Open Letter To Ambassador Fesseha Asghedom Tessema

Fesseha Tessema at a March 28 Congressional hearing in Washington, DC
Ambassador Fesseha Tessema reading his report at the March 28 congressional hearing. (Photo: ECTV)
To Ambassador Fesseha Asgedom Tessema
Ambassador Charge d’ Affair
Embassy of Ethiopia, United States
Washington DC

Dear Ambassador Tessema:

We are a group of Ethiopians and Americans of Ethiopian origin who deeply care about our country’s relationship with the United States. As you know very well, more than a quarter of a million of us reside in the United States and there is nothing more important for us than see a smooth and friendly relationship with the United States based on the values of human rights and democracy that we have come to deeply cherish while living in this wonderful country. As a diplomat representing our country, we expect you to carry the values of decency and the sense of dignity that are characteristic of our people. Your letter to Congressman Christopher Smith, the Chairman of the Sub Committee on Africa, Global Human Rights and International Operations concerning the hearings of March 28, 2006 and your performance at the hearing itself, have been a huge disappointment throughout our community. We want you to know that we are angered by your letter that we believe has totally gone out of the bounds of diplomatic decorum and basic decency.

We are therefore writing this letter in protest to both your unacceptable and undiplomatic letter to Congressman Smith and to express our dismay at the way you handled yourself during the hearing on March 28, 2006 in front of the Sub committee. We are all witnesses to the fact that you have been given ample time to react to the questions raised by the honorable congressmen and women during the hearing. As you have understood very well, the questions raised were serious and needed serious and helpful responses. You have had the time you needed if you had wanted to expose Congressman Smith of your unfounded accusation of “willful blindness” by presenting what you referred to as your “firmly established facts”. It is plain sad that you have to write another letter and add other embarrassing untruths on top of the ones you have given during the testimony. The only willful blindness that we saw during the interview is your denial of the existence of political prisoners in Ethiopia and your assertion that the demonstrators that were mowed down by your troops in June and November of 2005 in broad day light were killed as a result of crossfire. That was an insult to the intelligence of all of us including, we believe, Congressman Chris Smith and all members of the Sub committee.

More importantly, we have reason to believe that you wrote this letter after consultation with the leadership of the ruling party and the Prime Minister. We have now become too familiar to understand your operations and the language your government and the Prime Minister use against critics and opponents. It is the same language in a pattern and typical of totalitarian regimes.

It is extremely disturbing that your government is exhibiting a dangerous pattern of contemptuous reactions to critics and anyone who questions the veracity of your claims. You are well aware of a widespread uproar against the language your government and the Prime Minister used to react to the Honorable Anna Gomez, the Head of the European Election Monitoring Mission, during the ill fated elections of May 2005. The honorable diplomat with a record of implacable global public service and a member of the European parliament was referred to as “a colonial viceroy” by none other than Prime Minister Meles Zenawi himself. Your wild accusation of bribery and of corruption against the honorable lady was a huge embarrassment among well meaning Ethiopians and friends of Ethiopia. Her only mistake was doing her work with integrity and under internationally accepted standards. Several Ethiopianists, foreign scholars of Ethiopian studies and journalists who are widely respected across Ethiopia, but who chose to criticize your government, were reacted to by the use of abhorrent language, unacceptable by all of us who pride ourselves of great traditions of decency and respect for foreign friends, even those whom we disagree with. I am sure you are familiar with the numerous letters of Emperor Menilik to his European adversaries. Your undiplomatic letter to Congressman Smith is therefore only the latest in a pattern. The pattern speaks to your growing totalitarianism and rouge politics more than anything.

Editorials on websites that are supportive of your party, the Tigrean Liberation Front (TPLF), have also followed suit in attempting to denigrate the ranking member of the Sub Committee, Mr. Donald Payne, characterizing him as one who is working on behalf of the Eritrean government against Ethiopia. Congressman Dana Rohrabacher of California was also a subject of rude namecalling and blackmail on websites that are closely allied with your party the, TPLF. Such behaviors on your part would neither buy Ethiopia new friends nor maintain the good relationship that we have with numerous groups and individual and countries around the world. Above all, such behavior is unhelpful in finding a solution to the troubling impasse in which Ethiopia now finds itself.

Dear Ambassador Tessema,

As you may be aware Congressman Christopher Smith is an experienced public servant who was in congress for twenty five years now. That is almost twice as long as your government’s life in existence. It is also helpful to know that Congressman Smith is not an armchair human rights advocate. As you very well know, he has been on the ground in Ethiopia assessing the conditions in Ethiopia and had a first hand experience of realities in the country. His assistant Mr. Gregory Simpkins who traveled with him to Ethiopia was a firsthand witness to the harassment of opposition leaders by your government’s security people. He has seen it first hand while riding with one of the opposition leaders in Addis Ababa as your armed security people were following and harassing them. You may also probably need to know that Congressman Smith has been at the forefront of exposing human rights abusers around the world for many years now. We believe you have lived long enough in the United States to observe how hearings are conducted at the US Congress as most of them are televised. Congressional hearings are quite different from regular court proceedings. It is not unusual to hold hearings without calling opponents to an issue in consideration. It is even possible that they may not have called you to the hearing at all. In a way, they have had their own investigation of the facts and may not even require your testimony to arrive at their conclusions. We are sure you would not make a difference even if you have come to the hearing with ten witnesses from your government or even if you were given the entire day alone. Your complaint that you were not equally represented at the hearing is therefore based on either lack of knowledge or willful ignorance.

Congressman Smith has never made anything resembling a joke when [you] told him the alleged death of seven policemen on duty during the June popular protests as you try to insinuate. As you know, there were very many people who have followed the proceeding of the hearing on live web cast and many have physically attended. It is an outrage that you even attempted to suggested the honorable congressman did this. You should be ashamed of blaming him against something that he did not do. Like any reasonable person who has knowledge of the events of the June and November massacres in Addis Ababa, and the widespread human rights abuses being carried out throughout the country, Congressman Smith was taken aback by your suggestion that over 90 demonstrators were killed in “cross fire”. Virtually everyone outside of your government officials including leading human rights organizations who investigated the killings believe that there were no two parties that were shooting at each other during the June and November massacres. It was also witnessed by doctors in Addis Ababa that a lot of the people killed during the demonstration were hit on the head and chest, the precision of which makes it unlikely that it was any kind of cross fire. In fact, it is more likely than not that the alleged deaths of policemen could possibly be due to a possible cross fire among government forces who were indiscriminately shooting at the demonstrators.

More importantly, there were also initial reports by senior officials of your own government, including Mr. Bereket Simon, the spokesperson and Minister of Information, that the government ordered the killings to stop demonstrators from “robbing banks and stores in the city and breaking of buses”. All of what he said is in the public domain. Mr. Bereket Simon referred to the demonstrators as “hooligans” and not armed as rebels. You know as well as we do, and probably Congressman Smith too, that the crossfire story was added later to find a plausible explanation for one of the most blatant violations of human rights on the African continent. These tendencies of temper tantrums and vitriolic attacks against all critics of your government point to one more important thing than anything else. If this is the manner by which you react to foreign dignitaries and international critics outside of your reach to attack physically, then it shows the grim picture of what you are capable of doing to your own people who dared to disagree with you. We understand that it is a well known practice that appointments by your government to critical posts such as yours are done based on ethnic party loyalty than any qualification required for the post. Your inability even to spin your egregious deeds may have to do with your competence for the job, but that should not overflow to the level of arrogant disregard for basic values of decency and respectful disagreement that even we, the ordinary people, practice on a daily basis. We are outraged that you are sacrificing our values and the Ethiopian image and at the altar of a parochial and narrow agenda. Your actions are not only undiplomatic, but also self degrading.

Mr. Ambassador,

We hope you would be helpful by being instrumental in softening the hard-line positions of your government and by choosing a reconciliatory approach. Accepting mistakes is not cowardice, believe it or not. When you accept your mistakes we will all join you in finding a remedy. You will win your critics and bring them to your side. How do you think people look at you when you vehemently say there are no political prisoners in Ethiopia after putting in prison the entire leadership of the biggest opposition party in the country and while the network of concentrations camps in the country are still in operation? How do you think we can believe anything we say when you use the word genocide so callously as most of the congressmen observed during the hearing? Above all you can’t convince any one by denigrating and questioning the credibility of individuals who show concern for the impasse in Ethiopia and organizations such as world renowned Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch Africa and other known human rights watchdogs, who not only disagree with you, but also have condemned the behavior of your government repeatedly based on tangible evidences.

Dear Mr. Ambassador,

As a group of non partisan Ethiopians and Americans of Ethiopian origin who have every will and determination to help our country gain its dignified place in the international community and above all help our people come out of the tragic poverty they are made to live in. We are all willing to put our professional experience, knowledge and resources to help our country only if you provide us an environment of good governance and basic freedoms. We are not looking at democracy for luxury. We need democracy because it is the only tool that can help Ethiopia get out of this humiliating poverty. The most important step for your government to take now is to admit that our country has badly gone off track. No amount of willful denial can help our country move an inch in the right direction. Congressman Smith and a lot of congressmen as well as many well meaning friends of Ethiopia around the world are trying to help us find our way through the these dark hours in our country’s history. We hope you will be a helpful partner in this noble effort.


Concerned Citizens of Ethiopia and
Americans of Ethiopian Origin

CC: To the Office of the Honorable Christopher Smith
Chairman of the Sub Committee on Africa
Global Human Rights and International Operations
2373 Rayburn House Office building
Washington DC 20515