Proceedings And Debate of the 105th Congress, First Session

Speech of Hon. Elijah E. CUMMINGS of Maryland

In The House Of Representatives

Wednesday, June 4, 1997

The House in Committee of the Whole House on the State of
the Union had under consideration the bill (H.R. 1757) to
consolidate international affairs agencies, to authorize
appropriations for the Department of State and related agencies
for fiscal years 1998 and 1999, and for other purposes;

Mr. CUMMINGS. Mr. Chairman, I thank the gentlewoman from
Texas for taking the lead on the very critical issue of human
rights progress in Ethiopia.

Almost exactly 6 years ago, the brutal Mengistu regime in
Ethiopia, notorious for ravaging one of the bleakest human
rights records on the continent, fell.

The governance of the country was taken over by a coalition
of ethnic based insurgency groups under the umbrella of the
Ethiopian people's Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF), thus
ending 15 years of terror.

At the time, there was much hope that the country was
finally entering a period of democracy and respect for human

Sadly, the removal of the Communist military dictatorship of
Mengistu Haile Mariam in May 1991, has not yielded the fruits of
a functioning democracy.

The Ethiopian people are not benefiting from the so-called
peace dividends of the new world order.

Instead, the country remains locked in a Marxist time warp
and saddled with a minority-based ethnic dictatorship.

The government continues to divide the nation's people into
ethnic-based Bantustans, or enclaves, each purposely pitted
against the other with the goal of facilitating the dictatorial

The ploy has endangered the Ethiopian people with the
inevitable consequences of civil war with repercussions far worse
than the tragedies that transpired in Bosnia and Rwanda.

These ethnic enclaves may be taken over by Moslem
fundamentalist groups. There is a danger that Ethiopia, or parts
of it could turn into an Iran-like regime.

Until the current government took over, Ethiopia was one of
the few stable, democratic countries in Sub-Saharan Africa.

Now, all the democratically hostile countries surrounding
Ethiopia, such as the Sudan, Somali, Iraq and Iran are seeking to
exploit the chaotic situation in the country by exerting their
negative influences.

Chaos is likely to continue to reign as long as the
ethnocratic government is allowed to continue to monopolize
political, economic, military and police powers, and to pursue
its policies of setting Ethiopians against each other.

Ethiopians are disturbed that Western support is bolstering
the misrule of Ethiopia by an ethnic minority and against the
universally accepted principles of human rights, majority rule,
and representative democracy.

Troubling account of repression and human rights violations
by the new government have been emerging.

I would like to share with you just one story by way of

Mr. E is a 20-year-old mechanic of Amharic ethnicity. Like
so many of their fellow citizens, Mr. E's family had suffered
greatly under the Mengistu government.

His older brother had been arrested and viciously tortured
for opposition activities and eventually fled the country.

Mr. E's father had been arrested on many occasions for
questioning. The family was relieved when the regime fell and
looked forward for peace.

After graduating from high school in 1994, Mr. E joined the
All Amhara People's Organization, a major opposition group.

In February 1995, Mr. E was stopped on the street by police
for a random search. When the police found Mr. E's party
identification, they arrested him and locked him in a tiny brick
cell where he was held with two other men incommunicado and
without charge for 8 months.

Though he was only 18 and had just joined the organization,
guards questioned Mr. E about the long-term plans of the All
Amhara People's Organization.

Mr. E was fed only small amounts of bread and water, no
sanitary provisions were made. Within a short time his health
began to deteriorate.

By the end of 8 months, Mr. E was so ill that the guards
decide to allow his parents to take him home. As he was leaving
the prison, Mr. E finally received notice of the charges against
him and a summons to appear in court.

As Mr. E recuperated at home, his neighbors reported that
they were being questioned by unknown men in civilian clothes as
to Mr. E's activities and whether he was receiving any visitors.
Fearing that he would once again be arrested and held
indefinitely, Mr. E fled Ethiopia and arrived in the united
States in February 1996.

Like Mr. E. thousands of individuals opposed to the current
government particularly journalists, academicians, and opposition
party official were being harassed as they attempt to express
their views on the critical issues facing the country.

The Ethiopian government continues to deny political
detainees both procedural and substantive due process of the law
and has made a mockery of the administration of justice.

I would like to call particular attention to the plight of
three political prisoners--Dr. Asrat Woldeyes, Dr. Taye Semayet,
and Mr. Abera YemaneAb.

At the behest of the Ethiopian-American community here in
the United States, I have personally urged our State Department
to intercede on behalf of these prominent political prisoners in

I have also communicated my concerns directly to the
Ethiopian Government. Thus far, I am sorry to report, no progress
has been made.

But, we must not relinquish our struggle against the
relentless assault on the human rights of the Ethiopian peoples.

We must urge the Ethiopian Government to cease the ethnic
discrimination, foster positive relations between the various
ethnic groups and to allow freedom of movement and expression.

In fiscal year 1996, the United States gave Ethiopia $109
million in bilateral economic assistance making Ethiopia the
third highest recipient of United States aid to the continent.

More importantly, perhaps, the United States acts as the
coordinator for all Western aid to Ethiopia.

I urge my colleagues to continue their support for the
inclusion of human rights as an integral element of our foreign
policy by supporting this amendment.