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Washington Update
ReportsWashington Update

March 17, 2008

1. Senate Foreign Relations Africa Subcommittee March 11 hearing on Horn of Africa. The hearing focused principally on Somalia. There was, however, some excellent written testimony about Ethiopia. Lynn Fredriksson, representing Amnesty International, highlighted human rights abuses and suppression of democracy by the Meles regime. She also described atrocities committed in the Ogaden region and by Ethiopian troops in Somalia. Describing food security issues, Katherine Almquist, a USAID official, reported that there are an estimated 8 million chronically food insecure people in various regions of Ethiopia and approximately 1.3 million people require emergency food assistance.

As expected, Jendayi Frazer, Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs, said nothing about human rights issues and skipped quickly over democracy. In contrast the Bush administration’s rhetoric about promoting democracy, she excused the Meles regime’s repression by noting that “it is frequently forgotten that Ethiopia is a country emerging from almost two millennia of autocracy.” While it isn’t clear how frequently this point is forgotten, it is obvious that it should not be used to give the Meles regime a free pass to imprison members of the opposition, censor the news media, and deny people their basic human rights. The Bush administration would never accept this line of reasoning as an excuse for abuses by authoritarian regimes in other parts of the world and it is shameful that it does in Ethiopia.

Overall, while the hearing was a step forward in the effort to achieve congressional enactment of H.R. 2003, it was a small one. Progress in the Senate will require a great deal more work, not only from the Ethiopian community, but also from members of the House of Representatives who sponsored and supported H.R. 2003. The bill first needs a Senate champion, and then broad based support. This is far more likely to emerge if the members of the House -- from both parties -- who took the time and put in the effort to get H.R. 2003 passed communicate its importance to their colleagues in the Senate.

The written statements, and a webcast of the hearing, are available at http://foreign.senate.gov/hearings/2008/hrg080311a.html

2. Engineer Hailu Shawel last week overcame the decision of the Canadian government to deny him and Dr. Taye Woldesemiat Wzro. Nigist visas by addressing an enthusiastic audience in Toronto through an Internet videoconference. In response to questions about groups that were suspended from the CUD participating in the upcoming elections, Hailu Shawel described the prerequisites for the opposition to take part in upcoming elections, stating that he is not willing to risk the lives and safety of candidates and their supporters unless some minimum conditions are met. The eight points the CUD presented to the Meles regime include access to the media, independent oversight over the electoral board, and independence
of the judiciary.

Mesfin Mekonen
Kinijit International Council Foreign Relations


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