Not to Defeat the Purpose
October 6, 2007.

After lengthy deliberations by its Foreign Affairs Committee, the U.S. Congress passed the Ethiopia Democracy and Accountability Act of 2007, H.R. 2003, on October 2, 2007. This Bill talks about human rights violations in Ethiopia in the past and the strengthening of democracy in the country in the future. It holds accountable the violators of human rights who have been working with the former Mengistu Haile Mariam regime as well as the current Ethiopian government who are living in the U.S. and other countries. If for nothing else, the bill should be applauded for this reason. Holding accountable past human rights violators sends a clear signal to any future propensities.

During the reigns of both regimes, human rights violations have been common place in both Ethiopia and Eritrea, which was part of Ethiopia during Mengistu's regime and became independent after the coming to power of the current regime in 1991. Human rights violations of the current regime dates back to its first coming to power in 1991, needless to mention its possible human rights violations when it was a rebel force prior to that. Its human rights violations records since it came to power to the helm of the Ethiopian government is argued to be in concert with the Eritrean People's Liberation Front (EPLF) that became the governing party in Eritrea under the name Popular Front for Democracy and Justice (PFDJ). There are many who allege that the top leadership in the Ethiopian government may have been indirectly assisting the EPLF.

Under controversial circumstances, the leaders of the two countries oversaw the death of over 70,000 soldiers in the 1998 to 2000 war between Ethiopia and Eritrea. A CNN news report at the time called this massacre genocide. The then U.N. envoy Richard Holbrooke noted during the war that Prime Minister Meles Zenawi of Ethiopia and President Isaias Afwerki of Eritrea exhibited “cruel disregard of the interests of the people.” Herman Cohen, former U.S. Assistant Undersecretary for African Affairs who led negotiations between the Derg, the EPLF, the TPLF, and the OLF in 1991 in London recently characterized some of the political leaders as evil elements.

Granted that these arguments are based on rational observations, the human rights violations of those Ethiopian government officials cannot be and should not be looked in isolation from those of the Eritrean government officials and their associates. As Dr. David Shinn, former U.S. Ambassador to Ethiopia once said, Ethiopia and Eritrea relations in 1991 and since then need to be seen in their totality.

Therefore, while the H.R. 2003 Bill is a very useful document to address past human rights violations in Ethiopia and deter future propensities, it fails to go to the full length of its purpose by not including Eritrea's political leaders that are likely to have their hands in human rights violations in their country as well as in the region. Perhaps, this is something to consider when the Bill goes to the U.S. Senate.