organizations; think tanks; issue advocates; member based or activist organizations; organized but informally structured citizen groups or networks. These institutions are important because they are built on trust and shared values, which can be transferred into the political sphere, help to hold society together, facilitating an understanding of the interconnectedness of society and interests within it.

While political positioning, antagonism, or obstinate personalities can make partisan-civic cooperation challenging, there are benefits to working through the challenges to build a constructive partnership. Particularly where resources are limited, cooperation can heighten the impact of either partisans or civic groups acting alone. The delegation team should utilize the knowledge, experience and contacts they are capable to establish with civic organs. Improved public trust is important. The CUD delegation and other supporting actors should have complimentary public images. The delegation should also be aware of the potential partisan-ness of the civic organizations. If the delegation wish to gather an unbiased view, it should to discuss to a range of civic institutions to ensure that they are accurately portraying the needs of the entire Diaspora.

I wish the delegation and Kinijit the very best.

Tuesday, 24 July 2007

Take No Break !!

While we join our voices to those of concerned humanity in the demand for immediate and unconditional release of all political prisoners in Ethiopia, my foremost concern is in the fate of our dear friend Kifle Tigeneh and those charged with him, to whom we bow our heads in respect for the heroism and self sacrifice and whom the fascist oppressors intend to add to their sinister constellation of crimes. We shall not rest until he, his compatriots and all other political prisoners and prisoners of conscience in Ethiopia are released, and until Ethiopia is liberated from the TPLF rule.

Friday, 20 July 2007

Freedom Isn't Free


Our leaders have shown their willingness to endure imprisonment, torture, even risk death itself for the promised benefits and blessings of liberty. Failure to pay that price would only serve to destroy that liberty.
Democracy means fighting everyday for what you deserve, and fighting even harder to keep those weaker groups of our people get what they deserve. Democracy is people of all races, colours, and creeds united by a single dream. Democracy means never having the TPLF secret police show up at your door. Freedom and democracy come with a price tag. Some of the price has been paid on July 20, 2007.

God’s Compassion is the freedom of our body
God’s Concern is the freedom of our dwelling
God’s Love is the freedom of our life.

To all my 38 friends, thank you for your courage and your bravery. Thank you for your endurance.

Kinijit Ashenefowal

Saturday, 7 July 2007

Women’s Human Rights & the Need for Political Reform

In Ethiopia, human rights violations against women remain rampant because they are largely hidden. Since 1991 a growing number of people whom Amnesty International and other human rights organizations consider to be prisoners of conscience, including journalist and civic society leaders have been arrested and sentenced on different false charges. The TPLF leadership claim that there are no political prisoners in the country. Of course, this is far from the truth. The TPLF leadership routinely imprison and sexually abuse women. TPLF’s, systematic torture and rape against women have been used as an instrument of political repression. While dissidents with a high profile may in general enjoy some protection from severe torture, for women, high profile means more vulnerability to torture and sexual violence.

As we all know, Criminal laws are used as provisions to jail political oppositions but the most common reason in almost all cases has been their political views, ethnic origins, language or social origin. In the aftermaths of May 2005 election, people have been jailed under other provisions in the Criminal law on charges of “disturbing public order”, “hooliganism”, “assembling a crowd to disturb public order” etc. The vague language of many of these provisions permits the prosecution and conviction of anyone whose words, actions or associations can be constructed as disruptive of public order, or critical of official policies. A growing number of Ethiopian women have been arrested for non-violent offences often without appearing in any formal justice system.

In our country, torture is inflicted on political and common criminal prisoners alike. Anyone is at risk if they cross the TPLF authorities. Since May 2005, hundreds of mothers who are not suspected of any crime have been arrested and even tortured simply because they were involved in arguments with the police while attempting to protect their children from being illegally arrested. Female victims of human right violations come from all walks of life and include young girls, mothers and the elderly. The most vulnerable to human rights abuses are the less educated or less privileged, such as peasants, the unemployed and vagrants. Of course, women are overrepresented in all these social categories. Today, many wives are suffering for refusing to accept quietly the wrongful jailing or killing of their husbands. They face not just harassement and repression from the TPLF authorities, but also daily worry about their spouses' health in prison and how to keep the family going.

The routinely torture methods used against women are: severe beatings, fisting with a variety of instruments, whipping, kicking, the use of handcuffs or leg-irons in ways that cause intense pain, and suspension by the arms, often combined with beatings, hanging up-side down, the use of electronic wires which gives powerful electric shock in sensitive body parts (often combined with sexual violence), and immersing into frozen water container.

For millions of Ethiopian Women, TPLF has only meant terror, rape, deprivation and the imperative of fighting for justice. Today, what unites Ethiopian women nationally and internationally – transcending class, race, culture, religion, nationality and ethnic origin – is their vulnerability to abuse of their fundamental human rights, and their dedicated efforts to claim those rights. In addition to torture perpetrated by the TPLF authorities, physical, sexual and psychological violence in the family, including battering, sexual abuse of female children, in some areas custom of dowry-related violence, marital rape “telefa” and female genital mutilation and other harmful traditional practices harmful to women. Other abuses are non-spousal violence, and violence related to exploitation, physical, sexual and physiological violence occurring within the general community, including rape, sexual abuse, sexual harassment and intimidation at work, in educational institutions and elsewhere, trafficking especially to the Middle-East and “forced” prostitution.

Now is the right time that the extent and severity of such human rights violation against women are recognized if we are fully to address the context human rights violation in Ethiopia as a whole. By knowingly tolerating abuses such as violence, female genital mutilations and trafficking, the TPLF leadership itself has become part of both the domestic and public violence against women. Hence, these human rights abuses need political solutions.

In order to get solutions for these problems, both the civic organization and all the male-monopolized opposition parties, including, those Diaspora political movements need to consult women. Kinijit International Leadership (KIL) and those Kinijit Chapters should be pioneers in creating a political atmosphere that allows the voice of women is heard, including allowing women participate in the currently male-dominated leadership. One of the future visions of KIL and Kinijit Chapters should be to run programs through established civic organizations and NGOs in promoting development assistance projects for the implementation of human rights, particularly focusing on young girls in Ethiopia.

Today, no one is safe in Ethiopia. Torture against women is endemic. Thousands of political dissidents remain in jail simply for expressing their views. The world cannot ignore what is happening in Ethiopia. As the second most populated country in Africa, Ethiopia plays an increasingly significant role in global affairs and this international cooperation must include human rights issues. Women’s voices must be heard all over world: demanding justice, protesting against discrimination, claiming rights, morning dead husbands and comforting raped young daughters. The job of the opposition movements must be focused on human rights, ensuring that the world listen and making sure that the international community take action to promote women’s human rights in Ethiopia. The Diaspora should stand united and call the international community to take urgent steps to protect the fundamental rights and freedoms of 77 million people.

Kinijit Yashenefal !!