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Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Washington Update

Mesfin Mekonen

1. The Society of Ethiopia Established in Diaspora (SEED) gave an award at its 15th annual award dinner on May 27 to Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J.) for his courage in defending the civil liberties and democratic freedom of the Ethiopian people and others, and for his continuing struggle to bring democracy to Ethiopia.

Rep. Smith made the following statements in response to questions from journalists about his legislation, H.R. 2228, the Ethiopia Freedom, Democracy and Human Rights Advancement Act of 2007:

*"Despite Ethiopia's efforts in the War on Terror, our relationship has been terribly strained by their government's ongoing human rights abuses and cover-ups. We cannot turn a blind eye to these abuses, rather we must use our relationship to press for change."*

*"Human rights must remain central to our relationship with Ethiopia."*

*"Freedom and human rights in Ethiopia have seriously deteriorated under President Meles Zenawi. While the Prime Minister speaks of reform, his actions contradict his stories of change. There is little to zero in the way of true human rights reform in Ethiopia."*

2. Ethiopian-Americans greatly appreciate U.S. Ambassador Donald Yamamoto's efforts on behalf of Hailu Shawel. His humanitarian intervention made it possible for Hailu Shawel to receive urgently needed medical attention while he is imprisoned.

Mesfin Mekonen and CUD representative Seyoum Solomon coordinated the logistics and collection of funds for a physician to travel from South Africa to perform surgery that hopefully will save Hailu Shawel's sight. Of course, this extraordinary effort would not have been necessary if the Meles regime had not unjustly imprisoned members of the opposition who are guilty of nothing other than attempting to peacefully exercise their democratic and human rights.

Ethiopians everywhere hope that Ambassador Yamamoto and the U.S. government can be as energetic and successful in securing the unconditional release of all political prisoners in Ethiopia.

3. It is very important for Ethiopians to realize that H.R. 2228, and the related H.R. 2003, have been reintroduced and the legislative process has started from zero. It is essential that we again attract co-sponsors for the bills. We need to contact everyone who cosponsored Rep.

Smith's legislation last year and ask them to co-sponsor one or both of the bills that have been introduced this year. These two bills will be combined later in the year after negotiations between Rep. Smith and Rep. Donald Payne (D-N.J.), the author of H.R. 2003.

4. The Massachusetts House of Representatives has passed a resolution calling on the U.S. Congress to demand that Ethiopia meet its obligations under the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Ethiopian-Americans around the country should emulate the example of Ethiopians in Massachusetts who worked hard and convinced legislators to take an active interest in democracy and human rights.

5. Abugida Ethiopian American Television Network broadcast a program about American political interest in promoting democracy and human rights in Ethiopia. The program is available at ( To skip to the segment, slide the bar on the bottom of the screen about half way to the right to 38 minutes.