For Immediate Release, 10 September 2008 — The Coalition for HR 2003 has learned that Senator Russ Feingold (D-WI), Chairman of the Subcommittee on African Affairs, introduced a bill entitled “Support for Democracy and Human Rights in Ethiopia Act of 2008”. We are grateful to Senator Feingold and his staff for introducing this legislation in the Senate.
On October 2, 2007, H.R. 2003, “Ethiopia Democracy and Accountability Act of 2007” passed the U.S. House of Representatives unanimously. On October 3, 2007, the Senate received the bill and referred it to the Committee on Foreign Relations.
The Feingold bill is substantially similar in legislative intent and appraisal of the poor human rights conditions in Ethiopia. The “findings” in the bill document a slew of human rights violations committed by the “Government of Ethiopia” in the aftermath of the 2005 elections, including the injury of “763 civilians,” the murder of 193 persons and detention of “thousands more opposition party leaders and their followers, “widespread violations of human rights and international law by the Ethiopian military in Mogadishu and other areas of Somalia, as well as in the Ogaden region of Ethiopia.” The bill describes the use of “unjustifiably brutal tactics [by the government of Ethiopia] against its own citizens in Oromiya, Amhara and Gambella regions.” The bill finds the recent civil society law has the effect of “creat[ing] a complex web of onerous bureaucratic hurdles, draconian criminal penalties and intrusive powers of surveillance that would further decrease the political space available for civil society institutions.”
Section 5 of the bill requires the President to take “additional steps to support the implementation of democracy and governance institutions and organizations in Ethiopia,” including support for civil society organizations, fundamental freedoms, bolstering the independence of the judiciary and full international access to the Ogaden, among other things. The bill provides $20,000,000 for fiscal year 2009 to carry out its purposes.
In contrast to the Feingold bill, H.R. 2003 imposes stricter limitations on security assistance and travel restrictions on any official of the Government of Ethiopia involved in human rights violations. It also requires certification by the president that “quantifiable” efforts are being made in the human rights area, including release of political prisoners, independent operation of the judiciary, free operation of the print and broadcast media and restructuring of the national elections board to reflect the political diversity ion the country. H.R. 2003 also provides support for economic development.
The Coalition for H.R. 20003 will provide further analysis of the Feingold bill and possibilities for reconciling the House and Senate version in the coming day. For now, we ask all supporters of human rights in Ethiopia to express their gratitude and appreciation to Senator Feingold.
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