Ethiopia Must Not Be Ignored

On the one-year anniversary of Ethiopia's general elections, the United States simply must pressure the Ethiopian government to release all political prisoners and prisoners of conscience. We must negotiate with the two main political party coalitions, so that the current stalemate (which limits the rights of opposition party members in Parliament) is ended. It is also essential that the killing of protestors by government forces in the election's aftermath is formally investigated.



The May, 2005 elections were widely acknowledged to be the most open elections ever held in Ethiopia. After millions of voters turned out at the polls expecting to vote for change, early results indicated that the opposition parties won nearly 200 seats. However, the official government results - finally released in September, showed that the major opposition groups - the Coalition for Unity and Democracy (CUD) and the United Ethiopian Democratic Forces (UEDF) - won 175 seats. Unrest among Ethiopia's 72 million citizens soon followed.

Last summer, I went to Ethiopia and met with Prime Minister Meles Zenawi. At the time, he played down the government shooting of protesters in June 2005 despite having enough to arrest the people responsible. A year later, the shootings have yet to be investigated and political party leaders have yet to be held to account.

Large numbers of Ethiopians, including minors, were jailed for protesting the results and limitations on the rights of opposition Members of Parliament. Though many prisoners have been released, party leaders, human rights activists and journalists remain imprisoned. Prisoners continue to be held on a variety of charges, including "outrages against the Constitution" and "genocide."

My bill, called the Ethiopia Freedom, Democracy and Human Rights Act, empowers Ethiopia continue on the path toward democracy by instituting electoral and governmental reform. It also would establish basic human rights in the region. It has passed the House Subcommittee on Africa, Global Human Rights and International Operations on April 6th and awaits further action by the House Committee on International Relations. We need to act now.