The following is a letter written by the Oromo-American Citizens Council (OACC) to the President of Columbia University regarding the invitation of Mr. Meles Zenawi.
September 15, 2010
Lee C. Bollinger, President, Columbia University
University Programs and Events
Office of the President
Columbia University in the City of New York
202 Low Library, 535 West 116th Street, New York, NY 10027
Dear President Bollinger:
We are a non-profit organization in Minnesota, set up, among others, to expose human rights violations against the Oromo people, and to influence the United State’s policy towards Ethiopia. In this endeavor, we believe we represent the aspiration of more than 15 thousand Oromos in the Twin Cities area in Minnesota, and more than 50 thousands living in different cities of the U.S.
It was with dismay that I read that your prestigious institution had invited Meles Zenawi to give a speech at Columbia University. A cursory research of what he has done to peoples in Ethiopia in general, and in particular the human rights violations he committed against the Oromos, clearly shows he does not deserve the accolade your web site bestowed on him in introducing him for the occasion.
Today again, as under the previous successive Ethiopia regimes, the Oromos are suffering under Zenawi’s rule. More than 20 thousands of Oromos are languishing in Ethiopian prisons. This is not a mere propaganda. The Ex-president of Ethiopia, Negaso Gidada, who had first hand information, had confirmed this during the speech he gave in the conference we organized in 2008. Siye Abraha, the former Defense Minister, characterized the Ethiopian prisons by saying, “The prison in Ethiopia speaks Oromo”. The Minnesota based Advocates for Human Rights in an intensive and meticulous research it conducted among the Diaspora Oromos had confirmed the prevalence of extra-judicial executions, disappearances, torture, and arbitrary arrests by the Ethiopian regime against the Oromos. (http://www.advrights.org/uploads/oromo_report_2009_color.pdf.)
The Human Rights Watch had documented severe human rights violations that the Ethiopian government is committing against Oromos in Ethiopia. It had in particular with evidence shown that Oromos live under the structure uniquely established only in Oromia called gott and garre that spy and control their daily activities. The EPRDF Kangaroo Courts are handing down death penalties against Oromos on trumped up charges. Only this year, more than 25 Oromos were sentenced to death. This is reported among others in VOA Afaan Oromo program. In Eastern rural Oromia, in a place called Gaara Suufi, the Ethiopian regime murdered more than twenty Oromos in one night. The atrocities of this killing, reminiscent of the Killing field in Cambodia, victimized Oromos of all walks of life whose age range from 14 to 70.
Many students in different parts of Oromia were also killed over the past years while peacefully demonstrating. Oromo university students, just because they raised questions dear to their people, were expelled from the universities and colleges. Oromo journalists who objectively covered the expulsion of Oromos from the university were thrown into the notorious EPRDF jails. Today, there is not a single independent Oromo paper or any media of any sort in Ethiopia. Small children, as young as 9 year old, are suspended from schools, or as old as 13 year are imprisoned for being supporters of Oromo Liberation Front. The leaders of the revered Oromo Metcha & Tulema Self-Help Association were imprisoned and the organization is banned.
The Ethiopian government, in breach of international laws that protects refugees, persecutes even Oromos living beyond its borders. Oromo refugees live under constant fear of being spotted by security agents in refugee camps throughout the Horn of Africa. Many were forcefully deported and/or handed over to Ethiopian authorities at different times from countries such as Djibouti, Kenya and the Sudan. When Ethiopia invaded Somalia with the backing of the US administration, Oromo refugees were hunted down and killed and an unknown number of Oromo nationals were taken prisoners.
The continuation of human rights violation in Ethiopia had been partly possible because the international community had chosen to turn a blind eye to what is happening in Ethiopia. This problem was exacerbated since Ethiopia jumped on the bandwagon of anti-terrorism. The Ethiopia government supported the anti-terrorism coalition, precisely to get a soft treatment from other coalition forces regarding her human rights violation issues. Human rights issues should not be traded off for the fake support one gives to anti-terrorism forces. We understand that politicians give preeminent importance to geopolitical considerations, and starting from that position support Zenawi’s regime; however, it is troubling and hard to understand, notwithstanding the overwhelming evidence against Zenawi, why you invite him and contribute to the effort to legitimize him. Please reconsider you decision, and cancel the invitation.
Oromo-American Citizens Council (OACC)