Gumii Paarlaamaa Oromoo (GPO)
Oromo Parliamentarians Council (OPC)
U.S. Senators Speak
Loud and Clear: Human Rights Violations in Ethiopia Must Stop!
By Prof. Al Mariam
April 23, 2016
Last July, Barack Obama visited Ethiopia and
declared the ruling Thugtatoship of the Tigrean People’s Liberation
Front (T-TPLF) regime a “democratic government.”
The T-TPLF claimed
with a straight face that it had won the 2015 “election” by 100
percent or all 547 seats in “parliament”.
The New York Times
called it a “sham”.
Human Rights Watch
called Obama’s statement “shocking”.
I called it
a low down dirty shame.
On April 20, 2016,
Senators Ben Cardin (D-Maryland), Maria Cantwell (D-WA), Patty Murry
(D-WA), Ed Markey (D-MA), Chris Coons (D-DE), Bob Menendez (D-NJ),
Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Al Franken (D-MN), Dick Durbin (D-IL), Amy
Klobuchar (D-MN) and Marco Rubio (R-FL) sponsored a Resolution
condemning the crimes against humanity being committed by the T-TPLF
in Ethiopia today.
Well, they did not
exactly use the phrase “crimes against humanity.” But that was
exactly what they meant in their Resolution.
commenting on his introduction of the Supporting Respect for Human
Rights and Encouraging Inclusive Governance in Ethiopia said:
I am shocked by the
brutal actions of the Ethiopian security forces, and offer
condolences to the families of those who have been killed. The
Ethiopian constitution affords its citizens the right to peaceful
assembly and such actions by Ethiopian government forces are
unacceptable. The government’s heavy-handed tactics against
journalists and use of the 2009 Anti-Terrorism and Charities and
Societies Proclamations to stifle free speech and legitimate
political dissent demonstrate a troubling lack of respect for
democratic freedoms and human rights. Given the challenges posed by
the devastating drought and border insecurity, it is more important
than ever that the government take actions to unify rather than
alienate its people. It is critical that the government of Ethiopia
respect fundamental human rights if it is to meet those challenges.
Senator Rubio echoed the
and activists have been arrested, tortured and killed in Ethiopia
for simply exercising their basic rights. I condemn these abuses and
the Ethiopian government’s stunning disregard for the fundamental
rights of the Ethiopian people. I urge the Obama Administration to
prioritize respect for human rights and political reforms in the
U.S. relationship with Ethiopia.
Obama turned a deaf
ear to Senator Rubio’s plea. To add insult to injury, Obama stood up
in Addis Ababa and shamelessly declared the T-TPLF is a “democratic
It is to be recalled
that Senator Rubio wrote a letter to
Obama a few days before Obama visited Ethiopia in July 2015
“highlighting” his “concerns regarding ongoing human rights abuses
by the Ethiopian government against its own people.” Senator Rubio
warned in his letter:
Although the United
States and Ethiopia share an interest in fighting terrorism and
securing stability through the region, it is essential that the U.S.
does not turn a blind eye to Ethiopia’s human rights abuses. By
shutting down avenues to express dissent through the political
process, civil society, or media, Ethiopia’s government may fuel
further instability in the country.
government forces is a crime against humanity.
U.N. Security Ban
“The acts of brutality [by the Syrian government] that are being
reported may constitute crimes against humanity or war crimes. Such
acts must be investigated and the perpetrators held to account.”
That is exactly what
the U.S. Senators are saying and calling for in their Resolution.
Resolution states in plain words that crimes against humanity have
been committed in Ethiopia under T-TPLF rule and there must be “a
full, credible, and transparent investigation into the killings and
instances of excessive use of force that took place as a result of
protests in the Oromia region and hold security forces accountable
for wrongdoing through public proceedings.”
But the Resolution
goes well beyond a simple statement of disapproval and criticism.
I believe the
Resolution represents the senators’ sentiments, views and positions
on four distinct issues. The Resolution 1) totally condemns T-TPLF’s
crimes against humanity, 2) expresses impatience and dissatisfaction
with the Obama Administration’s do-nothing about human rights
approach in Ethiopia, 3) demands direct policy action by the U.S.
Secretary of State to secure improvements in the human rights
situation in Ethiopia or to review use of US aid as leverage, and 4)
serves clear notice to USAID to undertake programs and activities
that could help improve human rights and democratization in
The catalog of T-TPLF
crimes against humanity in the Resolution
I believe the first
part of the Resolution, for all intents and purposes represents,
amounts to a legislative “indictment” against the T-TPLF for crimes
Resolution declares that T-TPLF has:
Engaged in “serious
human rights violations, including arbitrary arrests, killings, and
torture committed by security forces as well as restrictions on
freedom of expression and freedom of association, politically
motivated trials, harassment, and intimidation of opposition members
Engaged in “state
sponsored violence against those exercising their rights to peaceful
assembly in Oromia and elsewhere in the country, and the abuse of
laws to stifle journalistic freedoms, stand in direct contrast to
democratic principles and in violation of Ethiopia’s constitution”.
space in Ethiopia [to] steadily diminish since the general elections
Rigged elections and
claimed to have won “100 percent of parliamentary seats”.
Abused a so-called
“Anti-Terrorism Proclamation to limit press freedom, silence
independent journalists, and persecute members of the political
virtually stamped out “civil society and nongovernmental
organizations, particularly those investigating alleged violations
of human rights by governmental authorities”.
prosecuted journalists and bloggers and created a climate of fear
and “coercive environment” for the press.
Killed “at least 200
peaceful protesters in the Oromia region, and that number is likely
Condemnation of the
T-TPLF regime in the Resolution
Resolution without reservation
killings of peaceful protesters and excessive use of force by [T-TPLF]
security forces; (B) [T-TPLF] arrest and detention of journalists,
students, activists and political leaders who exercise their
constitutional rights to freedom of assembly and expression through
peaceful protests; and (C) [T-TPLF] abuse of the Anti-Terrorism
Proclamation to stifle political and civil dissent and journalistic
Call for T-TPLF
Action in the Resolution
Resolution makes specific demands on the T-TPLF:
“Step up”: The Obama
Administration’s must abandon its do-nothing policy to improve human
rights in Ethiopia
diplomatically intimates that the Obama Administration has done
little or nothing to help improve the human rights situation in
Stripped off the
diplomatic euphemism, the Resolution asserts the Obama
administration has been talking the human rights talk in Ethiopia
but unwilling to walk the human rights talk.
declares that Obama got T-TPLF leaders to “commit” to “deepen the
democratic process and work towards the respect of human rights and
improving governance” in July 2015, but the outcome since has been
massacres and more repression.
The Resolution calls
on the Obama Administration to “review of security assistance to
Ethiopia in light of recent developments and to improve transparency
with respect to the purposes of such assistance to the people of
further “calls on the Secretary of State [and] the Administrator of
the United States Agency for International Development, to improve
oversight and accountability of United States assistance to
of Respect for Human Rights in Ethiopia
Resolution affirms that the U.S. Senate “stands by the people of
Ethiopia, and supports their peaceful efforts to increase democratic
space and to exercise the rights guaranteed by the Ethiopian
What Does the
Resolution Really Mean?
It is important to
note that the Senate Resolution (“simple resolution) is a
legislative act intended to signify the Senate’s “sense” of what is
happening in Ethiopia and what needs to be done. (See Senate Rule
30, adopted 2/4/15.)
When the Senate
seeks to state its views, opinions and position, make a point or
send a warning on an issue of importance, it employs a simple
resolution to get its message across. The Senate Resolution on
Ethiopia aims to express the opinion of a majority of Senators.
It is also important
to understand simple resolutions, unlike regular “bills” and
“resolutions” do not have the force or effect of law nor do they
require presidential signature.
So, a reasonable
question is why bother to pass a “simple resolution”?
resolution do not have the binding effect of law, they serve some
They are used by either house of Congress
The bottom line is
that Senate resolutions are taken very seriously by most foreign
governments and agencies and department of the U.S. Government. It
is not unreasonable to suppose that the T-TPLF ignoramuses will
chafe and ignore it.
Faced with a similar
legislative situation in 2007, Meles Zenawi, the late leader of the
T-TPLF, angrily and sarcastically lashed
Congress at the U.S. Congress: “The Ethiopian government isn’t
willing and is unable to be run like a banana republic from Capitol
Hill or anywhere else.”
In 2009, I
demonstrated that Meles’ government was quite willing to be treated
like a “barley
Jeddah or any of the other Gulf states.” At the time, Zenawi was
handing out millions of acres of Ethiopian land to so-called Saudi
and Gulf “investors”.
In the Ethiopia
Senate Resolution, there is little doubt that the T-TPLF will pay
special attention. I do not doubt that the T-TPLF is consulting its
Big Bucks lobbyist on what to do to nip the resolution in the bud.
The T-TPLF has learned from the past (RememberH.R.
that if it pays its lobbyists USD $50,000 a month it could stop cold
any legislation in the U.S. Congress.
Demand for USAID
Accountability in the Senate Resolution
My readers will
recall my letter to
USAID Administrator Gayle E. Smith dated March 16, 2016, in which I
demanded accountability and transparency in USAID administration of
American aid in Ethiopia. I asked Ms. Smith:
What safeguards, if
any, are in place to ensure the ruling regime will not put any of
the $500 million to political purposes?
processes are in place to ensure the prevention of corruption in the
administration of the aforementioned assistance in Ethiopia? How
much of the $500 million is provided to the ruling regime in
Ethiopia in the form of discretionary or non-discretionary
I am glad to see the
April 20, 2016 Senate Resolution makes a similar demand by
call[ing] on the
Secretary of State, in conjunction with the Administrator of the
United States Agency for International Development, to improve
oversight and accountability of United States assistance to
Ethiopia pursuant to expectations established in the President’s
2012 Strategy Toward Sub-Saharan Africa.
There are many who
ask myriad questions about the Senate Resolution. Why now? Where
have they been all these years? Does the resolution mean the Senate
has something “up its sleeve”? Is it just rhetoric? What is going to
happen next? Is the Senate really serious about human rights
violations in Ethiopia? Should Ethiopians be hopeful the resolution
will produce immediate improvements in the human rights situation in
Ethiopia? Will the Senate resolution end up being just talk and no
action? And on and on.
It is hard to give
definitive answers to these questions.
The U.S. legislative
process is very complex requiring bicameral action to enact
legislation subject to presidential veto. The American legislative
system is structurally designed to function in a slow and deliberate
process subject to constitutional and internal legislative rules.
We have learned
firsthand how a bill to promote human rights and democracy could be
subjected to massive lobbying efforts to defeat it when we worked to
pass H.R. 2003 (Ethiopia Democracy and Accountability Act).
Regardless, I am not
agree with Thomas Payne, one of the Founding Fathers of the United
States, who said in a speech on December 23, 1776:
Tyranny, like hell,
is not easily conquered; yet we have this consolation with us, that
the harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph. What we
obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly: it is dearness only that
gives everything its value… I love the man that can smile in
trouble, that can gather strength from distress, and grow brave by