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The Justice Train Arrived for the TPLF in Ethiopia, 30 Years Late!

TPLF leaders are being loaded on the Justice Train, more accurately, the Justice Plane, and delivered to face long overdue justice

But Mengistu and Meles should never forget: ‘Justice is like a train that is nearly always late,’ but for the fiendishly wicked, justice always arrives in the nick of time… Beseferut qûna mesefer ayqerem (with the measure you use, it will be measured to you).’    Alemayehu G. Mariam, June 2, 2008.

“Without the TPLF, Ethiopia will disintegrate.” Sebhat Nega, Wikileaks, 2008.

TPLF Kingpin and Godfather Sebhat “Aboye” Nega

TPLF Kingpin and Godfather Sebhat “Aboye” Nega

On November 3, 2020, the leaders of the Tigrean People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) declared war on the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia by attacking the Northern Command in Tigray region.

On November 9, 2020, H.E. Prime Minster Abiy Ahmed declared the Ethiopian National Defense Force (ENDF) has been mobilized for three purposes in Tigray region including apprehension of the criminals who planned and implemented the attack on the Northern Command.

On November 30, 2020, in a nearly three-hour Q&A session, PM Abiy explained to Parliament the details (available in Amharic and English translation) of the law enforcement action.

On January 8, 2020, the ENDF captured Sebhat “Aboye” Nega, the undisputed TPLF godfather, kingpin, numero uno, supremo, mastermind, grand poohbah, head honcho, fat cat and mogul.

It was a stunning reversal of fortune.

No one imagined the onetime TPLF demigod and superhero could fall from his lofty position of disgrace into a crag in a desert canyon.

How the mighty TPLF have fallen! Literally, into a crevice on a rock face.

When ENDF troops hoisted Sebhat from his hiding place, he pleaded for his life. “Please don’t shoot/kill me.”

prophesied in February 2013 that in the end the TPLF will be wiped from the face of the earth, gone with the wind!

Scripture teaches that ‘He that troubleth his own house shall inherit the wind: and the fool shall be servant to the wise of heart.’  Meles and his worshippers have profoundly troubled the Ethiopian house and they shall inherit the wind!

After the TPLF launched its attack on the Northern Command, I told them poetically how the end game was going to be played out:

TPLF, the end is near
It is simple and clear
You have a choice to surrender
Or go six feet under!

TPLF, I done told you the end was near
Now you can see it bright and clear
Man up and surrender
I sincerely don’t want to see you go under!

I am very glad Sebhat Nega manned up and chose to surrender. I hope the other TPLF leaders will also surrender.

I have heard many say, “Sebhat is 87 years old. How much time does he have left to live? He should have killed himself.”

Others were equally insistent. “He is a gutless coward. He should have fought and died in battle. After all, he made cannon fodder of tens of thousands of Tigrean youth.”

Still others wondered why ENDF did not execute him in the desert and let the wild animals do what they will.

I do not agree with any of the foregoing options.

I want justice served to Sebhat Nega and his friends, not vigilante justice.

I want them to stand trial in full view of the world, not martyred for their decades-long criminal activity.

I want Sebhat Nega and all TPLF suspects to have a fair trial with maximum protection of their due process rights.

Upholding the rule of law: Sebhat Nega and all TPLF criminal suspects shall receive a fair trial

For nearly a decade and half, I told TPLF leaders in my weekly commentaries that “justice is like a train that is nearly always late but it always arrives.”  but for the fiendishly wicked, justice always arrives in the nick of time.

TPLF leaders are being loaded on the Justice Train, more accurately, the Justice Plane, and delivered to face long overdue justice.

I can imagine how the game could have been over for the TPLF leaders literally hiding under rocks and caves in the deserts of Tigray.

Few would have inquired if their corpses were left in the desert for wild animals. Truth be told, Sebhat Nega and his crew massacred and left the corpses of brave ENDF troops for vultures and hyenas.

But as PM Abiy has repeatedly said, the law enforcement operation in Tigray region is about justice not retribution; accountability in the judicial process, not extrajudicial action; bringing out the truth in full public view and not burying it with the TPLF (LF= Lie Factory); learning from the mistakes of the past and not repeating it again and ultimately letting “justice roll down as waters, and righteousness as a mighty stream” in Ethiopia.

I remember kangaroo justice days in Ethiopia 

I remember the days of “kangaroo justice” in Ethiopia time when TPLF leader Meles Zenawi was judge, jury and executioner.

Meles almost always injected himself in ongoing criminal trials condemning suspects and defendants as “criminals” and “terrorists”.

When Zenawi jailed editors of several newspapers following the 2005 elections awaiting “trial”, he declared, “For us, these are not just journalists. They will not be charged for violating the press laws. They will be charged, like the CUD leaders, for treason.”

When freelance Swedish journalists Johan Persson and Martin Schibbye were on trial on charges of “terrorism”, Zenawi declared, “They are, at the very least, messenger boys of a terrorist organization. They are not journalists. Why would a journalist be involved with a terrorist organization and enter a country with that terrorist organization, escorted by armed terrorists, and participate in a fighting in which this terrorist organization was involved? If that is journalism, I don’t know what terrorism is.”

All of them were convicted. That was a foregone conclusion.

It is noteworthy that PM Abiy Ahmed has made no public statements on the criminal case against the TPLF leaders and their allies that planned and executed the attack on the Northern Command except to say that suspects will be brought the bar of justice. He has made no statements on the criminal culpability of specific TPLF suspects. He has collectively referred to TPLF leaders as “junta members” or members of an oligarchic military dictatorship.

In my view, there is so much political windfall that could be obtained by talking about the TPLF suspects in the media. It is so much easier to try and convict them in the court of public opinion. But Sebhat and his TPLF crew will have their day in court.

Rule of law awaits TPLF suspects, not kangaroo justice

For 30 years, the TPLF provided the people of Ethiopia kangaroo justice in kangaroo court.

Today, a court of law awaits TPLF suspects.

I am very confident TPLF leaders suspected in involvement in the attack on the Northern Command will be given something they had denied to the people of Ethiopia when they were in power for 30 years.

Due process of law!

Due process of law is their constitutional right. (Articles 14-23 of the Constitution of FDRE).

Due process begins with the presumption of innocence.

YES, Sebhat Nega and all of the other TPLF suspects are presumed innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt by the Office of the Ethiopian Attorney General (OEAG) in a court of law.

Article 20(3) of the Ethiopian Constitution provides: “During proceedings accused persons have the right to be presumed innocent.” The presumption of innocence is featured in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) (to which Ethiopia is a signatory and incorporated by reference in 1) Article 13 (2) of the Ethiopian Constitution); 2) the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) (to which Ethiopia is a signatory provides under Art. 14 (2) (also Art. 9 (4); and 3) the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights (ACHPR) (to which Ethiopia is a signatory) under Art. 7 (b).

The presumption of innocence and its flipside, the prosecution’s burden of proving the defendant’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt represent the “golden thread” that runs through the fabric of the criminal laws of all civilized nations. (See Article 13 of the Ethiopian Constitution”; and Article 141 of the Ethiopian Rules of Criminal Procedure “When the prosecution case is concluded, the court, if it finds no case against the accused has been made out of which, if unrebutted, would warrant his conviction, shall record an order of acquittal.”)

It is the singular duty of the prosecution representing the state to present compelling and legally admissible evidence in court to convince the Court the accused is guilty of the charges beyond a reasonable doubt.

Therefore, Sebhat Nega and all other TPLF suspects are entitled to their day in court where the OAGE must prove their guilt beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law in Ethiopia, not in the courts of Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or what have you.

What constitutes proof beyond a reasonable doubt?

Proof of strong suspicion that the TPLF suspects were involved in the attack on the Northern Front does not amount to “proof beyond a reasonable doubt”.

Bits and pieces of evidence showing the TPLF suspects possibly, probably, plausibly, and likely were involved in the attack on the Northern Front does not cut it under the reasonable doubt standard.

Proof that there is overwhelming evidence the TPLF suspects were involved in the attack on the Northern Command but there is reasonable doubt (that is, a single doubt based upon reason and common sense, the kind of doubt that would make a reasonable person hesitate to act) about their guilt, then the standard of proof beyond a reasonable doubt has not been met.

The evidence that transforms the “presumption of innocence” to a factual finding of guilt beyond a reasonable doubt is evidence “which, after the entire comparison and consideration of all the evidence, leaves the minds of the judges (not public opinion) in that condition that they feel an abiding conviction of the truth of the charge.”

Simply stated, the Court must have “moral certainty about the evidence presented against the accused to a point where the judges would act in reliance upon its truth in matters of the greatest importance to himself or herself.”

Ultimately, the universal rule is that if the fact finder views the evidence in a criminal case reasonably permitting either of two conclusions — one of innocence, the other of guilt — the fact finder is required to adopt the conclusion of innocence.

Such is the foundation of the criminal law in all civilized societies.

Let me make it crystal clear!

I am sure there will be some who read the foregoing and ask, “What happened to Prof. Al Mariam? Is he now defending the rights of the worst criminals in Ethiopian history?! Is he now defending the very individuals he prosecuted and convicted in the court of public opinion for the past 15 years? Has the professor lost his senses?”

No, I have not surrendered my sanity!

In September 2010, I defended Meles Zenawi’s right to speak at Columbia University.  I was condemned and vilified for defending Meles.  They said I had “sold out”.

My reasoning in defense of Mele’s right to speak was simple. “If we don’t believe in freedom of expression for people we despise, we don’t believe in it at all.” It would  be hypocritical of me to argue for free speech and press freedoms in Ethiopia and justify censorship or muzzling of Zenawi stateside. If censorship is bad for the good citizens of Ethiopia, it is also bad for the bad dictators of Ethiopia.

As a criminal defense and constitutional lawyer with nearly three decades of experience, I have learned that even the worst criminal is entitled to a robust legal defense.

There is no doubt (not just reasonable doubt) whatsoever in my mind Sebhat Nega and his crew are guilty as sin in the attack on the Northern Command and untold other crimes.

They are guilty of untold murders beginning in their days in the bush over four decades ago.

They are guilty of untold crimes against humanity and genocide. in Ethiopia.

They are guilty of massive corruption.

They are guilty, guilty, guilty!

The fact of the matter is that what I believe in my mind about the guilt of Sebhat Nega and the other TPLF suspects is of no consequence. It is totally irrelevant.

What matters is that Sebhat Nega and his crew are proven guilty of the crimes in the attack on the Northern Command and any other crimes they are charged with beyond a reasonable doubt in an Ethiopian court of law! That is the only thing that matters!

Let me make it crystal clear again.

By standing up for the right to a fair trial for Sebhat Nega and the other TPLF suspects, I am standing up and defending the rule of law.

I am standing against 30 years of kangaroo justice in Ethiopia.

I am standing for the constitutional right of all Ethiopians that no one can deprive them of life, liberty or property without due process of law.

It is this rule of law I have defended in the United States for nearly three decades. It is the rule of law I believe to be universal.

In America, that rule of law is constitutionally framed as the “due process of law”.

“No person shall be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law…” (Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, applies exclusively to the Federal Government.)

“No state shall deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.” (Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, applies exclusively to the states.)

That is why I boldly made the following pledge on November 18, 2020 to TPLF  suspects in the attack on the Northern Command who peacefully surrender. “You will receive a fair and just trial and I will do everything I can to make sure you receive a fair and just trial.”

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