Smith Calls on Ethiopian Government End Political Crisis, Respect Human Rights

WASHINGTON, D.C. – On the one-year anniversary of Ethiopia’s general elections, Rep. Chris Smith – Chairman of the House Subcommittee on Africa, Global Human Rights and International Operations – said it is imperative that the Government of Ethiopia release all political prisoners and prisoners of conscience. Smith also noted the importance negotiating with the two main political party coalitions to end the stalemate on the limited rights of opposition members of Parliament and investigating killings of protestors by government forces.
“Prime Minister Meles Zenawi played down the government shooting of protesters in June 2005 and despite having enough to arrest those responsible,” said Smith, who went to Ethiopia last summer. “Now, one year after the election that could have brought so much hope to Ethiopia, the shootings remain uninvestigated and political party leaders are still held without trial on spurious charges.”

The May, 2005 elections were widely acknowledged to be the most open elections ever held in Ethiopia. After millions of voters turned out at the polls expecting to make a change, unrest among Ethiopia’s 72 million citizens began within weeks of the conclusion of the legislative elections. Early partial results indicated that the opposition parties won nearly 200 seats. However, the official government results – finally released in September, showed that the major oppositions groups – the Coalition for Unity and Democracy (CUD) and the United Ethiopian Democratic Forces (UEDF) – won 175 seats.

An unknown number of Ethiopians, including minors, have been jailed for protesting the delayed election results and limitations on the rights of opposition Members of Parliament. Though many prisoners have been released, party leaders, human rights activists and journalists remain imprisoned. Prisoners continue to be held on a variety of charges, including “outrages against the Constitution” and “genocide.”

Human rights organizations have expressed concern about claims of torture made in a recent Federal High Court hearing by several prisoners. Though the court ordered that detainees should receive medical treatment following the charges of abuse, there remains no commitment by the government to investigate the allegations.

“My bill, the Ethiopia Freedom, Democracy and Human Rights Act, empowers Ethiopia to establish basic human rights and continue on the path toward democracy by instituting electoral and governmental reform,” said Smith, who noted that the bill would also provide for an investigation by the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture.”

The Smith bill – the Ethiopia Freedom, Democracy and Human Rights Act of 2006 – passed the House Subcommittee on Africa, Global Human Rights and International Operations on April 6th and is awaiting further action by the House Committee on International Relations.

posted by Ethiounited Moderator at5:20 PM

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