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Saturday, December 17, 2005

Senator Patrick Leahy Responds to Violence in Ethiopia

Office of Senator Patrick Leahy -- On May 15, 2005, Ethiopia held the first open, multi-party, democratic elections in its 3,000 year history. It was an important milestone that gave the people of that country a sense of national pride and hope. Unfortunately, the elation that was so evident on election day was short lived. International observers cited serious vote counting irregularities and flaws in the electoral process.

Nearly 25 million Ethiopians – 90 percent of eligible voters – went to the polls and early counts indicated strong support for the opposition. As it became clear that the ruling party was in danger of losing its grip on power, the government stopped the vote counting in a blatant move to manipulate the results. Accusations of vote rigging forced the National Electoral Board of Ethiopia (NEBE) to delay the release of the official results.

The controversy led to protests in Addis Ababa, the Oromiya regions, and other provinces. On June 8, in response to protesters challenging the provisional results of the elections, Ethiopian security forces are accused of shooting at least 40 protestors, killing 26, temporarily detaining over 500 student protestors and arresting at least 50 people. Ethiopia’s main opposition political party, the Coalition for Unity and Democracy Party (CUDP) refused to take its seats in parliament in protest of the election results. Just recently, 50 members of the CUDP took their seats in Parliament, but there is some concern that they were pressured into doing so.

Last month, the situation in Ethiopia took a further turn for the worse. On November 1, following street demonstrations that erupted into four days of violence when police started shooting, at least 46 protesters were killed in Addis Ababa and other towns, and some 4,000 were arrested. There have been numerous reports of widespread arbitrary detention, beatings, torture, disappearances, and the use of excessive force by police and soldiers against anyone suspected of supporting the CUDP detainees.

The detainees include distinguished Ethiopian patriots such as Hailu Shawel, president of the CUDP; Professor Mesfin Woldemariam, former chair of the Ethiopian Human Rights Council; Dr. Yacob Hailemariam, a former UN Special Envoy and former prosecutor at the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda; Ms. Birtukan Mideksa, CUDP vice-president and a former judge; and Dr. Berhanu Negga, the recently elected Mayor of Addis Ababa and university professor of economics.

Today, the entire senior leadership of the CUDP is reportedly in jail and has been held incommunicado in harsh conditions, without access to their families or legal representatives. Amnesty International considers these individuals to be prisoners of conscience who have neither used nor advocated violence. The government of Prime Minister Meles Zenawi is seeking to charge them with treason, a capital offense, for the “crime” of urging their supporters to engage in peaceful protest on their behalf. CUDP leaders are scheduled to appear in court today, presumably to be officially charged with treason.

Journalists and members of the media have also been jailed. According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, Ethiopian authorities have prevented most private newspapers from publishing, arrested or harassed local journalists and their family members, and threatened to charge journalists with treason. Thirteen journalists have been detained since last month’s anti-government protests, including two more who were just arrested this week.

It is particularly disturbing, when one considers these events, that since 1991 the government of Prime Minister Meles has received billions of dollars in foreign aid, including to strengthen democratic institutions and the rule of law in his country. Recently, the European Union suspended its aid to Prime Minister Meles’ government and is seeking ways to channel it to the Ethiopian people through private voluntary organizations.

Last month, thousands of Ethiopians and their supporters in this country came to Washington to protest the violence and repression by the Meles government and to urge the Bush Administration to help establish real democracy and the rule of law in Ethiopia. Ethiopia has been an ally of the United States in combating international terrorism, yet it is using similar tactics against its own people.

Mr. President, over the past several years, Ethiopia has made progress in both political reform and economic development. But that progress has been overshadowed by the tragic events of the past six months. The government’s heavy handed tactics to steal the election and persecute those who sought to play by the rules of democracy, should be universally condemned.
The Bush Administration should make clear to Prime Minister Meles that if his government does not abide by the basic principles of democracy, due process and respect for human rights, including an end to the use of random searches, beatings, mass arrests and lethal force against peaceful protesters, and if political detainees are not released, that we will join with the European Union and suspend our aid to his government, including our support for financing from the World Bank and the African Development Bank other than for basic human needs. There should be severe consequences for such a flagrant subversion of the will of the Ethiopian people.


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Generous Support

November 14, 2005


AICAP -- Congress is set to give final approval to a foreign aid bill that contains $2.52 billion in assistance for Israel for the upcoming fiscal year.

The House of Representatives passed the measure by a vote of 358-39, with 36 members not voting, and the Senate was expected to sign off on the package by a similarly overwhelming margin as Near East Report went to print.

The bill includes the total amount of aid requested by Israel for this year, broken down into $2.28 billion in military assistance and $240 million in economic support. In addition, $40 million is earmarked to help Israel resettle immigrants from the former Soviet Union, Eastern Europe and Ethiopia.

Legislators of both political parties have long supported aid to Israel as a means to ensure the security of the only democracy in the Middle East. By signaling that Israel has the backing of the world’s only superpower, the aid package also helps make clear to Israel’s potential adversaries that there is no military alternative to negotiations with the Jewish state.

Aside from monetary assistance, the bill also includes policy items important to the U.S. pro-Israel community.

For instance, a series of provisions in the bill could save Israel anywhere from $50 million to $75 million annually by reducing the costs of military equipment and training that Israel purchases from the United States.

The measure also features oversight provisions designed to ensure that aid to the Palestinians is spent properly. The bill prohibits direct funding of the Palestinian Authority (PA) and requires several reports to make sure the PA is not misusing funds.

The House bill was crafted by Chairman Jim Kolbe (R-AZ) and Ranking Member Nita Lowey (D-NY) of the House Foreign Operations Appropriations Subcommittee. The Senate bill was spearheaded by Sens. Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and Patrick Leahy (D-NY), chairman and ranking member, respectively, of the Senate Foreign Operations Appropriations Subcommittee.

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