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July 20, 2006
By Mesfin Mekonen
DLA Piper Rudnick Gray Cary, a lobbying firm that has been retained by the Meles regime for $50,000 a month – money that could be far better spent on economic development -- is circulating a document through the Ethiopian embassy in Washington, D.C. The document attempts to discredit HR 5680, the Ethiopia Freedom, Democracy, and Human Rights Advancement Act. Some of the claims in the document and responses follow. This is a brief response to some of the assertions in the DLA Piper document.
As the objective sources of information about the situation in Ethiopia provided below demonstrate, the Meles regime is a brutal dictatorship.
Contact your member of Congress. Inform them in your own words why you feel they should vote for HR 5680. Also, feel free to distribute the following document.
Claim: "The Smith/Payne bill has been in deliberation for about ten months. At the root of its genesis is the persistent lobbying on the part of a slice of the Ethiopian Diaspora organized by the extremists in the Ethiopian opposition who have persistently and flatly rejected all forms of political engagement."
Response: The legislation is based on the first hand observations of Rep. Smith and members of his staff who have visited Ethiopia. Rep. Smith and his staff have reached out to the Ethiopian community in the United States and to moderate Ethiopian politicians, civic and political groups. In addition, the legislation was informed by public testimony from prominent individuals. The Ethiopian opposition have displayed tremendous courage in their pursuit of political engagement. They have risked – and in all too many cases, lost – their lives and freedom in the pursuit of peaceful, democracy.
It is inconceivable that anyone would label U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Donald Yamamoto an "extremist." On March 28, 2006, in testimony about the legislation to Smith’s subcommittee, Yamamoto said "hopes for progress [in Ethiopia] have been chilled, as the government has clamped down on individuals’ right to assemble and journalists’ ability to report events." Secretary Yamamoto also noted irregularities in the elections. He reported that "The European Union report on the elections asserted that over 90% of the CUD complaints were rejected as opposed to only 30% for the ruling party. It seems clear that the CRB/CIP process did not prove an adequate means for a fair resolution of all electoral disputes."
The subcommittee also heard testimony from Lynn Fredriksson, Advocacy Director for Africa, Amnesty International USA. She stated: "Amnesty International is increasingly concerned that the Government of Ethiopia is systematically violating its citizens' most basic political freedoms. We are particularly concerned that the government and ruling Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) party have not allowed members of political opposition parties (including elected parliamentarians), human rights defenders, independent journalists and other citizens their basic human rights of speech, press, assembly and association. The security forces have committed serious human rights violations with impunity against demonstrators and political detainees. A parliamentary commission appointed by the Prime Minister to investigate shootings by security forces and violence by opposition demonstrators in June and November 2005 (when excessive force appeared to have been used by security forces) has not yet reported on these abuses and their circumstances."
On December 16, 2005 Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) issued a strong statement about the situation in Ethiopia. Leahy, who also is not usually considered an "extremist," concluded: "The Bush Administration should make clear to Prime Minister Meles that if his government does not abide by the basic principles of democracy, due process and respect for human rights, including an end to the use of random searches, beatings, mass arrests and lethal force against peaceful protesters, and if political detainees are not released, that we will join with the European Union and suspend our aid to his government, including our support for financing from the World Bank and the African Development Bank other than for basic human needs. There should be severe consequences for such a flagrant subversion of the will of the Ethiopian people." His statement is available at http://leahy.senate.gov/press/200512/121605a.html
Similarly, the U.S. State Department is not an "extremist" organization, and it is not influenced by lobbying of Ethiopian opposition groups. Its most recent Human Rights Report on Ethiopia stated:
"After the May elections, serious human rights abuses occurred, when the opposition parties refused to accept the announced results, and in November after the Coalition for Unity and Democracy (CUD) called for civil disobedience, which resulted in widespread riots and excessive use of force by the police and military. Although there were some improvements, the government's human rights record remained poor and worsened in some areas. In the period leading up to the May national elections, campaigning was open and debates were televised. The Carter Center described this period as credible and commendable. However, in the period following the elections, authorities arbitrarily detained, beat, and killed opposition members, ethnic minorities, NGO workers, and members of the press. Authorities also imposed additional restrictions on civil liberties, including freedom of the press and freedom of assembly. The following human rights problems were reported:
. limitation on citizens' right to change their government
. unlawful killings, including alleged political killings, and beating, abuse, and mistreatment of detainees and opposition supporters by security forces
. poor prison conditions
. arbitrary arrest and detention of thousands of persons, particularly those suspected of sympathizing with or being members of the opposition
. detention of thousands without charge, and lengthy pretrial detention
. government infringement on citizens' privacy rights, and frequent refusal to follow the law regarding search warrants
. government restrictions on freedom of the press; arrest, detention, and harassment of journalists for publishing articles critical of the government; self‑censorship by journalists
. government restrictions on freedom of assembly including denial of permits, burdensome preconditions or refusal to provide assembly halls to opposition political groups, and at times use of excessive force to disperse demonstrations
. government limitations on freedom of association
. violence and societal discrimination against women, and abuse of children
. female genital mutilation (FGM)
. exploitation of children for economic and sexual purposes
. trafficking in persons
. societal discrimination against persons with disabilities, and discrimination against religious and ethnic minorities
. government interference in union activities."
2. "local groups such as the Ethiopian Human Rights Council, which appealed the decision of the National Election Board, did in fact observe the elections."
This statement, which purports to correct a factual error in the HR 5680, is in fact incorrect. According to a European Commission report: "The NEBE [National Election Board] barred a considerable number of domestic observer groups from monitoring the elections. Although this decision was later revoked by the courts, the judgment came too late to allow effective observation by these groups." More important, The European Commission report (available at http://ec.europa.eu/comm/external_relations/human_rights/eu_election_ass_observ/ethiopia/2005_final_report.pdf), concluded "Overall, therefore, the elections fell short of international principles for genuine democratic elections." The report details an election that was rendered illegitimate by massive intimidation, harassment, refusal to allow opposition campaigns access to media, and outright fraud.
3. One of the main opposition parties—the CUD—repeatedly rejected the results of the National Electoral Board, including the final and official results.
The CUD rejected the election results because they were fraudulent. As noted above, the European Commission also concluded that the election was not fair and the reported results were not accurate. The European observers "observers assessed the closing and counting processes negatively in almost half of urban polling stations observed, a very high figure for international observers to record, and even worse in rural polling stations observed…. EU observers witnessed cases that suggested serious irregularities with election results, including figures that were implausible." It is hardly surprising that the CUD rejected the results under these circumstances. Accepting them would make the CUD complicit in a fraud on the Ethiopian people.
4. On September 15 the Carter Center concluded, "[The majority of the constituency results based on the May 15 polling and tabulation are credible and reflect competitive conditions." According to the U.S. Department of State, "these elections stand out as a milestone in creating a new, more competitive multiparty political system in one of Africa's largest and most important countries."
The European Union sharply criticized the Carter Center September 15 report, and later the Carter Center documented serious election irregularities.
Secretary Yamamoto noted the following in his March 2006 testimony to Rep. Smith’s subcommittee: "The European Union report on the elections asserted that over 90% of the CUD complaints were rejected as opposed to only 30% for the ruling party. It seems clear that the CRB/CIP process did not prove an adequate means for a fair resolution of all electoral disputes.
According to the Carter Center, which monitored the election process along with the European Union, in one-third of the investigations they observed, witnesses appeared frightened or intimidated, and there was credible evidence of intimidation and harassment including beatings and briberies. It is clear that the CRB/CIP is an ad hoc mechanism to review electoral complaints, rather than a reliable process for resolving the Parliamentary seat dispute. The Carter Center recommended that in this instance, and until the NEBE gains the maturity to resolve political disagreements, the opposition refer these cases to the High Court for adjudication."
Yamamoto testified that: "Election observers noted that voters were perplexed as to why there was a re-vote and noted a dearth of information and increased presence of security forces at polling stations. Of even greater concern was the violence that erupted on June 8 and November 1, 2005 that led to the arrests of thousands of people after the elections and the detention of 128 CUD and civil society leaders. We objected strongly to the violence and the detentions both publicly through several press statements and privately to the government and the opposition. Of particular concern to the United States are the early-November arrests of much of the Coalition for Unity and Democracy (CUD) leadership, along with prominent members of civil society, journalists, editors, and publishers. After seven weeks in detention, the Ethiopian government charged 131 individuals with capital offenses of "outrages against the constitution and constitutional order," and, in several cases, "treason" and "attempted genocide." He added: "In addition to these leaders, Ethiopian authorities detained over 14,000 demonstrators holding them for as much as nine weeks in detention camps far away from Addis Ababa. While public protests aimed at destabilizing the country are objectionable, there is no excuse for mass arrests and the use of lethal force against civilians who wish to express their opposition to their government."
6. Regarding the opposition's refusal to accept seats in Parliament:
When it became clear to the Meles regime that a substantial number of opposition candidates would be elected to Parliament, Parliamentary rules were changed to rob the opposition of the right to participate in government. On contrast to democratic parliamentary governments, the opposition was stripped of the ability to debate issues, introduce legislation, or do anything other than sit silently while the government controlled the agenda. To mute the public's outrage, the Meles regime imprisoned hundreds of journalists. Refusal to accept their seats in Parliament – and their assigned roles as rubber stamps for the Meles government – led to the arrest of opposition politicians on charges of treason and genocide.
7. Claim: The U.S. must support the Ethiopian government because it is an ally in the war on terrorism.
In fact, there is broad support in Ethiopia, especially in the democratic opposition, for the U.S. and for the war on terrorism. The Ethiopian government’s repression is likely to lead to the kind of instability that breeds terrorism. The Economist noted in March 2006: "In fact, the very stability of Ethiopia could be at stake. Mr Meles has embittered the class of professional Amharas that Ethiopia relies on to get things done. And, with high unemployment, millions of urban poor, particularly in the capital, have little to lose. They were mostly the ones gunned down by the trigger-happy police in last year's street protests. Demonizing and imprisoning the politicians they voted for in the election might mean more riots, and more deaths."
Additional sources of information about the situation in Ethiopia:
The Washington Post included Meles in its list of the world’s worst dictators (April 23, 2006, page B3):
"Prime Minister, Ethiopia Zenawi was widely criticized for responding to accusations of fraud in May 2005 parliamentary elections by gunning down scores of demonstrators and putting prominent opposition politicians on trial for genocide and treason. But in smaller towns and villages throughout Ethiopia, his systemic repression escapes meaningful scrutiny. In the vast Oromia region, thousands of alleged government critics have been harassed, imprisoned, tortured and killed in the past decade. Millions have been intimidated into silence."
Statement by the International Republican Institute (IRI), IFES and the National Democratic Institute (NDI) on their expulsion by the Ethiopian government
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