Cablegate: Ethiopia's Nomination: International Women of Courage 2009

DE RUEHDS #2817/01 2880452
P 140452Z OCT 08




E.O. 12958: N/A

REF: STATE 99729

1. (U) Embassy Addis Ababa would like to nominate Ms. Birtukan
Midekssa Deme, Chairperson, Unity for Democracy and Justice Party,
as our nominee for the 2009 Secretary's Award for International
Women of Courage. The remainder of this cable is tracked to
nomination detail criteria outlined in reftel.

2. (U) Nomination Details:

Full Legal Name of Nominee: Birtukan Midekssa Deme. (Note:
Ethiopians are given a single first name. Their second and third
names are their father's and paternal grandfather's first names
respectively. For passport purposes, the grandfather's name "Deme"
is used as the surname, but for all other purposes women go by the
Amharic equivalent of "Mrs" followed by their first name, i.e.
Woizero Birtukan. End Note.)

Job Title: Chairperson, Unity for Democracy and Justice (UDJ) Party.

Date of Birth: April 27, 1974

Country of Birth: Ethiopia

Citizenship: Ethiopian

Address, Telephone, and E-mail:
Addis Ababa, Ethiopia
(Note: Addis Ababa does not have a standard
street addressing convention, hence the vagueness
of the address).

Passport Number: EP0374810

Confirmation of Notification: Post confirms that we have discussed
this nomination with the nominee, and she has confirmed her
appreciation for, and concurrence with, our intention to nominate

3. (U) Justification for Award:

Birtukan Midekssa has shattered the Ethiopian political
system's glass ceiling becoming the first woman to lead a political
party in the country's more than 3,000 year documented history.
Despite a challenging political environment and having been the
personal target of prominent persecution, Birtukan has not only made
history for the role of women in politics, but has fundamentally
altered Ethiopia's political landscape by establishing the country's
first truly national political party.

Soon after graduating with honors from law school, Birtukan
Midekssa was appointed as a judge in Ethiopia's High Court in her
early 20s. From her position on the bench, Birtukan personally
observed the lack of judicial independence and strong-handed efforts
by the Ethiopian Government (GoE) to influence the courts. Unable
to change this dynamic from within, Birtukan forewent the job
security of lifetime tenure to become active in the political
opposition joining Rainbow Ethiopia - Movement for Democracy and
Social Justice. Birtukan quickly rose within the party, assuming a
position as Vice-Chair, and winning a seat in Parliament in the
tumultuous May 2005 national elections.

After months of legal challenges by Rainbow and its Coalition
for Unity and Democracy (CUD) partners to contest the election
results, on November 1, 2005 Ethiopian police detained Birtukan and
over 100 senior opposition leaders. After seven weeks of being held
without charge in violation of the constitution, the GoE finally
charged Birtukan and her colleagues with seven capital offenses,
including Treason and Genocide, which Post and Ethiopia-watchers
broadly consider having been politically motivated. With a one-year
old daughter at home, Birtukan spent the next 19 months in prison.
When the GoE offered to release her and her colleagues if they
signed a statement acknowledging that they had violated the
constitution, former judge Birtukan refused to so taint her
reputation and integrity. On June 11, 2007 an Ethiopian court
convicted Birtukan of "Outrages Against the Constitution" and
several other offenses and on July 16, it sentenced her to life in
prison. In late July, Ethiopian elders helped secure a GoE pardon,
and release, for Birtukan and the others.

After being released, internal rifts within the former CUD
emerged, but the bulk of its key leaders who remained politically
active established the Unity for Democracy and Justice (UDJ) party.
Despite facing persistent GoE harassment personally and among her
supporters, Birtukan remained committed to forming a strong
opposition party. Recognizing the inherent weakness of Ethiopian
political parties which are uniformly oriented toward an individual
leader or ethnic group, Birtukan struggled successfully among early

ADDIS ABAB 00002817 002 OF 002

UDJ supporters to ensure that the party is truly national in
complexion, leadership, and support. On June 18, 2008, UDJ held its
founding general assembly with delegations from Oromiya, Amhara, and
Southern Nations regions, as well as from ruling-party dominated
Tigray, and largely neglected Afar, Gambella, and Somali regions.
Birtukan's strong credentials, dynamic vision, and persuasive
rhetoric convinced the founding members to elect her as the first
woman to lead an Ethiopian political party.

The introduction of robust democratic practices and
institutions is a fundamental objective of the United States. The
emergence of a dynamic and competent political opposition is
fundamental to achieving that goal. As a strong political leader,
an accomplished professional, and an individual willing to face
personal adversity rather than compromise her integrity, Birtukan
Midekssa is a role model for all Ethiopians. Recognizing her with
the Secretary's Award for International Women of Courage would only
confirm the status which she has already earned.


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