Category: "H.R. 2003"

Ethiopia - Testimony by Fowsia Abdulkadir

October 2nd, 2007


Fowsia Abdulkadir

Chair, Ogaden Human Rights Committee Canada



House Committee on Foreign Affairs

Subcommittee on African and Global Health



“Ethiopia and the State of Democracy: Effects on Human Rights and Humanitarian Conditions in the Ogaden and Somalia”

Tuesday October 2, 2007

Chairman Payne, ranking member Smith and the distinguished members of this committee – Thank you for holding this very important hearing that puts a spotlight on Ethiopia and the documented human rights abuses in the Ogaden and elsewhere in Ethiopia. Mr. Chairman I am honored to be given the opportunity to come and speak today on a subject that I hold dear, the plight of the people of Ogaden, also known as the Somali region in Ethiopia.

Mr. Chairman, at this time I would like to ask that my full testimony be submitted into the record, consisting of the paper I am reading and the 2007 annual report of Ogaden Human Rights Committee, released on August 8th, 2007.

I represent a human rights advocacy organization. The Ogaden Human Rights Committee, (OHRC) is an independent, voluntary, non-profit community-based human rights advocacy organization. OHRC was founded on June 13th, 1995, in Godey, Ogaden, to monitor and promote the observance of internationally accepted human rights standards in the Ogaden. The OHRC researches, documents and reports human rights violations in the Ogaden.

The Ogaden Human Rights Committee has branches across the globe. As a volunteer and an independent researcher, I chair the Board of Directors of OHRC Canada.

Background

The Ogaden also known as the Somali Region of Ethiopia is located in the south-eastern part of Ethiopia; bordering the Afar region and the Republic of Djibouti in the North, the Oromia region in the south and west; and Somalia in the east, it is 250,000 SQK area.

The Ogaden is a place many of us hold dear. Partly because it is a place where Somalis have been historically marginalized by successive Ethiopian regimes; and it is laced with history of refugees and internally displaced persons; but most importantly it is a place dear to our hearts because it’s our homeland. My parents fled from the Ogaden in the early 50s, and became refugees in Somalia, where I was born. My mother died in 1988 in Mogadishu not fulfilling her life long dream of going back home to Werdher, Ogaden in her lifetime.

Like my mother, too many Ogadenis have died in exile as refugees, and in their memory I would like to share with you a quote from David Turton’s article titled “the Meaning of place in a World of Movement: lessons from long-term Field Research in Southern Ethiopia.

He states: “...to understand how a sense of place becomes bound up with a person’s social and individual identity, we must treat place, not as stage for social activity but as a ‘product’ of it. Such an understanding of the link between people and place helps us to appreciate that displacement is not just about the loss of place but also about the struggle to make a place in the world, where meaningful action and shared understanding is possible” (Turton 2005: 258)[1]

The dislocation and displacement of the people of Ogaden

Today, because of state sponsored violence, and a century long protracted ethnic-based conflict, the people of Ogaden are internally displaced and are forced to flee from their homes. It is important to note, unfortunately, this has happened too many times. Just like what is happening right now, massive displacement of civilian population, there were a number of crisis in this region, which resulted in massive displacement of people and mass exodus from the Ogaden. I have compiled in my research several such historical dates when the people of this region where internally and externally displaced over the years; here are two examples:

· The 1977 Somali – Ethiopian war reeked havoc in this region.

After this war, there was a mass exodus from this region into neighboring countries in the Horn of Africa. And there were thousands of people who ended up in refugee camps in Somalia. For instance, there were no less than ten refugee camps in Northern Somalia, and five refugee camps in Central Somalia.

· In 1991 when the Somali state totally collapsed, and the Somali civil war erupted, these refugees were once again forced to repatriate into the Ogaden[2].

Through all these upheavals, women from this region were giving birth to children and raising them under such uncertainties, enduring the challenges that come with life as refugees. Although I was not born there, I grew up with the stories of these refugees who like my mother, their dreams of one day returning to their homeland overwhelmed the imagination.

The current state of Ethiopia under the current regime

Currently the present regime has engaged in what can be described as a war on the civilian population and as the case is always women and children are bearing the brunt of the pain. As you know Mr. Chairman, when the current regime came into power it promised a new beginning for all the people of Ethiopia including the people of Ogaden. A new constitution was written, chapter three of which enshrines the fundamental human rights principle. The new Ethiopian constitution is notably comprehensive and its human rights provisions are clearly stated. But so far, they remain only on paper[3].

Unfortunately, and to the disappointment of Ethiopian citizens and the international community the current regime failed to respect human rights it vowed to protect. Local and international human rights organization (such as Ogaden Human Rights Committee, Oromo Support Group and Sidama Concern, as well as Amnesty International and Human Right Watch) widely report on the violations of basic constitutional rights.

In the Ogaden recently, American journalists were harassed and jailed for some days. It is important to note that, according to the Washington Post (April 13, 1998), during the three-year period, from 1995 to1998, this current Ethiopian regime has arrested and detained more journalists than any other government on the continent of Africa[4]. The people of the Somali region and many other regions of Ethiopia have witnessed and suffered under this violent and aggressive state machinery.

Human rights abuses by Ethiopian armed forces in the Ogaden

Under successive regimes, the entire Ethiopian population suffered, my testimony today focuses on the Ogaden, The people of Ogaden have been subjected to harassment, unlawful detentions, rape and torture.

“Human rights violations reports are body counts, torture practices, an endless list of horrors; the violations seem beyond comprehension, mad men acting without reason. And the reports seem to be written by someone with stomach of a physician and the mind of a statistician” (David Matas, 1994:3)[5].

David Mata argues that human rights violations do not occur in an ideological vacuum, to the contrary, in many instances these acts are manifestations of an ideology[6].

Mr. Chairman, in researching human rights violations in the Ogaden, we have documented the rape of innocent young girls, the hijacking of privately owned vehicles, publicly shooting innocent people to instill fear in the communities, looting people’s properties and general dehumanizing acts by the Ethiopian military. Human rights violations are defined as “torture, disappearances, killings, detentions and unfair trails”’ these acts occur continuously in the Ogaden in a blatant manner. This regime deals with the people of Ogaden with impunity in some instance going so far as to leave the murdered innocent civilians out in the public square. The local community is then instructed that no one can burry the dead, and so carcass is left to rot in full public view.

Testimony Statements to United States House Committee on Foreign Affairs

There are countless instances where it seems, that rape is being used as a weapon. In 2003, the Ethiopian troops’ commander, in Qabridaharre, told a gathering in the township, “Any women suspected of harboring or being a relative of an ONLF member would be raped and then killed” (OHRC Report, 2007:29.

Women from the Ogaden (the Somali region) have recounted horror stories of rape:

· Rape in detention centers.

· Rape in their homes while their children watch.

· They have been raped in their villages and were put under house arrest to prevent them from sharing their stories.

According to the OHRC 2007 report, on March 27th, 2007, Fathi Moalim Khalif, who is a former rape victim, was detained with other four civilians, in Dhagahabur. Prior to this arrest, members of the Ethiopian armed forces have gang raped her in January 2007. Fathi is pregnant as a result of that rape. Speaking to OHRC’s researchers her younger brother said: “They think they can hide their heinous crime by putting her behind bars. Everyone knows what happened to her. No jail or detention camp can cover their crime. We will never forget what they have done to her”. (OHRC, 2007:29)

Mr. Chairman, and distinguished committee members, you might be aware, almost the entire Ogaden population is Muslim; and as such they raise their daughters in a very traditional environments. It is with tremendous sadness that I report to you these women are not only living with the socio-cultural stigma that comes with rape in such traditional communities; but they are also contracting HIV/AIDS and other STDs at an alarming rate. This is one of the rare communities that HIV/AIDS has not been detected until recently.

In addition to these women getting STDs, they oftentimes get pregnant and bear children because of these rapes. It is important to imagine the magnitude of the suffering these women endure.

Since the current Ethiopian government came to power, a large number of women have been detained, tortured, raped, and some have disappeared or been killed. Women are the most vulnerable groups to suffer abuse and violence in the Ogaden, simply because they are the relatives of, or suspected sympathizers with the Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF).

It is important to note that the above mention actions are in direct violation of the international convention on the protection of women.

Article 1 of the Declaration on the Elimination of Violence against Women (DEVW) states that: “for the purposes of this Declaration, the term “violence against women” means any act of gender-based violence that results in, or is likely to result in physical, sexual or psychological harm or suffering to women, including threats of such acts, coercion or arbitrary deprivation of liberty, whether occurring in public or in private life”.

Similarities to the Darfur situation

Mr. Chairman, the Somali region in Ethiopia is heavily militarized zone, and it has not known a stable and peaceful period. It is a military outpost and the people of this region have suffered immensely. In the spirit of time, I would encourage the distinguished members of this committee to please consult the Ogaden Human Rights Committee report of 2007; more reports can be found in www.ogadenrights.org

Mr. Chairman, It is no secret that Somalis in Ethiopia have been historically marginalized by successive Ethiopian regimes. I would argue they have been particularly persecuted by this current regime.

Mr. Chairman, many have compared what is happening in Ogaden to Darfur, We all know what has happened in Darfur amounted to genocide. I would submit to you that, the actions of the Zenawi regime placed upon the Ogaden, could be defined as genocide. And to that end, it is morally imperative that action be taken to mend broken lives.

Furthermore, my presentation would be incomplete if I did not mention the one big difference between Ogaden and Darfur. And that is, the government is doing the very acts of terrorizing the communities.

The currently accepted definition of genocide is the one contained in the 1984 United Nations Convention on Genocide:

“In the present Convention, genocide means any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national ethnical, or religious groups, as such: 1) Killing members of the group; 2) Causing serious bodily harm to members of the group; 3) Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part; 4) Imposing measures intended to prevent birth within the group; 5) Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group”.

Actions by the Ethiopian military such as these listed below are to genocide.

· On July 22nd, 2007, in Qoriile, Ethiopian armed forces came in with a list of names, and then arrested a number of civilians. They transferred them to their barracks, where they were subjected to extensive torture. On July 24th, 2007, the Ethiopian armed forces killed the detainees in their custody, in Babaase. Most of the victims were hanged from acacia trees and then shot to ascertain their death. Ridwan Hassan Rage survived, and told about this massacre.

· Mr. Chairman, in November 20th, 2005, Ethiopian forces razed to the ground the village of Fooljeex, which is located 44 Km east of Qabridaharre. Before torching the residences, they looted personal properties and burned all the things they could not carry with them including the village’s barns, which contained more than 6000 Quintals of sorghum and maize. Pastoral development and Relief Association’s educational project in the area has also been damaged. (OHRC report 2007:18)

· Earlier in 2005, Ethiopian armed forces committed mass killings in Qabridaharre, Farmadow, Shilaabo, Madax-Maroodi, Karin-Bilicle and Gurdumi. (OHRC report 2007:18)

Mr. Chairman, I would submit to you that these acts fit very well within Article I and II of the current UN definition of genocide.

Mr. Chairman, it was clearly stated in the US State Department’s Human Rights report on Ethiopia that there is the existence of:

1. Arbitrary or Unlawful Deprivation of Life

2. Disappearance

3. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment

4. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

5. Police detained journalists during the year

6. Arbitrary Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or Correspondence

7. Denial of Fair Public Trial

Mr. Chairman, the current regime has recently released some prisoner, however in the Ogaden the jails in major cities, such as Jigjiga, Dhagahbur, Qabridahare, Godey and Fiiq, are full of victims of unlawful arrests. And the resulting overcrowding in these un-kept below human standard prisons is further causing a health risk.

Mr. Chairman, the Ogden community as a whole is experiencing the brutality of the Addis regime. Collective punishment is the order of the day in the Ogaden. The communities of Dhagahbur; Qabridahare, Godey and Fiiq have been subjected to:

· Severe physical and emotional torture, constant danger of rape that looms over all women to include girls as young as early teens

· Random indiscriminate open air shooting, and killing.

· Open-ended intimidation of Community and Business leaders

· The current military blockage, as documented in the UN report, of villages, towns and cities is making Manmade disaster exponentially worse

Ethiopia and the State of Democracy

Mr. Chairman, on August 3, 2007 - Senator Leahy made a passionate statement on the floor of the US Senate. After sighting election fraud, illegal imprisoning of civilians, documented Human rights abuses, the government’s role of inciting violence, he finished in part

“It is no excuse that the Ethiopian military has impeded access to the Ogaden, as it has done. In fact, this should give rise to a sense of urgency. If we cannot properly investigate these reports, and if the Leahy Law, which prohibits U.S. assistance to units of foreign security forces that violate human rights is not being applied because the U.S. Embassy cannot determine the facts, then we should not be supporting these forces.”

Ladies and Gentlemen, there isn’t anything complex about what the people of Ogaden want.

The people of Ogaden want what is due to them under the current Ethiopian constitution. The Ethiopian constitution explicitly states that human rights, civil and political rights, economic and cultural rights and the essential tenants of living with basic human dignity must be honored.

Mr. Chairman, the current regime failed miserably to adhere to its own constitution. And when questioned about its actions, this regime gets into defensive obfuscations to conceal the unpleasant realities on the ground. To that end, we are encouraged by the recent UN fact-finding mission into Ogaden. We look forward to the day when the Ogaden is open to international aid agencies and can begin to repair and rebuild where the current regime has destroyed and depleted.

Mr. Chairman the people of Ogaden are hopeful of the day they can participate in fair and democratic elections, enjoy freedom of the press, and access to development and investments from the outside world.

Mr. Chairman, being minority is not a reason to be killed and tortured, being Somali is not a reason to be raped and beaten; and certainly being a Muslim is not a crime punishable with indignity.

Mr. Chairman, Ethiopia is one of the poorest countries in the world, the Somali region, even by Ethiopian standards, is the poorest and least developed region of the country. As it is stated in the UN report that came out last week, the people of Ogaden urgently need the basics to live decently.

While we, the Ogaden community, in the Diaspora, applaud this very important hearing, we want you to know that this is only the beginning. We are going to hold you accountable as well. You have now taken on the task of researching what is happening on the ground, therefore, you have no choice but to take action.

Ladies and Gentlemen, I applaud you for your leadership but I implore you to live up to the standards of Human Dignity that your constituents here at home live by.

The Ethiopian regime needs to be challenged by the United States to demand that the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), Doctors without Borders and other aid groups be allowed to help the people and Ogaden. And that their efforts and access to this region be unrestricted.

Concluding remarks.

Mr. Chairman, having highlighted the difficulties the people of Ogaden are dealing with, I would like to point out that it is not only the Somali region that has suffered under the brutalities of the current regime of Ethiopia. The people of Oromia region, Gambella region, Amhara region and Sidama region have also been subjected to human rights abuses. We need to ask ourselves; where do we go from here?

Mr. Chairman, Ethiopia and the Ethiopian masses need the international community and particularly the United States to intervene, and put pressure on the current regime to allow substantive democratic processes to be put in place.

Setting the context for democracy and the process of democratization in Ethiopia is very important. Furthermore, Mr. Chairman, it is important to underline the facts about democracy as a universal principle of governance, it is a moral imperative, a social process, and particular kind of political system, which can apply to all societies including Ethiopia[7]. I would submit to you that internal weak leadership and narrow-minded dictatorship have derailed democratic process in Ethiopia.

Mr. Chairman, Ethiopia is a country with great ethnic, linguistic diversity as well as religious diversity. Ethiopians need to be very careful not fall into the trap of narrowly defined nation-building ideologies; which many African countries pursued at the dawn of independence to their determent. These ideologies are summarized in Womb’s formula, as cited by Shivji, “One people, one nation, one political party and one supreme leader” (Shivji, 2000:30)[8].

Mr. Chairman, the United States and the international community can facilitate a dialogue among the different Ethnic groups in Ethiopian; a dialogue I hope would lead to conflict resolution processes and substantive gender equity; and help the Ethiopian masses to heal after the abuses of successive regimes

I thank you for giving me this opportunity to speak regarding this life and death issue and I thank you on behalf of the many whose lives you your action will touch. I look forward to your questions and I hope I can shed additional light on this issue.

Ethiopia - Testimony of Saman Zarifi Human Rights Watch

October 2nd, 2007


Testimony of Saman Zarifi, Human Rights Watch’s Washington Advocate

On October 3, 2007,

before The House Committee on Foreign Affairs, Subcommittee on Africa and Global Health

“The Human Rights and Humanitarian Situation in the Horn of Africa: The Cases of Somalia and the Ogaden Region of Ethiopia”

Thank you Mr. Chairman, members of the committee, for providing Human Rights Watch this opportunity to voice our concerns about the dire, and deteriorating, human rights and humanitarian situation in the Horn of Africa, and particularly in regard to Somalia and the Somali region of Ethiopia.

We are at a critical moment for the Horn of Africa and its people. Over the past year we have seen an already volatile region become even more violent and unstable, with hundreds of thousands of civilians suffering massive crimes. There has been little or no response from important voices in the international community, including the United States.

These crimes are not only a serious issue from a human rights perspective, they need to be understood as part of a deepening political and security crisis across the Horn of Africa. The situation in the Horn today is complex, but what is clear is that if we are to avert a deepening regional crisis we must see an urgent and radical change of policy by some of the key regional actors—and their international supporters—in order to address the current dynamic of increasing violence, instability, and human suffering.

Human Rights Watch has been closely monitoring events in Somalia and Ethiopia, and recently published an in-depth investigation of crimes committed in Mogadishu, a city where hundreds have died and up to 400,000 people were displaced from the past six months of intense violence. Our research on the Ogaden area of Somali region, some of it as recent as this week, has uncovered a civilian population under siege and nearly driven to starvation by the various parties to the conflict.

Mr. Chairman, there are no clean hands among the hostile parties in these two conflicts. Human Rights Watch has documented serious abuses of civilians in the Ogaden, including summary executions, by the forces of the rebel Ogaden National Liberation Front. We have published an in-depth investigation that describes a variety of crimes by insurgent groups in Mogadishu, including indiscriminate attacks and killings of civilians. We have also raised concerns about abuses by the forces of the Somali Transitional Federal Government, including repeated looting and obstruction of humanitarian assistance. We are enormously concerned by the Eritrean government’s extreme and systematic repression of its citizens.

However today Human Rights Watch would like to focus on the conduct of the Ethiopian military, not only because the Ethiopian government’s military forces have systematically committed atrocities and violated the basic laws of war, but because Ethiopia is a key ally and partner of the United States in the Horn of Africa.

The crimes committed by Ethiopian forces in the Ogaden and in Somalia are not unique, on the contrary they add to a mounting toll of abuses that have made Ethiopian security forces among the most abusive on the continent. Human Rights Watch has previously documented crimes against humanity by Ethiopian military forces in Gambella, and serious abuses in Oromia, Addis Ababa and other parts of Ethiopia.

We recognize that Ethiopia has legitimate and serious domestic and regional security concerns, and that all of the warring parties share responsibility for atrocities against civilians. Nevertheless, nothing justifies the severe violations we are witnessing today in the Ogaden, or the conduct of Ethiopian forces and their allies in Mogadishu.

In the Ogaden, we have documented massive crimes by the Ethiopian army, including civilians targeted intentionally; villages burned to the ground as part of a campaign of collective punishment; public executions meant to terrify onlooking villagers; rampant sexual violence used as a tool of warfare; thousands of arbitrary arrests and widespread and sometimes deadly torture and beatings in military custody; a humanitarian and trade blockade on the entire conflict area; and hundreds of thousands of people forced away from their homes and driven to hunger and malnutrition.

The Ogaden is not Darfur. But the situation in Ogaden follows a frighteningly familiar pattern: a brutal counter insurgency operation with ethnic overtones in which government forces deliberately attacks civilians and displace large populations, coupled with severe restrictions on humanitarian assistance.

Unlike in Darfur, however, the state that is perpetrating abuses against its people in Ogaden is a key US ally and recipient of seemingly unquestioning US military, political, and financial support. Furthermore the crisis in Ogaden is linked to a U.S.-supported military intervention by Ethiopia in Somalia that has been justified in terms of counter terrorism. Because the United States has until now supported Ethiopia so closely, there is a widespread and growing sentiment in the region that the United States also shares some of the blame for the Ethiopian military’s abusive conduct. The increasing resentment produced by the silence over these atrocities risks radicalizing parts of the large Muslim population in the region and undermining the United States’ stated goal of combating militant Islamist groups in the region. It is imperative for the United States to use its influence in the region to end these abuses and ensure the well-being of civilians caught in these conflicts.

A crucial first step would be for the U.S. government to publicly acknowledge the depth of the suffering, especially in the Somali region of Ethiopia—and then, immediately, take concrete steps to alleviate that misery. Doing so would comply with the United States’ obligations under international law. It would also be the right thing to do, and, I’m sure of some interest to you, it would probably serve the national interest of the United States much better than the Administration’s current policy. We hope this hearing will help achieve those results.

The Conflict in the Somali Region of Ethiopia

In June, the Ethiopian government (the Ethiopian National Defense Forces, or ENDF) launched a major military campaign in the Ogaden, part of Ethiopia’s Somali Region, a sparsely populated and remote area on Ethiopia's border with Somalia. There are 4 million Ethiopians of Somali ethnicity living in the Somali Regional State, one of the poorest in Ethiopia. The area known as the Ogaden, where the majority Ogaden clan reside, is at the heart of this area. An estimated 1.8 million live in the five zones where current military operations are ongoing.

The counter insurgency operation was aimed at eliminating the Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF), a rebel group that has been fighting for years for self-determination. The ongoing Ethiopian military campaign was triggered by several recent high-profile ONLF attacks in the region, including the April attack on an oil installation operated by Chinese personnel at Obole and attacks in May in Dhagahbur and Jigjiga, the regional capital, which nearly killed the Regional State President, Abdullahi Hassan. Although the Ethiopian government has frequently called for the ONLF to be placed on terrorism lists, the ONLF is widely viewed as a secular nationalist group; indeed, prior to Ethiopia’s demand that US forces withdraw from the Ogaden, the US military apparently cooperated with the ONLF in efforts to monitor the region for alleged terrorist activity.

The current campaign in Somali region is also linked to Ethiopian military operations in south-central Somalia. Ethiopia has justified military action in Somalia on the grounds that it was removing a “terrorist threat,” and that militant groups in Somalia were connected to the rebellion in Ogaden. One motive for Ethiopia’s ouster of the Union of Islamic Courts in December 2006 may have been to cut what the Ethiopian government believed to be links between the ONLF, the ruling Islamic Courts and Eritrea, including arms and logistical supply lines from Eritrea and Somalia to the ONLF in Ethiopia’s eastern region. While Ethiopia may have legitimate security concerns about Eritrea’s support to Ethiopian insurgency groups, the rhetoric of counter terrorism is increasingly being used in the region to camouflage domestic or regional political and military agendas.

Abuses by Ethiopian Forces in Ethiopia’s Somali Region

In July, Human Rights Watch warned of serious violations occurring in the Somali region of Ethiopia. Predictably, the government of Ethiopia denied our findings. On September 7, the US Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs, Jendayi Frazer, also dismissed our findings of abuse by the ENDF as “unsubstantiated.”

Testimony Statements to United States House Committee on Foreign Affairs

Mr. Chairman, notwithstanding these statements, our ongoing investigation has only deepened our concern. Our investigators on the ground have been able to substantiate many killings by the Ethiopian forces; the burning of villages; widespread sexual violence; the arbitrary detention and torture of thousands in military custody; denial of access to wells; confiscation of livestock and hostage-taking to compel families to turn in family members suspected of ONLF involvement.. This is the situation we are finding:

In less than three months, Ethiopia's military campaign has triggered a looming humanitarian crisis.

Human Rights Watch has learned that hundreds of civilians have been killed in what appears to be a deliberate effort to mete out collective punishment against a civilian population suspected of sympathizing with the rebels. Overall, the killings probably number in the hundreds since the beginning of 2007, with a sharp escalation following the attack on the Chinese oil installation—and they continue to date. Many of the killings have been demonstration killings: the Ethiopian army gathers all of the local population, and then selects a few people suspected of having ties to the ONLF, and then kill them in front of the crowd by either shooting or strangling them.

Sexual and gender-based violence is widespread, and seems to be openly countenanced by the ENDF. We have spoken to several rape victims who were gang-raped to the point of unconsciousness by Ethiopian soldiers who took them from their homes and raped them either at their army bases --suggesting that the army allows such abuses--or in the bush. Some of the girls were killed after the rapes, and a few suffered such serious injuries and infections that they later died.

Ethiopian troops are destroying villages and property, confiscating livestock and forcing civilians to relocate to urban centers, in an apparent attempt to separate the civilian population from the ONLF rebels operating in remote rural areas. Villagers are threatened if they refuse to relocate.

Eyewitnesses told Human Rights Watch that Ethiopian troops burned or ordered civilians to vacate at least a dozen villages around the towns of Dhagahbur, Qabridahare and Wardheer. In Wardheer zone, many of the residents of villages located within a 100-kilometer radius of Wardheer town were forced to relocate to other towns because of attacks on their villages, orders from the Ethiopian military or – less frequently – fighting between the Ethiopian army and the ONLF.

Witnesses described Ethiopian troops burning homes and property, including the recent harvest and other food stocks intended for the civilian population, confiscating livestock, killing herders in unauthorized areas, and, in a few cases, firing upon and killing fleeing civilians. Ethiopian security forces are also responsible for arbitrary detentions and torture of thousands, detaining students, shopkeepers, and relatives of suspected ONLF members.

Ethiopian troops have confiscated or destroyed livestock, thus jeopardizing the basic livelihood of the region’s large pastoralist population. A partial trade blockade has been imposed on the region leading to serious food shortages. Almost all commercial traffic from Somaliland and out of Ogaden, the main commercial route, has been prohibited, making it virtually impossible for foodstuffs to reach the area; traffic between village and towns has been severely restricted and has become very dangerous; nomadic livestock herders have been prohibited from freely grazing their camels and other livestock and are often killed if encountered by the army; even access to water holes has been restricted or prohibited. The main purpose of these restrictions seems to be an attempt to prevent any foodstuffs from reaching the ONLF, but the restrictions are so severe that they may also be trying to force people to leave their homes.

Whatever the military strategy behind them, these abuses violate the laws of war.

International humanitarian law, or the laws of war, requires that all warring parties distinguish between military and civilians, protect civilians and their property and take all feasible steps to minimize the harm of military operations on civilians. Starvation of the civilian population as a method of warfare is also a violation of international law.

Collective punishments – or the punishment of one or more individuals for the acts of others – is also prohibited by international humanitarian law. Hostage taking, which is the holding or use of a person to compel a third party to act or refrain from acting, is also prohibited. Detaining the family member of a combatant to compel the combatant to surrender would thus be unlawful.

While the Ogaden is not Darfur yet, it is probably only a few months away from sliding over the edge into a full-blown humanitarian crisis of massive proportions. In a statement released just days ago, the United Nations’ Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs warned that “Humanitarian conditions within the conflict areas have deteriorated substantially over the past several months. The nutritional status of the population will rapidly worsen within two or three months if only limited quantities of commercial food continue to be available.”

As you know, the Ethiopian government expelled from the Ogaden the International Committee of the Red Cross, a rare neutral observer of the crisis left in the region. Only a few independent humanitarian organizations remain on the ground trying, with great difficulty and in the face of continuing government obstruction, to access civilians in desperate need of relief.

If we are to avert this looming humanitarian crisis, the US should use all the means at its disposal to press the Ethiopian government to immediately end its abuses, including its commercial blockade of the Ogaden and allow independent humanitarian relief to reach vulnerable civilians.

The Conflict in Somalia

Mr. Chairman, there is also great cause for concern about the situation in southern and central Somalia, and in particular Mogadishu. The situation for civilians in Mogadishu has grown intolerable. In December 2006, Ethiopian forces with US support ousted the coalition of Islamic Courts from Mogadishu and other areas of south-central Somalia in a lightning offensive. Ethiopia’s intervention in Somalia is closely linked to regional security concerns, including a proxy war with Eritrea and the support given to the ONLF and other Ethiopian rebel movements by groups in Somalia. The armed conflict in Mogadishu has steadily escalated since the Ethiopian-backed Somali Transitional Federal Government (TFG) established itself in Mogadishu in January 2007.

Since January 2007, a coalition of insurgent groups, including the extremist Al-Shabaab militia, has waged almost daily attacks on Ethiopian and TFG forces, including several suicide attacks, and killed TFG civilian officials. The insurgency has repeatedly launched mortar attacks from densely populated neighborhoods of Mogadishu, jeopardizing civilian security, in violation of the laws of war.

In response, Ethiopian forces launched two major offensives on large areas of Mogadishu in March and April. Ethiopian troops indiscriminately bombarded insurgent strongholds with barrages of “Katyusha” rockets, mortars and artillery, making no apparent effort to distinguish between civilians and insurgent targets. While the precise number of civilian casualties is not yet known, estimates range from 400 to more than 1,300 deaths resulting from both rounds of fighting. Up to four hundred thousand people fled the city by May, and thousands more left in subsequent months due to almost daily incidents of attacks and clashes by the warring parties. International response to these events has been muted at best.

Violations by the insurgency, a loose coalition of Somali armed groups, include: the indiscriminate firing of mortar rounds into civilian areas; deployment of forces in densely populated neighborhoods; targeted killings of civilian officials of the transitional Somali government; and summary executions and mutilation of the bodies of captured combatants.

Ethiopian forces backing the Somali transitional government violated the laws of war by widely and indiscriminately bombarding highly populated areas of Mogadishu with rockets, mortars and artillery. Its troops on several occasions specifically targeted hospitals and looted them of desperately needed medical equipment. Human Rights Watch also documented cases of Ethiopian forces deliberately shooting and summarily executing civilians.

Somali transitional government forces played a secondary role to the Ethiopian military, but failed to provide effective warnings to civilians in combat zones, looted property, impeded relief efforts for displaced people, and mistreated dozens of people detained in mass arrests.

Tens of thousands of displaced people are living in desperate circumstances without sufficient food, water, shelter or medical supplies, easy prey to extortion and abuse by the warring parties.

Ethiopian and Somali Transitional Government claims that the armed opposition was defeated in April have been undermined in subsequent months by the almost daily incidents of violence, many of which do untold damage to civilians.

The Counterproductive Role of the United States

The United States has significant leverage over Ethiopia in the form of foreign aid and political influence. It is viewed regionally as the Ethiopian government’s main backer and implicitly—if not directly—responsible for the Ethiopian government’s conduct. Therefore, US support for Ethiopia's abusive counter insurgency efforts in the Horn of Africa threatens to make the United States complicit in continuing laws of war violations by the Ethiopian government.

From a practical and policy point of view, which may be of significant interest to this Committee and the US Congress, the US support for Ethiopia in its conflicts in the Somali Region and inside Somalia is ineffective and counterproductive. It is now clearly understood that a counterinsurgency cannot be won from the barrel of a gun alone.

The current US-backed Ethiopian approach will lead to a mountain of civilian deaths and a litany of abuses. The policy risks precipitating exactly the sort of human-rights disaster in Somalia as the one rightly condemned in Darfur. This approach will only strengthen the hand of the extremist minority in Somalia. The ENDF’s tactics could lead to the escalation and spread of the conflicts of the region and may well help to radicalize the region’s large and young Muslim population.

The Administration should rethink a policy which is encouraging serious abuses, and come up with one which prioritizes the protection of civilians. Washington should start by issuing a clear call to all sides in these conflicts, including Ethiopia, to observe and uphold the rules of war and human-rights standards.

Recommendations:

The onset of the rainy season in late September is likely to temporarily suspend military operations. That could provide a reprieve during which diplomatic efforts might be promising. The Administration should abandon its current policy of what amounts to “silent diplomacy” on human rights issues, which has yielded no tangible dividends. Instead the Administration should:

· Conduct a full policy review on the Horn of Africa.

· Press for full, independent investigations of human rights abuses in Ethiopia’s Somali region and violations of the laws of war in Mogadishu and other parts of Somalia.

· Urge the Ethiopian government to immediately facilitate full unimpeded access of international humanitarian organizations to civilians in need of assistance in Somali region.

· Ensure that the provisions of the “Leahy Law” are fully adhered to, by verifying that no U.S. military assistance to Ethiopia is benefiting military units that violate human rights with impunity, in particular those units operating in the Ogaden and in Somalia.

· Publicly call for Ethiopia to support independent investigations into and accountability for ongoing human rights abuses committed by the Ethiopian military in Somali region and Mogadishu, as well as past abuses in Gambella.

· Cease cooperating with the Ethiopian government in secret renditions of people fleeing the conflict in Somalia and call on the Ethiopian government to acknowledge the real number of detainees and permit access to these individuals by independent international monitors. No U.S. message about human rights abuses in Ethiopia will be taken seriously so long as the Administration is also asking Ethiopia to cooperate in the illegal detention and abusive interrogation of terrorism suspects.

· The United States should also take the lead in asking the Security Council for a permanent mechanism at the Security Council to gather information and ensure accountability for sexual violence. At the moment, the Security Council, for example, systematically gathers information about children in armed conflict, but not about sexual violence committed against children, as well as against adult women.

Ethiopia and the State of Democracy Hearing House has approved H.R. 2003

October 2nd, 2007
Donald Payne

US House of Representatives Passes Ethiopia Human Rights Bill

By VOA News
02 October 2007

The U.S. House of Representatives has approved legislation supporting democracy and human rights in Ethiopia.

Lawmakers passed the bill Tuesday on a voice vote.

The measure authorizes $20 million in each of the next two years to promote human rights, democracy and economic development in Ethiopia.

The legislation would also restrict U.S. security assistance and other aid to Ethiopia because of concerns about the country's human rights record.

The Bush administration would still be allowed to provide funds for joint counter-terrorism operations and Ethiopia's participation in peacekeeping missions.

To become law, the bill must win approval from the Senate and be signed by President Bush.

The White House has indicated it opposes the bill despite a provision that would give the president authority to ignore the restrictions on security assistance in the interests of U.S. national security.

12:58 P.M. -
Mr. Payne moved to suspend the rules and pass the bill, as amended.

H.R. 2003:
to encourage and facilitate the consolidation of peace and security, respect for human rights, democracy, and economic freedom in Ethiopia

Motion to reconsider laid on the table Agreed to without objection.

On motion to suspend the rules and pass the bill, as amended Agreed to by voice vote.

12:46 P.M. -
DEBATE - The House proceeded with forty minutes of debate on H.R. 2003.

Considered under suspension of the rules.

Mr. Payne moved to suspend the rules and pass the bill, as amended.

Source: United States Congress

Ethiopia and the State of Democracy: Effects on Human Rights and Humanitarian Conditions in the Ogaden and Somalia

Testimony Statements to United States House Committee on Foreign Affairs

See Below for Titles and Profiles

Subcommittee on Africa and Global Health
Donald M. Payne (D-NJ), Chairman

You are respectfully requested to attend the following OPEN hearing of the Subcommittee on Africa and Global Health, to be held in Room 2172 of the Rayburn House Office Building .

Date: Tuesday, October 02, 2007
Time: 10:00 AM

Subject:
***Ethiopia and the State of Democracy: Effects on Human Rights and Humanitarian Conditions in the Ogaden and Somalia

witnesses:

Panel I

The Honorable Jendayi Frazer
Assistant Secretary
Bureau of African Affairs
U.S. Department of State

Panel II

Saman Zia-Zarifi, Esq.
Washington Advocate
Human Rights Watch

Ms. Fowsia Abdulkadir
Founding Member
Ogaden Human Rights Committee of Canada

Ms. Bertukan Mideksa
Vice Chair
Coalition for Unity and Democracy, Ethiopia

Berhanu Nega, Ph.D.
Former Political Prisoner and Citizen of Ethiopia

J. Peter Pham, Ph.D.
Director
Nelson Institute for International & Public Affairs
James Madison University

Ethiopia - Birtukan Mideksa testimony to U.S. House Subcommittee

October 2nd, 2007
File Photo Birtukan Mideksa

Ethiopia - Birtukan Mideksa testimony to U.S. House Subcommittee
Full text of the Prepared Statement of Birtukan Mideksa,

First Vice Chair, Coalition for Democracy and Unity Party, Ethiopia

US House of Representatives Subcommittee on Africa and Global Health

October 2, 2007

INTRODUCTION

Chairman Payne, Distinguished Members of the House Africa Subcommittee, and Committee Staff:

It is a distinct honor and privilege for me to be invited to address you here today on the subject of democracy, the rule of law and human rights in Ethiopia.

When I sat in prison for nearly 20 months, until my release in late July, 2007, with many other colleagues accused of unspeakable political crimes, I had no idea that I would be invited to appear in the halls of the Congress of the United States and share my views with American lawmakers. Thank you Mr. Chairman for opening the doors to this great House of the American people, and for inviting me and my colleague, Dr. Berhanu Nega, Mayor-elect of Addis Ababa, to participate in these proceedings.

Mr. Chairman: I want to take this special opportunity to thank you and this subcommittee for standing with me and my fellow political prisoners in our darkest hours in Kality prison. We remember vividly, Mr. Chairman, when you traveled all the way to visit us in Kality prison in 2006. Your words comforted us then, as they did throughout our imprisonment when you called unrelentingly for our immediate and unconditional release. I thank you very much!

Mr. Chairman: You and this distinguished Committee have defended and promoted democracy, freedom and human rights in Ethiopia since the last parliamentary elections in May, 2005. Your recent actions in the consideration of H.R 2003 have demonstrated to the American and Ethiopian people, and indeed the world, that democracy and human rights are of paramount importance in the relations between our two countries. I thank you all deeply for your efforts to promote and sustain democracy, freedom and accountability in Ethiopia.

Mr. Chairman: I am currently Vice Chairperson of the Coalition for Unity and Democracy Party (CUDP) in Ethiopia. Prior to my election to this position, I served as a Judge on the Federal First Instance Court. I served in that capacity for about seven years, before I resigned. I spent nearly 20 months in prison on various alleged state crimes and was released with 38 of my colleagues on July 20, 2007.

Mr. Chairman: In my opening statement, I will briefly summarize my testimony. I respectfully request the Chairman to include my prepared statement in the official record of these proceedings.

In my testimony today, I would like to provide the Committee with a brief overview of the state of democracy in Ethiopia since the May, 2005 parliamentary elections and outline some ideas that could be helpful in the establishment of democracy and protection of human rights.

The Pre-Election Period in Ethiopia, 2005

To understand the current situation and meaningfully discuss future course of actions it is necessary to consider the birth of democracy in Ethiopia in 2005. As you know very well, the period immediately preceding the May, 2005 elections was an extraordinary time in Ethiopia’s history[1]. For the first time in our history, the seeds of democracy were planted throughout our land, and a time of great hope and expectation for ordinary citizens.

The preparations for the 2005 parliamentary elections were unprecedented in the country’s history. For the first time, genuine political competition by the various political parties in the electoral process was allowed. There was fair access to publicly-controlled media outlets, and the level of public participation and political debate on radio and television between opposition and government leaders and supporters provided a solid background for an open and genuine exchange of views on the important issues affecting Ethiopian society.

Public interest and participation in the electoral process was massive. The European Union Observer team estimated voter registration at no less than 85% of all eligible population, based on voter lists containing 25,605,851 names of registered persons in 2005. The total number of candidates for the House of Peoples’ Representatives was 1,847. a total of 3,762 candidates ran for Regional Councils. The total number of women candidates to the House of Peoples’ Representatives was 253, and 700 in the Regional Councils.

The pre-election process while much more open than any past election it fell short of accepted norms of free and fair election. To its credit the government allowed limited media access, established a Joint Political Party Forum at national and constituency levels, regular consultations with electoral authorities to resolve problems in campaign and election administration, special elections-related training programs for the police and the judiciary, pledges of non-violence between the ruling and opposition parties for election day and invitation of international election observers by the Government of Ethiopia, among others.

As election day approached the government started to use its power to influence the outcome of the election, The problems in the pre-election period also included administrative and bureaucratic problems, wide spread interference by local authorities in the conduct of public gatherings and opposition party rallies, threats and intimidations by some local public officials. In some instances, force was used to disrupt public gatherings and detain opposition supporters throughout the country. There was concern among opposition leaders that the national elections board lacked independence and impartiality because of the dominance of the ruling party in the operation and administration of that board. In the days preceding the elections, there was a spike in negative campaigns on radio and television using images and messages designed to intimidate by associating the genocide in Rwanda with opposition politics.

Polling Day, May 15, 2005

As documented by various international organizations, there was a very high voter turnout on May 15, 2007, election day. There were international elections observers as well as political party observers who attended the polling stations to ensure the integrity of the outcome of the elections.

Election day was not entirely without its problems. There were significant instances of expulsion and harassment of poll workers and inadequate supply of polling materials. However, the incidents of intimidation, multiple voting, ballot stuffing, and disregard for secret vote was limited.

Post Election Period

The early elections results showed considerable gains for opposition candidates. Opposition parliamentary and municipal candidates swept the seats in the capital, Addis Ababa. Opposition candidates had posted substantial gains in most of the reporting constituencies, and all objective indications were that the winning margins for opposition candidates would expand as more reports came in.

Even though the Board was required to announce the official results on June 8, that requirement was superseded when Prime Minister Meles Zenawi declared a state of emergency, outlawed any public gathering, assumed direct command of the security forces, and replaced the capital city police with federal police and special forces drawn from elite army units were deployed. The Elections Board simultaneously ordered the vote tallying process to stop, and on May 27, the Board released its determination that the ruling party, the Ethiopian Peoples Revolutionary Democratic Front had won 209 seats, and affiliated parties 12 more. The report indicated the opposition parties had won 142 seats. Our party filed complaints in 139 constituencies, the UEDF lodged 89 complaints, while the EPRDF raised concerns over irregularities in more than 50 seats.

The ruling party, faced with the prospect of being swept out of office, and before the votes were fully counted, announced on May 16 that it had won more than 300 seats. It

conceded that opposition parties had won the capital, but claimed victory in the national parliamentary elections. Our party, the CUD and the United Ethiopian Democratic Forces, claimed that we had won 185 of the approximately 200 seats for which the National Elections Board had released preliminary results.

By early June, 2005, it was unofficially reported that the ruling party had won the parliamentary elections. This led to spontaneous public protests and demonstrations throughout the country alleging election fraud. Throughout June and subsequent months, such protests continued. The government undertook a program of massive arrests and incarceration of protesters and political opponents. In an attempt to suppress protests, hundred of demonstrators were shot and killed or severely wounded. Our party strongly protested the use of deadly force against unarmed protesters.

Report of the Official Inquiry Commission
On October 18, 2006, the report of a 10-member public inquiry into election-related unrests was released to the Associated Press. The Commission concluded that a total of 193 people were killed and 763 were injured, a number much higher than that was reported by the Ethiopian government. The vice chairman of the Commission, Judge Wolde-Michael Meshesha, told AP that "this was a massacre ... these demonstrators were unarmed yet the majority died from shots to the head." He added that the government attempted to pressure and intimidate members of the inquiry after learning about its controversial finding.

As you will recall, both the Chairman and Vice Chairman of the Commission have briefed this Congress in November, 2006.[2] The chief of the European Union Election Observer Team, Ana Gomes, commenting on the Commission’s report stated that the report "only confirms what we have said in our report on the elections," and "that indeed there were massive human rights violations."

Post Election Efforts by the CUDP to Create National Political Reconciliation

In light of the unstable political situation in the country following the May, 2005 elections, the CUDP made 8 specific proposals to the government as conditions for it to join parliament. These proposals addressed a number of critical institutional and rights issues, including: restructuring of the Election Board to insure its independent and impartial operation, equal accessibility of public media to all political parties, institutional independence for the judiciary and non-interference in judicial matters by political authorities, establishment of an investigative committee to look into killings of unarmed protesters by government security forces, de-politicization and professionalizing of the police and armed forces, rescission of recently introduced parliamentary procedures that limit the participation of opposition parliamentarians and governance of the City of Addis Ababa, release of all political prisoners and reopening of opposition party offices and establishment of an independent commission, that is acceptable to all parties, to follow up on the various proposals.



Government’s Response to CUDP Proposals

In November 1, 2005, the government responded to the CUDP proposals by arresting, jailing and charging numerous opposition party leaders including myself, human rights advocates, journalists and civic society leaders for various state crimes. For nearly, 20 months these leaders were jailed in Kality prison while their case was being heard. The international press characterized the court as “Kangaroo Court”.

Our Release

As you well know, there were numerous attempts by various groups to secure our release from prison. Discussions with a group of elders to find a common ground between the government and the imprisoned CUDP leaders for negotiation on the future of democracy in our country did not bear fruit because of the belligerence of the government and the ruling party. While in prison and throughout these discussions with the elders, CUDP leaders showed their unflinching commitment to finding a peaceful and negotiated settlement to the political crisis in our country. All our calls for peaceful dialogue have, unfortunately, fallen on deaf ears. Even the most basic agreement we reached with the elders to secure our release was nullified and used by the government for mind numbing propaganda to isolate CUDP from the public and to instill fear in the public so that it will refrain from supporting the party. In so doing, the government once again showed its total preoccupation in gaining temporary political advantage rather than look at the long term interest of peace, democracy and national reconciliation. Our release after 21 months, unfortunately, failed to bring us any closer to a more serious dialogue for national reconciliation.

Restoring Democracy in Ethiopia

Mr. Chairman: Democracy can and must be restored in Ethiopia.

In 2005, we expected the results of the national parliamentary elections as strong foundation for building a temple of democracy in Ethiopia. Our hopes were dashed, and we found ourselves trapped in a burning house of tyranny.

There is no democracy in Ethiopia today, despite empty claims of “recent bold democratic initiatives taken by our government, the immense progress in creating a competitive, pluralistic system of government and a more open civil society.” The fact of the matter is that there is neither pluralism nor commitment to democratic principles and practices in Ethiopia.

The government’s claim of political pluralism has not gone beyond the stage of political sloganeering. If pluralism involves widespread participation and a greater feeling of commitment from society members, it does not exist today in Ethiopia. If pluralism means increased and diverse participation in the political decision making process and give everyone a stake in the outcome, it does not exist in Ethiopia. If pluralism means a process where every voice is heard, conflict is resolved by dialogue and compromise and an atmosphere of tolerance, understanding and respect is nurtured, it does not exists in Ethiopia today.

Democracy in Ethiopia today must not only reflect the values of pluralism, it must also be participatory, transparent and accountable, equitable and based on the rule of law. The public and its representatives must participate effectively in decision-making at the institutional levels. The government must be accountable to the people, and its administration and governance must be transparent. It must function on the basis of fair rules and procedures applied equitably throughout society minimizing arbitrariness of government actions.

The United States and other countries can help us transition into a democratic society by helping us democratic institutions. There are some who talk about democratic development by merely talking about the ritual of elections that are neither free nor fair. It is far more important to have a democracy built on free civic institutions that are driven by an independent judiciary, vigorous political parties, uncensored media, free trade unions, universities, civic society organizations and transparent and multi-party electoral commissions.

We are all aware that democratization of Ethiopia will not be accomplished overnight. But we must start the process in earnest now. There are a number of pillars of support for democratization in Ethiopia.

Establishment of An Independent Judiciary

For the past two years, I and my colleagues were on the opposite side of the bench. We were prosecuted for various state crimes including treason, outrage against the constitution, inciting, organizing or leading armed rebellion, obstruction of the exercise of constitutional powers, impairing the defensive power of the state, and attempted genocide. Some of these offense are capital crimes.

Our prosecution occurred in a court system that has little institutional independence and subject to political influence and manipulation. It is a judiciary that is used as a tool of political harassment, intimidation and persecution. Judges are selected not for professionalism or legal knowledge but for their loyalty to the government.

It is universally accepted that an independent and professional judiciary is a key element in the institutionalization of the rule of law, the promotion and protection of human rights and even in implementing social and economic reform in society. The Charter of the United Nations declares the determination “to establish conditions under which justice and respect for the obligation arising from treaties and other sources of international law can be maintained” (Article 1 (3)) and the aim to promote “universal respect for, and observance of, human rights and fundamental freedoms for all without distinction as to race, sex, language, or religion” (Articles 1 (3), 55 (c)).

Testimony Statements to United States House Committee on Foreign Affairs

The 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights(4) provides for an independent judiciary in Article 10: “Everyone is entitled in full equality to a fair and public hearing by an independent and impartial tribunal, in the determination of his rights and obligations and of any criminal charge against him.” Article 14 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, explicitly states that “all persons shall be equal before the courts and tribunals. In the determination of any criminal charge against him, or of his rights and obligations in a suit at law, everyone shall be entitled to a fair and public hearing by a competent, independent and impartial tribunal established by law.” There are many other principles that support an independent judiciary.

Ethiopia, of course, accepts these principles and obligations. In fact, judicial independence is guaranteed by Article 78 of the Ethiopian Constitution. Art. 13 of the Ethiopian constitution states: “The fundamental rights and freedoms enumerated in this Chapter shall be interpreted in a manner consistent with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, international human rights covenants and conventions ratified by Ethiopia.” And the constitutional “human rights” and “democratic rights” enumerated in Arts. 14 – 43 depend on the vitality and independence of the judiciary for their preservation and protection.

The fact of the matter is that there is no independent judiciary in Ethiopia today; at best there is a court system that is fully dependent on the political authorities for its own institutional existence.

Although judges are supposed to be free of political party politics, many are under the control of the party in power, if not outright members. The judiciary is not perceived as an independent and impartial body accessible by the public to seek justice and protect their legitimate rights. With the judiciary under the effective control of the executive, as it is today, there is little confidence in its institutional powers or the legitimacy of its rulings; and very little public expectation that the judiciary can be the guarantor of individual rights protected by the constitution or the law. As a result, the Ethiopian judiciary has failed to be the guardian of the Constitution and a protector of human rights.

Judicial reform in Ethiopia must begin with the realization that judges must be insulated from external pressure in their duties and must decide matters before them impartially, on the basis of facts and in accordance with the law, without any restrictions, improper influences, inducements, pressures, threats, direct or indirect, from any quarter or for any reasons. This principle must be accepted by the political authorities as well as the public.

The principal danger to judicial independence comes from parallel institutional forces in the form of executive interference and manipulation and legislative meddling in judicial matters. Impartiality requires that in the discharge of his judicial duty a judge is answerable to the law and his conscience only.

There are various ways judicial independence could be achieved. Institutional and constitutional reforms have to be implemented to ensure the judiciary’s capacity to deal with all matters of a judicial nature. The judiciary should have the exclusive authority to decide whether a matter submitted to it is under its jurisdiction. The final decisions of the judiciary must not be subject to revision of any the legislative or executive powers.

These proposals for reforms are not anything new. In fact, in Arts. 79-84 of the Constitution, all of them are listed one by one.

The Ethiopian judiciary has serious structural problems. As has been said, “A competent and independent judiciary can make a bad law become a good law, while an incompetent and dependent judiciary can make a good law become a bad one.” In Ethiopia, the judiciary is adversely affected by many factors that undermine its performance. It lacks adequate funds for proper performance, public confidence in its institutional process, well-qualified and interested lawyers in judicial service, low morale, merit based system for judicial selection. The status and compensation of judges is very low. Little attention was paid to their education and training.

Institutional guarantees are essential in establishing judicial autonomy and independence. This requires political commitments by those in the executive and legislative branches and public awareness and appreciation of the significance of an independent judiciary.

In addition to structural reforms, there must also be judicial accountability that will establish public confidence in the court system and enhance the quality of the judicial services. Such accountability can not occur unless mechanism are in place to monitor the relationships between those on the bench and those in the political branches and the need to fight judicial corruption which is always a looming threat.

If we can not have serious judicial reforms, not only will we be unable to protect the rights of citizens, but we will always live under the rule of the gun instead of the rule of law. 6

The U.S. can help us establish an independent judiciary by providing support to train judges in procedures that meet international standards. Such support could also be used to monitor political interference in the work of the judiciary..

Free Media Institutions

The Committee to Protect Journalists recently ranked Ethiopia at the top of the list of countries where there is little freedom of press. Without a free press, there can be no meaningful democracy. People in Ethiopia, particularly in the rural areas, do not have access to important political information because of exclusive government control of the media. Political parties need to have equal access to media controlled by the government so that they can effectively communicate with the people. The U.S. can help by promoting private electronic media and supporting the emergence of newspapers, weeklies and magazines, and other electronic media to help develop a well-informed informed public.



Independent Electoral Commission
The lack of impartiality and transparency of the Ethiopian National Electoral Board was one of the factors that complicated the resolution of the dispute in the 2005 elections. We need an elections board that is representative of all the political parties and enjoys the public trust. People need to have confidence that their votes are counted correctly and there is no elections fraud. The U.S is in the best position to provide technical assistance in establishing an independent electoral commission.

Improving the Human Rights Situation in Ethiopia

Mr. Chairman: You and this committee have worked tirelessly too improve the human rights situation in Ethiopia. The proposals that are currently being deliberated in this House are vital to the revitalization of human rights in Ethiopia, and in many ways reflect the policy positions of the CUDP, and many stated in our 8-point proposals.

We in the CUDP believe that all political prisoners in the country must be released and their democratic rights restored. We support democratic reforms and accountability. We favor protections for human rights and civic society organization and ensure adequate monitoring and reporting processes. We have argued for an independent judicial system with effective monitoring processes to protect judges from political interference. We are committed to bringing to justice all human rights abusers to justice. We have called for improvements in election procedures to ensure fraud free elections. We support the existence of a free press without censorship and restrictive press laws, and programs that seek to strengthen private media in Ethiopia.

We believe human rights and democratic institutions building go hand in hand. We fully support training programs that enhance democratic participation by the people, and enable political parties to do a better job in organization building and campaign management, lawmakers do a better job of legislative crafting, civil society groups become effective facilitators in the democratic process and professionalizing of the National Election Board to help it become fair and balanced. We support limiting the use of U.S. security assistance to peacekeeping and counter-terrorism and not against the civilian population.

HUMAN RIGHTS

Mr. Chairman: I find it somewhat difficult to tell you and this Committee about human rights abuses and remedial actions to improve the human rights condition there. You have spent over two years studying the human rights situation in Ethiopia. You have come to Ethiopia time and again to take a first hand look, and to talk to political leaders in the government and the opposition, human rights advocates and civic society leaders and ordinary people. You have reviewed the reports and analysis of the numerous international human rights organizations on human rights conditions in Ethiopia. In my view, there are few individuals or institutions more familiar with the human rights situation in Ethiopia today than the Chair and members of this Committee.

All I can say today is highlight the incontrovertible facts about human rights in Ethiopia. It is well known that the current regime has sought to put up a façade of commitment to human and democratic rights. But its practices contravene all of its obligations under the Ethiopian constitution and the human rights conventions that bind Ethiopia.

The Ethiopian constitution under Art. 14 enumerates all of the “human rights” enjoyed by Ethiopian citizens. Arts. 14-28 enumerate these rights and include basic protections and guarantees of due process. Art. 13, sec. 2 states “The fundamental rights and freedoms enumerated in this Chapter shall be interpreted in a manner consistent with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, international human rights covenants and conventions ratified by Ethiopia.”

In fact, the ruling regime observes neither its won constitution nor the requirements of well-established international human rights conventions. The government established Inquiry Commission I mentioned above has documented the widespread excessive use of force by government security forces. It has imprisoned hundreds of thousands of innocent people on suspicion of opposition or disloyalty. The human rights violations committed by this government are so numerous in their variety, and nature that it would obviously be too difficult to list them all here. But I wish to cite a few examples documented in the most recent U.S. State Department Human Rights Report for 2006[3].

The report stated that “Although the [Ethiopian] constitution and law prohibit the use of torture and mistreatment, there were numerous credible reports that security officials often beat or mistreated detainees.” Massive arrests and detentions are common, and the Report concluded, “are Although the [Ethiopian] constitution and law prohibit arbitrary arrest and detention, the government frequently did not observe these provisions in practice…. Authorities regularly detained persons without warrants and denied access to counsel and family members, particularly in outlying regions... The independent commission of inquiry… found that security officials held over 30,000 civilians incommunicado for up to three months in detention centers located in remote areas… Other estimates placed the number of such detainees at over 50,000.

There is a substantial risk of miscarriage of justice in the judiciary: “While the law provides for an independent judiciary, the judiciary remained weak and overburdened. The judiciary was perceived to be subject to significant political intervention.” Expressive freedoms are severely regulated or punished: “While the [Ethiopian] constitution and law provide for freedom of speech and press, the government restricted these rights in practice. The government continued to harass and prosecute journalists, publishers, and editors for publishing allegedly fabricated information and for other violations of the press law. The government continued to control all broadcast media. Private and government journalists routinely practiced self censorship.”

On a matter that I have intimate knowledge: “The 200 political prisoners on trial in the Addis Ababa federal system were held in two separate prisons, Kaliti and Kerchele, often under harsh conditions. In March CUD Secretary General Muluheh Eyoel was placed in solitary confinement at Kerchele prison. In August fellow CUD member Andualem Arage, along with journalists Sisay Agena and Eskinder Nega, were placed in solitary confinement.” Perhaps the word “harsh” is an understatement. Perhaps better words to describe our condition may have been “dehumanizing”, “atrocious” or “barbarous”.

Th right to assembly and association were violated just the same: “The [Ethiopian] constitution and law provide for freedom of assembly. Prior to the May 2005 national elections, there were numerous opposition rallies, including one that occurred in Addis Ababa that was attended by nearly one million persons the weekend prior to the elections. However, immediately following the elections and throughout the year, the government restricted this right in practice. From May 2005 to year's end, the government granted only one permit allowing a public demonstration to take place… Although the law provides for freedom of association and the right to engage in unrestricted peaceful political activity, the government in practice limited this right. The Ministry of Justice registers and licenses NGOs, and there was some improvement in transparency of the NGO registration process. The government continued to deny registration to the Human Rights League (see section 4).”

Conclusion

Ethiopia has many problems, including a legacy of repression, corruption and mismanagement. It will not be easy for confront the past, We must start at the right point by embracing the rule of law, human rights and democracy. The time is ripe to develop a direct approach to democratization in Ethiopia. The U.S. can help by using its considerable influence to encourage the government to negotiate with the opposition. Only through dialogue and negotiation will stability and peace be guaranteed, As a long time friend of Ethiopia, I know you will stand by Ethiopia and Ethiopians in the these difficult times.

Thank You Mr. Chairman

Ethiopia - Berhanu Nega Statement to US House Subcommittee

October 2nd, 2007
File Photo: Berhanu Nega in Arlington VA

Ethiopia - Full text of the Prepared Statement of Berhanu Nega,

Former Political Prisoner and Citizen of Ethiopia.

US House of Representatives Subcommittee on Africa and Global Health

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

INTRODUCTION

Chairman Payne, Ranking member Congressman Chris Smith, Distinguished Members of the House Africa Subcommittee, and Committee Staff:

Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is indeed a great honor and privilege to get the opportunity to appear before you to discuss issues related to the state of Democracy in Ethiopia. Since my colleague Judge Bertukan have spoken on the current state of democracy in Ethiopia in great detail, it would be more fruitful to concentrate my remarks on where we are going as a country in terms of political stability and democratization. I will largly limit my brief presentation to that issue today.

I must, however, first use this opportunity to thank the committee, particularly the chairman and the ranking member for your unflinching support for the causes of liberty and democracy in Ethiopia and for your efforts to secure our release from prison.

Mr. chairman, your personal visit to Kaliti and your words of support when we met in prison was a great source of strength for all of us during our long period of incarceration on what everyone knows are completely fabricated charges that will not deserve a minute’s worth of a judge’s time in any self respecting court. For most foreign observers of that court’s proceedings, it must have been a text book case of the waste of the human and material resources that condemned developing countries to their perpetual poverty. For me as an Ethiopian, it was a painful but familiar exercise in the humiliation not only of individual functionaries of the state, but key institutions such as the judiciary, inflicted by the incredible arrogance of dictatorships.

Your visit to Kaliti was a source of strength for us partly because of the different message that it conveyed to us about America’s position towards dictatorships in our continent. At a time when we were uncertain about US positions based on what we were hearing from the then official representative of the US government, your visit reassured us that this great nation’s commitment to democracy and human rights is still strong. We really thank you for that.

You must also allow me to use this opportunity, Mr. chairman, to thank numerous US citizens that provided us with continuous support by writing to congress on our behalf, by urging the executive branch to reflect their core values of liberty, democracy, and human rights in its dealings with our country, Ethiopia.

When I met congressman Smith in Addis Ababa after the first massacre in June, I told him the story of the continuous open surveillance by security forces that I and other CUD leaders were subjected to beginning immediately after the election. I told him the behavior of the security forces during this surveillance. I told him about the insult, the occasional spitting on our faces, the wielding of loaded guns and the direct and open threats on our lives. He first thought that this was simply an exaggerated claim by the opposition to tarnish the image of the government of Meles Zenawi. I remember him telling us that this cannot happen. No decent government could do this to a legal opposition. For him, it was simply unfathomable that a government that claims to be democratic could even think about doing such a thing in the 21st century. I asked him if he wants to see it in his own eyes right there and then by taking a five minutes drive with me. He agreed and he sent one of his aides with me for a few blocks ride. The minute we left the US embassy grounds there they were. Two cars full of plainclothes men, without any fear of being seen but tailgating me wherever I go. The rudeness of the security guys was quite amazing to my guest in the car. But for me that was the life I lived for six months till I was finally sent to prison in November. I heard later that the congressman, as promised, raised the issue with the Prime Minister and got the usual response. Complete denial. That is the arrogance of dictatorships that we have to live with on a daily basis.

Testimony Statements to United States House Committee on Foreign Affairs

The absence of the rule of law in any meaningful way in our country does not need detailed reporting to this committee. It is a well known fact and amply reported by human rights groups and the State Department, among others. The human rights abuses practiced in countries such as Ethiopia mainly because of lack of rule of law and democratization is also well documented. But, the effect of such form of government on the economy and on the fight against poverty was an issue that was given short shrift by aid agencies and international development institutions such as the World Bank and the IMF. A number of scholars (among them the Nobel Laureate Amaratya Sen) have been strongly arguing on the link between freedom and development for a long time, although largely ignored by development practitioners. As an economist and the president of the Ethiopian Economic Association, I personally have advised policy makers in Ethiopia for the need to open up and democratize society as part of the larger strategy to provide peace, stability and economic development in the country. Indeed, I was pushed to join politics largely to practice what I preached. I strongly believed then, and I passionately believe now that the only way we could have a stable and prosperous Ethiopia that could be a source of stability in the region and a stable and reliable partner to the international community in the struggle against terrorism and extremism is by democratizing the country and providing basic liberty to its citizens.

Mr. Chairman,

I believe this link between good governance (as defined by the existence of rule of law) and economic development is by now incontrovertible. Even the World Bank is grudgingly acknowledging this issue.

Last weekend's edition of the Wall Street Journal (September 29-30th, 2007) featured an article titled “The Secrets of Intangible Wealth” by Ronald Bailey based on the recent World Bank Resarch "Where is the Wealth of Nations?" Following is excerpt from the article:

Intangible wealth – The trust among people in a society, an efficient judicial system, clear property rights, and effective government boost the productivity of labor and results in higher total wealth. The world bank finds, “Human capital and the value of institutions (as measured by rule of law) constitute the largest share of wealth in virtually all countries.” ….80% of the wealth of rich countries and 60% of the wealth of poor countries is of this intangible type. Bottom line, “Rich countries are largely rich because of the skills of their populations and the quality of the institutions supporting economic activities.” According to their regression analysis, the rule of law explains 57% of countries’ intangible capital. Education accounts for 36%. The US scores 91.8 out of 100 on the rule-of-law index and Ethiopia 16.4. 30 wealthy developed countries have an average score of 90, while sub-Saharan Africa’s is a dismal 28.

The World Bank’s path breaking “Where is the Wealth of Nations?” convincingly demonstrates that the “mainsprings of development” are the rule of law and a good school system. The big question that its researchers don’t answer is: How can the people of the developing world rid themselves of the kleptocrats who loot their counties and keep them poor?”

Mr. Chairman,

That is the political question that we must answer if Ethiopia is to be prosperous, stable and at peace with itself. And that is what Ethiopia seriously lacks presently. Since the brutal repression of the democracy movement in 2005, the country is moving further and further away from the path of democracy and prosperity and towards the slippery slope of conflict and tyranny. The key political challenge we are facing as a country today is whether we are able to choose the right course. Unfortunately, this decision currently and largely rests on the government in power and all indications are that it seems determined to cling on to power by force even if it is plain to anyone with a clear mind that this could only lead to further conflict and instability and economic misery to its largely impoverished population.

More recently, Ethiopia is again in the news concerning the conflict and the horrific human rights abuse perpetrated by the government on its own people in the Ogaden region. Our heart bleeds for those civilian compatriots who are the most recent victims of this ongoing conflict in our country and we condemn this barbarity in the strongest possible terms. But, I am afraid the Ogaden is but one manifestation of the escalation of conflict in various parts of the country largely owing to the refusal of the government to address the political problems of the country in a peaceful and civilized manner.

Currently, there is some kind of low intensity guerilla warfare in 8 out of the 9 regions of the country. In Oromia and Amhara, the two largest regions of the country, human rights abuses, lack of good governance and democratization has alienated the population so much, it has become an open field for recruiting armed combatants to a variety of causes. Even in Tigray, the region supposedly most favorable for the ruling party is slowly becoming a hot bed of armed opposition to the government. The broadening armed conflict in the country is fueled by the loss of hope among the population in the government’s ability and willingness to find a peaceful, negotiated settlement to the country’s political impasse. This was made amply clear to the public in the way the government handled the problems related to the 2005 elections and its current belligerent behavior. What the government’s brutality showed was that any serious attempt at a peaceful opposition or any serious challenge to the powers of the ruling party even through the ballot box will meet stiff resistance from the government.

Unless otherwise something is done soon to reverse this frightening trend, I am afraid our country will further plunge into a more intensified conflict with wider ramifications to the region’s stability and the international community’s wider interest in combating extremism.

Mr. Chairman,

The political problem of Ethiopia is not complicated as some suggest. In my view it is really a very simple problem. The manifestations of the problem could be varied. But the source and essence of the problem is the same. Whether in Addis Ababa, Oromia, Amhara, Ogaden or Tigray, the issue is the same. It is the people’s yearning for democracy. It is the fulfillment of the aspiration of the Ethiopian people to live in freedom and liberty. It is their natural urge to be ruled by a government they elected. They have amply demonstrated that they deserve such a system in the 2005 elections. All the other issues that are specific to the various regions, important as they are, are simply a variation on the same theme. If we address these issues of democratization and the rule of law that were clearly written in the constitution of the country in practice, if we do this through a peaceful, negotiated settlement on the mechanics of how to institutionalize it in practice, we would have addressed the greater portion of the country’s development problems. I really believe the various opposition forces in Ethiopia (both armed and peaceful opposition) are matured enough at this time to work towards this end and settle their political differences through the ballot box if the polls are credible and the institutions that ensure this are in place. What remains is to put enough pressure on the government to see that this is the only future for Ethiopia and that it should be a part of this future. The government must be and can be pressured to see this light and play a constructive role in usuring this new democratic and prosperous Ethiopia.

Mr. Chairman,

Ethiopia has always been a good friend to your country and the relationship between our two countries has a long history. The Ethiopian people have a great admiration to the American people particularly for their hard work, decency and above all their love for liberty. The Ethiopian people rightly expect Americans to be with them in these difficult times and to support their legitimate struggle for liberty as they deeply believe they are with Americans in their fight against terrorism and extremism. I deeply believe that the fight against terrorism is a struggle for decency and liberty. The best and durable allies in the fight against terror are those countries and governments that deeply share the values of liberty and democracy. Dictatorships that have nothing but scorn for liberty in relation to their own people, autocratic regimes that see all alliances as temporary instruments with the sole purpose of maintaining their grip on power, governments that have no qualms about lying and cheating in so far as it proves even temporarily useful to maintain power and states that terrorize their own people, cannot be real allies to a fight against international terrorism.

A good and durable ally for your country is a stable and democratic Ethiopia. As a good friend and ally that provides broad support for the government of Ethiopia, the United States has the potential and certainly the capacity to help us get out of the current political impasse. We know most of the work to make this a reality is to be done by local political forces. Still, well timed and measured pressure from the international community will certainly help. All that is needed from the US is to work with its other allies to mount a coordinated pressure to force the Ethiopian government to negotiate in good faith with all the opposition political forces for a broad political settlement that leads towards genuine democratization in Ethiopia. I truly believe, Mr. chairman, that the opposition would play its part for such an effort if the government is serious. But such an effort is time sensitive. It has to happen quickly before the ongoing conflict passes that threshold where peaceful and negotiated settlement becomes too late in the game.

Mr. Chairman, working towards such an outcome is not only the right thing to do but also the smart thing to do. The world community has enough experiences by now to know that doing nothing at the early stages of a crisis could be extremely costly later. The crisis in Ethiopia is a looming crisis. If we act wisely now, we can avoid a lot of pain later. I hope the United States will play its part to bring about a peaceful and durable solution to the political crisis in Ethiopia. Such an outcome is good for the Ethiopian government, good for the international community and certainly good for Ethiopia.

I know, Mr. Chairman, under your leadership your committee and this house will do its part for the wellbeing of the people of Ethiopia.



Thank You Very Much.