Donald Payne delivers gift of freedom to Ethiopians

Coalition for H.R. 2003
For Immediate Release

Donald Payne delivers gift of freedom, democracy and human rights to Ethiopians

It is a good day for Ethiopia. It is a Good Day for America.” – Donald Payne

September 26, 2007, the House Foreign Affairs Committee unanimously passed H.R. 2003, “Ethiopia Democracy and Accountability Act of 2007.”

The bill authored by Africa Subcommittee Chair Donald Payne provides funding and technical assistance to Ethiopia to improve human rights protections and build democratic institutions. H.R. 2003 has full bipartisan support in House, and is co-sponsored by 85 members.

For a detailed explanation of the bill in Amharic and English, click here:

At the mark-up hearing, Payne explained that the bill had been delayed for various reasons, but cautioned that “our democracy is a long and arduous trail” which takes time. He urged Zenawi’s regime to set free the “hundreds of prisoners still in prison” without just cause. He expressed his hope that Zenawi’s regime will be focused on such things as judicial reform, health care and democracy building. He said, “We would like for them to be our allies, but we can’t have people who disregard human rights.” He said the bill will be debated and passed on the House floor “in the near future”, and also be approved in the Senate and made into law once the president signs it.

The bill was debated vigorously by Committee members. Congressman Chris Smith explained that he met with Zenawi in August, 2005. At that time, Zenawi told him he “had a dossier on virtually all of the opposition leaders and it was a matter of time before all were arrested and charged with treason. And like any other petty dictator, he arrested these individuals.” Smith urged bipartisan support for the bill.

Congressman Dana Rorabacher explained that the bill is “vitally important” for Ethiopia. He said “Ethiopia could be a shining light of democracy” but a “a group of self-serving thugs ignored the democratic process and decided to hold power no matter what the election results were in Ethiopia. What shocked me most was when I learned that there were American Humvees armed with machine guns rolling the streets of Ethiopia murdering, maiming and terrorizing the population after the election into submission for a government that was not elected. This is not what American military assistance should be used for.”

Both Smith and Rorabacher hammered DLA Piper, the lobbying firm hired by Zenawi to defeat H.R. 2003. Rorabacher said, “There has been a strong lobbying effort. Top people from this Congress have been hired to come back and twist our arms. This is not right for members of Congress to do.” Smith added, “We got this bill passed in Committee in the last session of Congress” but “lobbyists, a high powered bi-partisan group killed the bill and never made it to the floor.”

Sheila Jackson Lee, who recently returned from a visit in Ethiopia, argued for continued engagement with Zenawi’s regime, but was very insistent that Zenawi observe the basic human rights of the Ethiopian people. She declared: “We want the people to stop suffering!”

Zenawi’s ambassador in Washington released a statement which repeated the tired and discredited canard that “this bill is a blatant effort to employ the U.S. Congress in support of a partisan Ethiopian political agenda.” He warned that “this legislation, should it proceed further, will create fresh obstacles by emboldening those who seek confrontation rather than dialogue, encouraging politics of extremes.” He threatened:

“But under no circumstances will Ethiopia accept what it regards as officious intermeddling by misinformed Members of Congress to intrude in our internal politics.”

Delegation members who just weeks ago were political prisoners observed the hearing as special guest observers. Following the hearing, Dr. Hailu, Ato. Gizachew and Ato Brook marveled at the dynamic and intense debate that occurs in the American Congressional process. Their presence at the hearing gave a special poignancy to the entire proceedings. Just a few weeks ago, they were hostages in a tug-of-war between Zenawi’s regime and the Committee. At the time, Zenawi desperately sought to thwart mark-up action on the bill and threatened to prolong the imprisonment of the political prisoners.

The bill will proceed to the House floor for final action under suspension of the rules, which bypasses the regular House deliberative procedures and speedily delivers the legislation to the floor final consideration. Such a procedure is generally used to quickly pass non-controversial bills, and bills for which there is massive support. AND THERE IS MASSIVE SUPPORT FOR H.R. 2003. THERE IS NOT A SINGLE MEMBER OF THE HOUSE THAT OPPOSES H.R. 2003.

The coalition for H.R. 2003 wishes to thank all Ethiopians and Americans who worked diligently to help pass this bill out of committee. The number of individuals, groups and organizations who played central roles in this effort are too many too list. You all know who you are. THANK YOU all for teaching us the value of united action! THANK YOU for proving to the world that despite our diverse backgrounds and interests, we can still stand as ONE when it comes to freedom, democracy and human rights in Ethiopia! And THANK YOU for subordinating any individual interest in getting credit and working tirelessly to ensure the success of our collective cause.

It was the 26th of September, a day all Ethiopian Americans, and all Ethiopians will always remember! “It was a good day for Ethiopia. It was Good Day for America.”


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