Letter to Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government

August 31st, 2000

Prof. Kwesi Botchwey
Harvard University, Kennedy School of Government
Director, Africa Program
Fax: 617-496-9466

Dear Prof. Botchwey;

I am writing on behalf of Ethiopian Democratic Action League (Tegbar) to appeal to you to call off Meles Zenawi’s invitation to your respected institution. His place in an international tribunal for crimes against humanity, not a prestigious institution such as Harvard.

Stand up on the side of the thousands of prisoners of conscience in Ethiopia under the rule of the minority government of Meles Zenawi. Among the thousands of prisoners of conscience recognized by the leading international human rights organizations, I draw your attention to the particular cases of a courageous leader of the nascent democratic movement, Dr. Taye Woldesemayat.

Dr. Taye is the president of Ethiopian Teachers Association and a human rights activist. He has been in jail without trial since May 29, 1996. The reason for his arrest is the government’s desire to dismantle all independent professional associations and replace them with pro-government ones. This was resisted by Dr. Taye and others which has led to an all-out campaign against civic organizations and their leaders.

Dr. Taye returned to Ethiopia from the U.S. in 1991. He was assistant professor of political science at Addis Abeba University until he and forty-two other professors who were considered critics by Meles Zenawi’s dictatorial regime, were illegally dismissed. In 1996, he was arrested at the airport as he was returning to Addis Abeba from Germany and other European countries after participating in conferences representing the Ethiopian Teachers Association. Representatives of the Dutch National Association of Teachers and the African Teachers Association were with him when he arrived at the Addis Abeba Airport, but they were unable to prevent his arrest. Dr. Taye is often put in solitary confinement with his hands and feet shackled 24 hours a day.

We also would like to draw your attention to Fitawrari Mekonnen Dori, who is a prominent leader of an opposition party named Alternative Forces for Peace and Democracy in Ethiopia. In February 1994, he came to the U.S. to participate in a reconciliation conference organized by the Carter Center in Atlanta. Soon after he returned to Ethiopia, he was arrested by the ruling party’s security police on charges of crimes he allegedly committed during the previous regime. Currently, the seventy-year-old Fitawrari Mekonnen is gravely ill and deprived of proper medical treatment. A number of prominent Ethiopians have died in prison after years of delay in obtaining trial in what appears to be a favorite ploy by the government to eliminate political opponents.

In Ethiopia today, there are over 15,000 prisoners of conscience, most of whom are detained without trial for several years. The country is among the leading human-rights offenders in the world. Many of the prisoners are journalists, opposition party members, students, teachers, religious leaders and small farmers who simply demand the regime respect their basic constitutional rights.

The Marxist regime of Tigrean Liberation Front (TPLF) led by Meles Zenawi, which came to power in 1991, has so far defied all public appeals and calls by international human rights groups to release the prisoners of conscience. The Ethiopian people, brutalized by fifteen years of communist rule, have now fallen victim to another round of dictatorial rule. This time, though, the young leftist ex-guerillas are wearing the garb orchestrated elections to confuse international public opinion.

Prof. Botchwey, on behalf of my colleague I appeal to your sense of fair play and your responsibility to cancel the invitation to Meles Zenawi and condemn his gross human rights abuse in Ethiopia.

Sincerely,

Elias Kifle
Secretary General