Eleven US Senators condemn human rights violations in Ethiopia, a hopeful resumption with little more work, belated though

22 Apr

By Keffyalew Gebremedhin, The Ethiopia Observatory (TEO)

The draft bill co-sponsored by eleven United States senators, titled Supporting respect for human rights and encouraging inclusive governance in Ethiopia, has been referred to committee since April 20, 2016.

The draft bill is introduced by Ranking Member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee Senator Ben Cardin of Maryland on behalf of the so-sponsors Senators: Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.), Christopher Coons (D-Del.), Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), Al Franken (D-Minn.), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.), Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), Patty Murray (D-Wash.), Marco Rubio (R-FL) and Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio).

Of the pulling together of senators for a legislative action against the ugliest human rights situation in Ethiopia, a magnificent drama twitter has captured shows Senator Marco Rubio, until recently a 2016 presidential candidate from Florida, condemning TPLF’s brutal attack on civil society, especially against peaceful Oromo protestors, and urging his colleagues to sponsor a resolution, as follows:

It is in response to this that Senator Ben Cardin retweeted his acceptance, with the following words:

Already on April 20, 2016, a press release on this had appeared on US Senate Committee on Foreign Relations page a story under the title: Cardin, Rubio, Colleagues Condemn Ethiopia’s Crackdown on Civil Society. It relates to Senator Cardin, Ranking Member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee from Maryland, with 11 other Senators condemning “the lethal violence used by the government of Ethiopia against protestors, journalists, and others in civil society for exercising their rights under Ethiopia’s constitution.”

A highlight from Senator Cardin’s introduction states:

    “I am shocked by the brutal actions of the Ethiopian security forces, and offer condolences to the families of those who have been killed. The Ethiopian constitution affords its citizens the right to peaceful assembly and such actions by Ethiopian government forces are unacceptable…The government’s heavy-handed tactics against journalists and use of the 2009 Anti-Terrorism and Charities and Societies Proclamations to stifle free speech and legitimate political dissent demonstrate a troubling lack of respect for democratic freedoms and human rights.”

Moreover, in a way that highlights the prime purpose of the resolution, Senator Cardin noted:

    “Peaceful protestors and activists have been arrested, tortured and killed in Ethiopia for simply exercising their basic rights. I condemn these abuses and the Ethiopian government’s stunning disregard for the fundamental rights of the Ethiopian people. I urge the Obama Administration to prioritize respect for human rights and political reforms in the U.S. relationship with Ethiopia.”

By way of counsel to the TPLF regime, the senator from Maryland urged the regime to spend its energies on alleviating the plight of the Ethiopian people in the midst of the present terrible drought:

    “Given the challenges posed by the devastating drought and border insecurity, it is more important than ever that the government take actions to unify rather than alienate its people. It is critical that the government of Ethiopia respect fundamental human rights if it is to meet those challenges,”

The collaboration amongst the eleven senators and the product of their work is a resolution, whose objective, among others, is to condemn:

    (A) killings of peaceful protesters and excessive use of force by Ethiopian security forces;

    (B) arrest and detention of journalists, students, activists and political leaders who exercise their constitutional rights to freedom of assembly and expression through peaceful protests; and

    (C) abuse of the Anti-Terrorism Proclamation to stifle political and civil dissent and journalistic freedoms;…”


At the same time, while urging “protesters in Ethiopia to refrain from violence,” the draft resolution also “calls on the Government of Ethiopia:

    (A) to halt the use of excessive force by security forces;

    (B) to conduct a full, credible, and transparent investigation into the killings and instances of excessive use of force that took place as a result of protests in the Oromia region and hold security forces accountable for wrongdoing through public proceedings;

    (C) to release dissidents, activists, and journalists who have been jailed, including those arrested for reporting about the protests, for exercising constitutional rights;

    (D) to respect the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and guarantee freedom of the press and mass media in keeping with Articles
    30 and 29 of the Ethiopian constitution;

    (E) to engage in open and transparent consultations relative to its development strategy, especially those strategies that could result
    in people’s displacement from land; and

    (F) to repeal proclamations that:

    (i) can be used as a political tool to harass or prohibit funding for civil society organizations that investigate human rights violations, engage in peaceful political dissent, or advocate for greater political freedoms; or

    (ii) prohibit or otherwise limit those displaced from their land from seeking remedy or redress in courts, or that do not provide a transparent, accessible means to access justice for those displaced; …”


On adoption of the draft bill and the Obama Administration to put it into effect, the draft “calls on the Secretary of State to conduct a review of security assistance to Ethiopia in light of recent developments and to improve transparency with respect to the purposes of such assistance the people of Ethiopia;

(5) calls on the Administrator of the United States Agency for International Development to immediately lead efforts to develop a comprehensive strategy to support improved democracy and governance in Ethiopia;

(6) calls on the Secretary of State, in conjunction with the Administrator of the United States Agency for International Development, to improve
oversight and accountability of United States assistance to Ethiopia pursuant to expectations established in the President’s 2012 Strategy Toward Sub-Saharan Africa; and

(7) stands by the people of Ethiopia, and supports their peaceful efforts to increase democratic space and to exercise the rights guaranteed by the Ethiopian constitution.”

For details of its content, refer to the draft resolution here.

To be frank, the draft resolution’s references to the Obama Administration’s so called 2012 United States Strategy Toward Sub-Saharan Africa , is not a promising starting point.

While the objective of the Strategy was, according to US officials, to foster in Africa “strong democratic institutions, respect for human rights, and participatory, accountable governance are crucial elements for improving people’s lives in a sustainable way”, Africans knew well enough from the get go that it was not in their best interests.

The need to sale to Africans took former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, now 2016 presidential candidate, to an eleven-day tour in July-August 2012 to several Sub-Saharan African nations for a not so fruitful outcome. In fact, the strategy was simply an afterthought about Chinese expansion in Africa. It means that it was not in the first place intended to benefit Africans.

If democracy was to be fostered by such an approach, the question is, why has the Obama United States witnessed its allies from Ethiopia to Uganda, Rwanda to Burundi, Mozambique to Djibouti, etc., turned into repression, tyranny, election thievery and constitutional revision to remain in power. While the excesses of others do not compare to the horror in Ethiopia, all of them have shown that they are oppressors of their helpless citizens, enjoying the Obama Administration’s embrace.

In my article In the twilight of Obama’s presidency of July 31, 2014, I recalled Secretary Clinton pleading unsuccessfully with African policy-makers and academicians’s for their support for the Obama strategy for Africa.

Quoting President Obama, who had once acknowledged, according to her, historically Western powers had too often seen Africa as a source of resources to be exploited or as a charity cause in need of patronage. As a secretary of state ready to exit from office, she left it there as the president’s challenge to Africans and Americans alike that Africa needed partnership, not patronage – as she put it – a challenge on which that strategy was supposed to build not taking roots.

Unfortunately, I regret to state, the United States, leader of the free world, saw Africa not any differently from the past history fully and remembers uncomfortably.

It is in the course of his visit to Ethiopia in July 2015 that Mr. Obama made it abundantly clear, he has fully embraced the TPLF regime as his Administration’s ally in the US struggle to stamp out Al-Shabab terrorism, with no regard whatsoever to the interests of the Ethiopian people. In so doing, he did not show a bit of discomfort, especially likening sort of a free nation as an appendage of the Pentagon. Therefore, on the morrow of the declaration by the tyrannical regime in Addis Abeba of itself 100 percent winner of the parliamentary seats in a fake election, President Obama made it clear he was happy to go along with the regime’s misdeeds.

The US president failed to appreciate that Ethiopians are and continue to be displeased with his blind support for a repressive regime – to the extent of referring the May 2015 election “democratic.” That possibly was a sign that he did not care about their sentiments and plights!

The conclusion about the evolving Ethiopian reality has not been written yet; but come November 2015, farmers robbed of their lands in the largest region of the country showed to the world that the TPLF regime is a monster, anti-freedom, robbers in suit, anti-human dignity, anti-equality.

In short, a person with strong conviction for a diplomat about the economy of his words, the former British Ambassador to Ethiopia Greg Dorey quipped in an interview with The Reporter in the wake of the election, likening the TPLF regime as a copy of North Korea. Incidentally, that article has been banned in Ethiopia, and thus now has become a rarity; in case anyone has it on a hard copy it might be a good idea to safe keep it for tendering in future to researchers.

This latest resolution by the eleven senators, nonetheless, is a good start. Still one has to remember that it is not the fist of its type in the US Congress. Many things had been started before, none having come to fruition. The adverse side of it that it has has encouraged the TPLF monsters and the robbers in Addis Abeba. They now openly shrug off any and all efforts of decent people that are seriously concerned by the plight of the Ethiopian people, for which this resolution is one more evidence.

In the circumstances, all that needs doing is such interests distancing themselves from Mr.Obama’s 2012 Strategy Toward Sub-Saharan Africa. I would present a good argument for this, in the context of his securitization of development policy approach he has taken.

Within the Administration at the time, Karen J. Hanrahan, Deputy Assistant Secretary, Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor National Endowment for Democracy, in official remarks on October 9, 2012 said of the Strategy:

    “President Obama and Secretary Clinton have changed the game for democracy and human rights around the world. They have moved the ball forward to a new era where security, democracy, and human rights are not viewed as competing priorities – but rather as equally important policy objectives that must be advanced simultaneously whenever possible. They have put these priorities at the center of our national security and our foreign policy – as important ends in themselves – not just a means to an end.”

The output in terms of a country allied to the United States, within the framework of such an approach, is frightening. Ms.Hanrahan clearly spells it out with reference to Ethiopia:

    “In Ethiopia, we are faced with a challenge. The principal question is how to work constructively with both the government and civil society to advance democracy and human rights when the government has limited political and civil space. This has included restrictions on civil society organizations, the curtailment of media freedom, and the conviction of journalists and members of the political opposition under the Anti-terrorism Proclamation. We’re particularly concerned about the Charities and Societies Proclamation and the Anti-terrorism Proclamation. Going forward, it would benefit the government to open space for political opposition and civil society development. Not only would doing so help Ethiopia’s citizens fully realize their rights, but it also supports the U.S. and Ethiopian governments’ shared goals of stability and development.”

This urging has also failed from the TPLF’s end.

It is in keeping these in mind, I do hope that these eleven senators and many others would work together to save Ethiopia from both the barbaric regime and itself. The seeds of destruction have already been sown, and a poor nation has already started step by step reaping its bitter fruits.

No promoters of evil deeds and destructions should be allowed to primarily push Ethiopia to the brink and the subregion, prone to conflicts, into an all out destruction.

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