Op Ed: The Story of Bashir Makhtal

Bashir Makhtal is a Canadian citizen of Ethiopian descent, who in 2006 was on a business trip to Somalia. The country at the time was going through unrest as the Ethiopian army had entered Somalia to help the government fight against radical Islamist insurgents and Mr. Makhtal along with many Somalian residents decided to flee for their safety to the neighbouring country of Kenya.[1] At the boarder of Kenya and Somalia in December of 2006 Mr. Makhtal was denied refugee status and was instead held in detention without charge in Nairobi for three weeks. In January of 2007, Mr. Makhtal was transferred illegally from Nairobi to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia and put in a detention center known for its torture without counsel or cause. [2]

Mr. Lorne Waldman who has taken up Bashir Makhtal’s case in Canada believes that his interrogators had obtained a false confession of terrorism from him while in detention at Addis Ababa.[3] The government of Ethiopia claimed afterwards that Mr. Makhtal was involved with the Ogaden National Liberation Front, an organization in which his grandfather was a founder and which the Ethiopian government labels as a terrorist organization although the Canada does not.[4] Mr. Makhtal received trial in 2009, 3 years after his original detention. A trial which, Alex Neve the Secretary General of Amnesty International in Canada says was “fundamentally unfair” and to which he asks for a re-trial as it does not meet internationally recognized standards.[5] At his trial Mr. Makhtal was found guilty of being part of the Ogaden National Liberation Front and sentenced to life imprisonment.[6]

The story of Mr. Makhtal seems to be one of hope and despair, despair from the injustices that he has suffered abroad as well as our government’s lack of action, and hope from all the support he has received in Canada. Mr. Makhtal has been advocated by many prominent and influential people such as his lawyer Lorne Waldman who argues that the Ethiopian government is in ‘flagrant violation of international law” by depriving him of a fair and impartial tribunal as well as due process.[7] Then we also have the support of Alex Neve and Amnesty International as mentioned above. There are also a number of MPs in Ottawa including Liberal and NDP members such as Paul Dewar who criticize the Conservatives for not acting on Mr. Makhtal’s case.[8] Surprisingly for its lack of action, it seems that even the Conservatives such as Government House Leader John Baird support Mr. Makhtal case.[9] Yet none of the demands from Mr.Makhtal’s laywer or supporters are being manifested into any noticeable action by the Harper government. Apparently the 146 million dollars that Canada has donated in 2008, making us one of largest contributors of foreign aid in Ethiopia[10] isn’t enough political leverage for our government to ask Ethiopia for the rendition of Mr. Makhtal as justice demands it.

The case of Bashir Mahktal may sound familiar to us when we look closely at his story; that of a Canadian citizen abroad who has been detained without charge, most likely tortured, tried unfairly and sent to jail without due process or justice on allegations of being connected to a terrorist organization, all the while the Canadian government looking seemingly helpless. His case is familiar when we think back to Maher Arar; another Canadian who was detained abroad without charge, proven to be tortured and tried unjustly.[11] Fortunately for Mr. Arar, his story has ended with some justice to his name even though the damage to his life and liberty has been done. Unfortunately for Mr. Makhtal, it has been four years since his detention and after having his basic rights deprived of and being tried and convicted unjustly all he is left with is life imprisonment and very little action on the part of our government. After four years it is time for Canadians to demand the rendition of Bashir Makhtal and for our government to meet its obligations and right the wrongs and injustices which have been suffered by Mr. Makhtal.

[1] Thomas Walkom, “Why is PM forgetting Makhtal?” The Star (29 November 2007), online:  <http://www.thestar.com/News/article/280891>.

[2] Lorne Waldman, “The Case of Bashir Makhtal” Lorne Waldman & Associates (10 September 2009) , online: < http://www.lornewaldman.ca/case/case-bashir-makhtal>.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Hilary Homes, “Bashir Makhtal: The Only Justice is Repatriation” Prism Magazine (7 July 2010), online: < http://prism-magazine.com/2010/07/bashir-makhtal-the-only-justice-is-repatriation/>.

[5] Alex Neve, “It is time for Bashir Makhtal to return to Canada – Open Letter” Amnesty International Canada (11 June 2010), online: < http://www.amnesty.ca/resource_centre/news/view.php?load=arcview&article=5411&c=Resource+Centre+News >.

[6] Supra note 2.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Paul Dewar, “Canada’s inaction on Bashir Makhtal’s case” Paul Dewar (29 February 2009), online: < http://www.pauldewar.ca/en/in-parliament/question-period/99-canadas-inaction-on-bashir-makhtals-case.html>.

[9] Kate Heartfield, “Bashir Makhtal four years later: we must despair for other Canadians caught up in miscarriages of justice abroad” Ottawa Citizen (23 January 2011), online: < http://www.ottawacitizen.com/news/Bashir+Makhtal+four+years+later+must+despair+other+Canadians+caught/4134433/story.html>.

[10] Ibid.

[11] Jeff Sallot, “How Canada failed citizen Maher Arar” The Globe and Mail (6 April 2009), online: < http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/national/article843751.ece>

2 Comments on "Op Ed: The Story of Bashir Makhtal"

  1. Brian McCabe | 13/02/2011 at 12:00 am |

    Why the uproar? Bashir Mahktal was found guilty and sentenced under Ethiopian Law and he should serve his sentence.

  2. Brian’s comment is completely ignorant. Do you know that the Ethiopian Government claims against Bashir are purely political? Bashir’s grandfather supposedly worked for the Ogaden Liberation Front (OLNF) which was against the Ethiopian Government. Secondly, Ethiopia has no jurisdiction with Bashir. He was simply rendered from Kenya to Ethiopia because of the supposed crimes of his grandfather. So in short, Brian if you don’t know anything about Bashir’s case, please be quiet.

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