Obang Metho Addresses Law students and faculty
At the College of Law, University of Saskatchewan
March 12, 2008
I would like to thank the College of Law at the University
of Saskatchewan and especially the faculty and students
for inviting me to speak tonight. I would also like
to thank Scales of Social Justice League (SOS Justice
League): for giving me the honor of being your keynote
speaker at Access to Justice Week.
When I first received the invitation a month ago to
speak about justice, I was asked to speak on the topic,
International Law: Does it Create
Barriers in Access to Justice? The Universal Declaration
of Human Rights, the Geneva Convention, the Rome statutes—what
do these mean to the world, especially to those suffering
the worst violations of these principles, laws and codes
around the world?
I was told that I should speak in reference to my testimony
of the case of my own ethnic group, the Anuak, before
the United Nations Human Rights Commission in 2004 and
because of my human rights work, including the two legal
cases I have been working on with two different law
firms, one who submitted our case to the International
Criminal Court (ICC) and another who submitted our case
to the African Union’s Commission on Peoples’
and Human Rights. I am very pleased to share these experiences
with you today.
For most of you who do not know me, I am a resident
of Saskatchewan and graduated with a degree in political
science from this university. I have lived in Saskatchewan
for a long time since coming from Gambella, Ethiopia.
It is interesting that when I was doing development
work in Africa and was asked where I was from, I said
I was from Saskatoon, Canada, but when I was here in
Saskatoon, people would ask me the same question and
I would answer, Africa. I guess I have one foot in both
places and I call both, home!
It is good to be back at this great campus which has
meant a lot to me, not only because I graduated from
this university, but also because of the great support
and friendships I have with so many wonderful faculty
and staff in the University’s Colleges and Departments
such as in the Department of Political Science, the
Department of Division of Media and Technology, Department
of International Studies, Department of Sociology, the
College of Arts & Science, the College of Medicine,
the College of Education as well as with students!
It is no wonder why last month during the International
Week Workshop at this University, there was a presentation
on Ethiopia at the College of Agriculture and the Ethiopian
Minister of Foreign Affairs Office made a big deal out
of it. The government of Ethiopia wrote on their websites
that they were working with the University of Saskatchewan
and Canadian government on such things as good governance,
democracy and development because the Ethiopian government
knows it very well that this university is my home.
I and others knew that this was another campaign to
fool the people, especially because of my link to this
university. They may have thought they were invading
“Obang’s territory!” However, we both
know the truth of what is going on in Ethiopia and to
the best of my ability, I will continue to speak publicly,
whenever and wherever I can do so, about the broken
government and gross human rights abuses in Ethiopia
until real justice, democracy, good governance, the
rule of law and development is established in Ethiopia.
What I am going to talk about tonight is the experience
that I have gained since I became involved in human
rights work in late 2003 following the three-day long
massacre of 424 from my own ethnic group, the Anuak,
by the Ethiopian military.
Some of what I have learned about human rights work
has been very disillusioning. As I speak of my own experience,
you may learn that I am very disappointed with many
in the international community, despite the good intentions
of the creators of our human rights laws. The reason
for is that not far underneath this system that is supposed
to uphold the human rights of all people, is a system
that resists the carrying out of those laws at most
It is a common struggle—between the higher and
lower natures within every person—between what
one knows is right and what one wants for one’s
own reasons. Our problem is not about knowing the difference.
It is about having the moral strength to choose the
right way to live. In order to face this crisis affecting
millions throughout the world, we must first have the
courage to face the dark side of our own flawed humanity.
The problem is not the law; it is within us, individually,
especially with many of those who wield the power!
International Human Rights laws are, without question,
laws based on noble, God-given principles, many of which
were enshrined in the non-binding Universal Declaration
of Human Rights. Eleanor Roosevelt of the United States
of America chaired the committee responsible for formulating
these principles and a renowned Canadian law professor,
John Humphrey, heavily contributed to the content.
By declaring the inalienable rights and dignity of
each human being, regardless of any differences, it
also declared the need to protect each human being—particularly
the vulnerable—from the worst actions of others.
These universal values and principles were proclaimed
and later ratified by the majority of countries around
Other international human rights laws from the past,
like the Geneva Convention, which basically set rules
for the treatment of prisoners of war, were updated
at this time as well. Other human rights laws also followed
in an attempt to make binding, the Universal Declaration
of Human Rights with the purpose of protecting human
kind from such crimes as genocide, crimes against humanity
and war crimes.
Continuing implementation of other human rights treaties,
dealt with additional areas such as racial discrimination,
torture, the rights of the child, among others. The
most recent human rights laws, the Rome Statutes, established
the International Criminal Court, the ICC.
The original intent of these laws was to intervene
to protect the vulnerable and see to it that the worst
violators would be held accountable. The impetus for
most of the laws came out of the horrible atrocities
of World War I and World War II. The shockwaves among
people in the world to the barbaric acts of the Holocaust
during which six million Jews, along with others, were
exterminated, provided the rationale for a multi-lateral
mechanism for intervening in the national affairs of
another sovereign country.
It was in 1945 that the League of Nations formally
was changed into the United Nations. The United Nations
is the only organization in the international community
with the mandate and worldwide legal jurisdiction to
oversee and enforce these international human rights
laws. The High Commissioner of Human Rights oversees
the Human Rights Council who has the mandate to investigate
violations of human rights.
The Human Rights Council has 47 members, elected by
the full assembly by secret ballot. When I was there
before the Council in 2004, a Sudanese representative
sat on that council, despite the genocide going on in
Darfur. This gives you an idea of who is hearing your
case. Since that time, member states, who have committed
gross human rights crimes, are excluded from membership.
The Council has the authority to appoint special investigators,
rapporteurs, to do further investigation and
report back to them. If force is to be used, including
military intervention and sanctions, it is the United
Nations Security Council who must authorize it. The
current UN Security Council members are from the US,
Russia, the UK, France and China.
However, regional organizations, such as the African
Union, have been created to deal on a regional basis
with many of these same issues and advise governments
of their findings and recommendations. An African Judicial
Court is in the development stage, but not yet operating.
Cases from the African Union can be referred to the
The question is—have they achieved the well-intentioned
objectives for which these laws were created? Have they
made easier the path to justice or have they created
their own barriers that have blocked the accomplishment
of their intent?
I would contend that the problem is largely not with
the content enshrined in the Universal Declaration of
Human Rights or in the numerous human rights laws and
mandates, but is more about the lack of moral will to
enforce them as well as due to the suppression of information
that surrounds the commission of human rights violations.
These laws were meant to prevent another genocide like
the Holocaust from ever happening again. However, the
evidence of the failure of these laws to be enforced
is tragically clear when one looks at the millions of
lives lost in Cambodia, Chile, Sierra Leone, Rwanda,
Darfur, Yugoslavia and numerous others places around
the globe, including the case of the Anuak.
Yet, because the law regarding genocide was written
in such a way to demand intervention in cases of genocide,
the superpowers are reluctant to call cases that meet
that definition because it requires action. Instead,
most cases are defined as “crimes against humanity”
as a way to skirt the obligation to do something. For
instance, the United States has called Darfur a genocide
while the European Union has not.
There are several reasons for this. For one, inherent
in the laws is a tension between international intervention
and national sovereignty. The case must be strong to
cross international borders, intervening in an independent
sovereign state. However, when the government of one’s
own country is committing atrocities against its own
citizens, like what happened in Rwanda, the intent of
the law is that the need to protect the vulnerable trumps
the rights of that nation.
Yet, unfortunately, many different factors influence
whether or not the United Nations and the international
community will take any action. At the same time, many
in the world are under the illusion that the United
Nations will act when and where appropriate. Because
of this, most feel that they can settle back and not
I was under this illusion when I presented the case
of the Anuak to the United Nations High Commission on
Human Rights in April of 2004 after Ethiopian Defense
Forces massacred 424 people from my ethnic group in
Gambella, Ethiopia. Let me start by explaining what
happened. Oil exploration in the Gambella area in southwestern
Ethiopia, on the border of Sudan, revealed promising
oil reserves on indigenous Anuak land.
The Anuak leaders spoke out regarding wanting to be
involved in the decision making, as spelled out in the
Ethiopian Constitution, but they were seen as trouble-makers.
When the killing of Anuak leaders began on December
13 through 15 of 2003, the Chinese were visiting the
country and the oil rights had been given to Petronas
of Malaysia and their subsidiary, the Zhongyuan Petroleum
Exploration Bureau (ZPEB), of China to begin their work
in the area immediately.
The Ethiopian military had a list of Anuak names, each
allegedly picked due to their leadership, educational
background or overall influence in the community. For
instance, one of the first ones on the list was my sister-in-law’s
father who was a beloved pastor. Others included many
of those I was working closely with in the development
A number of doctors from Saskatoon had accompanied
me to Gambella and we had plans to develop a full-scale
medical project between the two cities that had to be
temporarily suspended for safety reasons. We had received
a large CIDA grant for the project that instead, had
to be returned due to continuing security concerns for
Canadian students, who as part of the project, would
have been spending time in Gambella.
The massacre began on December 13, 2003 when the Ethiopian
military, accompanied by some local militia groups from
a different ethnic background, went door to door, pulling
out the Anuak from their homes. If they refused to come
out, their homes were set on fire until they had to
run for safety. The militias then hacked them with machetes
and clubs. If they ran, they were shot by the defense
troops in Ethiopian uniform.
They marched through the town chanting, “Today
is the day for killing Anuak.” As they raped the
women and young girls, they chanted, “Now you
will have no more Anuak babies!” The Ethiopian
National Defense troops did not stop there, but destroyed
homes, water wells, granaries, crops, health clinics
and schools. They continued to wreak havoc in the rural
areas in the following weeks and months, killing, injuring,
raping, torturing and detaining many more Anuak. About
10,000 fled the country for refuge in south Sudan. It
is unknown today how many Anuak were killed as many
were buried in mass graves and in remote areas, but
some believe over 1,500 were killed.
The tragedy was a tremendous loss for the Anuak who
were already considered an endangered people group,
totaling only about .01% of the total population of
80 million Ethiopians. Additionally, most of those killed
were the leaders and most educated in the community
of a very margainalized people.
These human rights abuses are all well-documented in
a co-sponsored investigation by two US-based organizations,
Genocide Watch and Survivors’ Rights, organizations
created to prevent genocide. That report, “Today
Is the Day for Killing Anuak,” and a subsequent
one, “Operation Sunny Mountain,” are available
on their websites as well as on ours. Another report
by Human Rights Watch, which came out on March 24, 2005,
“Targeting the Anuak,” is also available
on their website.
The question is—does the Anuak massacre meet
the definition of genocide? To answer it, we need to
review the law itself. Genocide was addressed at the
Genocide Convention and the laws regarding it were adopted
by the United Nations General Assembly on December 9,
1948. More than 130 nations have ratified the Genocide
Convention since that time. Ethiopia is one of these.
Now, according to the definition of genocide in Article
II of the Convention, what happened to the Anuak does
meet the criteria for being classified as a genocide
as it meets the overall definition as well as it meets
one or more of the criteria. In fact, it meets all but
the last—forcibly transferring children of the
group to another.
In the definition, genocide means any of the following
acts committed with the intent to destroy,
in whole or in part, a national, ethnic,
racial or religious group, as such:
(a) Killing members of the group;
(b) Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members
of the group; (including inflicting trauma on members
of the group through widespread torture, rape, sexual
violence, forced or coerced use of drugs, and mutilation
(c) Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions
of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction
in whole or in part; includes the deliberate deprivation
of resources needed for the group’s physical survival,
such as clean water, food, clothing, shelter or medical
services. Deprivation of the means to sustain life can
be imposed through confiscation of harvests, blockade
of foodstuffs, detention in camps, forcible relocation
or expulsion into deserts.
(d) Imposing measures intended to prevent births within
the group; includes the deliberate deprivation of resources
needed for the group’s physical survival, such
as clean water, food, clothing, shelter or medical services.
Deprivation of the means to sustain life can be imposed
through confiscation of harvests, blockade of foodstuffs,
detention in camps, forcible relocation or expulsion
(e) Forcibly transferring children of the group to another
Article III strongly states that the acts of (a) Genocide;
(b) Conspiracy to commit genocide; (c) Direct and public
incitement to commit genocide; (d) Attempt to commit
genocide and (e) Complicity in genocide shall
The Anuak case meets the stringent criteria of genocide
under the law as the intent to destroy part of a specific
ethnic group could be proven. The Anuak was the only
ethnic group targeted in a region of at least eight
other ethnic groups. The presence of the list, the slogans,
the recruiting, arming and incitement of the militias
all proved the intent to destroy the Anuak, in this
case the educated leaders, and the intent to incite
others to do so as well.
The maiming, injury, burning down of homes with inhabitants
in them and the widespread raping of the women and girls
accompanied by the slogan that the result would be to
prevent or limit the birth of “Anuak” babies
met another definition. The only definition that was
not met was the forcible transfer of children from one
group to another. However, one does not need to meet
all these criteria to meet the overall definition.
Additionally, information was later documented in another
investigation by Genocide Watch and Survivors’
Rights that gave evidence that the plan had an actual
name, “Operation Sunny Mountain,” which
alleged that those in the highest offices in the country
had knowledge of the plan, if not direct involvement.
No one still has been found accountable for the crimes
despite the mandate in Article III to punish perpetrators.
What went wrong?
Most of us in the world live under a number of illusions
that are propped up by false beliefs about the international
community, the United Nations and the presence of international
human rights laws.
We in the Anuak Justice Council were no different.
I will use our own experience, along with others, where
relevant, to further explain the obstacles to securing
justice through the international community.
Obstacle 1) Access to the UN Human Rights
Council is difficult
First of all, gaining access to the United Nations
Human Rights Council is complicated. In the case of
the Anuak, they are a small, marginalized and oppressed
ethnic group, without much voice and access to the outside
world. Without Anuak in the Diaspora, who have some
financial support, in our case from churches and friends
in Minnesota and Washington State and Anuak spokespeople
with education in key places throughout the world, it
would have been extremely difficult for them to present
their case in either Geneva or New York.
Obstacle 2) There is really no such thing
as the “international community” –
it is more of a concept than an entity.
When the genocide of the Anuak began on December 13,
2003, I immediately began calling Canadian and United
States government officials. I reached someone in the
US State Department and I told the person that Ethiopian
military are killing innocent Ethiopian people in southwestern
Ethiopian. I asked the person to help and she said,
“I am sorry, there is nothing we can do, people
are being killed in Africa all the time.” However,
when I told the representative that American citizens,
of Anuak Ethiopian backgrounds, were caught in the fray,
there was a totally different reaction. She then asked
for their names, social security numbers, the US addresses,
their passport numbers and their current locations so
that US troops could be sent on a rescue mission.
They did follow through to rescue them while ignoring
the ensuing massacre going on around them. However,
the report of that rescue was suppressed until over
two years later when it was declassified, although most
of the report had been redacted.
This goes to prove that many wrongly believe there
is such a thing as the “international community”—best
represented by the United Nations or western superpowers—that
acts as a fire station which we can call in an emergency
to quickly rescue us from the blazing fires of genocide
and other human rights crimes.
In truth, due to differing political agendas, national
agendas, economic interests and political alignments,
interest in any one case of genocide or gross human
rights violations will vary. In the majority of cases
which are presented to the Human Rights Council, no
subsequent actions are taken. Where and when some action
is taken, it frequently does not effectively stop the
human rights violations.
When they do intervene, it most often has taken many
months or even years to do so, such as in the case of
Darfur. We are in the fifth year of this horror in Darfur
and it appears that internationally coordinated actions
from the UN have mostly resulted from public pressure,
human rights organizations, religious organizations,
Hollywood stars and other special interest groups.
Obstacle 3) Information about human rights
abuses is often suppressed, not only by the perpetrators,
but also by those with a vested interest in maintaining
the status quo. Within the UN, even with adequate and
convincing documentation of violations of international
law, reports frequently never go to the next level or
conversely, there is indication that top officials can
sometimes even suppress reports generated at lower levels
of the organization.
When the genocide of the Anuak occurred, it was carried
out in a remote area of Ethiopia where few reporters
were present to interview witnesses and few cameras
were ready to catch it unfolding. Where attempts are
made by news organizations to get the stories, access
to the area is often blocked or limited and informants
are fearful of speaking out.
Therefore, when the little news on the Anuak massacre
came out through a few major news sources, it appeared
to be the “government spin” on the incident.
For example, the issue was first conveyed to be killing
resulting from an ethnic conflict regarding land and
power disputes between the Anuak and the Nuer, another
local ethnic group. A later press statement from the
Ethiopian government, regarding their alleged involvement,
was called “fiction” by Ethiopian Prime
Minister, Meles Zenawi.
No major news sources refuted the stories; however,
locally, people knew that it was neither “fiction”
nor was it ethnic conflict where there are usually two-sided
casualties. In actuality, no Nuer were reportedly killed,
except for one who was believed to have been mistaken
for an Anuak. This one-sided killing defies the explanation
one of ethnic conflict. Instead, Nuer, as well as people
from other ethnic groups, protected the Anuak, hiding
them in their homes and under their beds after realizing
that just the Anuak were being targeted.
With the results of the first investigation (“Today
is the Day for Killing Anuak”) in hand, along
with numerous pictures, the AJC presented the case of
the Anuak to the United Nations’ High Commission
on Human Rights, now called the Human Rights Council,
in April 8, 2004 in Geneva, Switzerland and again at
the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues
in May 11, 2004 in New York City.
What we soon realized was there was no known automatic
referral to a higher authority, nor the appointment
of a special rapporteur for further investigation or
access to other forms of intervention in response to
any testimony, regardless of the seriousness or documentation.
The system is complex and not geared to prevention or
early intervention regardless of the “never again”
rhetoric on that 2004 tenth anniversary of the Rwandan
It was through an informal connection while at the
UN that we made contact with OMCT (World Organization
Against Torture), a human rights organization that immediately
worked with us in sending out three separate UN press
releases that went to most all of the UN offices as
well as others, documenting the details of the Anuak
Obstacle 4) The mandates of human rights
law, particularly in regards to genocide, creates enormous
resistance to classifying any human rights cases as
As previously mentioned, what happened to the Anuak
in 2003 meets the criteria of genocide, as described
in the law, and that is why we call it a genocide. However,
most officials in the UN and in nation states are extremely
reluctant to do so because by law, a genocide requires
For instance, when we went to the United Nations in
2004 to present this case before the High Commission
for Human Rights, we were advised early on by more seasoned
participants in the process, that it was not “politically
correct” or well-accepted by decision-makers there
to refer to any human rights violations as “genocide”
as it created the mandate under international law, for
the UN to intervene. It was suggested that we could
classify these crimes as crimes against humanity or
gross human rights violations, but not genocide, regardless
of whether it met the definition.
The same reluctance was seen in declaring Darfur a
genocide. When Colin Powell did so for the US in 2005,
it caused a great stir in the international community.
It still has not been acknowledged to be a genocide
by most others in the world. Countries also are usually
resistant to having their own current or historical
human rights crimes, which meet the definition, classified
as such. Even recently, the Turkish government became
adamant when it was suggested that the United States
should officially recognize the Armenian massacre of
1915 under the Ottoman Empire as genocide, not because
of any necessary action, but for other political and
possibly economic reasons.
Obstacle 5) The International Criminal
Court (ICC) has been created to provide teeth to the
law and to punish the worst violators, but many, like
the US, are fearful of signing and ratifying the Rome
Statute due to fears of vulnerability at the hands of
Many think the judicial authority of the International
Criminal Court, (ICC) would be the best enforcer of
human rights crimes and act as a serious deterrent to
new crimes in cases where governments are the perpetrators
of those crimes. However, in practice, it has rarely
shown its clout, especially considering the widespread
incidence of human rights crimes throughout the world.
For one thing, many countries, especially those who
have been involved in war efforts, like the US, are
not signatories to it, reportedly, because they are
fearful of the way it could be used against those in
the US military who have been involved in US sanctioned
military combat, believing they may be susceptible to
outside interpretations of the law, based on the national
and political interests of others, to which they may
President Clinton’s administration signed, but
did not ratify it. For instance, when President Bush
came into office, he withdrew the signature and obviously,
was opposed to ratification. The US and other western
countries, also believe they have an internal process
to deal with infractions in the event of human rights
violations, fearing that an international criminal court
could open them up to unnecessary vulnerability at the
political whim of outsiders.
The ongoing tension between national interests and
international interests necessarily competing with each
other can both be positive in preventing meddling in
the affairs of other countries, but more negatively,
in many cases, it has essentially prevented the execution
of the law.
Every country has their national interests and naturally,
these interests are their primary concern; however,
we have no one organization that puts international
interests of the people as of primary interest, including
the United Nations whose most effective action relies
on the consensus of the five superpowers within the
UN Security Council. Because of this, most human rights
laws are not enforced and as a result, the most vulnerable
and weak of people all over the world continue to suffer.
Slobodan Milosevic of Yugoslavia has been the only
head of state who has been convicted by the ICC, yet
the cases of how many others have not been heard. Charles
Taylor of Liberia may be the second head of state to
be charged with crimes against humanity and war crimes.
Our case is still pending, something that is not unusual
since charging defendants, regardless of the seriousness
and scope of their crimes, usually only occurs after
the person leaves power and when the superpower countries
are no longer supporting that leader or are lending
their influence to having them charged.
In the case we have before the African Commission on
Peoples’ and Human Rights in Gambia, again, we
are waiting for action to be taken. However, it again
is unlikely until more pressure is brought to bear on
this case. Regardless, in Ethiopia, the human rights
crisis continues while the international community,
for the most part, has remained silent.
Despite the belief that the Opposition Party won the
election, the current government of Prime Minister Meles
Zenawi declared themselves winners, very similarly to
what happened recently in Kenya. When Ethiopians protested
in the streets of the capital city of Addis Ababa, government
security forces killed almost 200 people and wounded
many more. Until today, justice has not been served.
Additionally, the Ethiopian government arrested the
elected opposition leaders and detained them in prison
for twenty months until they were released in July of
2007. Many more prisoners of conscience remain in detention
centers and prisons throughout the country. Human rights
crimes are being reported in every area of the country
by many organizations, including the U.S. State Department.
Many media outlets are blocked or government controlled,
causing the public to have little access to information.
In the Ogaden region, in southeastern Ethiopia and
in Somalia, the Ethiopian government troops are committing
many more human rights crimes against civilians and
destroying their infra-structure, even killing their
cattle. Hundreds of thousands of people have been internally
displaced, causing great humanitarian crisis where many
more will die. Human Rights Watch and humanitarian organizations
like the International Red Cross and Doctors Without
Borders have documented some of this, but as a result,
they were kicked out of the country when the reports
Some humanitarian and human rights organizations have
declared it to be the worst humanitarian crisis in the
world, compared in seriousness and scope to Darfur,
but yet, the international community has not effectively
intervened and little news of it has reached to the
homes of Canadians and others in the west.
Currently, there is a bill that passed unanimously
in the US House of Congress that is now pending in the
Senate to advance human rights, democracy and good governance
in Ethiopia, but many do not think it will pass because
it is so opposed by some of the Senators and by the
US State Department because they are partnering with
Prime Minister Meles Zenawi in the War on Terror. However,
many Ethiopians feel that their “War on Terror”
is being perpetrated against them by no one other than
their own prime minister who they believe is terrorizing
As concerned citizens of the world hear of these human
catastrophes and the lack of moral resolve to follow
the truth and the law, how can they respond?
What is needed is a public outrage in developed, democratic
countries as well as in undeveloped, undemocratic countries
at this failure to uphold these laws. A grass roots
public response may be the only way to exert the needed
pressure on politicians and international organizations,
including the United Nations, to take action in most
The public must not sit back, assuming that justice
is being done because in reality, vulnerable people
all over the world are still suffering from genocide,
crimes against humanity, other serious human rights
crimes as well as the humanitarian catastrophes that
accompany these violations such as displacement, disease
Citizens of countries like Canada, the US, European
countries, Australia and other democratic governments
can push within their own systems so that more is done
and so that there are more actual repercussions to the
violation of these international crimes.
We in Canada enjoy the benefits of a well-developed
and largely equitable justice system. Under the Canadian
justice system, when a crime is committed, an investigation
is done and it is referred to the prosecutor’s
office to determine if the demands for evidence of a
crime being committed meet the threshold for charging.
If so, the case goes to court.
However, under the current international justice system,
the documentation of a crime being committed that meets
the full requirements for prosecution under the established
law is usually not sufficient to take action, mostly
due to the lack of moral resolve. In other words, overwhelming
evidence of human rights crimes is not enough to ensure
any action, especially any immediate intervention.
Instead, the information can end up at a dead end at
most every level of the process, especially in the beginning
stages. These international human rights laws look good
on paper, the rhetoric of resolve is inspirational and
the huge organizational structure of the United Nations
is impressive, but the lack of moral will to act to
do the job can totally negate the rest in the majority
To conclude, what have we learned?
The international community or body devoted to ensuring
action, especially in the worst cases of human rights
crimes, is needed today even more than ever before due
to the world becoming a global village of interconnectedness.
This is further enhanced now through more and more emerging
technologies. Right now, the graphic images from those
in the most remote parts of our world can come to us
through our television screen, our computer monitors
or even via our phones.
When we see and hear about horrific human rights crimes
in the world that cause so much suffering to others,
most often we ask, “Why did this happen and why
is no one doing anything about it?’” Most
of those who see these images, would want those who
committed these crimes to be brought to justice, but
people oftentimes do not know who has the authority
to bring such perpetrators to justice. Most are puzzled
as to who should do it. We see it and hope someone will
solve the problem, but as I have already said, most
often, it is never addressed in the “international
Look at Pinochet of Chile, Suharto of Indonesia, Omar
al Bashir of Sudan and Meles Zenawi of Ethiopia. The
list can go on and on. The truth is, most get away with
their crimes because of national interests—theirs,
ours and others’. National interests have dictated
whether or not action will be taken. Whether or not
the perpetrator is an ally in some other partnership,
such as being a partner in the War on Terror like in
the case of Ethiopia, will govern the response, frequently
giving a free pass to some and not to others.
To answer your initial question, which is the title
of this lecture, “International
Law: Does it Create Barriers in Access to Justice?”
YES. ABSOLUTELY IT DOES. International law was
formulated with good intentions, but it is not working
in many places like Ethiopia—at least yet.
As our world gets smaller, the impact of what goes
on in the world—even to a group as small as the
Anuak—can have an impact on the rest of the world,
otherwise, I would not be standing before you tonight.
Yet, unless we take action, the incidence of future
human rights crimes are certain to increase as these
crimes are so closely associated with the “fever”
for natural resources as they become more scarce or
What has been happening is the increased exploration
in the more remote and undeveloped areas of the world,
like in Africa where many vulnerable people live. The
case of the Anuak was associated with finding oil reserves.
In this world, thirsty for untapped natural resources,
finding oil in indigenous ancestral land is the last
thing that the people would wish for—it is like
finding a tumor in the brain.
What kind of world do we want in the next century?
This is not only for our leaders to decide, but we must
impact our governments with our own values, morality
and integrity. This is the only world we will ever have.
If we are to survive with any quality of life, we need
to consider how we can best live amongst each other.
Will we live by the values of being the Good Samaritans
and good neighbors or will we become bystanders who
turn away when we hear the cries of others?
One person can do a lot to bring attention to the oppressed,
yet we also, as a society, should press for moral leaders.
In fact, we need such moral leaders, not only in western
countries, but in third-world countries. If you have
good moral leaders here and the same in Africa, you
will strengthen those partnerships; not just between
the leaders, but between the leaders and their people
on both sides.
The western countries must stand up for their declared
moral ideals and values, carrying them with them to
Third-World countries, making them accountable and not
rewarding them regardless of inhumane actions or just
because it is in our own national interests because
eventually the people will rise up and hold these western
I strongly believe there is great hope if grass-roots
people rise up for these higher values. It is already
happening across Africa and we need to acknowledge and
support it. Again I want to emphasize, anyone can make
a difference for good or for bad. If we ignore it, one
angry, immoral person in Africa or in some other Third
World country has more power and means than ever before,
to destroy life. Our efforts to stand up for the right
cannot prevent all negative outcomes, but it can go
a long way in preventing people who have little respect
for God and for human life from gaining momentum and
Some people say that human rights is a part of western
thought, but my view of human rights is totally different
today than four years ago when I thought of it almost
simply as definition of respecting other human beings.
Now, I would say it is the right of any human being
to live for the purpose that God has provided to each
human being. Because of this reason, it is really not
a western concept.
All of us are human beings. There is no 99.9% human
being. Being that we are all created in the image of
God, none of us are left out. This is not animal rights
or rights based on any other characteristics. The key
word is HUMAN—HUMAN RIGHTS. All human beings have
the right to be treated with dignity, respect and love
and have the moral obligation to do the same towards
For all of you who are here, university students, faculty
and others, we can help repair some of this and to do
it, each of us must take responsibility. We have to
be the ones to run next door to our neighbor when they
cry out. That neighbor may be in our neighborhood, city,
nation or world. We have to be the ones to help someone
when that help is needed, regardless of who they are
because all of us are human beings and one of our purposes
God has given to us in this world is to protect one
another. We can be advocates for those near and far
from us and others need to do the same.
You have a human responsibility to reach
out to other people. We have a responsibility to make
this world a much better world than it is now and we
must do our share! If there is one thing I would want
you to learn from this message it is this--you are not
only the child of your family—you are a child
of the world and a child of humanity! To the extent
that we do this, there is hope! Will you do your part
to create a more humane world? That is the world of
which I want to be a part. How about you?
Although I, Obang Metho, am the primary author
of this lecture, it is written with the collaboration
of other members of the Anuak Justice Council (AJC)
team. For more information please contact me by email
this file in Word format.
this file in PDF format.