New Ethiopia rights bill introduced in US Senate

[JURIST] US Senator Russ Feingold (D-WI) [official website] introduced a new bill entitled the "Support for Democracy and Human Rights in Ethiopia Act of 2008" [S. 3427 text, PDF] in the Senate on Tuesday, calling for greater support for individual and political rights in Ethiopia [JURIST news archive]. The bill is meant to "build on successful diplomatic efforts that contributed to the October 2007 release of political prisoners in Addis" to help resolve internal conflicts over human rights and political participation. Co-sponsored by Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT) [JURIST news archive], the bill also is also aimed at negotiations to settle the ongoing conflict between Ethiopia and Eritrea [JURIST news archive]. Specifically, S. 3427 calls on the President to support democracy, promote and bolster the independence of the Ethiopian judiciary, ensure the protection of women and minorities, and "support efforts of the international community to gain full access" to Ethiopia's Ogaden region to "provide humanitarian and development assistance." In order to fund these efforts, the bill seeks to carve out $20 million from the 2009 budget of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) [official website]. Senator Feingold stated:

As many in this body know, I have spoken numerous times in recent months about the situation in Ethiopia and I continue to believe that the U.S.-Ethiopian partnership is very important--one of the more critical ones given not only our historic relationship but also Ethiopia's location in an increasingly strategic region. ... As we turn a blind eye to the escalating political tensions, people are being thrown in jail without justification and non-government organizations are being restricted, while civilians are dying unnecessarily in the Ogaden region--just like so many before them in Oromiya, Amhara, and Gambella. Furthermore, the Ethiopian military has come under increasing scrutiny for its conduct in the Ogaden as well as Somalia, with credible reports from non-governmental organizations of torture, rape and indiscriminate attacks. By providing unconditioned security assistance we are also sowing the seeds of insecurity and creating new grievances both in Ethiopia and in its neighboring countries.
Ethiopia has recently come under increasingly-intense international scrutiny concerning its poor human rights record. In June, Human Rights Watch (HRW) [advocacy website] released a report [text, PDF] attacking Ethiopian human rights practices in the Ogaden region [JURIST report]. In October 2007, the US House of Representatives passed the Ethiopia Democracy and Accountability Act of 2007 (H.R. 2003) [text; JURIST commentary], aimed in part at encouraging the human rights situation in Ethiopia. The bill is currently before the US Senate Committee on Foreign Relations. In July 2007, HRW accused Ethiopian troops of violating international humanitarian law [JURIST report] by burning homes and forcibly relocating civilians in Ogaden. In March 2007, HRW also accused Ethiopia of complicity with the US and Kenya in secretly detaining Somalis [JURIST report] accused of being Islamic militants. Ethiopia had admitted [JURIST report] in April 2007 that it detained terror suspects but denied that the detentions were secret.

 

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