Principles Matter

Sajid Javid, home secretary of the United Kingdom, made the news last week when he dropped Britain’s blanket opposition to the death penalty. The UK has a long-standing rule that seeks assurances against the death penalty when extradition requests are received from other governments or when it provides assistance to foreign powers.

Javid broke this rule in deciding to extradite two ISIS fighters, members of a four-member terrorist cell nicknamed “the Beatles,” implicated in kidnappings, torture and murder, to the United States. The Home Secretary’s decision was highly controversial.

It presents a moral dilemma. On one hand he subverted a cherished principle of the UK and essentially made the state complicit in what could turn out to be an execution of the duo. But then again, these men have allegedly committed atrocities. They beheaded unarmed, not to mention innocent, individuals and recorded the act as propaganda to serve their cause. These are not nice people.

The two fighters gave an interview to CNN where they condemned Javid’s decision. They boldly admitted that they do not subscribe to the UK’s democratic ideals but added that the UK should, nonetheless, respect its own principles. These were ISIS fighters arguing that they deserve fair treatment under the same system that they have actively tried to undermine.

As exasperating as the duo’s actions are, they were right in condemning Javid’s decision. Liberal democracy cannot be sustained if principles are ignored for the sake of convenience, political expediency or by emotionally-charged decisions. We aim to reign over our emotions, because there is an absolute necessity to maintain objectivity.

The appeal of liberal democracy has always been that while the majority gets to rule, the fundamental rights of the minority will remain intact. Such an ideal, which is rapidly losing ground in the Western world, has been scantly espoused in Ethiopia. This is a nation that calls for the respect of individual freedoms but not too much of it. We are a society that wants to see the rule of law respected but not on certain occasions when a general agreement says that it should be ignored.

About two weeks ago a mob attacked the properties of a hotel in Debre Marqos, Amhara Regional State, that was rumored to belong to a member of ANDM. Last month, protesters at a rally attacked individuals they suspected of perpetrating a grenade attack.

Both of these incidents were committed by members of the general public. In condemning the incidents, a couple of arguments are put forward.

The first is that the attacking mob were in an intensely emotional moment and took matters into their own hands.

Should the crowd be criticised for acting like a mob?

The other is that their actions were guided by the belief that the security forces are compromised or are too weak to take appropriate actions. It is said that the public is merely playing its part in the effort to “drain the swamp” and bring all those who are guilty to justice.

There are similar and noticeable problems within the administration of Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed (PhD). While his positive reform efforts cannot be ignored – his honesty about his own party are redemptive for those that have suffered for merely criticising the government – the lack of transparency that plagues his administration is worrying.

He should not continue with this current pace of reform without providing adequate information on procedures and content. This includes the ongoing Ethio-Eritrea thaw, the bombing at Mesqel Square and the diaspora trust fund that has already been set up. At the very least, the Prime Minister should hold a press conference on such important matters.

The public should demand that the administration fully apply the principlesof accountability that it seems to subscribe to. There is no accountability without transparency. We should not give the administration a pass in the belief that this transitional time calls for the suspension of some of the pillars of democracy.

Indeed, holding on to our principles in the face of anarchy is tasking. There are groups out there that do not want to play by the rules as was evident by the grenade attack on June 23 at Mesqel Square. It is hard to sit down and talk with anyone who brings a stick to a peaceful negotiating table.

But we should not stoop to the same level of inhibited morality as our adversaries. That path is a slippery slope that creates cracks within democratic principles and merely justifies the arguments of the opposing side.

The regional states should help here by strictly enforcing the law in collaboration with federal forces, if necessary. The need for an adequate level of transparency and the use of legal but proportional force should go without saying.

It is during this period of transformation in the nation’s socio-political structure that a ritualistic devotion to democratic principles is necessary. We are not building the super-structure of a democracy. We are merely at the foundation level. We are in a period where the utmost precision is required to avoid bringing the whole edifice down.

Published on Jul 28,2018 [ Vol 19 ,No 952]



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