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Ethiopian-Americans Council Update on the Ethiopian Freedom, Human Rights and Democracy Act (HR 4423)

Ethiopian-Americans Council Update on the Ethiopian Freedom, Human Rights and Democracy Act (HR 4423)

4/24/2006 1:30:00 PM

To: National and International desks

Contact: Mesfin Mekonen of the Ethiopian/American Council and ENC, 202-737-4530

WASHINGTON, April 24 /U.S. Newswire/ -- Major progress was made this month in the effort to enact legislation committing the U.S. government to supporting democracy and human rights in Ethiopia. The House Subcommittee on Africa, Global Human Rights and International Operations voted April 6 to send HR 4423, The Ethiopian Freedom, Human Rights and Democracy Act, to the House floor for a vote. The bill has been renamed and improved since it was introduced and includes stronger demands for the immediate release of political prisoners. The bill condemns in particular two incidents in which peaceful demonstrators were shot by government forces. It includes a travel ban that prevents travel to America by those government officials and forces involved in the shooting of demonstrators.

Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J.) summarized the bill on April 6, noting:

-- H.R. 4423 calls for the immediate and unconditional release of all political prisoners and prisoners of conscience in Ethiopia. It provides support for the work of both international and domestic human rights agencies and urges the dispatch of the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture.

-- It provides human rights training for both domestic human rights organizations and government agencies, so that both sides are clear about what is called for in international human rights agreements to which Ethiopia is a signatory, and so that the rule of law can prevail in Ethiopia's court system.

-- It establishes technical assistance for court, police, security and prison personnel so that those arrested and held in custody can be treated in a humane way when their incarceration is justified by the facts, and so that those who peacefully demonstrate to express their political views can be dealt with in a lawful manner.

-- It establishes a Judicial Watch Network to enable the Ethiopian judiciary to operate independently with monitoring of actions that threaten that independence.

-- It encourages the Government of Ethiopia to revise its laws that currently unduly limit the right of journalists to freely provide information, and establishes a program to strengthen the private media in Ethiopia a vital factor in any free society.

-- It provides technical assistance to enhance the democratic operation of local, regional and national governments and to promote reconciliation through peaceful political groups.

-- It provides support and encouragement of efforts by the Government of Ethiopia and the political opposition to work together to ensure that future elections including the upcoming local elections are conducted in an atmosphere free of intimidation and harassment and that those elected to office are allowed to exercise their duties as public officials without undue limitations.

-- It provides technical assistance on the appropriate and effective use of resources, especially water resources, as well as economic policy assistance on such issues as land ownership to help build the Ethiopian economy so that it can reduce the need for donor support.

-- Finally, it provides financing for U.S.-Ethiopian commercial ventures so that the Ethiopian private sector can create jobs and help this nation reduce its high level of poverty.

There was some drama at the April 6 subcommittee meeting when Donald M. Payne (D-N.J.) attempted to derail HR 4423 by introducing alternative legislation. Like Smith's bill, Payne's legislation condemns the EPRDF, notes the suppression of legitimate dissent, and demands the release of political prisoners. It is far weaker, however, when it comes to specific steps the U.S. government should take to foster democracy in Ethiopia and to pressure the Ethiopian government to respect human rights. The EPRDF indirectly confirmed today the superiority of the Smith bill. The Ethiopian embassy in Washington released a statement praising Payne and attacking Smith a sure sign that Smith is on the right track!

Payne's proposal to substitute his watered-down legislation created some fireworks. Smith said that Payne had kept quiet for months and had never attempted to contact Smith regarding Ethiopia. Smith accused Payne of attempting to stall the bill. In the end, Payne received only four votes and his bill was defeated. Smith's HR 4423 received six votes. It has 15 co- sponsors and many members of Congress have informed us that they will co-sponsor or vote for it.

Prepared statements from the April 6 subcommittee meeting are available at


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