Before we talk about HR 4423…
So maybe I was not dreaming that there appears to be a palpable change in the US’ talking points about Ethiopia.
Vicky Huddleston, the charge d'affaires to Ethiopia used to be a big fan of “fair and speedy” trials for people the Ethiopian government has imprisoned on asinine charges of “genocide” and “treason”. Lovely. I dunno. I always thought that line was a bit like asking the person stabbing another person to give speedy medical attention to his victim. I guess it’s better than not saying anything, but at a certain point the stabbing needs to be addressed.
Well, it started with Yamamoto at the hearings, and now Ms. Huddleston seems to be losing patience. Jeepers whiskers. Some of the interesting parts…
AFP, April 6, 2006
The top US diplomat in Ethiopia said that opposition leaders and journalists accused of plotting a coup after deadly post-election violence last year must be freed to stabilize the country's volatile political situation.
"We feel that, in the end, their release is absolutely necessary to a reconciliation process," Huddleston said. "It can't go on like this, for this process both sides need to be ready to compromise."
"To have a dialogue with all the opposition it is terribly important for the future of the country and it is certainly an objective and a priority of our government," she said.
"We would like to see more progress, better respect for human rights, a more professional security forces and faster movement so that the opposition parties feel that they are really listened to," Huddleston said.
A far cry from give them a fair trial, and while you are at it, give them cake. Something is happening in the State Department.
So, HR 4423 was indeed reported out of Subcommittee. Considering that most bills die unceremoniously in Sub comm, wow.
It was a bit disturbing that it was a straight party line vote: republicans for it (6 votes); democrats against (4 votes). So you know what this means: Ranking member Donald Payne (D-New Jersey) is Ethiopia’s enemy #1 du jour and Chris Smith the patron saint. Alright people, walk it off.
To be sure, Payne is much more sympathetic towards the Ethiopian government than Smith, although I thought Payne was straightforward at the hearings where poor Ambassador Fisseha was henpecked. Payne, I felt, went out of his way to tell us he does not respond to pressure from the Diaspora. Ookay.
I am not sure why he seemed to have proposed an altogether new legislation… and it seems more like a new legislation than amendments to me, but what do I know. But why were all his amendments rejected?
7) (b) CREATION OF VICTIMS SUPPORT NETWORK.* The President, acting through the head of the appropriate department or agency of the Government of the United States, shall create a “Victims Support Network” for Ethiopia. The Network shall provide assistance to families of individuals who lost loved ones in Ethiopia, provide medical and financial support to individuals injured by Ethiopian Government security personnel, provide financial support for legal support for prisoners of conscience, and provide assistance to local groups or groups from outside of Ethiopia that are active in monitoring the status of individuals in prison and delivery of food, medicine, and
What was wrong with that?
7c “SUPPORTING INDIGENOUS HUMAN RIGHTS GROUPS” is also strong, although Smith also mentions the Ethiopian Human Rights Council by name as well.
Payne is more specific about establishing a
(d) JUDICIAL WATCH NETWORK.*The Secretary of State, acting through the head of the appropriate department or agency of the Government of the United States, shall create a Judicial Watch Network consisting of local and international groups to monitor judicial proceedings throughout Ethiopia with special focus on unnecessary government intervention on strictly judicial matters and to investigate and report ways to strengthen an independent judiciary.
The good thing about this is that it will expose just how brain numbingly injudicious the Ethiopian courts are, despite the EPRDF’s forced fantasy that there is separation of powers. Prime Minister Meles had long decided that opposition members were guilty of genocide and treason ahead of the prosecution, which woke up one dandy day and rubber stamped the charges. Remember what Ato Meles said upon the arrests? (Financial Times-subscription required)?
“What we have detained is people who have tried to overthrow the duly constituted government and that in my view is treason under the laws of the country,” he said.
Yaaa? It must be democracy with a small ‘d’ because most judiciaries do not work simply because the executive ‘feels’ like charging people.
That’s how ridiculous the judiciary is, and anything that sheds light on that should be welcomed.
My guess is that people heave-hoed into apoplectic seizures about Section 5, Article 2:
Ethiopian opposition parties suffer from internal divisions and some groups lack clear policy objectives, in large part due to repeated government harassment, detention of political leaders, inability to freely function as a political party inside the country, unhelpful interference and dominance by some exile groups, and lack of popular support for opposition-led armed insurrections.
I’m not sure what to make of “and lack of popular support for opposition-led armed insurrections.” But the rest… sure it might sting, but c’mon. The EPRDF essentially strengthened the opposition coalition that might have not seen eye-to-eye with each other. Now the CUD is seen as a martyr- a party of principle and determination because some knucklehead decided that chucking its leadership in jail was a stellar idea. But read Payne’s qualifier: “…in large part due to repeated government harassment, detention of political leaders, inability to freely function as a political party inside the country” Exactly. So not only does the opposition have martyr status, and, and whatever its divisions, it can say, “the EPRDF did it.” The EPRDF loses either way.
“Unhelpful interference and dominance by some exile groups” …I have also addressed in the OCD of OSDs and a creepy kingmaker complex that needs to be flicked.
The thing is, the silent majority in the Diaspora… the sane people who had toe tagged Ethiopian politics… is starting to speak. Voter registration initiatives are intensifying in the Ethiopian-American community. The insularity of the community is thawing as more and more Ethiopians have established a relationship with their representatives and senators. I’ve wondered this for a while: how did the EPRDF manage to fuck up its cozy position? Donor nations thought it was the best thing to happen to Africa since GMFs, and most of us had safely inoculated ourselves from Ethiopian politics: a blindingly adoring benefactor, coupled with tragically detached detractors. How perfect was that? Who pisses on that gift? The EPRDF does. And now a lot of highly caffeinated know-it-alls have stirred from slumber.
Anyway… so Payne, I guess to make sure his words are not twisted, made a not-so subtle point in the next paragraph:
(3) The EPRDF also faced its most serious internal divisions in the post-Mengistu era in 2001. A major split within the TPLF, the most important group within the EPRDF coalition, led to the ouster of nearly half of the Central Committee members and founding members of the TPLF. The ousted leaders remain a potential threat to Prime Minister Meles Zenawi, leader of the party. Restructuring and the ouster of other leaders in the coalition also took place over the past several years.
You wiley-waskly wabbit.
Both Smith and Payne are high on Nile projects and water harnessing. I hope this is taken seriously and that it is not a cynical earmark or used to needle Egypt. Harnessing Ethiopia’s hydroelectric potential and irrigation capabilities is the forgotten elixir. More on that in a later post.
Mr. Payne’s travel restrictions add “civilians who were involved in killing seven policemen.” Hm. Alrighty. It would actually be very interesting to read the Ethiopian government’s (cough!) independent investigations into the June and November killings. Why, the report is supposed to come out in April 2006… a few glitches… according to Ethiomedia, “Five out of the eleven members withdrew themselves from the commission long before the report is published. This has tarnished the image of the already 'talked-about' commission.”
Smith’s travel restrictions might cause a little ripple-ripple in the EPRDF, although I think it can be stricter.
(2) TRAVEL RESTRICTIONS.—The President
shall deny a visa and entry into the United States
to any official of the Government of Ethiopia who
the President determines is involved in the unlawful
shooting of citizens of Ethiopia in June or November
2005 or other demonstrable violations of human
rights until such time as the certification described
in paragraph (3) is made in accordance with such
“Any official of the Government of Ethiopia who the President determines is involved in the unlawful shooting… or other demonstrable violations of human rights…” Ohhhh, that there leaves a lot of EPRDFfers to reschedule their next Disney vacation. But they can go to China, I guess. Whatever.
The certification in Payne’s amendment reads:
(c) CERTIFICATION.*The certification described in this subsection is a certification transmitted by the President to Congress that contains a determination of the President that*
(1) all prisoners of conscience in Ethiopia have been released;
(2) the investigation of the killing of civilian protesters by Ethiopian security forces is credible,
transparent, and those involved in the unlawful killing have been punished;
(3) family members and others have unfettered access to visit detainees in Ethiopian prisons;
(4) the rule of law and human rights are respected throughout Ethiopia; and
(5) the Ethiopian judiciary is independent.
So can someone explain to me why Payne is now so unconditionally vilified?
Payne doesn’t call outright for the release of the prisoners and tucks that provision in Section 7c, which is bullshit, and he does flitter around the EPRDF like a shy bridesmaid, but Payne was clearly dismayed at the Ethiopian government’s sense of judicious dishonesty. Apparently the EPRDF has let a friend of Payne’s, one Mr. Alazar, languish in jail for fours years on ‘corruption’ charges. (Payne doesn’t mention the Anuak genocide.)
One of the obvious differences between Smith and Payne is that Smith is heavy on ‘training’ Ethiopian soldiers to be better people… i.e. don’t use citizens as target practice. I am wary of any military cooperation, mainly because we see how the Ethiopian government uses assistance for “anti-terrorism” against its own people. (The US had to suspend Humvee ‘sales’ to Ethiopia on the account that Special Forces were roaming the city in Humvees terrorizing people. Ach. The irony.)
Smith wants a
United Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture to conduct an investigation of reports that 11 prisoners have been and continue to be tortured 12 while in the custody of the Government of Ethiopia;
Payne must not care for UN Special Rapporteurs on Torture. (How the hell do you become one of those.)
Smith wants to “encourage” the Ethiopian government to open up the media, the innernetz, the insane Press Proclamation No. 34 (“which allows the government to bring criminal charges against journalists for offenses such as defamation and the publication of false news”) etc etc. I don’t know what “encouragement” entails. Can that be hashed out during full committee?
Smith appropriates $10 million towards this Act, Payne is thinking more in the $20 million range. Smith’s is not broken down as well as Payne’s.
Make no mistake about it, I have long lost confidence in the Democratic party. It’s becoming marginalized by master panderers like Hilary Clinton who don’t trust the base enough so prefer to down a Bud with NASCAR dads who will vote for her at half past when hell freezes over. Look at the whip check the Democrats did last week to derail the immigration bill. Even Mr. Kennedy conceded that politics came before policy. I guess you can argue that’s par for the course, but Democrats have been wailing about Republican intransigence, and the only way they could appear strong is by weakening policy.
The Ethiopian Diaspora’s blind allegiance to the Democratic Party has been more than a little perplexing, so seeing a reassessment of that is healthy, I think. But vilifying the ranking member as a mouthpiece of Meles? Please, people.
I kinda fell in like with the spokesperson of the Ethiopian American Council who was interviewed on VOA-Amharic on Saturday about HR 4423. I was pretty much digging what he was saying until he said that Payne’s proposal is exactly what Ato Meles has been saying—just in English. Hmm. Hyperbole much?
Okay, so apparently Payne was obstructionist in HR 923. But it is unhelpful to plop him in the Meles Mini-Me category. Whatever beef the Diaspora has with Payne, some of his amendments were strong. Period. And we should push for them. And, um, Payne is the ranking member in the Subcommittee. If the political landscape changes in November, things won’t look pur-dy.
Luckily for the Ethiopian opposition, the EPRDF is always ahead of the curve in the intellectual debauchery and diplomatic malfeasance department.
The Ethiopian Embassy, very ineptly run by H.E. Fesseha Ashgedom Tessema, issued a press release in which it… yes, said that it prefers the Payne bill. I know this was the Ethiopian government’s feeble attempt at political savvy, but, didn’ I ask nicely that the Ethiopian government not write any more letters?
On April 7 the Ethiopian Embassy sent out a press release. Lordy. Ne’er hath the phrase “Ethiopian Embassy” and “sent out a press release” meshed in the pursuit of higher scholarship. Speak, oh Titans of Trite:
It starts off with calling HR 4423 a “bill designed to interfere in Ethiopia's internal politics and to adversely affect Ethiopian-U.S. relations.”
Good one, boys. But are you really in a position to posture at this particular moment? You want to pivot good relations with the US with the passage of HR 4423? I am telling you, the EPRDF goes train wreck-y with each passing day.
Donald Payne (which it calls “the ranking minority member of the subcommittee”… minority as in black? Or minority as in democrat?- ranking member means the party that doesn’t control the… anyway) had a “substitute” bill that “we felt … was more balanced and more attentive to the genuine needs of the Ethiopian people." Really? Maybe someone needs to re-read Payne’s amendments, because if the Ethiopian government wants its passage then it will be acknowledging things such as conspicuous judicial maladies, strangling the free press, intolerance of dissent… not to mention supporting a travel ban and rigorous oversight of human rights affairs. So can we take Ato Fessha’s endorsement of Mr. Payne’s version of HR 4423 as an admission that:
… Human rights conditions deteriorated significantly after the May 15, 2005, elections in Ethiopia and overall human rights conditions in the country remain poor.
Can we take it to mean that the Ethiopian government accepts one of the congressional findings, that Human Rights Watch has said:
… ‘‘[I]n the wake of the May 15 parliamentary elections, in which opposition parties won an unprecedented number of seats amidst massive controversy over the election results, federal police in the Oromia and Amhara regions have threatened, beaten and detained opposition supporters, students and people with no political affiliation, often in nighttime raids. Alongside local government officials and members of local government-backed militias, the federal police have taken the lead in intimidating and coercing opposition supporters’’?
After peevishly telling us there is a robust free media in Ethiopia during the hearings, is Ambassador Fesseha admitting that:
Journalists and editors of the independent Press have been and continue to face harassment and prosecution for alleged violations of press laws in Ethiopia. Dozens of journalists have either fled the country and some are currently in exile fearing prosecution or harassment.
You see where this is going? The EPRDF was probably thinking it was practicing a stealth political maneuver. Relax, boys. Don’t hurt yourself. It’s insane to back Payne’s bill in an effort to divide the Diaspora. Quoting Payne as saying that opposition groups in Ethiopia “have not been saints”? What’s that about? That’s what it comes down to?
The EPRDF might have also pissed off its last sympathizer in congress. Being so strongly aligned to the EPRDF might not be what Payne wants. Hasn’t been working for Tony Blair these days. But the Ethiopian government is used to misquoting and alienating its friends. Tim Clarke?
Um, is it too late to ask what the heck happened to the other Ethiopian Ambassador in DC, Kassahun Ayele? He was so good at ‘splaining. Not so much. He was good at stammering through explanations. He didn’t even say goodbye.
So anyway, when I heard the CUD- North America had responded to the passage of HR 4423, I cringed… Another Payne bashing?
The amendment introduced by Ranking Member Donald Payne was not
accepted as it was unable to get the necessary vote. But contrary to
some misrepresentations and distorted spin by the Ethiopian government
and its supporters, Mr. Payne’s amendment was not a whitewash of the
crimes of the regime in Addis Ababa. The amendment acknowledges the
widespread human rights abuse and suggests corrective mechanisms. Our
Support Committees and community thank Congressman Payne
for the serious concern he has shown and the hard work he put in to address the problems of human rights and democracy in our country.
Someone gets it. Finally.
The passage of HR 4423 through Subcommittee is undoubtedly a huge deal. I hope some of it is amended, and I hope it passes full committee with the support of both parties.
But before we get going, we need to understand what went wrong with the democrats in sub comm. I can’t figure out if it was the standard partisan politicking or if there is something deeper. I am not a constituent of the members who voted against the bill: Congresswoman Barbra Lee (D-CA), Congresswoman Betty McCollum (MN), Congressman Gregory W. Meeks (D-NY), and Donald M. Payne (NJ) but I hope those of you who are will ask them why. Hopefully the civic organizations working on HR 4423 can mediate between the community and Payne. I know we live in districts that have been jerrymandered to ridiculousness, but it is still curious that there was a straight party line vote.
As long as the “not silent no’ mo’” majority sticks to people and organizations with a proven track record of moderation, the Ethiopian Diaspora is well on its way to becoming a weighty entity. Like most people, I admire the Cuban-American clout. But it has a shoot from the hip tendency. The debacle over the Elian Gonzalez case brought that to light. With all its power, Cuba is still being led by a crotchety commie; daily life is unbearable for most Cubans who risk life and limb to reach American shores. But try getting elected in Florida without the Cuban vote.
The moderate voice should be the one leading the HR 4423 success. The one thing about extremism is that it is easily penetrable and that makes it weak. People who align themselves only with organizations which are virile preachers of “with me or against me” have short political shelf lives. Brother Gooch was trying to examine why so many Ethiopian civic organizations fail. I ain’t no sociologist, but I think it might have to do with outfits organized around extremism… hating EPRDF or hating the opposition. Opposition supporters in the Diaspora faltered big time when they allowed vilification of Berhanu Nega during the post election negotiations. Beyene Petros and Merara Gudina have been denigrated for joining parliament. The EPRDF started arresting CUD members and essentially bailed out supporters of the opposition in the Diaspora. But we can’t keep on depending on EPRDF to make bone headed mistakes. And now people I thought were sane are sending me information about the freakin’ EPRP??? Give me a break. These convenient and ephemeral allegiances are bound to fail, and when they do it gets ugg-lee.
My favorite Ethiopundit quote:
Ethiopians will remember who they have always been and not what they have been told to be at the point of a gun.
Do your part: Website for International Relations Committee. Here are the members of the IRC. Henry Hyde is the chairman.