As a lawyer in Winnipeg, I have worked for the past 10 years with refugee applicants from some of Ethiopia's major ethnic groups such as Oromos, Amharas, Tigrays and Ogaden Somalis seeking refugee protection from Canada.
As a Pakistani-Canadian attorney and attorney who advocates human rights and the dignity of the vulnerable, the weak and the voiceless, I pause and reflect on the current civil war raging in Ethiopia.
The voices from the civil war – especially those of the besieged Tigray people in the Tigray region – have so far been muted. Likewise, her suffering has.
The Ethiopian government minimized this war by calling it a "Law and Order Operation" or a "Police Action".
In another civil war in 1971, the people of the Bengali ethnic group in East Pakistan were fed up with the non-Bengali government dominated by West Pakistan due to many real and perceived grievances. So they exercised their naturally understandable and generally recognized right to self-determination and separated from the Islamic Republic of Pakistan.
What followed was a Pakistani military operation that resulted in nine months of genocide against the Bengali people.
The international community's initial failure to intervene early enough to prevent the loss of life and other mass violations of human rights, and the subsequent recognition of the creation of the sovereign state of Bangladesh, is historically documented.
During the hostilities in Tigray, thousands fled to Sudan. Tensions in the region have increased since September when Tigray held regional elections, despite the federal government calling the vote "illegal". (The Associated Press)
Earlier this month, Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed Ali ordered a very successful media outage after ordering federal troops to attack the remote northern region of Tigray, a region 95 percent Christian.
He has cut off all communication within the Tigray region and sealed Tigray's borders, which touch the rest of Ethiopia.
According to Amnesty International, there have been reports of many murders in the Tigray area, as well as large numbers of Tigray refugees who fled the war while crossing the international border into Sudan.
Not much more than this is credibly known about what is happening on the ground.
Core values at stake
Times have certainly changed since Pakistan's 1971 military operation against the Bengali people and citizenship.
In the current 2020 context, there are three laws that point to an undeniable reality that strengthens and supports the moral and legally sanctioned determination of the Tigray people to fight the violence that is inflicted upon them.
The higher basic values at issue are freedom, freedom and self-determination of the Tigray people. These values have been widely recognized by the international community under international law, under the current Ethiopian constitution, and under Canada's own constitutional interpretation of secession.
This picture, taken from an undated video, released Monday by the Ethiopian state news agency, shows the Ethiopian military gathering on a street in an area near the border of the Tigray and Amhara regions. (Ethiopian News Agency / The Associated Press)
These higher values give the Tigray people the inherent right to legally withdraw from Ethiopia and control their own destiny.
The Tigray people can definitely exercise the option of returning to Ethiopia for their union after their secession under a new federal agreement.
In principle, the inherent sovereignty of the Tigray people must be granted to the Tigray region so that a truly lasting peace can take root in this part of the Horn of Africa.
An inalienable right to self-determination
The International Court of Justice (World Court) has declared that the right to self-determination is one of the essential principles of contemporary international law.
This inalienable human right has been incorporated into the United Nations Charter in Article 1.2, which recognizes respect for the principle of equality and self-determination of peoples and takes other appropriate measures to strengthen world peace.
Articles 39 and 47 of the Constitution of Ethiopia grant everyone the right to self-determination.
These articles give the "nations, nationalities and peoples" the legal right to either create a new state in Ethiopia or to withdraw from the nation entirely. The constitution of Ethiopia provides for a process for self-determination.
However, these provisions are viewed as purely symbolic by the current government. A secession from Ethiopia would therefore never be permitted.
Canada and the international community must condemn the actions of the Ethiopian government in the Tigray region, says Winnipeg immigration lawyer Bashir Khan. (Nick Iwanyshyn)
As Canadians, we should bring our unique Canadian approach to the current civil war in Ethiopia through our government through our constitutional values of respect for individual and collective rights (as well as the rule of law).
Following the 1995 Quebec secession referendum, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled on Quebec Secession (1998), 2 S.C.R. 217 (Can.) Ruled that a majority decision, no matter how large the majority, could itself have legal implications and that the constitutional order could not be indifferent to a clear expression of a clear majority of Quebecers who no longer want it in Canada.
If Canada does not take the lead and the international community does not condemn the actions of the Ethiopian government in the remote Tigray region, there is a great risk that Canada will support an Ethiopian prime minister who will end up governing Ethiopia not through "rule of law" – but through "rule of law ".
And that begs the question, which law?
The law of the Ethiopian Constitution, which is shaped by Canadian values? Or the law that says "power is right"?
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