When one thinks of Ethiopia, on the positive side, there has
been economic development in recent years that compares favorably to its
neighbors. However, the picture would not be complete without acknowledging the
systematic disrespect for individual human rights.
With the death of Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi, the
country's next prime minister will have the opportunity review his
predecessor's actions and perhaps acknowledge that wealth means little when the
rule of law can be misapplied to attack anyone critical of the government.
Prime Minister Meles' regime has been brutally backed by
government security forces that have committed murder, torture and numerous
other human rights abuses. Since 2009, many violations of fundamental human
rights have occurred under the color of law for the alleged purpose of fighting
"terrorism." The term "terrorism" seems to encompass anyone who is or may
potentially become a thorn in the side of the Ethiopian government.
Although as a sovereign state, Ethiopia has the right to
protect itself from legitimate threats to its security, including terrorism,
this is not a license to commit atrocities under sanction of law. Prime
Minister Meles' death is an ideal transitional time for the international
community to drive that point home.
Unfortunately, the United States and the European Union
consider the current regime to be an ally, turning a blind eye to human rights
abuses while helping to fund the Ethiopian government. If strings are not
attached to continued funding, it is safe to assume that Acting Prime Minister
Hailemariam Desalegn as Meles' successor will do little or nothing to reform
the regime if he should retain power.
International financial and military support for Ethiopia's
government should be tied to fundamental human rights reforms.
Key conditions should include:
(1) the repeal of the 2009 anti-terrorism law and replacement
with a concise statute that focuses on actual terrorists instead of dissidents;
(2) release with blanket amnesty for all political
(3) investigation and prosecution of those who have violated
human rights, including prompt extradition to the International Criminal Court
(4) unlimited access to non-political prisoners by NGOs like
Doctors Without Borders plus
the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies to
protect detainees' health; and
(5) substantial legal reform to ensure protection of
individual civil liberties by impartial rule of law.
Given its history, Ethiopia should be applauded for the fact
that the transition of power appears to be occurring by lawful succession
rather than by coup. Now is the time for the nation to take the next step by
expanding the rule of law to protect individual human rights.
PM death 'opportunity' for change: rights groups, Ahram Online (Aug. 24,
Meles Remembered For Development, Abuses, VOA (Aug. 21, 2012)
Long-Time Ruler Dies, NPR (Aug. 21, 2012)
Are All Ethiopian Eyes on Brussels?, Human Rights Watch (July 19, 2012)