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Statement of U.S. Senator Patrick Leahy on Ethiopia Crises

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vermont)

Congressional record

September 27, 2016

MR. LEAHY. Mr. President, I want to bring the Senate’s attention to the Ethiopian government’s brutal crackdown on protestors over the past nine months. According to Human Rights Watch, more than 500 people have been killed by Ethiopian security forces in anti-government demonstrations since November 2015, including over 100 gunned down in early August of this year alone.

These protests by the country’s two largest ethnic groups, the Oromos and Amharas, reflect enduring tensions brought on by the Ethiopian government’s longstanding marginalization and persecution of these communities. But such grievances are shared by even broader segments of Ethiopian society, including from other communities that have been forcibly evicted from their land in the name of development, and the journalists, civil society activists, and countless other political prisoners sitting in Ethiopian jails for speaking out against the government’s repressive rule.

The international community, including the United States, has paid too little attention to the Ethiopian government’s repressive policies, focusing instead on the country’s rapid development gains and the government’s cooperation on regional security. But it is time for the Ethiopian government to acknowledge that grievances stemming from marginalization, abuse, and exclusive governance cannot be effectively addressed through the provision of basic services alone.

The United States should set an example by redefining its relationship with Ethiopia, starting with the recognition of this reality. In too many developing countries, legitimate concerns about unaccountable governance are given short shrift as aspirational and inconvenient tradeoffs for positive relations with host governments. But the quiet diplomacy of the past – backroom condemnation and public praise – has proven unable to ensure the sustainability of U.S. investments by failing to protect and promote stability, let alone encourage meaningful reform by the Ethiopian government.

It is precisely because Ethiopia is a strategic partner of the U.S. that we should encourage remedies to the underlying tensions in the country. That does not mean we walk away from our partnership, but we should examine the type of assistance we provide to the Ethiopian government to ensure it aligns with shared interests and activities that contribute to government capacity in a manner that addresses local concerns.

This is not without its challenges, and the only government that has the ability to successfully reform Ethiopia is its own. Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn and the rest of the Ethiopian leadership should begin by reassessing its crowd control tactics, and ensuring accountability for those who have committed abuses. I support the call by the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights for an independent, transparent, thorough and effective investigation into violations of human rights committed during the unrest, and if the Ethiopian government is interested in demonstrating its legitimacy it would welcome such an inquiry.

I look forward to working with other Members of Congress, the Obama Administration and their successors to determine how best we can ensure that the assistance U.S. taxpayers provide to Ethiopia serves our long-term interests in the region.

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