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Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Congressional Hearing on Ethiopia’s Troubled Internal Situation

(By Paulos Dandego, Ethiopian Politics Contributor)

Photo By Endale Getahun ECTV
[Congressman Chris Smith poses for picture with Mr. Obang Metho]

Yesterday's (March 28, 2006) Congressional hearing on the deteriorating situation in Ethiopia highlighted the Zenawi administration’s disturbing journey towards complete totalitarianism.

Mr. Donald Y. Yamamoto, deputy assistant secretary for African Affairs was the first to testify. Mr. Yamamoto gave the usual lukewarm, wishy-washy speech he’s been giving for the past six month. His testimony made it very difficult to predict what the U.S government plans to do, other than sit on the side lines hoping for a favorable outcome.

“Ethiopia is currently at a crossroads; it can continue to move forward, or it can lapse into the sort of government that’s best encountered in history books.”

Mr. Donald Y. Yamamoto

Ethiopia is no longer at a crossroads. Mr. Zenawi’s government has decided which path it would take, and it is not “forward”. The “government that’s best encountered in history books” is already a reality.

Ambassador Fesseha A. Tessema was the next to testify. With a straight face he informed the audience that there are no political prisoners in Ethiopia. This drew chuckles from the crowd. Chairman of the subcommittee, congressman Chris Smith asked the ambassador if reports of political detainees by amnesty international and other major organizations were false; to which the ambassador replied, we used to have political prisoners but now they are all released and all that remain are 170 something criminals that are charged. (Crowd murmurs in disapproval)

Congressman Chris smith concluded the ambassador’s testimony by asking the government of Ethiopia to release all opposition prisoners as a show of good will. (crowd erupted into wild cheers)

Mr. Andargachew Tsege was the next to testify, he urged the U.S to act

“It is both a moral and strategic imperative that America's leaders demand the immediate release of all political prisoners, without preconditions.
The continued support of this tyrant will prolong the misery of Ethiopia.”
When the time came for Mr. Obang Metho to testify, most in the crowd and those watching the live feed had no idea who he was. Some were speculating he may be an official of the AU, others thought he was the leader of the new armed opposition group “patriotic front”.

But Mr. Metho belonged to none of those groups. He was the Director of International Advocacy, Anuak Justice Council (AJC): a little known organization to many Ethiopians. As we reported yesterday, Mr. Metho’s testimony was the highlight of the whole hearing. Articulate and very passionate, he captivated everyone’s attention. It was so quiet in the auditorium; you could hear a pin drop.

"My name is Obang Metho. I am an Anuak. I grew up in Gambella. I am not here as part of a political party. I am not here as an expert. I am here as a witness and human rights defender to speak up for the 424 educated Anuak who were massacred on December 13, 2003 and who can no longer speak up for themselves. I am here for the children who lost their fathers on that day. I am here as the voice of the woman who lost her husband or son and for the grandparent who lost their grandchild. I am here to speak for the families whose husbands, sons and fathers have been in prison for years with little hope of release. I am here for the four thousand Anuak refugees in Pochalla, Southern Sudan who still cannot return home………… But, I am not only here today for the Anuak. I am here for the Tigrayans who disagree with their own government. I am here for the Oromo, the Somali, the Afar and for any in other ethnic groups throughout Ethiopia who have been oppressed. I am here for the Ethiopian woman whose son or daughter was shot dead on the streets of Addis Ababa after the national elections. I am here for the CUD leaders and young student protesters who have been taken away from their families and put in prisons and detainment centers. I am here for those courageous prisoners of conscience, languishing in prisons throughout Ethiopia"

Mr. Metho’s testimony is one that will be talked about for years to come.

Dr. Mekdes Mesfin, daughter of Professor Messfin w/mariam was eloquent and to the point:

“I respectfully urge the continued attention to these points I have mentioned in considering the most meaningful legislative steps to take. Not just because Mesfin is my father, but also because of the strength of his commitment his track record as a peaceful advocate of the people during three successive regimes, his exemplary academic and social contribution and his faith in the democratic process and the rule of law, my biggest wish is that this man who will turn 76 in a few weeks, will live to see the empowerment of his people.”
The last person to testify was Ms. Lynn Fredricksson, Advocacy Director for Africa (Amnesty International).

Amnesty International holds that the charges of “treason,” “organizing and inciting armed rebellion” and “acts of genocide”1 levied against some 1312 CUD leaders, human rights defenders and journalists (most of whom are in physical custody) have no merit.”
And then she proceeded to name names:

“These prisoners of conscience, who were peacefully exercising their rights to freedom of speech, association, assembly and press, include:

Hailu Shawel (70), president of the CUD
Professor Mesfin Woldemariam (75), former chair of the Ethiopian Human Rights Council(EHRCO)
Dr. Yakob Hailemariam, former UN Special Envoy and former prosecutor at the InternationalCriminal Tribunal for Rwanda
Ms. Birtukan Mideksa, former judge and CUD vice president
Dr. Berhanu Negga, recently elected mayor of Addis Ababa and professor of economics
Daniel Bekelle, anti-poverty activist working for ActionAid, an international development NGO
Netsanet Demissie, anti-poverty activist heading the Organisation for Social Justice in Ethiopia(OSJE)”
Before the hearings concluded Congressman Chris Smith informed the audience of the plan to change the name of the bill from “Ethiopia Consolidation Act of 2005” to something more potent that may include words like “freedom” and “democracy”. He also promised to strengthen the bill by adding more measures that will help insure democracy in Ethiopia.

Meeting adjourned.

Complete transcript of Yesterdays testimonies:
The Honorable Donald Y. Yamamoto
Mr. Andargachew Tsege
Mr. Obang Metho
Meqdes Mesfin, M.D
Ms. Lynn Fredricksson