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Thursday, June 07, 2007

Remembering June 8, 2005: Time for the U.S to change its policy on Ethiopia

There will be no news articles today; instead we will mark the second anniversary of the June 8 massacres with the following reflection

EP -- The Ethiopian people have always been an ally of the United States. Even in the brief period when the communist dictator Mengistu came to power and adopted an anti American policy, most Ethiopians were, in their hearts, pro-U.S.

This is because - Fairness, opportunity to those who work hard, equality, human rights and democracy; ideals that represent the core values held by the people of the United States - are ideals which Ethiopians admire, respect and aspire to replicate in their land of birth.

Even if in the past few years the actions of the present U.S administration leave some to be desired, in terms of upholding these values; many Ethiopians still have faith in the basic decency and goodness of America.

At the moment, Ethiopian Americans and Ethiopians living in the United States are working hard to change the Bush administration’s policy towards Ethiopia. This policy, which was enthusiastically sold to the U.S by the Ethiopian government and is being sustained by well paid lobbyists in Washington, erroneously makes a case in favor of a despot at the helm of the east African country.

At no time was the inconsistency of this controversial policy, as it relates to upholding the core values of the United States, apparent than in that fateful day in June of 2005.

On June 8, 2005, while a massacre perpetuated by the dictatorial regime of Ethiopia was taking place in Addis Abeba; Sean McCormack, State Department Spokesman, held his regular daily press briefing in Washington DC.

In this press briefing, Mr. McCormack demonstrated the unfortunate stance of the Bush administration concerning human rights issues in Ethiopia.

Below is an excerpt from the Question and answer session of that day:

June 8, 2005

QUESTION: There has been an explosion, apparently, of political violence in Ethiopia, protestors killed in clashes with the authorities and some opposition politicians arrested, apparently. I wondered if you had any response.

(Picture June 8, 2005 - A woman screams in grief at the Black Lion Hospital in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia where up to 100 people in their twenties were being treated for serious gun shot wounds and other injuries. Andrew Heavens)

MR. MCCORMACK: I have seen some reports about violence in Ethiopia and I would just say that these reports are troubling. We are concerned about this violence.....There were deaths as a result of some of these demonstrators and it's a tragedy and it should not happen. So we're asking everybody to step back. And what we need to resolve — what needs to happen is they need to resolve any differences that they might have through political — through the political process and political dialogue, let the political process unfold.

QUESTION: Sean, is there a — you're almost blaming the demonstrators ..?



MR. MCCORMACK: No. Our strong belief is that the police and federal security forces need to respond in a restrained manner when confronted with protests, and any violence or the threat of violence is unacceptable. That's our view.

QUESTION: Same thing? Do you have anything specific on the arrest of these opposition politicians? This is sort of election-related.

MR. MCCORMACK: I do not.

Full transcript available at []

Six days later the Issue of Ethiopia came up in the press briefings once again. Here is another excerpt from June 14, 2005.

QUESTION: Ethiopia. After the election, there was violence — 37 people have been killed. And The Washington Post today reported opposition leader have been killed and Amnesty International also report more than a thousand students are in jail and they are suffering at this moment. And there is also a protest in front of the State Department. Are you still asking both the government and the opposition to restrain or are you condemning the government?

(Picture June 8, 2005 - Students display the body of one of their friend. Scores of peopel in their twenties were also being treated for gun shot wounds and other injuries at the hospital. Andrew Heavens)

MR. MCCORMACK: Okay. A couple things on that. We condemn election-related violence in Ethiopia. We have voiced the strong concern through our Embassy as well as through various contacts from the Secretary on down. We have voiced our concerns about the killing of an opposition politician to which you allude. This happened on June 12th, this past Sunday. And we've been informed that an investigation has begun into that incident and that we believe that that investigation should be done quickly, should be done in a transparent manner and those who are responsible for this act should be held accountable.

We also have talked about the fact that any violence or threat of violence is unacceptable. All sides need to step back from violence. The way to resolve questions and issues with respect to the election is to let the political process unfold. That's the way to do it. That's what we have encouraged all sides to do. And you know, we have, you know, also we have talked to the government about this.

We also call on, you know, student civil society, opposition supporters, government party members and political leaders to refrain from violence and to help maintain a peaceful atmosphere. So not only step back from violence, but actively help out and try to maintain an atmosphere of stability.

And we believe also that police and federal security forces should conduct themselves in accordance with international principles of human rights and that any arrested individuals should be granted due process according to Ethiopian law. And again, just reiterate that the way to resolve any questions concerning the election is through the political process.

QUESTION: A follow-up. I would like to connect it this way. Ethiopia is, as I told you last time, a strategy partner for the U.S. in fight against terrorism. The people who are protesting here or living here — residing in the U.S., even in Ethiopia, think that you are supporting a murderer, that's how they — I mean, understand. So if you are allied with the U.S., are you going to be exempted from being denounced of killing people?

MR. MCCORMACK: We are — have led ourselves with the sides who support freedom and democracy and non-violent expression of their, you know, political will. And that is the side we are on. We have encouraged the government — I just went through a long list of contacts that we've had with them and what we have told them to do. Those who may be on the opposite side of the political fence or a different side, have responsibilities as well, and that is part of a democracy: a responsible expression, nonviolent expression of views. The sort of political dialogue — free expression — is a vital part of any democracy but it's important that it be done with respecting the rights of others, minority rights, and be done in a nonviolent way.

QUESTION: Still on Ethiopia. I read the statement that you issued yesterday carefully and I am perplexed by one thing. You talk about the United States condemning the violence and unnecessary use of excessive force in continuing election-related violence in Ethiopia. Are you referring — when one refers to the use of excessive force, typically that is applied to police or security forces — you don't specify here. Are you talking about government forces conducting operations with excessive force or are you seeking to label that phrase against opposition violence as well?

MR. MCCORMACK: That was, you know, again —

QUESTION: I'm just trying to understand.

(Picture June 8, 2005 - Bruk Abaraha, aged 11, after being treated for a gunshot wound to the foot in Zawditu hospital.Andrew Heavens.)

MR. MCCORMACK: No, no, I understand. I understand. Again, I'd just reiterate we want all sides to refrain from violence. But we have specifically called upon the government forces and the security forces to conduct themselves in accordance with international principles, which would preclude the use of any excessive force. So that is — that phrase that you're talking about is directed at government and security forces.

QUESTION: Thank you. And secondly, as the previous reporter said, there was a pretty big demonstration in front of the State Department today. You know, many hundreds of people. I couldn't count them all. And they seem to be arguing that — or they seem to feel that the U.S. Government is not doing enough to try to get the Ethiopian Government to maintain rule of law and so on.

What — beyond the calls from this podium and the things that you said — are you doing anything else to try to get the government to restrain itself in its dealings with the protestors? And I realize they have been the cause of some violence. And you mentioned contacts from the Secretary on down. Has she made contacts with the Ethiopian Government and I've somehow missed it or —

MR. MCCORMACK: She did speak with Prime Minister Meles Zenawi. Let me see if I have the date. It was on Thursday, June 9th.

QUESTION: Okay, I apologize. I missed that.

MR. MCCORMACK: She did speak with him and she underscored the messages that you've heard from us in public. She did that in private. And our Embassy is in very frequent contact with government officials. They also have contacts with others outside of the government as well.

So this is an issue that we have been actively engaged, not only rhetorically here, but on a diplomatic — on the diplomatic side as well. So it's something that we watch. We're watching very closely and actively engaged with.

QUESTION: Last one for me on this, but to take up Saul's question, are you considering any kind of, other than rhetorical consequences for Ethiopia, if the security forces continue to use excessive force? Our reports say that an opposition Member of Parliament was shot dead while sitting around with some friends on Sunday. So I mean, are you considering any kinds of consequences or sanctions for the government? And if not, do you not expose yourself to the suggestion that, you know, strategic allies get kid glove treatment or nothing but rhetorical criticism?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, I think that we are — our public pronouncements on this issue as well as our diplomatic pronouncements, we hope will lead to this process, to this process unfolding in a peaceful way, in a way that resolves the tensions that clearly exist in Ethiopia. And that's where — that's where our focus is now. We always look at what our policies are, whether or not our policies are producing the desired effect, whether or not we need to look at our policies based on what the situations are that are before us and the facts — and the facts on the ground.

We believe, based on the facts as they are before us, that we are taking the proper course at this point. I think I would leave it at that.

Full transcript available at []

Also see:________________________________

Ethiopians Living in Northern Virginia, the District of Columbia and Maryland are urged to attend tomorrow’s EU, US JOINT SUMMIT on human rights issues in Ethiopia --11:30-12:30.

P.S - Ana Gomes will be there