Finest day for Ethiopia in US Congress, say activists

Ethiopian opposition figure Brook Kebede (left) of the CUDP-Kinijit speaks with U.S. Congressman Chris Smith as Engineer Gizachew Shiferaw looks on (Photo: Tamagne Beyene; Sept 26, 2007)
The visiting CUDP officials and accompanying hosts are pictured above with The Honorable Donald Payne, member of the US Congress and an architect in the promotion of HR 2003, a legislation that would ascertain the respect of human rights and the rule of law in Ethiopia (File Photo: Kinijit-DC).
WASHINGTON DC - Ethiopian human rights activists said they saw their "finest day" in the United States Congress on Wednesday when all 50 members on a U.S. Congress Committee approved HR 2003, and placed it in the forefront of the global human rights agenda among US lawmakers.

During the debate which witnesses described as "intensely for the promotion of human rights and the rule of law" in Ethiopia, members of the U.S. Congress hammered groups that have been hired by the Meles Zenawi regime to forestall the progress of HR 2003.

Members of the US Congress used terms like "thugs in power," and "ruthless dictors" when describing the gross human rights violations by the Zenawi regime, and endorsed HR 2003, according to witnesses.

"It's our finest moment. It was a smash," said a jubilant Al Mariam, a professor of political science at University of California and an activist campaigning for the passage into law of the “Ethiopia Democracy and accountability Act of 2007.”

Al Mariam said "Donald Payne delivered big for Ethiopia." Congressman Donald Payne (NJ-D), is chairman of the subcommittee on Africa and the main architect of HR 2003..

After a debate that lasted an hour and a half, the bill was now sent to the floor of the House of Representatives as one of the most important human rights agenda. During the debate, HR 2003 packed one more provision of securing strong property rights as well.

Senior leaders of the Ethiopian opposition party CUDP-Kinijit who are on a working visit to the US also attended the debate.

Engineer Gizachew Shiferaw, Dr. Hailu Araya, and Mr. Brook Kebede on the occasion expressed their joy over the support Congress gave for the passage of the Bill. The delegates were joined by a number of members of the US Congress, including Donald Payne.

The presence and support the Kinijit leaders showed for the passage of HR 2003 discards a baseless rumor being promoted by proponents of the TPLF regime and other critics that the Kinijit delegates are opposed to the bill.

The opposition leaders told Addis Dimz Radio that the contents of HR 2003 are very similar with what are known as the eight points of CUDP-Kinijit, and the talk that we oppose HR 2003 is self-defeating and self-contradicting.

Also atttending the debate were Dr. Abeba Fekade of the International Ethiopian Women's Organization (IEWO), human rights activist Tamagne Beyene of the up-and-coming Ethiopian Television Network (ETN) of Washington, DC as well as Addis Dimz Radio host Abebe Belew who said members of the US Congress had a deeper understanding of the nature of the Meles Zenawi regime whose deeds they described as "ruthless" and "brutal."

Now HR 2003 is sent to the House Floor, which means, according to Al Mariam, the action observes the 'suspension of rules,' because it has won full bipartisan support and should receive swift congressional action.

According to Coalition for HR 2003, which comprises human rights activists Meron Ahadu, Newai Mengistu and Prof. Al Mariam, the bill requires the ruling Meles Zenawi regime to

  • Release of ALL political prisoners and restore the democratic rights of the people.
  • Institute democratic reforms with accountability.
  • Provide protections for human rights advocates and civic society organization and ensure the existence of adequate monitoring and reporting processes.
  • Set up an independent judicial system with proper monitoring processes to protect judges from political interference.
  • Bring to justice all human rights abusers, including the killers of 193 innocent men, women and children and those who wounded 763 others in the post-2005 election period, and thousands of others.
  • Improve election procedures and ensure fraud free elections.
  • Remove press censorship and restrictive press laws and establish a program to strengthen private media in Ethiopia.

The bill also

  • Offers training programs for democratic participation.
  • Limits the use of U.S. security assistance to peacekeeping and counter- terrorism and NOT against the civilian population.
  • Fosters economic development.
  • Provides assistance to strengthen local, regional, and national parliaments and governments, political parties, and civil society groups.
  • Strengthens training for political parties in the areas of organization building and campaign management.
  • Provides training for civil society groups in election monitoring.
  • Promotes dispute resolution by means of dialogue, negotiations and compromise, and
  • Professionalizes the National Election Board to help it address certain issues, e.g. issues delimitation of constituencies, voter and candidate registration, political party registration, voting irregularities and challenges.