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8th May: Ethiopian Martyrs’ Day


In the morning of the 8th of May 1997, the late Ato Assefa Maru, ETA’s Deputy General Secretary and EHRCO’s Executive Board member was gunned down by the Ethiopian government security agents. They brutally shot him dead in broad daylight while he was on his way from home to work in Addis Ababa. The inhumane and savage nature of his assassination has prompted Ethiopian Register Editorial Board to choose May 8 as Ethiopian Martyrs’ Day and they have pleaded with all concerned Ethiopians to celebrate it across the globe since May 1998.

May 8 is also the date in which we remember all our fallen martyrs, those who are unlawfully detained, tortured and caused to disappear. Hence it is the date we remember the late Professor Asrat Woldeyes, the late Ato Teferi Qumbi, the late young heroine Shibire Desalegn, Ato Tsegaye G/Medihin (Debteraw) - no one still knows his whereabouts, Ato Anteneh Getnet- involuntarily missing, Ato Abera Yemaneab –languishing in Kality prison for his political view, W/t Birtukan Mideksa - unlawfully languishing in Kality prison camp, Teddi Afro etc.

Yes, Ato Assefa Maru was murdered for no other reason than defending Human and Trade Unions Rights in Ethiopia. Many more innocent Ethiopians have been killed while fighting for democracy and advancing the national interest of their nation.

How is Ethiopia faring since the murder of Ato Assefa Maru on the 8th of May 1997 with regard to the protection of Human and Trade Unions Rights?  Are we moving in the right direction? Are we really contributing our shares to the struggle so as to bring about a democratic and prosperous nation? Do we have a clear vision that enlightened civic organizations and trade union movements are reliable cornerstones to achieve all these goals?

1. The case of ETA: ETA is the largest and the pioneer of Teachers’ Union in Ethiopia which was established 60 years ago during King Hailesellasie’s regime. ETA being under difficult conditions during the previous two regimes, was doing its best to defend teachers’ rights, advance their interests, promote quality public education and contribute its shares to bring about a civil society.

The persecution of teachers is even worse in the TPLF/EPRDF regime. Many teachers have been extra judicially killed, unlawfully dismissed from their job, involuntarily disappeared, tortured, etc for standing firm to jealously guard the independence of their union.

To put ETA into submission, the EPRDF regime killed Ato Assefa Maru. ETA’s president Dr Taye Woldesemayat was locked in the EPRDF dungeons on trumped up charges for 6 years. ETA’s General Secretary, Ato Gemoraw Kassa, and many more of the leadership were forced to exile. ETA’s bank account was frozen, its property confiscated and the court drama was dragged for the last 17 years but the gallant ETA members continued to fight for their independence.

And finally when EPRDF realized it could never break the spirit of ETA, it took a last desperate measure and brought to an end the long court drama.  After 17 years of litigation, EPRDF ordered its Kangaroo Court to rule in favour of the cloned ETA against the authentic ETA. Thus, the largest and pioneer of Teachers’ Union in the country for which Assefa Maru gave his life, was disbanded by politically motivated court ruling of the Court of Cassation at Federal Supreme Court on 27 June 2008. 

2. The Proclamation on Charity and Civic Organisations: After blaming the civic organizations and trade unions for terribly losing the May 2005 National Election, the EPRDF regime had passed a draconian law to effectively outlaw any lawful Human and Trade Unions Rights activists.  This law was passed with the intention of totally crippling any independent civil organizations. Whatever window of opportunity existed previously to promote independent trade unions in now shut by the law.

Thus, even though the existence of independent, enlightened and vibrant civic and trade union organizations are a must for building a democratic society,  due to a systematic and on going  repressive actions of the regime, we are moving backward. Besides what is heart breaking to note is that yesterday’s victims of Human Rights have turned into today’s torturers. This vicious circle of right’s abuse ought to stop. It is only the existence of free, vibrant and independent civic organizations and trade unions that would bring about the end of this vicious circle.

Today is the day for all Ethiopians to renew their vow to continue and intensify the struggle for the advancement of free, vibrant and independent civic organizations and trade unions. Despite all the plights and treacherous acts stated above, teachers at ETA have courageously continued their struggle. Currently, for instance, they have filed a charge against the Ministry of Justice for refusing them to legally register and operate under a new name, National Teachers’ Association. 

Today, May 8, is the day we need to show our moral and financial support to the families of our martyrs. Today is the day we lobby the international community to put more pressure on the regime to meet its national and international obligations. More importantly, today is the day on which we concerned Ethiopians should agree that the best way to remember our martyrs is do all possible to achieve the objectives for which they have been sacrificed. We will never forget our martyrs!!!The deeds of our martyrs are immortal!!! The struggle for human and trade union rights in Ethiopia shall continue!Concerned Ethiopians in the UK.8th May/2009