||THE INTERNATIONAL SOLIDARITY COMMITTEE FOR
||ETHIOPIAN PRISONERS OF CONSCIENCE (ISCEPC)
North American office: P. O. Box 53022, Medford MA 02153. U. S. A

UNRAVELING HUMAN RIGHTS ABUSES IN ETHIOPIA: WAYS AND MEANS OF ALLEVIATING
THE PROBLEM

Human rights week observance and electronic mail conference

Web-site: http://www.ethiopians.com
Dates: 3-8 March, 1997
Dedication: To past and present Ethiopian men and women who gave up
their freedom, family, friends and career to struggle for
a democratic Ethiopia

Opening Remarks

by

Minga Negash
Rhodes University South Africa
Chairperson, ISCEPC

Your Excellencies,
Members and Friends of ISCEPC,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is a privilege for me to introduce this conference and 'welcome'
its participants. One distinguishing aspect of this exercise,
from the conventional ones, is that the participants are
scattered all over the world. Hence, for some it is a working day,
while for the others it is time to rest, because the time
difference is huge. I am sure some of the participants will stay
late during the night or wake up early, as if they are stock or
currency brokers. But, as you know, neither the theme nor the
dedication of this conference are associated with money.

Our pre-occupation is human rights in general and particularly its
abuses in Ethiopia. As noted in the "call for papers", it is about
the unravelling of human rights abuses in Ethiopia. The conference
is dedicated to those Ethiopian men and women who are languishing in
the prisons of Ethiopia for no apparent reason, other than their
free will, vision and concern for humanity.

The issue of human rights, once an idea that was left for lawyers
and the consumption of the international media, has now become a
major topic of interest across the globe. The concept has become
so powerful in that it has virtually summarized the ideal system of
governance. It has delineated the rights and duties of the ruled
and what is expected from the ruler, in a modern society. In
short, it has prescribed the conditions for the existence of
Plato's type ideal state, albeit in the era of post modernism.

However, in practical terms, one can not find the ideal state. Yet,
the concept of human rights can serve human kind, as a driving
force, for the betterment of his/her living place. From these
premises, civic and political organizations have extensively
used human rights principles in achieving their objectives.
Hence, the concern for human rights is global, today than
perhaps any other time in the past.

The end of the cold war has brought more questions than answers,
at least in Africa. Africa has ceased to be the battle ground
for the East and West, as it use to be. Post cold war relations
are largely being governed by containment of "radical Islam" and
economic interest. The so called peace divided has become a Chi
Chire cat in Africa: sometimes one sees it, at other times it is
not there. In most parts of the continent, anarchy and blind
nationalism have replaced totalitarianism. The majority of the
Sub-Saharan countries have conflicts of one form or another. As
in the rest of the world, none of these conflicts are inter-state.

Nations that were held together somehow have disintegrated. New
nations are being created. The Tutsi empire that is being built
is one example: from Uganda to Eastern Zaire. Liberal values
and universalism in general, are not able to get grounds. Yet,
in spite of these observations, for the West, these are
"encouraging signs of democracy"!

The evaporation of socialist thoughts together with a crisis
of identity, in the minds of the politically organized groups,
has left a vacuum. Unfortunately, this vacuum can not be
filled overnight as the filling process requires an era of
enlightenment. However, the required enlightenment is not that of
an invention scale. It is just recognizing that the other man who
lives on the other side of the boarder, the river or the
mountain is just another human being, whose wishes and feelings
are the same like me.

Some might say that this is a cynical view of the world and
of Africa in particular. But we hear and see that the scale of
human movement happening now is unprecedented in human
history after WW II. Technology and the availability of
information aside, human misery is bombarding our television
screens every day. Yet, we are told that the world has become
a better place, because many nations have become allegedly
democratic. I wish it was true. If that was the perceptions of
many, leaving aside my feelings, I would have joined them to
sing Louis Armstrong's wonderful world!

I do not know the operational definition of democracy. But I do
know both its textbook definition and how it is practised for I
have had the privilege of studying and living in countries
who are applauded for good governance. I do know the contents of
the UN and African conventions of Human rights.

But writing laws that are paper tigers is not an end in itself.
Many Africans, including Ethiopia have never been short of laws,
oral and/or written ones. In my life time, I have seen three
modern constitutions of Ethiopia. However, Emperor Menelik's
outlawing of slavery (see his letter to Abba Jifar of Jimma
c1900) is perhaps a land mark in the history of human right
studies in Ethiopia.

With regard to the modern ones, from Emperor Haile Selassie's
time to Colonel Mengistu's era, and now the era of The Ethiopian
Peoples Revolutionary Democratic Front, in all of them, the
rights of the people have been underscored. That is, in all the
three constitutions, the rights of the people and the individual,
are mentioned.

Even the brutal regime of Mengistu did not only have a clause
which states that a prisoner should to be brought to a court
of law within 48 hours, but a chapter on fundamental rights of
the citizens! Yet, as most of you are aware, Dergue, by and large
is remembered by its terror.

The TPLF/EPRDF's 1991 charter became more explicit and included
certain sections of the UN conventions, which other constitutions
refer to it as Bill of Rights. However, uncharacteristic of
other bill of rights, the TPLF's version of democracy included
secession!

Keeping aside constitutions and the details of their provisions, in
spite of the avalanche of regulations that purport to guard against
abuses of one person's right by another person, horror stories
continue to come out of Ethiopia, even with TPLF's ideal
constitution. The next question that one could raise is whether
the country has become any better now, in comparison to its
past?

These reports have been constantly flowing to the attention of
the international community. Amnesty International, United
States Department of State, Africa Rights, Africa Watch, EHRCO,
etc. have documented many cases of human rights abuses. World
political organizations like the United Nations Human Rights
Commission, the European Parliament have asked the authorities in
Ethiopia to desist from malpractices.

Professional associations like the American Association
for the Advancement of Sciences, Education International,
Swedish and Norwegian Teachers' unions, the British Trade Union
(TUC), The International Labour Organization, etc. have either
outright condemned the abuses or have pleaded for the release
of prisoners of conscience.

Several prisoners of conscience are held in jail. To name a
few:

Professor Asrat Woldeyes:
Dean of the Faculty of Medicine and President of the All
Amhara People Organization

Professor Alemayehu Teferra:
President of Addis Abeba University, ex Dean of the
Faculty of Engineering

Dr. Taye Woldesemayat:
Assistant professor of political sciences and President
of the Ethiopian Teachers Association

Mr. Abera Yemaneab:
Deputy chairman of the Coalition of Ethiopian
Democratic Forces

Mr. Mekonnen Dori:
Ex-deputy minister of information and Deputy Chairman of
the Southern Ethiopia People Democratic Organization

Mr. Girmay Moges Neway, Ex-Member of the Tigrean Peoples Liberation
Front

Mr. Goshu Moges, Editor of Tobia news paper

Mr. Muyhadin Muftah, Member of the Afar Revolutionary Democratic
Unity


The list is inexahustible. By the time one updates his/her
database, news of new arrests arrive. In addition to arrests and
imprisonments, summary dismissal of people from their places of
work, the killing of the faithful, including a hermit have been
observed.

With regard to group rights, persecutions of ethnic groups have
been reported. Arba Gugu, Bedeno, Gambella, Gondar, Alemaya, Milee,
Dubti and Addis Abeba itself have been mentioned in various
reports. Space and time will not allow to detail.

Frustrated by these and similar events, the ISCEPC was created in
1996, from the members of the two Ethiopian electronic networks.
Most of the 1996 was spent in the organization of its networks.

Nevertheless, in less than a year, it has been able to coordinate
the distribution of a petition to more than 300 addresses. It
printed Christmas cards that carry the photos of prisoners of
conscience and made it available for a wider use. From time to time
it has issued press statements asking the release of prisoners or
in cases of killings, condemnations. Together with others, it
has tried to lobby different world political and professional
organizations. This conference is the first of its projects that
are in line for execution during 1997.

ISCEPC is neither a political organization nor is affiliated to any
particular one. It is a network of individuals who are concerned
with the plight of Ethiopian prisoners of conscience. Membership
is open to anyone who upholds the international conventions of
human rights, Ethiopian values and rejects all forms of
sectarianism. ISCEPC has supporters and representatives in many
parts of the world. If you want to join, please do not hesitate to
contact us.

This conference has been co-sponsored by The Ethiopian
Computing and Information Technology Association (EthCITA) and
the Solidarity Committee for Ethiopian Political Prisoners.
Various organizations and individuals have contributed, both
directly and indirectly. Many political organizations have
provided us with information about the individuals who are
considered by us as prisoners of conscience. The EthCITA board
has made financial contribution. The Ethiopian Information Centre
in Holland (SHINE)and the Ethiopian Register Magazine have lent
us their good offices. On behalf of ISCEPC and myself I thank
all individuals and organizations who gave us moral and material
support for the success of our mission.

Let me now close my "speech" and wish that the conference will
end by proposing a sensible plan of action. I am certain that
the papers submitted are thought provoking. Members of the two
networks and the internet community are cordially invited to stay
with us during the week.

Finally, the usual disclaimer is proper here. Even though the
papers have been reviewed by the editorial board, the views
expressed by the contributors are not necessarily the opinions
of members of the ISCEPC.

At the end of the conference, we hope there will be a resolution.
For the drafting of the resolution, we would like to commission a
three person committee. The resolution and the proceedings of this
conference will be published in a booklet form.

Enjoy your stay with us!

-----------------------------------------------------------------
CONFERENCE PROGRAMME

-->Monday March 3, 1997

-Opening Remarks (ISCEPC)
-Key-note speech (W/O Berhane Yeraswork)
-Paper 1: Professor Adeno Addis, Tulane University, LA, USA

-->Tuesday 3/4

-Profile on Ato Abera Yemane-Ab -
(compiled from material provided kindly by Alem Tsehay Gebru)
-Paper 2: Prof. Getachew Haile, St. Johns University, Mennesota, USA
-Poem 1: Mekonnen Wondimu, UK

-->Wednesday 3/5
-Profile on Dr. Taye Wolde Semayat
(contributed by Dr. Assefa Negash, Amesterdam, Holland)
-Paper 3: Dr. Assefa Negash, Amesterdam, Netherlands
-Poem 2: Amha Asfaw, University of Missouri, USA

-->Thursday 3/6
-Profiles on Ato Tsegaye G/Medhin and Fitawrari Mekonnen Dori
(profile on Tsegaye G/Medhin contributed by Araya Amsalu)
-Paper 4: Professor Theodore Vestal, Oklahoma University, USA

-->Friday 3/7
-Profile on Professor Asrat Woldeyes
-Paper 5 - Professor Theodore Vestal, Oklahoma University USA
-Poem 3 - Mekonnen Wondimu, UK

-->Saturday 3/8
-Profile on Professor Alemayehu Teffera
-Brief Mention on all other Prisoners of Conscience
-Personal Testimony on HR Abuses - Artist Tamagne
-Closing Remarks & Call for Action by ISCEPC

======== End of Schedule======