It’s Time for Ethiopia to Put the U.S., the UN, and the TPLF On Trial. It’s Time for an African People’s Tribunal.
A few days ago, I stood in what felt like the frozen still image of a cyclone, the appalling destruction that TPLF marauders committed on the police station and on the administration offices of Lalibela. You can see it for yourself in the shots taken by photojournalist Jemal Countess, who traveled there with me, and in my own video report. At the time, a very angry police officer told one of our team, “I blame America for this!”
And he wasn’t wrong. It is incredibly condescending at this point to believe that ordinary Ethiopians would be taken in by a “propaganda campaign” on the part of the Abiy government or by #NoMore activists who criticize the Biden administration and the UN for its shameless backing of the TPLF. And it’s quite revealing that those on the other side are quick to marginalize a growing Pan-African movement, trying to smear it as a put-up job by the government. Trust me, Ethiopians can make up their own minds just fine, and their animosity towards Western authorities, Western media and Western arrogance have its own real foundation.
But where can they air their grievances aside from their own media at home?
There have been a few recent cracks recently in the monolithic wall, but by and large, TV networks and papers in the U.S. and Europe shut them out and rely on the same old apologists for the TPLF, such as Alex de Waal, Martin Plaut, William Davison, and others.
Even as the TPLF scurries back to its regional enclave, blatantly lying about its military reversals and claiming that it wants to give peace a chance, its propaganda machine still pushes the Tigray Genocide narrative, despite it being debunked by the joint investigation of the Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights and the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission. Have to give the terrorist group its props, its lobbyist has relentlessly pushed the most sinister, downright evil items to try to hobble a democratic African government.
The TPLF has been desperate to get Abiy in the dock at the International Criminal Court for some time, its thugs even barging into UN offices to try to get the names of sexual assault victims and the locations of safe houses, as I first reported months ago. It is not enough for them to have virtually the entire Western media in its pocket, it desperately wants this stamp of validation from The Hague.
So maybe it’s about time pro-Ethiopia activists flipped the table — and got their own tribunal.
Let me explain what I mean, as I am not talking about a judicial process through the Ethiopian state and its courts. That time will come, and that process needs its day. No, I want to borrow a different idea.
For those who have never heard of Bertrand Russell, he was a tweedy, soft-spoken but fiercely intelligent activist and philosopher who was still plunking himself down on air cushions for sit-in protests in Trafalgar Square when he was in his nineties. And in 1967, he organized what came to be known as the “Russell Tribunals” — a kind of activist “do it yourself” set of panels that judged whether the U.S. had committed war crimes during the Vietnam War (spoiler alert; oh, boy, did they ever).
The tribunals had no legal authority or power. They were, when you get down to it, a very elaborate PR stunt to change the dominant thinking over Vietnam, and the spotlight for them relied heavily on the reputations of their distinguished members, which included among others Jean-Paul Sartre, Simone de Beauvoir, Tariq Ali, James Baldwin, Alice Walker and Stokely Carmichael. But they made a difference.
As Cody Foster put it in a 2017 article looking back on the initiative, “The tribunal and the marches did not bring the war to a close, but they helped energize international opposition to colonialism and imperialism.” In Russell’s mind, “the people — properly organized and motivated — could hold governments in check. It was an urgent idea in 1967; it remains one today.”
Indeed, it does. Especially when as a friend of mine, an Ethiopian journalist, reminded me only yesterday, Africa is being coerced relentlessly to accept the Western world’s version of justice.
But why should it? As I’ve asked many times, why should Ethiopia or the rest of Africa automatically genuflect and defer to those who appoint themselves the arbiters of morality from their comfortable perches in America and Europe?
It’s time for an African People’s Tribunal. A tribunal in which Ethiopian voices are properly heard.
One with seats for eminent African figures in law, literature, Pan-African activism, science, economics, etc.
Like the Vietnam tribunals of decades ago, it would lay out the case against the TPLF, as well as U.S., UN, and EU complicity in helping a terrorist group destabilize a nation in the Horn of Africa — one which marked one of the freest and most open democratic elections in the continent’s history.
You can rest assured there will be no shortage of evidence. From the scores of soldier witnesses who endured the attacks on the five Northern Command outposts to the survivors of the Mai Kadra Massacre to the evidence emerging of at least 32 women raped at Ayna Eyesus and the vengeful destruction in Lalibela, Dessie and so many other locales, there will be much to keep the tribunal busy.
I personally believe we need such a tribunal — and soon. In a brilliant article written by Bronwyn Bruton and Ann Fitz-Gerald, the case is made for TPLF leaders who planned and initiated the war to give themselves up, while suggesting that Ethiopia’s Prime Minister Abiy “declare amnesty for the TPLF rank and file who were coerced into fighting…”
This idea needs strong support in public forums, and if it can get some traction, it would encourage those same rank and file to step forward as tribunal witnesses.
The West needs to finally get it through its head that most Tigrayans were not victims of the Ethiopian government in this conflict, but of the TPLF, who didn’t hesitate to extort and threaten them to give up their meager supplies of food and to turn over their children to fight.
Who would organize these tribunals? Who would run them? And where?
My suggestion would be to hand this idea off to the good folks in the #NoMore movement, but it needn’t be dumped on the plate of the top organizers in America. Like Black Lives Matter, #NoMore seems to be mushrooming and evolving into a loose franchise network, allowing other activists around the globe to bring what they have to the table. This is smart — and it means a Pan-African renaissance can flourish and grow according to its needs.
So, how about it, African activists? Do you want to take this ball and run with it?
Find the writers, statesmen and stateswomen, and great thinkers on the continent who would be willing to be members?
I can assure you that once you do, there will be a long line of reporters, photographers, witnesses, and survivors queuing up to present the evidence.
As for where to hold the hearings… One spot could be Nairobi, a choice that has a certain dark humor irony to it since so many major news outlets still think they can get away with filing stories on Ethiopia from there.
Will the Western media want to cover the tribunals? Of course not!
My gawd, you can practically draft in your head the bitchy, passive-aggressive dismissal that the Great Fungus of Crisis Group, William Davison, will come out with when he festers anew on BBC. Or TRT. Or France 24. This is a guy who doesn’t think twice about trying to smear #NoMore as a shill for the Abiy government.
So no, don’t expect to see any CNN cameras or Cara Anna of Associated Press showing up to cover the African People’s Tribunal if it comes into being. And that’s just fine.
Instead, the tribunals’ organizers should look to RT, sympathetic Turkish media, more receptive media outlets in Europe, South America and Far East Asia who will do a proper or at least reasonable job of covering the presentation of evidence.
If the various foreign policy debacles of the United States in the last 60 years have taught us anything, it is that — like the colonial empire of Britain — it can only endure so much shame and so much loss of prestige.
The U.S. government is happy to get into bed with truly evil people — but it doesn’t like others knowing about it.
As someone who now has to accept that he’s become an activist, I think we’ve wasted far too much time chasing attention on Western media outlets, which we hope in turn will lead to a sympathetic hearing in the corridors of power in Washington, London, Brussels, Ottawa and elsewhere. Folks, it might never happen… or if it does happen it might be too late.
I would rather leverage other media against those news outlets who have proven again and again that they are openly hostile against the truth.
All this time, we’ve been forum shopping along the same strip of real estate. We can go elsewhere and do better.
And I can tell you after writing professionally for 40 years — a reasonable chunk of them for national magazines, newspapers at home and abroad, and network television — that nothing pisses off the major media brands like being shut out of a story (case in point, the Grand Dame of Entitlement herself, Nima Elbagir, clearly fuming that she can’t stroll back into Ethiopia after repeatedly labeling a country).
The big media outlets will go nuts if they can’t push their way in while day passes to the tribunal hearings are given to this or that Brazilian newspaper or to China’s CCTV.
When finally let into the hearings, they may still attempt their corrosive spin, but they’ll be outnumbered and contradicted by the rest of the world’s media, which — with luck — will build new momentum.
Half of this tragic conflict has been spent on the battlefield of public opinion in the West, trying to convince certain powers that be they should stop supporting a group of homicidal psychopaths. And part of that mission has always been to gain a renewed respect for African voices.
But that respect won’t come until those voices are amplified, until the mechanisms for helping to decide world opinion are in African hands. And one of those mechanisms can be created now if there are activists ready to act on this vision and bring it to life.