Ethiopia – Senator Feingold writes to Secretary of State – Russ Feingold

September 24th, 2008 Print Print Email Email

The Honorable Condoleezza Rice (more…)

The Honorable Condoleezza Rice

Secretary of State

U.S. Department of State
2201 C Street,NW
Washington, DC 20520
Dear Madam Secretary,

I write to express my concern about a response I received from the State Department in connection with testimony from Under Secretary Edelman and Deputy Secretary Negroponte at a July 31 Senate Foreign Relations Committee Hearing on “Defining the Militilry’s Role towards Foreign Policy.” It is of the utmost importance to our national security that Wepromote stability in Africa to, among other things, prevent the emergence of terrorist safe havens. Providing support for iocal security forces has a role to play in achieving that goal, but I am concerned that military assistance to some African nations could undermine longterm stability by associating the United States with forces engaged in political repression or other gross violations of human rights. Where security assistance to those countries outweighs or overshadows other forms of engagement, the United States may be seen by local populations as supporting those abuses and become a target of resulting grievances.

As you know, federal law requires that the President engage in a careful analysis of the potentially counterproductive impacts of foreign military assistance before providing such assistance. The Foreign Assistance Act prohibits security assistance to governments that engage in a “consistent pattern of gross violations of internationally recognized human rights” unless the President certifies that “extraordinary circumstances” merit the provision of that aid. It defines “gross violation of internationally recognized human rights” to include extrajudicial killing, arbitrary detention and torture.

I appreciated State’s prompt response to the question I posed on the Department’s compliance with the Foreign Assistance Act at the hearing. However, I am disappointed that despite acknowledging security forces in Chad and Ethiopia are reported to have committed abuses, the response asserted without any reservation or justification that there is not a consistent pattern of gross violations of internationally recognized human rights in these countries. This claim contradicts the State Department’s own annual country reports. According to those reports, security forces in both Chad and Ethiopia have committed gross violations of human rights for the last decade. Despite the incorporation of human rights sensitization into U.S. security assistance programs, abuses in these countries have continued and even worsened in some cases without serious efforts by the respective governments to stop them.

The State Department’s Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2007 states that the Chadian government’s human rights record remains poor, citing “torture and rape by security forces.” In fact, each annual report over the last ten years describes serious human rights abuses by Chadian security forces, including extrajudicial killings, abduction, arbitrary arrest and detention. The reports consistently criticize the government’s failure to prosecute members of the security forces who committed these crimes, fueling a culture of impunity. Nongovernmental organizations have further documented the recruitment of children into Chad’s military. Ten years of such abuses, if not many more, suggests to me a consistent pattern of gross violations.

In Ethiopia, the State Department’s annual reports over the last decade all document persistent human rights abuses by the security forces, including unlawful killings, beatings, abuse and torture, especially targeting members of the political opposition. In addition, the State Department’s Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2007 specifically cites “the use of excessive force by security services in an internal conflict and counter-insurgency operations.” This is a reference to the Ethiopian military’s operations in the Ogaden region, where available reporting alleges that they have subjected civilians to executions, torture and rape. Ethiopia has made significant contributions to international peacekeeping and is a key U.S. partner in the region, but its refusal to address this continuing record of gross abuses requires the President, under law, to provide certifications before providing military assistance to this country.

I appreciate that there can be a need to engage with foreign countries notwithstanding ongoing human rights abuses, but I note that your Department has several avenues for doing so through non-military assistance as well as rule of law training for military forces through the E-IMET program. I also appreciate that State and Defense engage in vetting of individual units that receive assistance. Nonetheless, federal law (22 U.S.C. Section 2304(a)(3)) requires a certification of extraordinary circumstances before providing assistance to nations, not individual units, that have a history of systemic violations of human rights in order to “avoid identification of the United States, through such programs, with governments which deny to their people internationally recognized human rights and fundamental freedoms.”

As the bipartisan 9/11 Commission found “[o]ne of the lessons of the Cold War was that short-term gains in cooperating with the most repressive and brutal governments were too often outweighed by long-term setbacks for America’s stature and interests.” While there may be extraordinary circumstances where specific threats to U.S. interests justify targeted military assistance despite gross human rights violations, those circumstances should not be the norm and the President must clearly spell them out to Congress. I would appreciate a detailed explanation of why certifications of extraordinary circumstances are not required for Chad and Ethiopia.


Russell D. Feingold
United States Senator

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