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Ethiopia blasts US for report on rights record

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Ethiopia reacts fierce to US report on rights abuse

Mar 27, 2010 (ADDIS ABABA) — The Ethiopian government on Saturday blasted the 2009 US State Department Human Rights Report downplaying it as a smear campaign compiled in collaboration with destructive forces and terrorist-designated groups.

In a statement released today, the Ethiopian government said that the report is groundless based on false allegations aimed to blow-out the image of the country.

The 2009 human rights report by the U.S. state department, accuses Prime minister Meles Zenawi-led government of illegal detention, killings, arrests, torture, violation of press and religious freedom, intermediating and restricting rights of opposition members.

The Ethiopian government in a statement put out today however said that, despite issued as a new report, majority of the contents in the report were copied from the previous reports which the Ethiopian government already gave detailed evidence to the contrary.

"Some 76 percent of the 2009 report is carbon copy of 2008 similar report while 21 percent of it is slightly modified newly fabricated allegations. Some 14 percent of the report is seemingly new issues," The statement said.
The US department report has accused Ethiopia of detaining hundreds of political prisoners, which Ethiopia instead says are terrorists.

"The report is naming the Oromo National Liberation Front (ONLF) members who killed 65 Ethiopians and eight Chinese innocent civilians at Ogaden area as political prisoners," it said, adding "the report dares to undermine the peace and security issues in Ethiopia."

The Ethiopian government statement noted that the detained ONLF members were put under custody due court process unlike detentions of the US government to terrorists in Guantanamo which it said lucks court process.

"In paradox, the US government has not named as political prisoners the suspects who engaged in the terrorist attack on Sept. 11 detained at Guantanamo without due court process."

"However, the report narrated to the contrary which clearly depicted that the US government is using double standard. It added the US government is trying to disguise the reality deliberately."

The report was based on claims from groups Ethiopia considers as terrorist groups, some legal opposition parties and other indigenous and international organizations, Addis Ababa said.

"The Ethiopian government realized that the relations of the US government and these organizations is an ordinary plot for their shared benefits as the proverb runs scratch mine I scratch yours."

The Ethiopia government further said that the report lacks efforts to verify the "erroneous claims" from the Ethiopian government rather incorporated information from opposition groups like ONLF, Oromo Liberation Front (OLF) and Ginbot 7 Group.

The statement said, the Ethiopian government considers that "the ill-relations" of the US government and these organizations and political parties are "against the national interest of Ethiopia".

Over 29 million Ethiopians will go to polls to cast their vote in May, the first parliamentary elections in Ethiopia since 2005, when the post-election period was marred by controversy and bloodshed.

Human Rights Watch in a report it released this week accused the Ethiopian government of waging a coordinated and sustained attack on political opponents, journalists, and rights activists ahead of the May 2010 elections.

The 59-page report, "One Hundred Ways of Putting Pressure’: Violations of Freedom of Expression and Association in Ethiopia," documents the myriad ways in which the ruling Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) has systematically punished opposition supporters.

"Since the 2005 polls, the party has used its near-total control of local and district administrations to undermine opponents’ livelihoods through withholding services such as agricultural inputs, micro-credit, and job opportunities." The report also documents how recently enacted laws severely restrict the activities of civil society and the media.

"Expressing dissent is very dangerous in Ethiopia," said Georgette Gagnon, Africa director at Human Rights Watch. "The ruling party and the state are becoming one, and the government is using the full weight of its power to eliminate opposition and intimidate people into silence," he added.

Government repression has caused many civil society activists and journalists to flee the country in recent months. The most prominent independent newspaper was closed in December 2009 and the government jammed Voice of America radio broadcasts last month. Ethiopians are unable to speak freely, organize political activities, and challenge their government’s policies – whether through peaceful protest, voting, or publishing their views – without fear of reprisal. In 2008, the government arbitrarily imprisoned opposition leader Birtukan Midekssa, president of the Unity for Democracy and Justice Party.

Ethiopia is heavily dependent on foreign assistance, which accounts for approximately one-third of all government expenditures. The country’s principal foreign donors – the World Bank, United States, United Kingdom, and European Union – have been very timid in their criticisms of Ethiopia’s deteriorating human rights situation, HRW said.

Since the April 2008 local elections in which the EPRDF won over 99.9 percent of the vote, the ruling party has consolidated its control over village and district administrations and ruled with an iron grip. In the districts visited by Human Rights Watch, residents said how every village was organized into cells and local government officials, and militia monitored households for signs of dissent.

Local administrations withheld government services to punish those who criticized the government or did not support the ruling party." Local government officials are responsible for selecting and supervising participation in food-for-work programs, allocations of seeds and fertilizer, micro-credit loans, and for providing letters of reference for jobs, educational opportunities, and training.

Opposition parties claim that their memberships have been decimated because people have no option but to join the ruling party to protect their jobs and feed their families.

The government is also accused of putting pressure on all state employees – and especially teachers – to join the ruling party. Authorities also are suspected by the rights group of punishing critical voices, besides using Charities and Societies Proclamation law as well as the Anti-Terrorism law to intimidate civil society activists and journalists who have tried to report on state repression.

The European Union and the African Union are the only institutions considering sending international election observers to monitor the May elections. Restrictions in the Charities and Societies Proclamation make independent election monitoring by Ethiopian organizations practically impossible. Human Rights Watch called on all international observers to take into account the pre-election repression when assessing the freedom and fairness of the polls.

"Ethiopia’s foreign backers should break their silence and condemn the climate of fear in Ethiopia" said Gagnon. "Donors should use their considerable financial leverage to press for an end to the harassment of the opposition and to oppressive laws on activists and the media."

(ST)

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