Sanctions on Ethiopia Stalled in Congress
New America Media, News Analysis, Donal Brown
Nov 07, 2006
SAN FRANCISCO – Politicans in Washington are balking on legislation to promote political justice in Ethiopia out of concerns over terrorists finding haven in the horn of Africa.
Sanctions on Ethiopia's government over harsh treatment of political opposition are being sacrified in hopes that Ethiopia will carry the torch in stemming the rise of terrorists in its neighboring country of Somalia.
The Ethiopian Americans Council has been lobbying the Congress to pass legislation to bring sanctions on the Ethiopian government for their human rights violations. They have been active in the November elections urging citizens to vote for candidates who will support House of Representatives Bill 5680 but at present the bill’s chances of passing do not look good.
The bill was stalled by Speaker Dennis Hastert just as it was about to go for a floor vote. The bill entitled the “Ethiopia Freedom, Democracy and Human Rights Advancement Act of 2006” is sponsored by Rep. Chris Smith (R) NJ and Donald Payne (D) NJ. It would tie U.S. military and economic aid to Ethiopia’s human rights record and put sanctions on the tyrannical Ethiopian government unless it releases political prisoners.
The Ethiopian government recently retained Republican lobbyist and former House leader Dick Armey, and it is widely thought that the U.S. does not want to alienate Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi as it is counting on Ethiopia to help contain the insurgent Islamist fundamentalists in Somalia. The U.S. fears that the Islamists will establish an Islamic state in Somalia that provides a safe haven for terrorists.
Ethiopian history professor Charles Schaefer of Valparaiso University said that Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld visited Eritrea and Ethiopia in December of 2002 to enlist their support in the war on terror, but the countries were too antagonistic to one another, so the U.S. was forced to choose Ethiopia as their key ally in the region.
Regardless of whether the U.S. needs Ethiopia to fight terrorism, Schaefer said, “I very much support HR 5680. The wisdom of those Congressional leaders is right on. It will go along way to definitively say ‘this is what we tolerate; this is what we won’t tolerate.’”
A spokesperson from the African Desk of the State Department said no one there would comment about whether concerns about terrorism stalled the bill and said inquiries should be directed at the offices of the sponsoring Congressmen.
The spokesperson for Smith, the Republican sponsor, did not return calls or respond to e-mailed questions, but Noelle LuSane, foreign policy adviser for Congressman Payne, replied in an e-mail, “I cannot say for sure why the bill was blocked, but it became clear that someone did not want the bill to be considered.”
Schaefer said he was encouraged by the actions of Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi before the May 2005 national elections. The elections were generally open and free and generated unprecedented political activity from opposition parties. The government even allowed a political rally in Addis Ababa that attracted a million people.
But the day after the election, Meles declared a state of emergency, and it will never be known whether the government actually won the election. Even with reported irregularities at the polling places, the opposition won control of the government of the capitol, Addis Ababa, and 174 of the 557 seats in parliament. Emboldened by their success, the opposition attempted to negotiate with the ruling party for a share of governing power and brought pressure on the government with public protests.
The government reacted by jailing protestors, journalists, human rights workers and opposition leaders including the mayor of Addis Ababa. Thousands are in prison and an independent Commission of Inquiry report found that Ethiopian security forces killed unarmed 193 protestors last year.
In the meantime, the Bush administration, who has made a detailed report on the human rights abuses in Ethiopia, released a statement praising Meles as “a lynchpin on the global war on terror”.
The U.S. government wants Ethiopia to continue aiding the new United Nations-backed Somali government in stopping the advance of the Union of Islamic Courts (UIC) that now controls the capitol Mogadishu and much of the country. The UIC has declared war on Ethiopia but has not engaged them in battle. Many doubt that an impoverished and chaotic country like Somalia would turn into a haven for Al Qaeda.