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Obama’s Ethiopia Visit, Democracy and Human Rights

The values of democracy,  freedom, respect for human rights and the principle of holding periodic and genuine elections are essential elements of  one country. Democracy provides the natural environment for the protection and effective realization of human rights. Many  human rights groups  have publicized that  Ethiopian ruling party has big issue on human rights.  Many  people are currently enduring punitive detention without charge or trial. Harassment, surveillance, house arrest, and imprisonment of human rights defenders are on the rise, and censorship of the Internet and other media is increasing from time to time.  President Obama  mentioned  and discussed that there are democracy and human rights issues in Ethiopia.  However,  president Obama  has been criticised not discussing this issue in details. Obama told reporters Monday he was tough on human rights and political freedoms during his conversations with Desalegn and other leaders. But human rights groups said Obama should apply pressure on the Ethiopian government to take further steps toward actual progress rather than phony promises and photo ops. Human rights groups were shocked when, on Monday, the president twice described the country’s May elections as “democratic.” Ethiopia’s ruling party, the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF)  recorded  100% victory in May 2015 elections, winning every seat in the parliament — the kind of implausible victory margin common in dictatorships. Ethiopia has long been considered one of the most repressive regimes in Africa, but it has faced little pushback from US. Despite a long list of alleged human rights abuses, corruption and rigged elections within Ethiopia’s ruling party, consecutive U.S. governments have remained friendly and continue to funnel millions of aid dollars to the country. Ethiopia does not have  Free, independent and pluralistic media.  Ethiopia is suffering for weak institutions and poor leadership.

“In order for this not to appear as merely a token gesture, the Ethiopian government must release all its imprisoned journalists and bloggers, and carry out longer-term, more meaningful reforms such as amending legislation that severely restricts the work of civil society and the media, allowing independent monitoring of detention centres and ending impunity for serious violations carried out by the security forces,” said Rachel Nicholson, Horn of Africa campaigner for Amnesty International, a nongovernmental human rights organization based in London.

The Los Angeles Times also gave detail analysis on this part.

“But the president didn’t give them blunt truths in saying they had a democratic election when their election in May had intimidation of opposition figures, arrests and detentions of political watchdogs and 100% of the seats in the parliament were filled by the ruling party,” said Mark P. Lagon, president of Freedom House, in an interview Tuesday. “The president was giving them a warm kiss when they didn’t deserve it.”

He said Obama was “fundamentally wrong” in his comments about the election. “Calling Ethiopia’s government ‘democratically elected’ lowers the standards for democracy and undermines the courageous work of so many Ethiopians who fight to realize a just and democratic society.

“I think it hurts U.S. credibility and I think it even hurts any partnership we may have in counter-terrorism. If the government of Ethiopia doesn’t think the U.S. is going to stand up for its very clearly avowed principles, it harms our relationship.”

Ethiopia is rated “not free” in terms of politics and civil rights by Freedom House, a watchdog organization. Lagon said Ethiopia was so closed and secretive that it was a “suspect partner” in security and counter-terrorism.

“There’s been a massive overuse and exploitation of this concept of terrorism in Ethiopia. You could translate it as those individuals who express opinions that differ from the ruling party, including journalists,” she said.

Lagon said that while Obama’s remarks offered comfort to the government of Ethiopia, they sent a message to struggling Ethiopian rights activists that the U.S. wasn’t willing to stand up for them.

Despite the criticism, Obama praised Ethiopia as an “outstanding partner” in the fight against militant Islamists at joint press conference held with the Prime Minister of Ethiopia on Monday.

Human rights campaigners from Amnesty International also expressed their reservations about Obama’s visit to Ethiopia.

“We don’t want this visit to be used to sanitize an administration that has been known to violate human rights,” said Amnesty spokesman Abdullahi Halakhe, who warned that the visit would be used by the administration as evidence of international support.

Ethiopia has introduced anti-terror legislation, called the Anti-Terrorism Proclamation, which Human Rights Watch [HRW] says has been used by the government to target political opponents.

Ethiopian opposition  figures have also  criticized President Barack Obama for calling the country democratic. Yonathan Tesfaye, a spokesman for Ethiopia’s opposition Blue party, said yesterday that Obama behaved like a “tricky and mischievous politician” when he said Ethiopia, whose ruling party won every seat in parliament in May elections, has a “democratically elected” government.

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