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

DE RUEHDS #2873/01 3420527
P 080527Z DEC 09




E.O. 12958: N/A

REF: STATE 111471

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 2010 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: Because Birtukan remains incarcerated as a political
prisoner, her e-mail and telephone numbers are effectively

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Passport Number: EP0374810

Confirmation of Notification: Post confirms that we discussed this
nomination with the nominee prior to her nomination for the 2009
award. At that time, she did confirm her appreciation for, and
concurrence with, our intention to nominate her. As Birtukan
remains in near solitary confinement and is denied her
constitutional right of visitation, Post cannot confirm her
concurrence with this nomination for the 2010 award.

3. (U) Justification for Award:

Birtukan Midekssa shattered the Ethiopian political system's
glass ceiling by 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 not only made history for
the role of women in politics, but fundamentally altered Ethiopia's
political landscape by establishing the country's first truly
national political party. Threatened by the challenge that she
posed to the ruling party, in late-2008, the Ethiopian government
revoked her pardon (for a previous politically-motivated conviction)
and is currently detaining her in near-solitary confinement for a
life sentence.

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. When the
GoE arrested former Defense Minister and ruling party founder Seeye
Abraha on spurious charges for having dissented with the ruling
party's position, Birtukan ordered his release -putting her clearly
in the GoE's targets. Unable to change the political manipulation
of the courts from within, Birtukan forewent the job security of
lifetime judicial tenure to join the political opposition. Birtukan
quickly rose within the Coalition for Unity and Democracy (CUD),
assuming a position as Vice-Chair, and winning a seat in Parliament
in the tumultuous May 2005 national elections.

After months of legal challenges to contest the election
results, police detained Birtukan and over 100 senior opposition
leaders in November 2005, holding her for seven weeks 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 have declared
politically motivated. With a one-year old daughter at home,
Birtukan spent the next 19 months in prison. In June 2007 the
Ethiopian court convicted Birtukan of five capital offenses and
sentenced her to life in prison. In late July, Ethiopian elders
helped secure a GoE pardon, and release, for Birtukan.

After being released, Birtukan remained committed to forming a
strong opposition party. Recognizing the inherent weakness of
Ethiopian political parties which are uniformly oriented toward an

ADDIS ABAB 00002873 002 OF 002

individual leader or ethnic group, Birtukan struggled successfully
to ensure that the new Unity for Democracy and Justice (UDJ) party
was truly national in complexion, leadership, and support. On June
18, 2008, UDJ held its founding general assembly with participants
reflecting Ethiopia's diversity. 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.

In December 2008, the GoE re-arrested Birtukan, arguing that
her (legally and factually accurate) statements in the autumn in
which she argued that she had never asked the GoE for a pardon
violated the terms of her pardon. The GoE revoked her pardon and
reinstated her life sentence without judicial review or option of
appeal. The GoE then placed Birtukan in solitary confinement for
five months allowing only once-per-week visits by her 70-year old
mother and four-year old daughter. While she has since been moved
to a cell with two other women, the GoE continues to flout a court
order to permit her constitutionally guaranteed visitation rights.

4. (U) U.S. Mission Priorities:

The introduction of robust democratic practices and
institutions is a fundamental objective of the United States. 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,
but particularly young women who tend to be excluded from Ethiopia's
political environment. In recognizing Birtukan with this award, the
United States would send a very strong message to the people of
Ethiopia that we continue to uphold American democratic values of
fair play and rule of law. Recognizing this persecuted but very
brave woman with the Secretary's Award for International Women of
Courage would appropriately acknowledge the respect and admiration
that she holds among the Ethiopian people and signal the U.S.
government's concern for her treatment.


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