U.S. Congress, Bush administration exasperated by Ethiopian backsliding on democracy – The Associated Press

July 17th, 2007 Print Print Email Email

WASHINGTON: Both the Bush administration and Congress are growing exasperated over Ethiopia’s backsliding from democracy but are wary of applying too much pressure against a country that has become an important anti-terror ally in East Africa. (more…)

WASHINGTON: Both the Bush administration and Congress are growing exasperated over Ethiopia’s backsliding from democracy but are wary of applying too much pressure against a country that has become an important anti-terror ally in East Africa.

Members of the Democratic-controlled Congress are under fewer restraints than President George W. Bush’s administration, which has relied on the help of Ethiopian troops in ousting Islamic militants from power in parts of neighboring Somalia.

In the House of Representatives, the Africa subcommittee of the Foreign Affairs Committee is completing work Wednesday on legislation that decries Ethiopia’s recent human rights record and opens the door for sanctions. The subcommittee’s approval would be a first major step, but the bill still would have to be passed by both houses of Congress and signed into law by Bush.

Democratic Rep. Donald Payne, the subcommittee’s chairman, told The Associated Press he has had no response to his bill from White House officials, but “I think they would prefer if we just left it alone.”

“This is not a punitive bill,” he said. Any sanctions would kick in only if Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi’s government does not return to democracy and restore human rights protections.

On Monday, a court in the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa sentenced 35 opposition politicians and activists to life in prison and eight others to lesser terms for inciting violence in an attempt to overthrow the government. Judges threw out charges of treason and attempted genocide and rejected the government’s recommendation for death sentences.

The Federal High Court trial began in December 2005 after the opposition organized protests following elections earlier that year that foreign observers said were badly flawed. The demonstrations were smashed by police, and scores were killed.

The defendants asked for pardons in a letter sent to Meles weeks before the sentences were announced. In testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Tuesday, Barry F. Lowenkron, assistant secretary of state for democracy and human rights, said Meles announced Monday that he would recommend clemency. The announcement apparently was not made publicly.

The Bush administration has made spreading democracy a cornerstone of its foreign policy. But the administration has had to violate the principle more than once: refusing to deal with objectionable elected governments, such as that headed by the militant Islamic group Hamas in the Palestinian territories. It also has dealt with clearly undemocratic governments such as those in some former Soviet republics in Central Asia.

In an indication that even the administration has determined not to pull all its punches in Ethiopia, Lowenkron’s testimony before the Senate Foreign Affairs Committee was relatively straightforward and at times harsh.

He spoke of the illegal detention of “opposition leaders and tens of thousands of their supporters” and said: “To this day the crackdown casts a shadow over the Ethiopian government.”

Lowenkron said he had spent 85 minutes of a 90-minute conversation with Meles in March discussing the state of democracy in Ethiopia and Meles said he would make changes “because it’s in the interest of the people of Ethiopia.”

“I told him it should be in the interest of all the people of Ethiopia, including those that are in prison and need to be let out,” Lowenkron said.

Democratic Sen. Russell Feingold, who chaired the hearing, urged strong action to right the Ethiopian situation.

“We cannot tolerate a country like that moving in the wrong direction if they want to have the relationship with us that they want to have and that we want to have with them,” Feingold said.

  1. ethiopia
    | #1

    From The Wall Street Journal

    Democracy on Trial
    July 18, 2007
    Let’s play name-that-state. After the EU declared its 2005 elections flawed, this country’s troops killed 193 protestors and arrested 20,000 more. Last week, 42 of the accused were convicted of inciting violence to overthrow the state (down from an original charge of genocide and treason). Thirty-five were condemned to life in prison and forbidden to vote on Monday. Some of the accused were journalists, so their publishing houses were fined and closed.

    Did you guess Ethiopia? Probably not, since this African state has often been held up as a pillar of good governance on a troubled continent. In just over a decade, Ethiopia went from military rule to a parliamentary system. But this democracy is on paper only.

    The convictions are not an isolated incident, nor are the 42 defendants just any opposition figures. They include the elected mayor of Ethiopia’s capital, Addis Ababa, a former Harvard scholar and a former U.N. envoy. They’ve been condemned to the same fate, life in prison, as ousted military strongman Mengistu Hailee Mariam, who is held responsible for the murder of 150,000 academics and university students in two decades in power.

    Given the government’s recent record, it’s odd to say the least to see Prime Minister Meles Zenawi advise Tony Blair’s Commission for Africa in 2005 on the future of the continent. Or to hear that the Bush Administration considers Mr. Meles a “staunch ally” in the war on terror for searching out al Qaeda suspects during Ethiopia’s messy military intervention in neighboring Somalia and makes the country a priority recipient of U.S. assistance. (The world last year sent $1.6 billion.)

    America needs to work with all kinds of regimes and military cooperation doesn’t always have to be tied to democratic progress. But if Ethiopia wants to become a real ally of the U.S., possibly playing host to the new African Command, it needs to take seriously democracy and human rights.

  2. Tigist
    | #2

    Meles is one evil monkey that become liability for all human beings. Now, the whole world knows who he is and their is more to come yet.

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