Subcommittee Hearing: Democracy Under Threat in Ethiopia



By Opride

U.S. Congressman Chris Smith (D-NJ) on Thursday convened a hearing on the deteriorating conditions for democracy and human rights in Ethiopia. Dozens of activists, mostly from the Oromo and Amhara ethnic groups, were packed into a small room at the Rayburn House building. Two expert witnesses and four Ethiopians testified and responded to questions posed by lawmakers.

In his opening statement Smith criticized “a tradition of authoritarian rule” by a single party, which he said, “continues to strangle the advancement of democracy in Ethiopia.” His comments were critical and also noted the U.S. dilemma in engaging with the country. “Ethiopia has long been an important ally, providing effective peacekeepers and collaborating in the War on Terror,” said Smith. “However, increasingly repressive policies have diminished political space and threaten to radicalize not only the political opposition but also civil society by frustrating their ability to exercise their rights under law.”

Unfortunately, said Smith, who chairs the Subcommittee on Africa, Global Health, Global Human Rights and International Organizations, “there is a significant variance in how that government sees its actions and how the rest of the world sees them.” This quintessential Ethiopian contradiction was also echoed by the two expert witnesses: Felix Horne of the Human Rights Watch and Terrence Lyons, Associate Professor at George Mason University.

Smith also noted that the Ethiopian Embassy in Washington, D.C. had sent the committee a research conducted by a consulting firm, which aims to refute many of the allegations in the House Resolution 128, which he introduced in February.

“Rather than spend hundreds of thousands on consultants to try to mislead Members of Congress on the facts and inciting e-mail form letter campaigns by supporters, the Government of Ethiopia can acknowledge their challenges and work with the U.S. government and others in the international community to seek reasonable solutions,” he said. “We are prepared to help once they are ready to face the ugly truth of what has happened and what continues to happen in Ethiopia today.”

During the hearing, Ranking Member Karen Bass (D-Calif.) appeared to read from the “research” provided to the committee by the Ethiopian government in her questioning of the witnesses. Among other things, Bass asked about the “actual” number of seats in the 547 Ethiopian parliament that the ruling Ethiopian Peoples’ Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) won in the May 2015 elections.

Two new members of the committee, who also attended the hearing, raised concerns about post-EPRDF Ethiopia and warned against too much U.S. pressure vis-à-vis regime change that could create a political vacuum, pointing to the absence of a viable opposition in the country. Tom Suozzi of New York even used the analogy of “control vs. chaos,” suggesting Ethiopia’s instability would create yet another conflict hotspot and a refugee producing nation.

Witnesses

Panel I

Terrence Lyons, Ph.D.
Associate Professor
School for Conflict Analysis and Resolution
George Mason University
[full text of statement]

Mr. Felix Horne
Senior Researcher
Horn of Africa
Human Rights Watch
[full text of statement]

Panel II

Ms. Seenaa Jimjimo
President
Coalition of Oromo Advocates for Human Rights and Democracy
[full text of statement]

Mr. Tewodrose Tirfe
Co-Founder
Amhara Association of America
[full text of statement]

Mr. Guya Abaguya Deki
Representative
Torture Abolition and Survivors Support Coalition
[full text of statement]

Mr. Yoseph Tafari
Co-Founder
Ethiopian Drought Relief Aid of Colorado
[full text of statement]

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