Obama eulogy for Ethiopian strongman glosses over human-rights record

The United Nations also offered glowing praise, with a spokesman for Secretary General Ban Ki-moon saying Meles would be “remembered for his exceptional leadership and advocacy on African issues within and outside the continent, as well as for overseeing his country’s economic growth and development.”

“The Secretary-General is grateful that Prime Minister Zenawi’s administration was a strong supporter of United Nations peacekeeping and peacemaking efforts. Ethiopian troops participated in several United Nations peacekeeping deployments in Africa, including in Sudan, Liberia and Burundi. The Secretary-General will remember, in particular, Prime Minister Zenawi for his active commitment to working with the United Nations on numerous global peace and development challenges.”

Human-rights group say the Meles government was responsible for displacing thousands of people in southern Ethiopia to make way for dams, among other human-rights violations.

"The 21 years of Meles Zenawi's rule were characterized by ever-increasing repression,” Adotei Akwei, managing director for government relations at Amnesty International USA, said in a statement. “Under his direction, Ethiopia stamped out dissenting voices, dismantled the independent media, obstructed human rights organizations and strangled political opposition. Ethiopia's jails are packed to the brim with suspected political opponents — from urban intellectuals to rural farmers. Torture and other ill-treatment are commonplace. And tens of thousands of Ethiopians have fled the country during his rule." 

Amnesty International went on to urge Ethiopia to change course and on the United States to “recalibrate its relationship with Ethiopia and help to build strong, accountable institutions and respect for the rule of law.”

In a statement, Somalia's al-Shabaab militia group, which has been battling Meles for years and is listed as a terrorist group by the State Department, urged Ethiopian Muslims to “rise and revolt against what is left of the dictator’s repressive regime and implement the Shari’ah of Islam.”

“The death of the Ethiopian dictator Meles Zenawi brings to a conclusion a dark chapter in the history of the East African Horn; not only for the millions of Muslims who’ve suffered under his brutal dictatorship and oppressive policies at home, but also for the thousands of Muslims killed in Somalia as a result of the persistent Ethiopian invasions,” the group said in a statement.

“In an attempt to consolidate his hold on power, Zenawi has tirelessly been engaged in a multi-pronged strategy of annexing Somali Muslim territories into Ethiopia on the one hand, and fighting Islam as a proxy in the West’s war against Islam on the other. But despite the numerous attempts to conquer the will of the Muslims of Somalia and bring them under the subjugation of the Ethiopian regime, Zenawi died a bitter man after having miserably failed to accomplish either of his objectives.”

Obama offered a hint of criticism at the end of his statement, saying “going forward, we encourage the Government of Ethiopia to enhance its support for development, democracy, regional stability and security, human rights, and prosperity for its people.”