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Ethiopia: Washington Update

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white house
By Mesfin Mekonen
The budget law that was enacted on Jan. 17 contains important provisions that a) put the Congress on record as noting the Ethiopian government is violating human rights; and b) prohibits the U.S. government from providing foreign aid that supports the violation of human rights. The law is intended to prevent the Ethiopian government from misusing humanitarian and military assistance to violate human rights.
A Senate report that accompanies the law says Congress is “concerned with the use of anti-terrorism laws to imprison journalists, political opponents, and others calling for free and fair elections and political and human rights.” It “urges the Departments of State and Defense to apply a consistent policy to engagement with the Ethiopian military and police, to help ensure the protection of these rights.”
The law — which can be read at — describes large-scale human rights abuses and prohibits the use of American assistance unless a number of important steps are taken.
In specific, the law states:
(d) Ethiopia.–
(1) Funds appropriated by this Act that are available for
assistance for Ethiopian military and police forces shall not be
made available unless the Secretary of State–
(A) certifies to the Committees on Appropriations that the
Government of Ethiopia is implementing policies to–
(i) protect judicial independence; freedom of
expression, association, assembly, and religion; the right
of political opposition parties, civil society
organizations, and journalists to operate without
harassment or interference; and due process of law; and
(ii) permit access to human rights and humanitarian
organizations to the Somali region of Ethiopia; and
(B) submits a report to the Committees on Appropriations on
the types and amounts of United States training and equipment
proposed to be provided to the Ethiopian military and police
including steps to ensure that such assistance is not provided
to military or police personnel or units that have violated
human rights, and steps taken by the Government of Ethiopia to
investigate and prosecute members of the Ethiopian military and
police who have been credibly alleged to have violated such
In addition, the law states that U.S. funds will
(A) not be used to support activities that directly or
indirectly involve forced evictions;
(B) support initiatives of local communities to improve
their livelihoods; and
(C) be subject to prior consultation with affected
The law also states that the “Secretary of the Treasury shall instruct the United States executive director of each international financial institution to oppose financing for any activities that directly or indirectly involve forced evictions in Ethiopia.”
These provisions reflect the hard work of Ethiopian-Americans who have contacted members of Congress to urge them to make U.S. foreign policy consistent with the American values, including democracy, freedom of expression, and basic human rights. Several members of Congress have taken special interest in Ethiopian human rights, including Rep. Christopher Smith (R-NJ), Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-MD), Sen. Benjamin Cardin (D-MD).