Justice Now; Reconcilition Now; Peace Now; Bread Now Print E-mail
By Awate Team - Mar 17, 2003   

Two days ago, Gedab Investigative Report published its findings regarding the alleged ?execution of 150 people.? The reaction from our readers was mixed: disgust, anger, and withdrawal.  It should be noted here that while there still may remain reasonable doubt that the government perpetrated this ugly act, there is absolutely no question that the government?s behavior is consistent with governments that have killed their own people.  Namely, the government has criminalized political differences; it has created a police/security force that is accountable only to the ?president?s office?; it has circumvented the system of justice and due process; it has abducted citizens whose whereabouts remains unknown for periods ranging up to over a decade; it has given deaf ears to the appeals of their grieving families; worse, adding insult to injury, it has excoriated them for daring to ask about their family members and warned them never to do it again.   All of these behaviors are consistent with a government that has murdered its own citizens and dreads being held accountable for its actions.


A few Eritreans may be tempted to say that while the government?s actions are ?not perfect,? they should be placed within the context of a nation fighting for its very survival against the danger posed first by the Jihad movement and then by the Weyane regime.  We are always surprised when this type of apology comes from people who fancy themselves educated liberals.  First of all, no amount of provocation justifies disappearing citizens.  If the citizens pose a danger to the republic, then the State should follow the law.  We shouldn?t be asked to accept that Eritrea has been in an unstated State of Emergency for nine out of its twelve years of existence.  Secondly, the ?jihad? and ?weyane? fits-all-purpose explanation doesn?t explain why some people who had absolutely nothing to do with jihad or weyane had and have disappeared: some languishing in jails, others still unaccounted for.


We only hear about these things when there is a close call: when someone, through unique circumstances, manages to escape the claws of the inhumane PFDJ.  One such example is the case of Hiwet Ghebremichael, an Eritrean-American resident of Indianapolis, Indiana, who had gone to Eritrea with her two children in May 1997 and whose experiences were shared in a Q & A with Nesebraq Eritrea (a US-based newspaper) on September-October 1997.  Hiwet had ?intended to be in Asmara for Independence, Martyrs Day and the Expo? with her 7 and 9-year-old daughters.  On June 3, ten days into her stay in Asmara, Hiwet Ghebremichael (whose maiden name is Hiwet Adhanom; ?Ghebremichael? is her husband?s last name) was picked up by security forces outside a hairdresser in Asmara. 


The nice security forces had gone inside the hairdresser and, after ascertaining her identity, informed her that they would wait outside for her.  Meanwhile, suspecting something, Hiwet had called her husband in the United States as well as the then- American Ambassador to Eritrea, Donald Yamamato.   After she was done at the hairdresser, the security officers picked her up and she remained in jail (and away from her two children) for eleven days.  Her crime?  She was a member of the ELF?s Central Leadership, which means she was against the new flag, the redrawing of Eritrean?s provinces and belonged to an organization (without her knowledge, apparently) that had ?declared war against the government.?   For eleven days, they interviewed her.  For eleven days, she prayed.  Meanwhile, one of her senators in Indiana, Senator Lugar (then with the Foreign Relations Committee) and Mr. Yamamato, the ambassador, had already begun campaigning for her release.  But they couldn?t gain her release because no government official knew about her case; nor were they empowered to release her.  She had to wait for President Isaias Afwerki to return from an overseas trip.  She was released on June 13, 1997, after President Isaias Afwerki  granted her ?clemency,? after asking her to admit her ?crimes.?  She did what any mother of two young children would do: she signed the documents.

Hiwet was one of the ?lucky? ones, as was Ruth Simon, the AFP journalist, a veteran who was arrested in April 1997 and released after 18 months, at a time while she was nursing her new born child.  (Ruth?s husband, Mahmoud Herui, an EPLF veteran, was visiting her and his brother in the same jail; his brother, Saleh Herui, the commander of the forces that liberated Dekemhare, was released in 2001 after serving a 10-year prison term, imposed by a ?special court.  Ah, Eritrea.) These two ladies were released because there were powerful people and organizations pressuring for their release.  Similarly, although there are nearly thirty Eritrean journalists arrested, the advocacy for two journalists, Fessehaye ?Joshua? Yohannes and Dawit Isaac, (by the CPJ and the Swedish governments respectively) is what is keeping their issue alive.     Thank God for the small favors.

But each and every journalist has a grieving family member and we, their compatriots, have an obligation to speak on their behalf.  We fall into the hands of the oppressive government when we classify these victims as post-September 18 and pre-September 18; or private press and government press journalists.  They are all young human beings who served their country in its time of need and are now rewarded by harsh and cruel terms where they have to resort to hunger strikes just as not to be forgotten.  The totality of the journalists missing and presumed in jail is depressing; this is why Eritrea is now recognized as the African nation with the worst journalist record.   The names of the arrested are as follows: (1)Akhader AHMEDIN (Tsigenay); (2) AMANUEL (Mana); (3) Amanuel Asrat (Zemen) (4) Daniel HABTE (Eri-Tempo); (5) Dawit Habtemichael (Meqaleh); (6) Dawit Isaac (Setit);  (7) Emanuel Asrat (Zemen); (8) Fessehaye ?Joshua? Yohannes (Setit); (9) Fitzum (Zemen); (10) Ghebrehiwot KELETA (Tsigenay); (11) GHEBREMEDHIN (Millenium); (12) Hamed Mohammed SAID (Dimitsi Hafash, Arabic); (13) Mathewos Habteab (Meqaleh); (14) Medhanie Haile (Keste Debena); (15) Meles NIGUSSE (Tsigenay); (16) Muluberhan HABTEGEBRIEL (Setit);  (17) Omer "ABU AKLA" (Tsigenay); (18) Paulos Zaid (Eritrean Profile)[UPDATE FROM READERS: Paulos Zaid now safely in the US]; (18) Said Abdulkader (Admas); (19) Saidia Ahmed (TV-Eri); (20) Saleh Aljezaeri (Dimtsi Hafash, Arabic); (21) Selayinghes Beyene (Meqaleh); (22) Semret Seyoum (Setit); (23) Seyoum Tsehaye (freelance photographer); (24) Temesghen Gebreyesus (Keste Debena); (25) Yebio GHEBREMEDHIN (Mekalih); (26) Yusuf Mohammed Ali (Tsigenai); (27) Zemenfes HAILE (Tsigenay.)

These journalists were arrested to make room for the ?responsible? and ?patriotic? feel-good and mindless dribble that passes for journalism, regularly featured at Shaebia.org, Hadas Ertra, Eri-TV and DimSi Hafash.

These are the journalists who are unaccounted for.  There may be more; but these are the ones that have been reported missing by a family member/colleague.   Then there are the veterans of Eritrea?s Revolutionary War, segmented and reduced to a G-something and X-something else so that they can be labeled and forgotten.  But they are all individuals who sacrificed the best part of their lives?their youth, their dreams and their limbs?to a now ungrateful country.  And they all have families that grieve for them.  They are: Alazar Mesfin; Abdurehaim Ahmed; Ali Mohammed Saleh; Aster Fissehatsion (Happy Women?s Day, Aster); Berhane Gebrezghier; Beraki Gebreselassie; Bisrat Yemane; Bitweded Abraha; Estifanos Seyoum; Feron Woldu; Germano Nati; Hadera Kahsu; Haile ?Derue? Weldensae; Hamid Hmid; Ibrahim Siraj; Idris Aba-Arre; Kiros Tesfamichael; Mahmoud Ahmed Sherifo; Ogbe Abraha, Petros Solomon; Saleh Kekya; Tesfaldet Tewelde; Tesfaldet Seyoum; Tesfaye ?Gomora? Gebreab; and Tewelde Zemichael.

There are also those who have disappeared since 1994, presumably for ?jihad? sympathies.  This is presumed because the government has yet to acknowledge that it is holding them.  Why is the government then suspected in their disappearance?  Because it acts guilty: a government that has nothing to do with the disappearance of its citizens would express concern would conduct investigations to find them.  But this one actually gets mad at their families for even inquiring about them; some have even been threatened with ?the same treatment? if they pursue the issue.  Some of those who have been abducted include: Mohammed Hagos Ibrahim; Mohammed Said Abdulrahim; Said Abdulkadir; Hassen Mohammed Shum; Jemal Mohammed Nur; Salahaddin Omer Abdulkadir; Nasser Abdellah; Abdu Idris Ali; Mohammed Nur Abrara; Ahmeddin Omer; Abdelrehim Abdulkadir; Abubeker Mohammed Idris; Abdelrahman Mohammed Defellah; Mohammed Yassin; Abdulrazak Mohammed Hagos; Ali Ibrahim Idrisai; Mustapha Abdelhadi ; Ali Mohammed Mussa; Fuad Mohammed Omer; and Ali Mohammed Musa.

Then there are ordinary individuals, citizens who actually made the mistake of assuming that ?citizenship? included certain rights and duties and are paying the price for saying the wrong things at the wrong places.  They include Abdu Ahmed Younis; Ali Alamin, Hassen Kekya; Ibrahim Siraj; Kiflom Gebremichael; Miriam Ahmed; Miriam Hagos; Suleiman Musa Hajj, and Sunabera Mohammed Demena.


No doubt, there are exponentially more people. The above-named individuals made the list simply because they are better known than others or their arrests occurred during a period when there was a relatively free flow of information (2000-2001).  How many more citizens have been abducted and are unaccounted for during the periods of 1991-2000 and September 2001 to present?   Whatever happened to Ali Higo Mohammed and Daniel Gebrekidan after their ?last warning? in 1991?  Whatever has become of Weldemariam Bahlbi and Tekleberhan Gebretsadik, after their abduction from Kassala, Sudan in 1992?   How many are, like Ermias Debessai, languishing in jail after a ?Special court? imposed sentences on them? 


Legally, regardless of whatever the allegations are, regardless of how serious the charges are, there is no justification for detaining people indefinitely.  Morally, it is total degeneracy and wantonness bordering on pathological inhumanity to imprison the infirm, the elderly and the sick.   This is not the Eritrea for which tens of thousands of lives were sacrificed.  


Change does not come about by inaction.  We as citizens owe it to our compatriots to do something about this injustice.   Some Eritreans still hold out hope that the government is amenable to reason; that it listens to the people.  To those optimists who believe that, we ask that they register their appeal or complaint to the following:


                             President Isaias Afwerki

                             C/o Permanent Eritrean Mission to the UN

                             Fax: 212-963-3398


                             Ms Fozia Hashim

                             Ministry of Justice

                             P.O. Box 241

                             Asmara, Eritrea


As for those of us who have come to the conclusion that the government is committed to giving a deaf ear to the people and only listens, if it does at all, to foreign influences, we need to make our voices heard.  But we need to do it in an organized way.  Eritreans all over the world are forming a task force to open a case accusing the PFDJ leader in relevant courts of law. We encourage people to communicate information and evidences that will strengthen the case against the perpetrators of the crimes. No information is little information; send in anything you know. We also call upon Eritreans living in Eritrea to take mental notes on the activities of individuals within the governmentThey should do nothing to endanger their life or liberty but they should stay alert and make a conscious effort to remember the details of every government outrage: the perpetrator, the time, the place.    There must be accountability for the crimes that are being inflicted on the innocent citizen and the government official must be made to choose between serving a tyrant now or being accountable to the Eritrean people later. Leave the sifting of information, verification and piecing together of the tidbits to the task force. We also call on Eritrean legal experts to give their services to this worthy cause. They are well poised to take the legal charge. We couldn?t save the lives of those who were killed and wronged; we can offer them a legal vindication and bringing the culprits to a court. Remember Milisovitch? You can send your information to the following e-mail address: justicenow@awate.com   Because we need justice now.


Reconciliation Now

In our Eritrea, every week brings about bad news.  Two months ago, the Afar Liberation Front operating in the South East of Eritrea issued a communiqu頯f a battle it waged against the Eritrean forces. On February 10, 2003, the ENA celebrated a ?heroic? ambush against government forces, pointedly referring to how it (and the government) ignored appeals by the people.  Just yesterday, the Democratic Movement for the Liberation of Eritrean Kunama (DMLEK) issued a press release celebrating another such clash. 

Many Eritreans are rightfully indignant that such ?victories? (always waged by ?gallant? forces) are being celebrated.  Sometimes, their indignation extends to the media outlets that provide the forum for this news.   For some, if violence is not reported, then it doesn?t exist.  They prefer to remain blissfully ignorant of the dangers facing Eritrea?preferring to get their news only after it has been carefully wrapped and packaged by DimtSi Hafash. 

When people are ignorant of what is happening around them, they are blinded. Their views and judgments become flawed.  Worse, they become dependent on someone else not only to report the news but explain it and then reassure them that everything is alright.   The ugly truth is that Eritrea has been embroiled in violence for almost a decade now. Check the years since Independence Day and see how many people were unnecessarily killed each year. To us, the loss of one life is one too many. Human blood is too precious to be wasted and Eritreans killing Eritreans is a monstrous incident.


We condemn violence from whichever source it comes from, including (and specially) when it comes from PFDJ because it is sworn to protect the people.  Only reconciliation can break this vicious cycle and this is why we have been crying ?RECONCILIATION!? for years.  And the answer was always the same: ?Reconcile with those handful of traitors?? Such irresponsible attitude still rules around the PFDJ circles.


In mocking our calls for reconciliation, the PFDJ lot thought we had just picked a buzzword and a slogan. Instead of recognizing the gravity of the problem, they went about blaming us for bringing them the news. They are mad because we chose to inform the public and remind everyone that Eritrean blood is being spilled and that this blood is not a cheap commodity, just because it is labeled ?weyane?, ?jihad?, ?hamshay mereE?, ?wegenawi?, etc.


Though the government has been trying to place a gag on it, there has always been violent confrontation between the PFDJ and the opposition. Government scouts always search the countryside for opposition forces. Many times they meet face to face and brothers kill each other. Sadly, the mothers on whose honor the PFDJ just ?celebrated? a ?women?s? day?, have not stopped crying since the 1960s. It was only recently that the PFDJ found it in its self-interest to even acknowledge that there is such a thing as an armed opposition in Eritrea.

Condemning violence is a noble thing to do; but selective condemnation is not that noble.  In the course of bringing peace and order, states have a right to use violence BUT ONLY IF IT IS DONE IN ACCORDANCE WITH THE LAWS AND ONLY IF THE GOVERNMENT REPRESENTS THE PEOPLE.  Otherwise, it is just one organized armed group against another, a definition of war-lordism.  Why do we have to limit our condemnation to one incident? Shouldn?t all violence that involves Eritrean blood be indiscriminately condemned?

Let?s have a clear and unwavering stand against violence wherever it comes from. However, lets recognize that we cannot stop violence through simple condemnations. Let?s go one step further. Let?s call for reconciliation and the establishment of rule of law and a national charter to build peace in our country. Let?s condemn those who refuse to reconcile and expose them.   There is no point in Eritreans killing Eritreans because of hate that doesn?t exist if not for the arrogance of exclusion and marginalizing. A confrontation that wouldn?t have existed if there was a rule of law and respect for the rights of ALL citizens in Eritrea. A situation that is a result of shrugging genuine calls for reconciliation.

The way out is for our proud army: you have the guns and you call the shots. You know your responsibility: it is to protect Eritrean territorial integrity as well as the dignity and safety of the Eritrean citizen. Your allegiance is to the people; it is not to any power that oppresses Eritreans. You are the inheritors of a glorious past: you have the obligation to pave the way for a bright future.  Warsay, we need reconciliation now; stand on the side of the forces of reconciliation.

Peace Now 

At the outbreak of the war, the Ethiopian Kebur Genna described the fight as ?two bold men fighting over a comb,? a phrase that became an instant classic. Now it appears like the war is down to one bold man fighting over a comb.

Faced with certain defeat on the issue of Badme, Prime Minister Meles Zenawi had two choices: to downplay the issue of Badme (?this war was never about Badme; it was about reversing aggression; which of the three Badmes are you talking about? etc?) or to exaggerate it (?it would be insane to award Badme to Eritrea; if you do so, I can?t guarantee that there won?t be war, etc.?)  For reasons known to himself, Prime Minister Meles Zenawi has chosen the latter option, begging the obvious question of: ?how will he explain it to his people once the final verdict is in??

The relationship between EPLF and TPLF was so symbiotic for so long that when faced with a mystery about TPLF, the answer is found with the EPLF.  And vice versa.  So what is the thinking of Meles Zenawi?  Well, in January 2001, the Eritrean President?s Office was kind enough to issue its treatise on war and peace (the document we called Brainwashing Manual because it was the talking point distributed to the senior cadres.)   Here is an excerpt that may help explain Meles?s thought process: 

And in the peace process that followed (Modalities for Implementation; Technical Arrangements, etc), Weyane did not accept the resolutions nor did they reject them; they labored to affect changes by asking questions and raising issues. This is a peaceful struggle practiced by all. Why it didn't bring about the needed outcome for us but did for the Weyane is not because they were better at it; it is because after the Second and Third Offensive they were able to occupy territories and this was seen as military superiority, which, in the minds of the mediators, earned them the right to demand concessions.  The basis of diplomacy is power; and peace processes are governed by the military situation on the ground.

So all the posturing might be Meles Zenawi?s ?peaceful struggle? to bring about the change he wants because the ?basis of diplomacy is power? and he believes he is militarily in a superior position?  The problem with this argument is that this would have worked if he were dealing with either a political body or an ineffectual agency.  Say, the OAU.  Had the border issue been left in the hands of the OAU or an arbitrator with no power of enforcement, the border issue would had been one of dozens of unresolved and irresolvable issues.  But Meles Zenawi lost that argument (of having the OAU but not the UN) years ago when the OAU itself said that it was too ineffectual and bankrupt to carry out the process.  It was given one of those tasks that means a lot to the people but very little to the governments: finding out the root causes of the conflict and determining liabilities (which will, regardless of the ?findings? be promptly ignored by both governments, of course.)   The judges at The Hague take pride in their impartiality and insensitivity to the political winds (which is why we thought it was silly when the PFDJistas were going about one of their many useless pet projects and petitioning the Hague to rule in Eritrea?s favor.)

Back to Prime Minister Meles Zenawi.   If he knows that the Boundary Commission cannot give Ethiopia any concessions and if he knows that it has the full backing of the UN?s Security Council, why is he threatening non-compliance?  For the answer, once again, we peer into the psychology of President Isaias Afwerki, his alter-ego.  For all Meles?s claim to being a democrat and an enlightened leader, he is another brinkmanship engineer.  The dogma of brinkmanship dictates that you don?t do something until you absolutely positively have to do it.  By waiting until the very last second, you make room for other factors?now unknown?to play their role.   Go back to May 2001 and consider how President Isaias Afwerki was cornered and seemed like there was no way out for him, unless he agreed to change.   Then, bang, September 11 happens and the rules of the game are completely changed.   Similarly, between now and the final demarcation time, Prime Minister Meles Zenawi can count on many gifts to change the topic from demarcation: including a persistent drought, a border dispute with Somalia, pursuing Itihad, hot pursuit Gugumu, commemorating asphalting between Port Sudan and Metema; the return of the Axum obelisk; expansion of Ethiopian Airlines; war against poverty; war against AIDS; war against corruption; war against war?.the possibilities are endless.   Of course, he has the same constant gift President Isaias Afwerki has been blessed with: a weak and fragmented opposition? In other words, the question of ?how will he face the Ethiopian people?? is moot because African leaders don?t have to answer to their people. Don?t cry for Meles Zenawi; cry for the Ethiopian and Eritrean people and all African people.

Whatever brinkmanship Mr. Meles Zenawi is contemplating, we can only hope it will spare the poor Eritrean and Ethiopian people more bloodshed.  We want peace and we want peace now.  Mr. Meles Zenawi can contemplate something that is alien to African leaders; if things don't go his way, he can resign thereby securing a more meaningful legacy for Ethiopia: peaceful transfer of power.  There is more to life than politics.  We need Peace Now.


This needs no reminder.  All Eritreans, regardless of their political persuasion, want to provide help to relieve the drought-stricken population.  Do not be put-off by the PFDJ who will politicize anything, even hunger: they cannot help it.  If you send help through them, you are a patriot; if you find a different route, you are not part of the ?mekhete.?  Do not allow them to define patriotism: they don?t own it.

For people who want to help but do not want to go through the PFDJ extortion game or for people who have no confidence that the government can administer the funds wisely, there is a way to do so. Since July of last year, we have asked you to donate directly to the UN?s World Food Programme (WFP) by contacting their website directly.  The information is also available at our Public Forums by clicking the banner.  The url is http://www.wfp.org/index.asp?section=4 .  You can fill out an Eritrea-specific donation card online.   To send your donation by regular mail, use the following addresses:

In the United States:
US Friends of the WFP
PO Box 11856
Washington, D.C. 20008
*Contributions by US taxpayers are tax-deductible

In Japan:
Post Office Account World Food Programme
Account No. 00220-0-19381

In Italy:
Conto Corrente Postale/Postal Account
No. 89132005

Elsewhere in the world:
Chief, REA
Resources Division
WFP - Via Cesare Giulio Viola, 68/70
00148 Rome - Italy

Our sister website, Messelna, is working with UNICEF.  You can contact them through droughtemergency@yahoo.ca .    Our older sister website, Asmarino, has detailed information on a variety of NGOs working inside Eritrea including World Health Organization (WHO) who@gemel.com.er ; the European Union (EU) mailto@deleri.cec.eu.int and the International Red Cross which can be reached at asmara.asm@icrc.org

Use whatever means you are most comfortable with; but please do it now.  Eritreans need help NOW: Justice Now, Peace Now, Reconciliation Now and Bread Now.

Comments: awateteam@awate.com

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