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Panel I of a Hearing of the House Foreign Affairs Committee's Africa and Global Health Subcommittee - Ehtopia and the State of Democracy

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Location: Washington, DC


Panel I of a Hearing of the House Foreign Affairs Committee's Africa and Global Health Subcommittee - Ehtopia and the State of Democracy: Effects on Human Rights and Humanitarian Conditions in the Ogaden and Somalia

BREAK IN TRANSCRIPT

REP. CHRIS SMITH (R-NJ): Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman.

And good morning, everybody. And today, Mr. Chairman, as you know, is truly an historic day for the victims of human rights abuse in Ethiopia and for all of those who believe that Ethiopians deserve better than the cruelty and the repression that the Meles regime has imposed upon them.

I want to express my deepest congratulations to you, Mr. Chairman, for bringing to the floor later on today the Ethiopian Democracy and Accountability Act, which I believe will be approved by the House of Representatives and will send a clear, unmistakable message to the Meles government that we know what you're doing there and we profoundly disapprove, and we believe that the people of Ethiopia, like I said, deserve better than that kind of repression.

Mr. Chairman, as you know, in the Ogaden region the Ethiopian government is fighting an insurgency, but has carried the war to the innocent population. The Ethiopian government has put the region under effective commercial blockade, prevented humanitarian assistance from reaching the suffering people and expelled humanitarian non- governmental organizations. We have reports that troops have also raped women, burned villages and confiscated livestock on a large scale.

In Somalia we have reports that the Ethiopian army has raped and pillaged. Of course, brutality is not limited to the Ethiopian army. It is rampant in the Ogaden and Somalia where insurgents, warring clans and terrorists all intentionally inflict misery upon the land. The U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees has reported that nearly 500,000 people, almost one-third of Mogadishu's population, has fled in recent months as conditions in the city have deteriorated.

But the U.S. government remains the staunchest international supporter of the Ethiopian government, of Prime Minister Meles. Our government supplies Meles with over $100 million in aid every year, much of it military. We cannot do this and pretend we don't share responsibility for the human rights abuses perpetrated by the Meles regime. We cannot do this and criticize China for supporting the barbarous Sudanese regime of Bashir.

We all know that the Ogaden region is -- of Ethiopia and in Somalia, is extremely complicated. Yet the moral imperative is not complicated at all. A good end cannot justify -- be justified by a bad means. While we want to deny jihadist terrorists any platform in the Horn of Africa, we must not protect ourselves and our allies from terrorists by enabling the Ethiopian government to visit terror on the Ogaden region or Somalia.

We can only work with the Meles government if we do everything possible to change its behavior. This means we have to be willing to do more than dialogue with President Meles. We have to be willing to withdraw aid if his government does not dramatically improve its human rights record. That is why I strongly support the Ethiopian legislation that is on the floor today, H.R. 2003, which I do believe will pass overwhelmingly in a bipartisan fashion. This bill will withdraw certain forms of aid to the Ethiopian government, including forms of military aid, if it does not meet certain human rights benchmarks spelled out in the legislation.

The reports from Ogaden and Somalia are the latest in a long series of human rights outrages, as you know Mr. Chairman. In August of 2005 I visited Ethiopia and met with some of the opposition figures imprisoned by Prime Minister Meles. I also met with Meles himself. I brought up the June '05 slaughter of almost 200 pro-democracy demonstrators in Addis, and the mass arrests that followed. I urged him to investigate that atrocity, to punish those responsible, and to release political prisoners.

In a very cavalier attitude Meles told me, "I have a file on all of them. They're all guilty of treason." So much for any presumption of innocence. So much for any even semblance of due process of law. We should all be skeptical of the value of a dialogue on human rights reform with a man who would make that kind of comment.

I believe that our government has not pushed Prime Minister Meles hard enough on human rights issues because it is satisfied that his government is cooperating with us on the war on terror. The war on terror is important, but no regime that terrorizes its people can be a reliable ally in that war. Terrorism isn't just a military issue. It's also a human rights issue. Terrorists often come from countries where governments failed to respect their human rights. In promoting human rights in Ethiopia, we are attacking terrorism at its roots.

Finally, America's commitment to promote respect for human rights around the world demands that we insist that Prime Minister Meles respect fundamental human rights. I again, like you, the members of this committee, call upon our government to withdraw forms of aid and support to the Meles government to release its remaining political prisoners, to spare civilians in his counterinsurgency operations, and to permit humanitarian aid in the Ogaden region.

Mr. Chairman, I yield back the balance of my time.

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REP. SMITH: Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman. And Secretary Frazer, welcome to the committee again.

Let me ask you, if I could, you mentioned in your testimony that the recent pardon of 71 leaders of the CUD and members of Civil Society was an important event which significantly enhanced dialogue and reconciliation in Ethiopia. And I wonder if you could tell us, how many political prisoners remain in Ethiopian jails? What are we doing to assist those individuals -- because I know of some, and I know you know of some, but if you could give us a number, to the best of your ability?

And, what exactly are we doing to effectuate their release -- for example, these 71? You know, Chairman Payne and I, and others in the Congress, continually appeal to Meles to release these people. It's the only reason why this legislation, important as it is, is on the floor today -- because the festering sore of repression has not gone away and reconciliation, if it is in any stage, it's certainly in the beginning stage, it's nowhere in a maturing stage. How many people still remain in prison?

MS. FRAZER: I don't know how many political prisoners remain in prison. I know that, as far as our embassy has informed me, all of the political leaders have been released. -- 71 political leaders have been released. Political prisoners -- I don't, I don't know, in general, how many political prisoners are in prison in Ethiopia.

What are we doing? Certainly we urged and promoted and supported the Elders Initiative that led to the release of the political leaders.

We thought it was extremely important to deal with it through this quiet dialogue, that was -- it was effective to do so and it could be counterproductive to try to push the government publicly. We continue to raise these concerns privately. I do when I meet with Prime Minister Meles and other officials in Ethiopia. Our ambassadors have done so and continue to do so. You yourself have done so when you've met with the government -- Ethiopian government officials, so we will continue that dialogue.

We're also supporting efforts to try to -- as I said, strengthen the institutions of democracy, including the judiciary. I think Ethiopia's judiciary has been notorious for a slow process and we urge the government to bring charges against those who were detained or imprisoned and then to bring them to trial. We all talk about the independence of the judiciary, so we're in an uncomfortable situation where we're pressuring the government to release people who actually have charges against them in a trial. Prime Minister Meles said with the political leaders, "Let the trial end." I thought the charges were too much. Genocide, I think, is a huge charge. I don't think that was an appropriate charge. But let the trials -- the judiciary process go through its process as an independent institution. And then at the end of that, he as a political leader -- the president has a constitutional right to pardon, which is what he did with the 71.

So I think that if we're going to strengthen the institutions, we need to help the judiciary to carry out its caseload much more than it does. We need to continue to support human rights organizations who are working with judges and with the security forces. We don't do police training or anything, but for those who are working with the police forces to bring the proper charges if they see criminality. You know, when you're having demonstrations, the destruction of property and all these things -- criminal charges can be brought, but it should be destruction of property and not genocide. So I think that we need to work on strengthening the capacity of those institutions.

REP. SMITH: Could you provide to the committee -- perhaps get back to our embassy and come up with a list of names of those that we construe to be political prisoners? It would be very helpful to know who remains behind. And again, the whole idea of charges -- I remember when Nicolae Ceausescu, the dictator in Romania, made a statement, "There will no longer be any more political prisoners," then everybody there after -- who were in political opposition were arrested for some other trumped-up charge. I mean, we have to be very careful how we -- whether or not we accept in a compromised regime like this when the allegation of a charge like destruction of property is made. And so if you could get back to us with that, I would very deeply -- and also, what kind -- I mean, quiet diplomacy, I know has a place.

But with all due respect, there were those that -- and I remember it was made during the Reagan administration -- that quiet diplomacy was the way to try to get the apartheid regime and to mitigate the abuses there. Frankly, I disagreed with it and voted for sanctions -- felt that was the way to go because there comes a time when a line is crossed -- when people are being raped and treated with torture -- that quiet diplomacy is not availing. So I -- while I understand the administration's approach, I would hope that -- you know, support of today's legislation, for example, which has a very generous waiver in it the president sees fit to exercise it -- I would hope the president would support this legislation. Because I do think like the Belarus Democracy Act, like other bills that are pending before the Congress -- the Vietnam Human Rights Act -- these are expressions of Congress that are deep. This is not anything that's trivial or frivolous. It is bipartisan and it's because we believe so passionately that the time has come -- the line has been crossed not by us, but by Meles. So I would ask you -- you might want to respond to that or not, but we certainly would hope that the administration would support this legislation because we do think it has an excellent shot in the Senate as well.

Let me ask you with regards to -- and if you want to respond to that, please do -- on the commission -- the inquiry after the killings in the streets. And -- you know, that's one of the things that brought me to Addis when I went over there. And again, I was struck as you, I'm sure, have been struck -- or maybe he does not speak to you in that way -- by Meles' cavalier attitude to -- he'll just -- you know, if he disagrees with somebody, you're a committer of genocide or you've committed some grave atrocity. He said he had treasonous allegations that he could make stick on virtually everybody that he wanted to make it stick. He could probably make it stick to Don Payne and I, as well. Well, you know -- so I -- you know, it's pretty easy to make those allegations. But when you have -- you know, the courts in your hip pocket, it's not hard to get convictions either.

But the commission had found egregious wrongdoing. They concluded that 763 civilians were injured, 193 were killed, 71 police officers were injured and six were killed. The property -- about 30,000 civilians were detained, some were tortured and prisoners were killed -- it goes on. And then they found that the government security forces used excessive force against civilians. And of course, that was many, many months ago that that finding was made by the 11-member commission and I'm wondering what has been done and what are we doing to try -- you know, justice certainly does not have a statute of limitations -- to hold those responsible -- those security forces responsible who perpetrated these crimes. And -- you know, there was a great -- and my sense was that Meles felt he could outlast the international community -- after the inquiries and after the anger and angst began to dissipate, we in the international community will just move on, turn the page and say, "What was that again?" So I ask you, what have we done to try to make sure that people are held responsible for those killings?

And also, with regards to military aid and military training, what do we do to ensure that none of our materiel -- our training is being used to commit human rights abuses? Do we track it? Those that we train, do we follow them to ensure that we they get out into the field, they're not committing atrocities? Is there any kind of accountability with regards to that military supplies and training that we provide?

MS. FRAZER: Thank you.

I -- on the first issue about the legislation, I thank you for the opportunity. Certainly we support the spirit of the legislation in terms of trying to promote democracy -- human rights in Ethiopia. This is certainly a bipartisan goal. Where we differ in terms of the legislation is we feel that it directs us to activities which we're already doing and could therefore reduce the -- I should say the flexibility of USAID in the type of democracy -- in human rights promotion projects that they have already underway. And it calls for another $20 million, but it doesn't appropriate it. If the money is appropriated, that would be extremely helpful. But those are -- at least two of the concerns is the way in which it directs the activities which frankly, USAID is already funding and supporting.

On the issue of what are we doing to hold the security forces responsible and -- I mean, at some point, this is -- obviously, we have to hold the government of Ethiopia responsible and -- or encourage them to hold their security forces responsible. You mention the apartheid regime in South Africa and your disagreement with the Reagan administration. None of the officials of the apartheid regime are being held accountable by the United States government. They were held accountable by an internal process in South Africa, the national -- their Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

REP. SMITH: If the gentlelady would just suspend for a moment, my point was that when we joined the sanctions regime, we stopping enabling and empowering a regime that was committing what I consider to be an abomination. So while we didn't hold them accountable in a court of law or through a commission process, we took away that financial lifeline that kept them afloat.

MS. FRAZER: And as for the financial --

REP. PAYNE: And in addition to that, Mr. Chairman, we did not -- we were not supporting the government militarily and financially and so forth, the government of South Africa.

MS. FRAZER: And specifically to the issue of our financial assistance, as I said before, it's $5 million out of $3 million. And the majority of that $5 million is actually on conflict resolution, conflict mitigation efforts, at least about capacity-building, IMET training, trying to help the Ethiopian military with border and immigration control, making sure that groups that have ill intent to all of us are not able to get into the Ethiopian airport, plant bombs there, trying to prevent these terrorist groups from going back and forth across the border. In fact, if we could further stop contraband from coming in from Somalia to the Ogaden, we could increase the commercial food delivery.

And so we are -- we have really a very small security assistance program. The majority of our money to this government is going to investments in health and education. The biggest part is the emergency plan for AIDS relief, President Bush's effort to help the Ethiopian people address the HIV-AIDS conflict; and so very, very little.

We are also doing some work on professionalizing the military through the war college, staff training, education programs in classrooms, curriculum development. And frankly, given the partnership that they've had with us on counterterrorism, our assistance on that front is woefully small.

REP. SMITH: I have a number of additional questions. I think we have to report to the floor, or --

REP. PAYNE: That bill's going to come up in a short time, so I want to get through and maybe we could ask other questions, because we are going to run out of time. They're going to be calling us for --

REP. SMITH: (Inaudible.)

REP. PAYNE: Okay, we'll -- go ahead.

REP. SMITH: If the committee could know, how are we tracking those who get training in the war college? We've had situations like this in Indonesia where we provided training, and then when Suharto's regime fell and Habibi came in, people were being killed in the streets. And some of that training looked an awful like what we were trying to do in terms of urban warfare. So I --

MS. FRAZER: We're not doing that type of work. We're trying to develop their curriculum.

REP. SMITH: Okay, if we could get that --

MS. FRAZER: Curriculum development.

REP. SMITH: -- for the record, it would be very helpful.

MS. FRAZER: Sure.

REP. SMITH: I have other questions, but we're out of time. Thank you.

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