Markup Statement of Rep. Chris Smith House Foreign Affairs Committee Subcommittee on Africa and Global Health
Markup Statement of Rep. Chris Smith
House Foreign Affairs Committee Subcommittee on Africa and Global Health
July 18, 2007
Thank you, Mr. Chairman, and good morning to everybody.
I am very pleased that the Ethiopia Democracy Act is up for subcommittee markup. Last year, when I was chairman of this subcommittee, you and I, Mr. Chairman, moved this bill through full committee but were blocked when we tried to bring it to the floor. It is my earnest hope that the bill will not be blocked again, and I will continue to give the Ethiopia Democracy Act my wholehearted support.
The Ethiopia Democracy Act is as timely now as it was last year–maybe even moreso, after the repeated failure of half-hearted attempts to promote democratic reform. People in this room will know that on Monday the Ethiopian government, after trials in a kangaroo court, sentenced opposition leaders and democracy activists to prison: 35 received life terms, 6 got terms of 15 to 18 years, and two journalists got 1 to 3 years.
This is only the most recent in a long series of human rights outrages.
This bill was born in response to the June 2005 slaughter of almost 200 pro-democracy demonstrators in Addis, and the mass arrests that followed. In August of that year, as I think you know, Mr. Chairman, I visited Ethiopia and met with Prime Minister Meles. I urged him to investigate that atrocity, to punish those responsible, and to release political prisoners. Meles told me, “I have a file on all of them, they are all guilty of treason.” Mr. Chairman, only a vicious dictator would make a remark like that.
I remember thinking, as I got on the plane for the flight home, “We need a Belarus Democracy Act for Ethiopia.” I am also the author of the Belarus Democracy Act, and, working off that model, I wrote the first draft of the Ethiopia Democracy Act on that flight from Addis to Washington. In November 2005 I introduced it as HR 4423 and, in 2006, you and I, Mr. Chairman, worked together to move it as HR 5680. This spring I reintroduced it as HR 2228.
I believe that the Bush administration has not pushed Meles hard enough on human rights issues because it is satisfied that his government is cooperating with us in the war on terror. The war on terror is very, very important; but no regime that terrorizes its own citizens can be a reliable ally in the war on terror. Terrorism isn’t just a military issue, it’s also a human rights issue. Terrorists come from countries where their governments failed to respect their human rights. In promoting human rights in Ethiopia, we are attacking terrorism at its roots.
In the past three years I have come to know and admire many people from Ethiopia’s great and ancient civilization, and I assure my colleagues that democracy, human rights, and the rule of law are things they want desperately for their country. It should be our country’s policy to promote these things, which correspond to our own long-term interests. I urge my colleagues to support this bill.
Finally, I’d like to thank my former subcommittee staffer Greg Simpkins for his dedicated work on this legislation.