For being the leading voice of the voiceless in the human rights movement in the Horn of Africa, for educating the public about human rights, and for being the unyielding advocate for justice and freedom.
Born in 1958 in the then Wollega Province in western Oromia, Mr. (Obbo) Garoma B. Wakessa’s life is a testament for the endurance of the human spirit in the face of atrocities and injustice.
He had been a high school teacher, and had later become a science professional after earning a Master’s degree in the U.S.S.R. in 1989. But, soon after his graduation, the rest of his life would change from that of a scientist to that of a newspaper editor-in-chief, and then a human rights advocate.
The Turning Point
In the early 1990’s, while living in the Horn, he witnessed the dignity, self-worth and lives of many community members diminished at the hands of government. Mr. Wakessa demanded change. And, change never came.
Public Educator and Human Rights Fighter
In 1993, determined to make a difference, Mr. Garoma Wakessa helped found a newspaper called URJII, which publicly exposed the government’s human rights violations and atrocities. URJII, the independent newspaper in Afan Oromo, quickly became the leading voice of the voiceless. At URJII, Mr. Garoma Wakessa was first the department head, then the assistant editor-in-chief, and finally, the General Manager of the publishing company. He also continued to write stories for the paper.
In 1996 Mr. Garoma Wakessa went a step farther in his human rights fight and formed an organization called the Human Rights League (HRL), where he was elected as the Secretary General, which furthered his campaign of public awareness and education about the elevating injustice in Ethiopia.
Photos: HRL Meeting in Mid-1990’s
Prisoner of Conscience
Unfortunately, his voice was silenced when he was arrested by the Ethiopian government security forces from the HRL office in October 1997 and jailed. As an Amnesty International Prisoner of Conscience, he spent nearly four years in prison.
In 2001 Mr. Garoma Wakessa was released from prison, without a conviction or reason for imprisonment, under political pressure and pressure from human rights defenders around the world, such as Oromia Support Group, Amnesty International, and Human Rights Watch, on the Ethiopian government.
Shortly after his release, Mr. Garoma Wakessa fled to Kenya because security forces were going to jail him again. In 2002 he received asylum in Toronto, Canada, where he currently lives with his wife and two sons.
The Fight Continues
His determination and passion grew as human rights infringements in the Horn continued. He re-started HRL with the name ‘Human Rights League of the Horn of Africa’ (HRLHA) in Canada in 2007, and he currently leads the organization as the Executive Director.
Since its foundation, HRLHA has grown in membership and importance. Agencies, including Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International and the United Nations, rely on reports from HRLHA sources located in the Horn about the areas ailing human rights climate.
HRLHA defends freedom of thought and expression, due process and equal protection of the law as well as promoting the development of a vigorous civil society.
In August 2011, HRLHA was granted the Special Consultative status by the United Nations Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) – which gave the organization a boost in its fight against human rights atrocities and violations in the Horn.
Mr. Garoma Wakessa continues to lobby governments, engage the community, report on human rights abuses, and produce critical research reports on the protection of human rights and discrimination taking place in the Horn of Africa. In Canada, having received a Master’s degree in International Human Rights Law, he is much more committed to defending human rights of the voiceless efficiently and effectively.
It is with great honor that Gadaa.com recognizes Mr. Garoma B. Wakessa as the OROMO PERSON OF THE YEAR 2011 for his selfless pursuit of truth and justice, and for being the unyielding voice of the voiceless. In Mr. Garoma Wakessa’s daily fight against human rights violations and atrocities, the human spirit lives, and because of his daily fight, justice will prevail.