In Support of the Ethiopian Democracy and Accountability Act (H.R. 2003)
Mr. SMITH of New Jersey. Mr. Speaker, I rise in very, very strong support of the Ethiopian Democracy and Accountability Act. I am very happy that it has finally been brought to the floor. It is legislation that will limit and condition U.S. Government assistance on the Ethiopian Government provided that the government meets a very modest list of human rights benchmarks and provides financial support to human rights promoters in Ethiopia.
Mr. Speaker, the Ethiopian Democracy and Accountability Act is as timely now as it was last year, maybe even more so after the failure of so many attempts to promote human rights reform through dialogue and persuasion. It is clear that stronger measures are necessary, and they must come now. Human rights abuses have to be penalized.
Recently, Human Rights Watch reported that the Ethiopian Government, fighting an insurgency in Ogaden region, had forcibly displaced thousands of civilians in that region, burned villages and food stocks and imposed a trade blockade on the region. Just a few minutes ago in the Subcommittee on Africa and Global Health, we heard from a number of witnesses who told us very chilling tales. People who were there on the ground, human rights reporters on the ground were documenting the abuse that is being committed against people: rape, and a whole host of other gross indignities being committed, crimes against humanity by government forces.
Mr. Speaker, even the U.S. Department of State in its "Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2006'' points out that there were numerous credible reports that security officials often beat or mistreated detainees. Massive arrests and detentions are common, the reports went on to say. Although the Ethiopian Constitution and law prohibit arbitrary arrest and detention, the government frequently did not observe these provisions in practice. Authorities regularly detained persons without warrants and denied access to counsel and family members, particularly in the outlying regions. The Independent Commission of Inquiry found that security officials held over 30,000 civilians incommunicado for up to 3 months in detention centers located in remote areas. Other estimates place the number of such detainees as high as 50,000.
This is only part of a long series of human rights outrages, Mr. Speaker, committed by Prime Minister Meles. On June 20, 2005, after an election that displeased the Prime Minister, almost 200 pro-democracy demonstrators in Addis were slaughtered when they demanded that there be a true accurate accounting of how people voted. It was a magnificent outpouring of Ethiopians. They voted. Eighty-five percent of the eligible voters poured out to vote despite much intimidation and despite the fact that many of the election observers all of a sudden were thrown out of the country by the Meles government, including NDI and the International Republican Institute. So they weren't there.
But despite all that, people voted, only to have, in many cases, their votes discounted by the government. Then, as people took to the streets to protest, like I said, almost 200 pro-democracy demonstrators were gunned down.
When I visited Ethiopia in August of that year and met with Prime Minister Meles, I urged him to investigate that atrocity, to punish those who were responsible and to release the political prisoners. Meles told me, I have a file on all of them, that is to say, all of the opposition leaders. He said, They are all guilty of treason. It is hard to put faith in the reformist intentions of a government official who says those kind of things.
Mr. Speaker, I believe that neither we nor the international community has pushed Meles hard enough on human rights and democracy issues because we have been satisfied perhaps that they cooperate with us to some extent in the war on terror. I would point out to my colleagues that the war on terror is very important, but no regime that terrorizes its own citizens can be a reliable ally in the war on terror. Terrorism isn't just a military issue. It is also a human rights issue. Terrorists come from countries where their governments fail to respect their human rights. In promoting human rights in Ethiopia, we are attacking terrorism at its root.
Mr. Speaker, I have come to know and admire many people from Ethiopia's great and ancient civilization. I ensure my colleagues that democracy, human rights, and rule of law are things that they desperately want for their country. It should be our country's policy to promote these important things which correspond with our own long-term interests.
Mr. Speaker, I urge my colleagues to support this bill; and, again, I congratulate my good friend and colleague from New Jersey (Mr. Payne) for his leadership on this very important issue.
Mr. Speaker, I yield back the balance of my time.