Washington — “The U.S. government is committed to working with Ethiopia — both the government and the people — to strengthen respect for democracy and human rights,” Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor Karen J. Hanrahan said October 9.
Speaking in Washington, Hanrahan said that as part of that process, the U.S. government is using an array of diplomatic tools to further those ends during Ethiopia’s political transition from recently deceased Prime Minister Meles Zenawi to his successor, Hailemariam Desalegn.
“This is Ethiopia’s best chance for long-term stability and prosperity,” she said.
Hanrahan said Ethiopia will hold local elections in 2013 and elections for the House of People’s Representatives in 2015. “These are opportunities for different political parties to discuss ideas regarding Ethiopia’s future,” she said. “More open dialogue would provide opportunities for persons to channel their needs through peaceful political process, thus reducing the possibility of violence.”
In addition to elections, Hanrahan said, democracy “requires an independent and effective judiciary, civilian-controlled and responsible security forces and transparent and accountable government institutions.”
She added that marginalized populations — including women, youth, lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender communities and disabled persons — must be able to participate equally in society and to benefit equally from economic growth.
The U.S. government, Hanrahan said, is concerned about the Ethiopian government’s restrictions on civil society organizations, the curtailment of media freedom and the jailing of journalists and members of the political opposition.
Ethiopia’s civil society law prohibits charities and associations that receive more than 10 percent of their funding from foreign sources from engaging in a wide range of activities that advance human and democratic rights, Hanrahan said. “We’re particularly concerned about the Charities and Societies Proclamation and the Anti-terrorism Proclamation,” she said.
Lifting such restrictions “would open space for political opposition and civil society development. Not only would doing so help Ethiopia’s citizens fully realize their rights, but it also supports the U.S. and Ethiopian governments’ shared goals of stability and development,” she said.
She said the U.S. government is speaking out privately and publicly on behalf of human rights and democracy in Ethiopia. She pointed out that the State Department highlights Ethiopia’s violations and abuses in its annual human rights report. And, she added, the U.S. ambassador and his staff meet with civil society regularly and attend the trials of activists and members of the media.
Security, democracy and human rights are not competing priorities for the U.S. government, but rather “equally important policy objectives that must be advanced simultaneously whenever possible,” she said.