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Human Rights Violations Have No ‘context’ Mr. Daniel Bekele

Human Rights Violations Have No ‘context’

 Mr. Daniel Bekele

Dawit Abay 06-03-20


Mr. Daniel Bekele used to work for Human rights Watch and he is right now the head of the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission. In response to the recent report by Amnesty International on human rights violations in Ethiopia,  he has signature response which runs roughly like this, ‘the report by Amnesty International certainly should be taken seriously but it should be seen in the context that the government is taking action to curb an insurgent group in that area’. For the gullible it may seem a smart response. Or you can justify it using some technical human rights jargons. Some may even say, ‘well he is now a government appointee and should somehow be diplomatic about it”.

But let’s think about this seriously. Let’s forget the Abiy administration who appointed Mr. Bekele. Let go back to the previous EPRDF. The previous EPRDF was, for instance, accused of violating human rights in Ogaden. If the reports were backed up by evidence, it does not matter whether EPRDF was fighting insurgencies or there were armed resistant groups in that area. It does not change my view of the killing of innocent civilians or rapes committed by soldiers even if EPRDF was conducting the operation for ‘good cause’. I may like the previous EPRDF and oppose the insurgents in Ogaden but if I really believe in the lives and dignity of human beings, it should not matter. In fact, most human rights violations are conducted in a color of some legitimate purpose. The security forces of a certain government will not kill and maim people out of the blue for the fun of it. The Derg was under pressure from various political factions when it committed those heinous crimes. If you want and are twisted, you can even concoct ‘context’ to such extreme situations as Hitler’s Germany or Rwanda.

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Mr. Bekele, as the head of the African section of the Human Rights Watch, took part inpreparing reports about the previous EPRDF. Anyone can go back and read them if they have any ‘contexts’. And it would have been wrong if someone had included a ‘context’ to justify them as long as they are credible reports. Coming forward now, Mr. Bekele is arguing that Amnesty International lost the ‘context’ in reporting the human rights violations Oroya and Amhara region. The explanations by Mr. Bekele are presented in a familiar tone that lawyers try to make the unreasonable reasonable. In reality and without being presumptive, for him the current Ethiopian government is fighting for the ‘unity’ of Ethiopia and to curb ‘extreme ethnic nationalism’ and should be understood in that context.  Clearly, Mr. Bekele knows these reported violations are similar (some worse) to the reports he was preparing at Human Rights Watch but he sympathizes with this government and he is ready to look somewhere else. However, human lives and dignity is not something to be overlooked. And above all, how did Mr. Bekele lose sight of these conspicuous incidents and not report about them now? Were these less important than the illegal arrest of residents inAddis while‘enforcing’ the COVID-19 emergency proclamation?

If Mr. Bekele was a head of another government agency and tried to justify some missteps by the government, we can understand. But serious human right violations are exceptions. What is the point of having a government? You cannot justify them when it is orchestrated by a body that you support. By the same token, individuals who overlooked human rights violations in the previous government but quote Amnesty International fervently against the current government would be also equally hypocritical.  Make no mistake, I am not saying Amnesty international and their likes should not be questioned at all or are free from international political actors. I don’t have sufficient information to discuss that issue. My point is if Amnesty were found to be credible against EPRDF they should be trusted now too. If they were challenged as to the veracity of their claims previously, we should do the same now.

All along, EPRDF officials in the previous government were saying individuals like Mesfin Woldemriam and Daniel Bekele were not human rights activists but political opponents.  What we are witnessing overall is even beyond that. It is clear now from countless examples, like the sudden change of heart by some regarding the Renaissance Dam, much of the opposition from such people against EPRDF had nothing to do with its achievements or failures. I know this is too obvious for many of us but let’s say it for the ‘record’ at least.

To conclude, the fact remains human rights violations are wrong and immoral now as they were in the previous governments and the political culture in Ethiopia is crying for people with character and integrity.


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