By Abebe Gellaw
Paris (ESAT News)–Former judge and pro-democracy icon Birtukan Mideksa told the United Nations Human Rights Council here on Monday that Ethiopians would change the ruined relationship between the state and its citizens for the better.
Speaking at an event marking the 20th anniversary of United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, Birtukan said: “It is difficult to remain hopeful while one routinely observes repression and abuse. But I have strong confidence in the human capacity for perseverance. I am confident that this generation of Ethiopians will be able to uproot the evil of intolerance from our political consciousness.”
Birtukan expressed her belief that Ethiopians can transformation and change the faulty relationship between the government and its citizens. “I am hopeful that we will build a state which will never terrorize and brutalize its own people by making prisons their second homes,” she said.
Birtukan was one of the high profile victims of arbitrary detention that addressed the event along with Haithem Al-Maleh, a former judge and Syrian human rights defender, and Burmese pro-democracy leader and Nobel Laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, who addressed the event via video link.
She detailed the excruciating pains and trauma she suffered in jails and solitary confinement. She told the gathering that her illegal incarceration and the deliberate efforts of the regime to break her spirit was a barbaric act. “As if this was not cruel and severe enough, the Ethiopian government stooped to barbarity and inhumanity and locked me up in solitary confinement. The government seemed to have a deliberate plan to destroy me both in person and in spirit.
“I don’t have words to express the serious consequences of my confinement in solitary and the debilitating effect it exerted in my life and the unbearable pain it gave me,” she told the UN body.
“Once I was imprisoned, my situation got from worse to life threatening. I was not allowed to see family, friends, spiritual advisors, or legal attorney. I was not allowed a visit except from my aging mother and my daughter, who was 4. I was completely and deliberately cut off from the rest of the world,” she stated.
She underscored the fact that solitary condiment is in a way no less severe than physical torture as it has serious consequences on victims adding that she was astonished by the fact that international consensus is not yet reached to recognize solitary confinement as one form of torture.
“That is why locking a fellow human being in a solitary confinement should be considered an attack which attempts to kill the entire person,” she noted adding that she finds hard to express the pain and suffering she went through in solitary confinement its serious consequences.
She went on to recount to the gathering that her own uncle was a victim of extrajudicial killings in the 1970s under the military junta. She explained that renowned journalist Eskender Nega is languishing in the same federal prison that her uncle was imprisoned and killed decades ago. “Eskinder Nega, whom I respect as a friend and a professional, has already been imprisoned and brutalized by the Ethiopian government in seven different times at this same prison.”
According to Birtukan, it was ironic to see that the ideological contemporaries of victims like my uncle, who came to power after overthrowing the military regime, have in turn been abusing state power to incarcerate and brutalize all dissenters like Eskinder.
Having mentioned the suffering of prisoners of conscience like Reeyot Alemu, Andualem Aragie, Bekele Gerba, and Woubishet Taye and Olbana Lelisa, Birtukan underlined that this cycle of brutalizing and abusing citizens in their own country must end sooner rather than later.
Birtukan appreciated the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention in exposing the illegal act of her detention in 2009 and putting in unequivocal terms that her case was arbitrary detention, which she described as a violation of the articles of international convention on civil and political rights and the Universal Declaration of Human rights.
Birtukan appreciated the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention in exposing the illegal act of her detention in 2009 and putting in unequivocal terms that she was a victim of arbitrary detention, which she described as a serious violation of the articles of international convention on civil and political rights and the Universal Declaration of Human rights.
The Burmese prodemocracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi said on her part that while the work of the UN working group on arbitrary detention should be commended, she yearns to see a world free from human rights abuses and arbitrary detention.
On the occasion, the working group launched a database detailing cases of arbitrary detention around the world. “The database is an indispensable tool for the victims, legal practitioners, States, national human rights institutions, academics and civil society,” said El Hadji Malick Sow, who currently heads the working group’s expert panel.