H.E. Dr. Uschi Eid
President of the German Africa Foundation Berlin, Germany
1. The Global Society of Tigray Scholars and Professionals (GSTS), a non-partisan and autonomous global network representing more than 3200 Tigrayan scholars and professionals all over the world, is dismayed by the news that the German Africa Foundation has decided to present the German Africa Award 2021 to Dr. Daniel Bekele – Commissioner of the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission (EHRC). GSTS strongly opposes the decision to honor a state appointed official infamous for extremely divisive and suspect practices with grave consequences.
2. GSTS unconditionally affirms the importance of efforts to support and strengthen independent human rights commissions throughout the world (and especially in Africa) and commends the German African Foundation for espousing this noble cause. However, there are several reasons as to why awarding Dr. Bekele will do a disservice to this important mission, paramount of which being that it would be a grave injustice to the victims and survivors of grave human rights violations and war crimes in Ethiopia who have been silenced and rendered invisible by his actions and that of the EHRC. Notably, Dr. Bekele and the government-created EHRC have persistently hidden and/or downplayed war crimes, crimes against humanity, and visible acts of genocide in Tigray as well as ignoring other grave violations in the rest of Ethiopia.
3. Just to enumerate a few examples of the commissioner’s deliberate negligence in the face of grave human rights violations amounting to war crimes, crimes against humanity and acts of genocide perpetrated against an ethnic minority:
- Dr. Bekele is on record1 downplaying the atrocities committed in Tigray. He said “it is comforting to learn that the military operation did not result in as severe consequences as it was originally feared to be. There was talk of a huge bloodbath, there was talk of a huge civilian casualty, breakup of the country…”. This is despite the enormous evidence of massacre, de facto aid blockade to the starving population, horrific reports of sexual violence with the intention of “cleansing and purifying the victim’s blood”2, cultural and heritage cleansing, burning reproductive organs of Tigrayan women such that their womb should never give birth to additional Tigrayan children3 etc. which constitute deliberate acts of genocide.
- Dr. Bekele’s EHRC has been ignoring glaring human rights violations including massacres. He neither condemned nor demonstrated responsibility to investigate many of the more than 250 massacres committed in Tigray, some of which include: Mahbere Dego Massacre4, Debre Abay Massacre5, Abi Addi Massacre6, Hagere Selam Massacre7, Togoga Massacre8, Irob Massacre9, Adwa Massacre10, Adigrat Massacre11, Hawzen Massacre12, Gijet Massacre13 and Mariam Dengelat Massacre14.
- Dr. Bekele and the EHRC have been selective and biased in the choices of what to condemn or investigate and in their methods of investigation. They have been mainly vocal about some alleged atrocities, mainly those the Ethiopian government sought to draw narrative and attention to and often those involving ethnic Amharas as victims. At other times, such as with the arrest of tens of thousands of political dissenters (especially Tigrayans and Oromia) or the airstrike in Togoga marketplace (in Tigray), they have opted to remain largely silent and ignored the widespread and horrendous human rights abuses.
- The EHRC under Dr. Bekele played a deliberately biased and destructive role in the war on Tigray, primarily through its misleading report on the attribution of the Mai Kadra massacres of Tigrayans. That faulty report has been used (and continues to be used) by the Ethiopian and regional Amhara governments to galvanize and moblize support for the war on Tigray. It is clear that evidence has been destroyed in Mai Kadra, and the EHRC has been complicit in that process.
- The EHRC has been repeatedly factually inconsistent in its reference to the crisis in Tigray. For example, BBC reported15 in January that more than 4.5 million people needed emergency food aid. However, an EHRC report in February slashed this figure to 2.3 million. These reports are fabricated to support the narrative of the federal government of Ethiopia.
- The EHRC has made no effort to investigate or denounce the ongoing heinous atrocities that are being committed in Western Tigray — on which international media outlets like CNN have already gathered and reported substantial evidence — and that is now under the control of the Amhara and Eritrean governments’ forces to which the EHRC has access owing to its affiliation with the Ethiopian government and its allies.
- It must also be noted that the justification offered for this award is ridden with inaccurate and misleading statements. For example, the following sentence: “Bekele‘s addressing the presence of Eritrean troops on Ethiopian territory at a time when it was still taboo was also met with respect by observers, as was his openness for criticism of his Commission’s human rights work.” is not factual. In fact, Dr. Bekele was reluctant to conduct any investigation and/or make an announcement until the Ethiopian government itself reluctantly mentioned the ‘taboo’ subject and officially admitted the presence of Eritrean troops in Tigray under international pressure. Evidence in this regard is that Dr. Bekele delayed the report on Axum massacre perpetrated by Eritrean soldiers until PM Abiy openly admitted Eritrean presence in Tigray. Similarly, other reports from the EHRC under Dr. Bekele’s auspices fall short of implicating the Eritrean troops for all the atrocities committed in Humera (e.g., avoided investigating the shelling of Kebele 02 by Eritrean soldiers) and other parts of Tigray.
4. GSTS respectfully requests the esteemed German Africa Foundation to seriously reconsider the award to Dr. Bekele and revoke the announcement as it is already being used for war propaganda aggravating an already tense situation in Ethiopia. It is counterproductive that such a notable award is given to a commissioner who has not only hidden or downplayed grave human rights violations but has also grievously politicized human misery. Indeed, this will be a disservice to the award and deserving previous genuine awardees.
5. Finally, yet importantly, we have attached an evidence-based analysis of the commissioner’s mishandling of the war in Tigray and beyond. The fact-based analysis demonstrates that the EHRC under Bekele’s leadership is biased against Tigrayan victims, and it lacks [independence, integrity, impartiality, credibility, objectivity, factual consistency, and professional competence].
H.E. Robert Dölger, Director for Sub-Saharan Africa and Sahel at German Foreign Office H.E. Ambassador Stephan Auer, German Embassy Addis Ababa
H.E. David Schwake, General Secretary, Deutsche Afrika Stiftung (DAS)
H.E. Prof. Dr. Karl-Heinz Hornhues, Honorary President, DAS
H.E. Alois Karl, Vice-president, DAS
H.E. Dr Bärbel Kofler, Vice-president, DAS and Commissioner for Human Rights Policy and Humanitarian Assistance, Federal Republic of Germany
H.E. Dieter Härthe, Treasurer, DAS
H.E. Klaus A. Hess, Legal Adviser, DAS
H.E. Dr Volker Faigle, Assessor, DAS
H.E. Dr Christoph Hoffmann, Assessor, DAS
H.E. Volkmar Klein, Assessor, DAS
H.E. Andreas Lämmel, Assessor, DAS
H.E. Omid Nouripour, Assessor, DAS
H.E. Heiko Schwiderowski, Assessor, DAS
H.E. Johannes Singhammer, Assessor, DAS
H.E. Gabi Weber, Assessor, DAS
4 https://www.bellingcat.com/news/2021/06/24/tigray-conflict-videos-provide-new-details-of-mahbere-dego- massacre/
6 https://www.telegraph.co.uk/global-health/terror-and-security/bodies-torn-pieces-ethiopian-eritrean-troops- accused-massacre/
10 https://www.reuters.com/article/ethiopia-conflict/eritrean-soldiers-kill-nine-civilians-in-tigray-ethiopian-regional- official-says-idUSL4N2M72PT
iGSTS is 501(C) and 33/2011 legally registered non-partisan, not-for-profit, and autonomous Global Knowledge Network of over 3,200 Tigray Scholars and Professionals aimed at creating Knowledge-based economy and society in Tigray, and beyond. It stands for academia, multidisciplinary and cross sectoral research and applied policy development, human capital development, fostering and advancing science, technology, and innovation, technology and knowledge transfer, youth and gender development, migration and displacement, and other educational and development related endeavors. It also works in educational advocacy and collaborates with various stakeholders towards promoting peace, good governance, human rights, and humanitarian activities.