The Ethiopian American Council and the Ethiopian National Congress, a nonprofit civic
group, celebrated last Thursday after the House International Relations subcommittee on
Africa, global human rights and international operations voted to send a bill about
Ethiopia to the floor for a vote. The bill covers several issues, including political
prisoners and human rights.
After hearing testimony from Mesfin Mekonen , an activist from the council, and the acting Ethiopian ambassador, Fesseha Asghedom Tessema , members of the subcommittee endorsed HR 4423, the Ethiopian Freedom, Human Rights and Democracy Act.
The legislation, sponsored by the subcommittee chairman, Christopher H. Smith (R-N.J.), includes a ban on travel to the United States by government officials involved in the shooting of demonstrators last year. The embassy contends it would interfere in Ethiopia's internal politics and harm relations.
Fesseha said at the hearing that Ethiopia's economy was growing and that the country was learning "through experience how to become a better democracy." Fesseha also cited the increase in the number of opposition seats in Parliament, from 12 to 172, as evidence of progress.
Mekonen, however, testified that new rules do not allow the opposition to debate issues and are aimed only at providing the appearance of democracy. "The U.S. State Department has insisted that those elected should take their seats in Parliament. Ethiopians are not, however, willing to settle for an imaginary, or third-class,democracy," he said