) “Due process was followed, and
justice according to the Ethiopian Code of Law was delivered. That is
more than can be said of the mock justice meted out by these
individuals during their long time in power. As such, they should
suffer the consequences of their actions and serve their sentences
without any interference from supposed “concerned” external factions……
justice and history demands that, at the very least,” he summed up.
Another victim,Teshome Gebre-Mariam, a prominent lawyer,
provocatively decries the very initiative of pardon itself (as opposed
to the act of pardon by the government) as unconstitutional. "Viewed
from the perspective of the unambiguous wording of Article 28 of the
Constitution, which bars pardon to genocide convicts, the very act of
seeking pardon (for Derg officials) runs counter to the Constitution.
And that is an infringement of the statutes that obligate citizens to
uphold the Constitution," Teshome has said to news outlets.
An informal (and unscientific) tally of victims' reactions to the
pardon initiative reveal that a majority share Mekonnen's and
Teshome's sentiment. Of those who dared to take a public stand, only
one (to my knowledge), Mulugeta Asrate Kasa, a scion of Ethiopia's
nobility who relishes controversy, has endorsed the pardon initiative.
“It’s my duty as a Christian,” he has said to the surprise of many.
But in sharp contrast to Ethiopia, there is South Africa, where the
trauma and wounds of Apartheid indisputably run deeper but the idea of
reconciliation between victims and offenders had stirred much less
controversy. “ I have been bowled over by the incredible humility one
has experienced from the victims, both black and white, who have
suffered as much as they have,” says Archbishop Desmond Tutu of his
nation’s experience with forgiveness. “By rights, they should have
been hate ridden by lust for revenge. They have exhilarated me by how
ready they are to forgive. I have come to believe fervently that
forgiveness is not just a spiritual and ethereal thing unrelated to
the real world, the harsh world out there. I have to believe very
fervently that without forgiveness, there is no future.”
And in Israel and Rwanda, where real genocide is a lived experience,
two sharply contrasting perspectives---akin to that between Ethiopia
and Israel---on forgiveness prevail. In Israel, a 2010 Haaretz online
news recounted of an interesting poll. Marking the 60th anniversary
of the end of the Second World War, Israelis were asked “if it was
time to forgive the German people and Germany for crimes committed in
the Holocaust.” The results were unexpected : 51 percent said they
“totally disagreed with the sentiment;”19 percent “disagreed
somewhat;”23 percent “were willing to forgive;” and 7 percent “had no
opinion.” But in Rwanda, a process triggered by prison overcrowding,
which forced the government to release 400,000 murder and rape
suspects, eventuated in broad enthusiasm for the redemptive powers of
personal and public forgiveness.
Where lie the differences and similarities between these countries?
Ethiopia and Israel are apparently struggling with the issue of
forgiveness, while South Africa and Rwanda embrace it with evident
enthusiasm. Could it be that Ethiopia and Israel reel in punitive
cultures, where forgiveness is scorned as a betrayal of
victims---particularly the dead?
At a glance, the answer would be in the affirmative. Both Ethiopia and
Israel, after all, share national self-perceptions which emphasize
austerity, discipline and military prowess. Any appearance of
weakness---personal or collective---is ardently ridiculed. But dig a
little deeper and the real reasons for the stark differences lie
In both South Africa and Rwanda, the public ritual for forgiveness
involved both victims and offenders. Central to the process, however,
is victim’s universal need to express and validate their anger and
pain in public---at least in front of peers, friends, relatives and
neighbors. Once afforded with an outlet to release their rage, victims
are almost always psychologically transformed. In South Africa, there
were the highly publicized Truth and Reconciliation public hearings
which served as ideal forums. In Rwanda, where hundreds of thousands
of victims and offenders who lived next to each other were involved,
neighborhoods were mobilized to public gatherings where victims
relayed their stories. In both countries, offenders followed in the
immediate footsteps of victims to openly concede the harm they had
inflicted and seek personal forgiveness from victims and public
absolution from the community. And finally, interpersonal dialogue
between victim and offender is encouraged, which in most cases has
promoted reflection, compassion and reconciliation. In other words,
forgiveness is the end result of a grueling process.
The Ethiopian scheme for public forgiveness, however, visualizes no
role for victims. “I can categorically say that no one contacted any
family that I know of to request comment on this issue. For that
matter, no member of the committee which manages and maintains the
Memorial for the 68 Former Officials Executed by the Dergue was asked
for their opinions on this matter,” wrote Makonnen.
As originally envisioned by the religious leaders who had set off the
process, public forgiveness was to be attained by no more than a
nationally broadcast admission of guilt and plea for forgiveness by
senior Derg members. No one pondered whether this would be enough for
victims, offenders, or the nation as a whole. Even after a storm of
protest ensued and victims could no more be overlooked, no one thought
of a national process. The governing wisdom was that victims could be
appeased with a forum or two, and a resolution in support of the
initiative could then somehow be steamrolled. Everything still dangled
on the grand finale: the appearance of humbled and remorseful Derg
members on national media. Anything grander was deemed beyond the
reach of the religious leaders. And they were right. In South Africa
it took a Commission established by an act of Parliament. In Rwanda,
the whole state machinery was involved. Of course, in the end, nothing
less would work in Ethiopia, too.
And here lies the national dilemma: does the EPRDF, one of the world’s
famously determined violators of human rights, have the moral
authority to undertake such a delicate process? Of course, many
people, including myself, would respond in the negative.
In the meantime, however, there is the pending issue of the Derg
officials sentenced to death (absent a fair trial) for the wrong
reason---genocide. Here is where the religious leaders could do
something meaningful: It’s time those death sentences are pardoned!!!
(Genocide convicts could be pardoned---but only to a life sentence---
if capital punishment is involved, according to Ethiopian law.) Not
even the most ardent opponents of the pardon initiative are against a
pardon for the death sentences. In this at least, we stand firmly
united as a nation.
Religious leaders: You could do it. You must do it!