Jeffrey Levett,
Professor, Public Health Management and International Health

The following Petition represents an initiative intended to swell the ranks of those calling for an end to the life-threatening predicament of the jailed Ethiopian journalist Eskinder Nega. Given that the 13th World Congress on Public Health will be held in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia [April 23-27, 2012] the writer sees a window of opportunity to help the case of Nega as well as the many other journalists, national and foreign, held in Ethiopian jails. The window can be widened by extending the mandate of public health. I place my action within the context of public health as a small addition to many louder appeals for Mr. Nega’s exoneration. I ask that all public health organizations and professionals give it their wholehearted support to this issue.

The Ethiopian Youth National Movement is one of many voices, which has condemned the arrest of Eskinder Nega and Andualem Andargie and is urging the use of every avenue to pressure the government to immediately and unconditionally release them. With its inspiring history and its many important contributions to global public health I believe that the World Federation of Public Health Associations [WFPHA] is well-positioned to address these serious issues. ‘Now is the time for all those who affect the lives of others … to assert and practice the basic human values of solidarity, sustainability, morality, justice, equity, fairness, and tolerance’. [WFPHA].

In promoting the formation of the African Federation of Public Health Associations, during the upcoming Congress, the Ethiopian Public Health Association should be encouraged and supported. The Association of Schools of Public Health in the European Region [ASPHER], based on the American model [APHA] emerged in the Balkans in 1966. At that time major discussions were taking place with regard to the world wide establishment of similar organizations, one being in Africa.

When President of ASPHER, the writer worked towards public health development in Europe, the developing role of public health in human security and regional disaster response in the Balkans and the establishment of Schools of Public Health in several countries as well as a Public Health Curriculum for Peace and Development.

All views presented herein, are solely those of the writer who once when young, was enthralled with Abyssinia, the oldest independent nation in Africa, with the real and imagined legends of Prestor John, with Abyssinian postage stamps and much more. Today I present my Petition.

The economy of the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia under his Excellency Prime Minister Meles Zenawi, has made considerable progress in both health and agriculture and a new development plan is underway in which the state will replace the private sector as the main engine of economic growth. Good things have been achieved; in the fight against poverty and gains in equality, in the development of several fascinating forms of educational tourism and by government working with scientists of excellence, such as Dr. Tedros Adnahom Ghebreyesus an internationally well recognized expert on malaria and cited as an important research worker by the Ethiopian Public Health Association (EPHA). An excellent public health education system is being created and a School of Public Health [2010] has emerged, as a result of earlier developments in community health [1964].There is still much to be achieved .

The 13th World Congress on Public Health will be held in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia [April 23-27, 2012] under the patronage of His Excellency Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Minister of Health for Ethiopia. The Congress can help formulate a better understanding of Africa's major public health challenges, provide instruments of healthy ways forward, increase equitable and sustainable access to health services for the poor and show how the Millennium Development Goals for health are progressing. It can also be a platform to appeal the exoneration, release and medical treatment of Eskinder Nega and all other national and foreign journalists lingering in Ethiopian prisons.

Eskinder Nega, an Ethiopian journalist, was arrested by security forces late in 2011 under the country’s anti-terrorism proclamation of 2009 and is being held in such a prison. Over the past two decades he has been detained several times and was put back in jail on September 14, 2011. Prior to arrest, he published an online column, critical of the use of anti-terrorism laws to silence dissent and called upon the Ethiopian government to respect freedom of expression and end torture in the country’s prisons. It included a statement protesting the government's arrest of the famed Ethiopian actor Debebe Eshetu. For his courage Nega now faces the death penalty. His trial is set for March 5, 2012.

An international group of journalists, writers and human rights activists have called upon the Ethiopian government to release Mr. Eskinder Nega. There have been many calls to drop charges and release him together with other journalists. They have urged the Ethiopian authorities to ensure their immediate access to any medical treatment required.

Within the context of the World Congress on Public Health, the Ethiopian authorities have a great opportunity to demonstrate clemency by unconditionally releasing Mr. Nega and other national and international journalists from Ethiopian prisons. Such an act within the context of Public Health will command enormous symbolism and provide great impetus to much needed investment in public health, peace and human rights. Representatives of public health, worldwide, should join their ranks and call for the same.
In 2003, the General Assembly of the WFPHA adopted the Skopje Declaration ”Public Health, Peace and Human Rights”. The Declaration was an expression of the social conscience of public health in the Balkan Region, penned by the writer as an outcome of the PH Network SEE. Subsequently, the General Assembly supported the Rio Convention and passed Reinforcing the public health commitments on peace and human rights [2008], the Istanbul Declaration [12th World Congress] and Prison Health [2011]. Apropos, Ethiopian prisons are known to be violent, filthy, and disease-ridden places. Now is the time to put the above mentioned instruments to further important work. Perhaps the next issue that WFPHA will address could be human security – freedom from fear and from want, versus national security .

The unique opportunity of the 13th World Congress on Public Health should be ceased upon within the context of public health diplomacy as an aid to support human in Ethiopia, Africa and the world at large. Given the high profile of the event there is an open window of opportunity to express concern for the fate of Mr. Nega as well as to underline that all threats to individuals and populations undermine democracy. This in solidarity with Ethiopia and its peoples. In unity and in unison the global voice of public health, can help ‘build a better world, closer to the human heart's desire’ [Skopje Declaration].

Jeffrey Levett

Endnotes :

Amnesty International says that the Ethiopian authorities must end their continuing crackdown on dissent following arrests of a prominent journalist and four senior opposition politicians on accusations of terrorism-related activities. Amnesty International says that in the last 11 months, the government has arrested at least 114 Ethiopian journalists and opposition politicians. Charges against Nega are baseless says Committee to Protect Journalists and fall into a long and well-documented pattern of persecution over his critical coverage of the government. Torture and ill-treatment ARE used by Ethiopia's police, military, and other members of the security forces to punish dissenters, including university students, members of the political opposition, and alleged supporters of insurgent groups, as well as alleged terrorist suspects says Human Rights Watch. Reporters Without Borders calls on the Ethiopian government to guarantee a fair and transparent legal process and to take steps to assure the press that the law will not be used to persecute critical journalists and stifle dissident voices. The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) today urged the authorities to drop accusations of terrorist activities leveled at five journalists including two Swedish reporters. PEN International has protested the arrest and detention of two more journalists under Ethiopia’s sweeping anti-terrorist legislation. The NYRB has presented the case of Eskinder Nega, calling upon Secretary of State, Hilary Clinton to publicly repudiate Ethiopia’s efforts to use terrorism laws to silence political dissent. The Ethiopian Youth National Movement has condemned the arrest of Eskinder Nega and Andualem Andargie and urge use of every avenue to pressure the government to immediately and unconditionally release them. According to EYNM these courageous men have played a key role in the struggle for freedom and democracy in Ethiopia, and as a result, they had been harassed, imprisoned and tortured several times. They have refused to be silenced and have chosen to use peaceful means to bring the world’s attention to the repressive political environment in Ethiopia. World Justice Project, Rule of Law Index 2011, Ethiopia, in comparison with other low-income nations, is in the middle of the rankings when it comes to incorporating principles of the rule of law. Accountability is very weak by regional standards (ranking 63rd globally and second to last among low income nations) and corruption remains. Property rights are weak (ranking 64th). The performance of regulatory agencies and courts is poor, but comparable to other countries in the region. The country has a very poor record in the area of fundamental rights, ranking 65th globally and last in the region. Of greatest concern are restrictions limiting fundamental freedoms, such as the freedom of assembly and the freedom of speech, as well as illegal detentions and due process violations.

“I have seen flowers come in stony places,
And kind things done by men with ugly faces,
And the gold cup won by the worst horse at the races, So I trust too”.

Many are destitute, deprived of basic needs, food, shelter, clothing, and medication, infant and under-five mortality are sky-high, caused by pneumonia, malaria, diarrhea, measles, malnutrition and HIV. Mortality is worsened by poverty, inadequate maternal education, lack of safe water supply and needed sanitation. Protracted political strife, frequent drought and conflict, make the Horn of Africa a most food insecure region. It has an abundance of natural resources but it is one of the poorest nations on earth. Young talent is wasted, human productivity is decreased by unemployment, which create the basis for a vicious circle spiraling upwards towards increasing vulnerability and perpetual poverty.

Declaration on Human Security in the Balkans penned by the writer 2010; Nuclear War in the Middle East: Where is the Voice of Medicine and Public Health? Cham E. Dallas, Frederick M. Burkle, Jr., Prehospital and Disaster Medicine Vol. 26, No. 5,October 2011

Jeffrey Levett,
Professor, Public Health Management and International Health
TEL: 30 210 3641607 / 3642578 / 213 2010194/5 Athens, Greece February 2012


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