By Alem Mamo
Dr. Tedros Adhanom’s (foreign minister of Ethiopia) candidacy for the Director General position of the World Health Organization (WHO) must also be disqualified pending international investigation on recent killings by forces loyal to the regime
On March 1, 2011, Switzerland’s Joseph Deiss, President of the 65th session of the United Nations General Assembly, stated the “hopes of Libyan people must not be dashed.” He was expressing his grave concern and dismay over the excessive use of force by Muammar Al-Qadhafi loyalists in various parts of the country. Following his plea, the UN unanimously adopted a resolution suspending Libya from the United Nations Human Rights Council. During his passionate speech, H.E. President Joseph Deiss stressed “The credibility of the international community, the General Assembly, the Security Council and the Human Rights Council was at stake in ensuring that fundamental rights were respected and violations were punished.” Following his passionate speech, the UN rose to the occasion showing extraordinary leadership, so desperately needed at the time, condemning the Libyan regime’s brutality against civilians and suspending Libya from the Commission.
Today the UN is facing the same critical challenge that requires once again bold and decisive leadership to respond to the systemic killings of peaceful and unarmed civilians in Ethiopia by the regime that sits at the table along with the forty -six member states of the United Nations Human Rights Council. This, by any measure of imagination and by any interpretation of international law, is not only unjust, but also contradictory to all sacred values, principles and norms that the UN and the Commission stand for. Imagine for a moment an individual who committed a heinous crime as serious as taking one’s life sits as a juror at his or her own trial. Imagine a top diplomat of a country that continues to use a brute force against unarmed civilians is allowed to compete for one of the most prestigious positions within the UN system. This “see no evil, hear no evil” attitude, if allowed to continue, could seriously taint the already damaged reputation of the UN system. One cannot remain neutral or ambiguous in a situation where women, men, young and old, are massacred simply for demanding their basic rights.
Certainly, the ongoing killings, torture, mass arrest and disappearances of pro-democracy activists, human rights defenders and political leaders in Ethiopia are not new. As credible human rights organizations, such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, have been reporting, it has been going on for the last twenty-five years. The only new dimension this time is that the patience of the people of Ethiopia has reached a point of no return demanding a fundamental change of the political, economic and social architecture of the country. All indications are that no matter the degree of the use of brute force by the regime, the determined people of Ethiopia will continue to demand fundamental change. Thus, this state engineered brutal and bloody crackdown on unarmed civilians and peaceful protestors in Ethiopia calls for extraordinary leadership and upholding of the fundamental tenets of human rights and human dignity at the highest level of the international order. Indeed, in the current political architecture of Ethiopia there may not be a single demagogue, like Muammar Al-Qadhafi, Bashar Al Assad or Hosni Mubarak, but there are many shadowy figures with their own scale and degree of demagoguery behind the scenes, engineering mass murder, torture and fomenting an unprecedented degree of inter-communal violence, which could explode into a full-scale civil war.
While the UNHRC’s recent call demanding a full and transparent investigation by the international body on the killings is a positive development (although rejected by the regime in Addis Ababa) the Council must immediately recommend the suspension of Ethiopia from the Security Council and General Assembly. Those who violate the basic tenets of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) should not be allowed to sit at the table of the Council and discuss or make a decisions defending the values and principles they violate so routinely and with utter impunity.
If history is any lesson, the people of Ethiopia have a bitter memory etched in their minds about the UN system, especially its predecessor the League of Nations. It has to be recalled when Emperor Haile Selassie appeared before the League appealing for help following Fascist Italy’s invasion of Ethiopia. The Emperor said, “I ask the fifty-two nations, who have given the Ethiopian people a promise to help them in their resistance to the aggressor, what are they willing to do for Ethiopia? And the great Powers who have promised the guarantee of collective security to small States on whom weighs the threat that they may one day suffer the fate of Ethiopia, I ask what measures do you intend to take? Representatives of the World I have come to Geneva to discharge in your midst the most painful of the duties of the head of a State. What reply shall I have to take back to my people?” He said this passionately urging the League to listen to the pledges of the Ethiopian people. His plea and call for a support was ignored and the Ethiopian people, with minimum support from friendly nations, defeated and drove the Italian forces from the sovereign territory of the country.
The call from the people of Ethiopia to the International community today is the same as the one echoed by Emperor Haile Selassie eighty years ago. What is the international community, especially the United Nations system, going to do in response to this urgent call by the Ethiopian people for justice, freedom, equality and democracy? The responsible bodies in the international architecture could do something and stop this institutional and systemic slaughter of unarmed civilians or look the other way while the country descends into unprecedented and potentially catastrophic civil war, which could engulf the region of East Africa with serious consequences for global peace and security.
Considering the gravity of the situation, the current President Mogens Lykketoft of the seventieth session of the United Nations General Assembly must call upon the General Assembly to consider the suspension of Ethiopia from the Council, as well as to disqualify the candidacy of Dr. Tedros Adhanom, the foreign minister of Ethiopia, for the Directorate position of the World Health Organization (WHO). The United Nations system must redeem itself from the dark shadow of history that hangs on its record vis-à-vis Ethiopia. It must speak unequivocally and unambiguously about defending human rights and holding violators accountable. In doing so, the UN could be able to mend the historical ills and build a new relationship with the people of Ethiopia. The time to act is today! Tomorrow might be too late!
The writer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org