Human rights group are challenging President Barack Obama following his description of Ethiopia’s government as “democratically elected.”
“We are very mindful of Ethiopia’s history, the hardships that this country has gone through,” Obama declared at a press conference with Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn. “It has been relatively recently in which the Constitution that was formed, and elections put forward a democratically elected government.”
He admitted that “there is still more work to do” and thinks “the prime minister is the first to acknowledge that there is more work to do.”
The last few elections in Ethiopia say otherwise. The Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front won 100% of the races in June to control all 546 seats in parliament. Mark Lagon, president of Freedom House, was one activist that criticized the president:
“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.”
In May, Berhanu Wodajo, a 40-year-old farmer, told The New York Times he was going to vote for “the bee,” which is the symbol for the party.
“The bee is the government,” he said. “We don’t know anything about the other options.”
The opposition tried to appeal to voters, but it does not help that the ruling party harasses their members:
“Our party members are being detained, and the government has arrested some of our supporters who were meant to be observers during the election,” said Yilkal Getnet, chairman of the opposition party, Semayawi.
This campaign season “has been marred by gross, systematic and widespread violations of ordinary Ethiopians’ human rights,” Amnesty International said in a statement. The African Union is deploying international observers this year; unlike past elections, the European Union was not invited.
Amnesty International urged the government to investigate these human rights violations, which included murder of some opposition leaders.
“Amnesty International has received a number of reports concerning the deaths of political opposition figures in suspicious circumstances, as well as of a pattern of human rights violations against political opposition parties throughout the election period,” exclaimed Michelle Kagari, the organization’s Deputy Regional Director for Eastern, Horn of Africa and the Great Lakes. “These reports must be investigated and perpetrators brought to justice. It is unacceptable that these violations barely warranted a mention in reports released by official observers, including the Africa Union Elections Observer Mission and the National Elections Board of Ethiopia.”
Amnesty found that authorities arrested 500 members of the Ethiopian Federal Democratic Unity Forum at polling stations. These people “were beaten and injured by security guards.” At least six people “sustained gunshot injuries and two were shot and killed.” Minority Samayawi (Blue) Party lost its major candidate Samuel Aweke to unknown killers, being discovered dead in the street. His party said “his murder was politically motivated.” A member of the Medrek party “was found dead 24 hours after he was arrested at his home.” Three people attempted to strangle Tadesse Abraha, the leader of Medrek. He escaped, but died at his home.