H.R. 2003 Should Not Be Considered By The Senate
Oct. 23 2007
H.R. 2003 Threatens U.S. National Security Interests and Condemns an Important Ally
H.R. 2003, sponsored by Rep. Don Payne, should not be considered by the Senate because it would compromise the national security interests of the United States and would not serve its stated objective of advancing freedom, democracy and human rights in Ethiopia.
The bill undermines the strategic cooperation between the United States and its strongest and most dependable ally in the region by cutting off critical security assistance to Ethiopia unless the President makes a complex certification. This restriction would deal a fatal blow to the mutuality of interests and sense of shared trust essential to cooperative security arrangements.
The bill would further destabilize the tense situation in the Horn of Africa by undermining Ethiopian efforts to counter threats of terrorism and regional war posed by Eritrea and radical Islamic insurgents in Somalia. On August 17, 2007, the U.S. State Department announced that it may designate Eritrea as a “state sponsor of terrorism.” While Ethiopia is fighting to support the Transitional Federal Government, recognized and supported by the U.S., the UN, and the African Union, Eritrea is hosting a counter-“reconciliation” conference for the radical Islamic Courts Union.
Mr. Payne and his allies in Ethiopian opposition politics seek nothing less than a realignment of U.S. interests in the region. Mr. Payne has asserted, contrary to all evidence, that Ethiopia is the “source of instability in the region” and his aide has suggested that Eritrea is the country “where the fighting of extremists and terrorists was a priority.” This is certainly contrary to all findings by the U.S. government. Senate action would elevate this distorted view and embolden Eritrea in its crusade against Ethiopia.
Any Senate action on H.R. 2003 would suggest that the U.S. supports Eritrea, a country the U.S. is considering designating a “state sponsor of terrorism,” in part due to the finding of a recent United Nations report that Eritrea is supplying Somali insurgents with “huge quantities of arms.” The Assistant Secretary of State, in recent testimony, stated that Eritrea’s “priority is to take down Prime Minister Meles and they will associate with any extremist terrorist organization to do so, including…those who have been sitting in Eritrea, who have been trained by Eritrea, who have been armed, financed and supported by Eritrea.”
Overlooks Progress Toward Democracy and Reconciliation
There is no question that the period following the elections of May 2005 was difficult. Mistakes were made on all sides, as acknowledged by government and opposition leaders. However, there has been immense progress in Ethiopia since 2005 in creating a competitive, pluralistic democratic system of government and a more open civil society. This legislation does not recognize any of that progress.
The Government of Ethiopia and opposition leaders are making major strides toward reconciliation. On July 20, 2007, following convictions and sentencing, 38 opposition leaders were granted full pardons. All remaining members of the opposition were pardoned and released on August 18, 2007.
According to the U.S. State Department, “[t]he elections stand out as a milestone in creating a new, more competitive multiparty political system in one of Africa’s largest and most important countries.” Opposition party candidates won more than 1/3 of all seats in parliament, increasing the strength of the opposition from less than 3%.
Despite calls for boycott by extremists in the opposition, eighty-seven percent (150 out of 172) of the elected opposition representatives have joined the Parliament; ninety-six percent of all elected representatives are now in Parliament.
The ruling party and the two main opposition parties in Parliament have agreed to a new working procedure and code of conduct, providing legislative rights to the opposition similar to the U.K., thereby resolving opposition objections and paving the way for a functioning multi-party legislative branch of government.
Impedes Further Democratic Progress and Economic Development
Ethiopia is currently undergoing significant political reconciliation, which will likely continue to result in greater multi-party democratic activity and increased civil society freedom of action. The House has been used by extremists by interjecting itself into Ethiopian domestic politics. Action by the Senate would bolster hard-line elements and encourage the politics of extremes.
Far from helping achieve its stated goals, the bill would impede progress towards human rights, democracy, and economic freedom in Ethiopia by cutting off bilateral funds for these programs. Further, passage would likely embolden those who would oppose new and ongoing democracy, human rights and civil society programs.
The bill also impairs funding for all “non-essential” United States assistance, which likely includes USAID programs for development assistance and economic support, both of which support good governance, respect for human rights and private sector growth.
The bill completely ignores the ongoing reconciliation process, led by a respected Council of Elders, that has been taking place for the last 18 months and that has already led to the full pardon of 70 opposition leaders.