Legislation promoting democracy and human rights in Ethiopia are moving forward.
March 24, 2007 Mesfin Mekonen
1. Efforts to introduce legislation promoting democracy and human rights in Ethiopia are moving forward. Representatives Donald Payne and Chris Smith are working together on a bill that will be similar to H.R. 5680, but will be updated to reflect the worsening human rights and political situation in Ethiopia.
Last year the bill was blocked because of opposition from the Republican leadership, largely because of lobbying by former Majority Leader Richard Armey. The legislation has been delayed this year, again because of opposition from the Republican leadership on the International Affairs Committee.
Representatives Payne and Smith seem to be working together. They do not agree on all points, but they have agreed on the basic outline of legislation that everyone can support. While the legislation might not include everything that it could, its enactment would be a tremendous step forward. It is far better to get good legislation passed quickly than to waste time negotiating over the detailed language.
It is worth noting that the Meles regime is still employing Armey and there will be continuous efforts to sabotage legislation. Armey and other lobbyists will take advantage of any divisions between supporters of Ethiopian democracy and human rights.
To keep the legislation moving forward, Ethiopian Americans should contact members of Congress who co-sponsored H.R. 5680, as well as other members of Congress. It is important to stress that this is a bipartisan effort. When you speak with members of Congress emphasize that the situation in Ethiopia is desperate, that political prisoners are being held under terrible conditions, and this is an opportunity for the United States to stand up for the values that American believe in.
2. We continue to work closely with the State Department to get medical treatment for Engineer Hailu Shawel. While we hope that he is released quickly, he is in urgent need of medical attention for his eye. The State Department has negotiated with the Meles regime and agreement for a physician from South Africa to travel to Ethiopia to treat Hailu Shawel.