News update |
December 21, 2005
WASHINGTON - A negotiation is under way between the U.S. State Department and the Meles Zenawi regime to try to obtain the release of political prisoners and to get assurances that the regime will comply with its commitments to democracy and the respect for human rights. These negotiations are on-going, and despite the urge to see results immediately, it may take some time.
The U.S. has some powerful but limited tools such as imposing sanctions and withholding aid. It is very difficult for it to use these tools in ways that do not hurt ordinary, poor Ethiopians. It is important for the opposition to continue to keep the State Department informed of the situation and to try to convince it to help, but that does not mean this is sufficient. The State Department and the American government alone can not fix all of Ethiopia's problems.
The European Union has recently imposed targeted sanctions that are intended to place limits on the travel and financial transactions of senior regime officials. The U.S. might consider similar steps if negotiations fail.
At the same time, it must be realized that the U.S. government doesn't have magical powers to instantly correct the situation in Ethiopia. Much of the hard work will have to be done by Ethiopians. It is important for Ethiopians, especially those living abroad, to focus on what can be done, to propose positive steps. And it is the responsibility of anyone advocating specific measures to announce what they personally are willing to do. Too much time and attention is being wasted on people who contribute nothing beyond their opinions and criticism. Anyone can sit in the comfort of their home and type criticisms and blast them out over the Internet. This doesn't help anyone; all it does is help the regime by creating dissension within the opposition and divert precious time and resources from positive action.
There has been some progress in Congress. So far there is one co-sponsor for H.R. 4423, Rep. Ed Town of the 10th district of New Jersey. Several other members of Congress, including Rep. Hoyer of Maryland and Ed Royce (California) have said they are likely to co-sponsor the bill and will certainly vote for it on the House floor. Sen. Patrick Leahy (Vermont) and Senator Sarbanes (Maryland) have written very strong letters, summarizing the present situation in Ethiopia and asking President Bush to intervene. The Senate Foreign Relations Committee is also working very hard behind the scenes on issues related to Ethiopia. Rep. Christopher Smith recently received a petition signed by about 6,000 Ethiopians supporting HR 4423.
Once again, we cannot emphasize enough that we have to concentrate on the big picture, i.e. how to help save the lives of many Ethiopians by pushing this legislation that will commit the U.S. to fight for democracy, justice, development, freedom and the immediate release of political prisoners in Ethiopia.
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