July 22, 2011

Rights activist calls for pressure on Ethiopia

Filed under: Azeb Mesfin,Ethiopia — ethiopiantimes @ 8:49 am
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Special to The Japan Times

Yosef Mulugeta, an Ethiopian lawyer and former secretary general of the Ethiopian Human Rights Council (EHCRO), is asking for the support of the international community in his struggle to bring about peaceful change in Ethiopia.

Donor nations, including Japan, “must use their leverage for human rights,” said Mulugeta, who recently received the 2010-2011 Alison Des Forges Award for Extraordinary Activism from London-based Human Rights Watch at its annual dinner in Tokyo.

“This recognition will give Ethiopian activists all over the world, not just me, a feeling of hope,” Mulugeta said.

The award was presented earlier this month to honor defenders of human rights movements.

Mulugeta headed EHCRO, an organization in Ethiopia that systematically documents human rights abuses and publishes records of human rights violations. It also provides legal services for victims of human rights abuse as well as human rights education for citizens.

HRW claims Ethiopia’s international partners have turned a blind eye and increased their aid to the government even though it has become increasingly authoritarian.

“The U.S., along with European governments, consider Ethiopia a key ally in the war on terror and this, among other institutional interests, such as political commitments to high levels of aid spending, makes changing policy on Ethiopia an uphill battle,” Ben Rawlence, a researcher with HRW’s African Division, said during the annual dinner.

Japan, a major donor to Ethiopia, has increased aid to the nation as part of a commitment in 2008 during the Fourth Tokyo International Conference on African Development, better known as TICAD IV. Japan committed to doubling its aid to Africa by 2012.

According to the OECD Creditor Reporting System, Japan gave $34.2 million to Ethiopia in 2007 and $32.7 million in 2008, then upped the ante to $96.6 million in 2009.

An HRW report published late last year says the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front, the ruling party that has held power for nearly two decades, underwrites repression in Ethiopia by adopting a policy of partisan access to domestic development programs.

International human rights groups and opposition forces have also leveled charges of corruption in the 2010 election, in which the ruling party and a small coalition of affiliated parties reportedly won 99.6 percent of the seats.

Mulugeta said he was forced to flee and seek political asylum in the U.S. in 2009.

At its peak, EHCRO had 12 branches around the country and close to 60 staff members, but the group was forced to operate at reduced capacity following the enactment of laws in 2009 that restricted local organizations from receiving more than 10 percent of their funding from foreign sources, he said.

As a major donor to Ethiopia, Japan has a responsibility to make sure aid given to the country is not used for political purposes, HRW’s Rawlence said.

“Japan has interests, just like the rest of the world, in shipping through Somali waters and the gulf, the Red Sea,” he said, adding that Japan has built a base in Djibouti where Self-Defense Forces personnel involved in antipiracy operations are stationed.

Bringing about democracy to Ethiopia would require the Japanese government to talk tough with the Ethiopian government, Mulugeta said.

“Japan wants stability, and its idea of stability is a dictatorship,” he said. “But in the long run, history shows, dictatorships are not stable; democracy is stable.”


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