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2012-13 Humphrey Fellow Profiled in Spring 2013 Perspectives

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Girmachew Alemu Aneme
(2012-13 Humphrey Fellow)


Girmachew Alemu Aneme
2012-13 Humphrey Fellow

Before graduating from Addis Ababa University in 1997, Girmachew Alemu Aneme rarely left Ethiopia's capital. But then the newly minted lawyer began representing coffee, sugar, and tea laborers. As he drove around the countryside to visit plantations, he witnessed the suffering of workers.

"It was a wake-up call for me," he says. The experience changed the course of his life. As he continued to fight for workers, Girmachew realized the need for greater expertise. So he applied for admission to the University of Oslo in Norway. After earning an M.A. in African Union and human rights law in 2001, he returned home to Ethiopia to teach law at Addis Ababa University.

A couple of years later, government troops in neighboring Sudan began killing civilians in the Darfur region, prompting Girmachew to begin investigating the African Union's responsibilities in times of humanitarian crises. The result was a 315-page book, A Study of the African Union's Right of Intervention Against Genocide, Crimes Against Humanity and War Crimes (Wolf Legal, 2011).

"We're all human beings," he says. "I want to avoid a repetition."

Girmachew did his Darfur research at the University of Oslo while studying for a Ph.D. He also studied other human rights topics, including Ethiopia's experiences in the late 1970s when the military government murdered thousands of people. The outcome of that research was a co-edited book, The Ethiopian Red Terror Trials: Transitional Justice Challenged (Boydell & Brewer Ltd., 2009).

After completing his Ph.D. in 2008, Girmachew returned to Addis Ababa University and soon opened the Center for Human Rights in its School of Governance Studies. The Center's legal aid program represents poor people in three Ethiopian cities.

"I want to use the law as a tool for social change," Girmachew says.

The human rights activist arrived at the Law School for a Humphrey Fellowship hoping to improve his leadership skills, and he has through such activities as mediation training at Minnesota's Conflict Resolution Center. "I never understood the power of training before this," Girmachew says. "I feel more empowered."

Empowered enough to imagine himself as president of Addis Ababa University? Girmachew chuckles. "Maybe someday," he says. "But in the meantime, I will be a better professor, a better leader, and a better human being."