Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor

Part 1: Political and Human Rights Conditions

Ethiopia is a federal republic under the leadership of Prime Minister Meles Zenawi and the ruling Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) coalition. In the May 2005 parliamentary elections the ruling party won a third consecutive five-year majority. In local and by-elections held in April 2008, harassment and intimidation of the opposition allowed the EPRDF and allied parties to win virtually all of the more than three million seats contested, severely diminishing opportunities for mainstream political opposition. Prior to the vote, ruling coalition agents and supporters used coercive tactics and manipulation of the electoral process. The National Electoral Board selectively implemented provisions from the new electoral law. In January 2009 the government passed the Charities and Societies Proclamation(CSO); this law restricts organizations that receive significant foreign funding from working in the areas of human and democratic rights, conflict resolution, promotion of children's and disabled rights, and promotion of gender and religious equality. In December 2008 the government revoked the 2007 pardon issued to opposition leader Birtukan Midekssa. Fighting between government forces, including local militias and the Ogaden National Liberation Front continues, and there have been continuing allegations of human rights abuses.

Human rights abuses reported in 2008 included the following: limitations on citizens' right to change their government; unlawful killings, torture, beating, abuse, and mistreatment of detainees and opposition supporters by security forces, usually with impunity; poor prison conditions; arbitrary arrest and detention; police and judicial corruption, detention without charge and lengthy pretrial detention; infringement on citizens' privacy rights; use of excessive force by security services; restrictions on freedoms of the press, assembly, and association; arrest, detention, and harassment of journalists; violence and societal discrimination against women and abuse of children; female genital mutilation; exploitation of children; trafficking in persons; societal discrimination against persons with disabilities and religious and ethnic minorities; and government interference in union activities.

Part 2: U.S. Government Democracy Objectives

The U.S. Government is committed to helping Ethiopia progress in its transition to a multiparty democracy. U.S. priorities in the country are to support political reform; promote human rights and the rule of law; strengthen key governmental and civil institutions, including the NGO community; and expand press freedom. Given that the Charities and Societies Proclamation severely restricts U.S. ability to strengthen these areas through foreign assistance, the United States will concentrate efforts on building the capacity of political parties and the National Electoral Board in preparation for the 2010 national elections and supporting election observation efforts.

Part 3: Supporting Top Priorities and Other Aspects of Human Rights and Democratic Governance

In an effort to avoid election-related political conflict in the months before the 2010 national elections, the U.S. Government continues dialogue with the government to reopen political space and allow the opposition to operate freely. Similarly, the U.S. Government plays an active role in encouraging greater participation by opposition political parties in the federal parliament and in advancing political reforms through dialogue, such as during the Annual Constructive Dialogue Forum of Political Parties. U.S. officials continue to mediate efforts between the government and opposition leaders to encourage a reopening of the political dialogue that broke down in June 2006. While the United States was prepared to provide capacity building support to the House of Peoples' Representatives, the Federal Supreme Court, and the nine regional state councils, Ethiopian government impediments to the operations of implementing partners resulted in severely constraining such efforts. The United States remains in dialogue with government entities, both bilaterally and multilaterally, to reach agreements for such capacity building support to persist. The United States also continues to support programs to improve legal education, training for judges, and respect for human rights legislation and regulations by the police, military, and the courts.

The U.S. Government has worked with opposition parties to encourage positive and productive engagement to advance the country's democratic transition. To support the rule of law, the United States encouraged a group of local elders to open talks with the government to promote reconciliation and to obtain the release of the remaining prisoners. The United States continues privately to urge the government to cease the harassment and detention of opposition party supporters countrywide. As a result, the government pardoned 25 additional opposition leaders in February 2008, pardoned 44 individuals affiliated with the separatist Oromo Liberation Front in November 2008, and released on parole in March 2008 the two remaining civil society leaders sentenced in the aftermath of the 2005 political turmoil. At the end of 2008 the government revoked Birtukan Midekssa's pardon on grounds that she violated the terms of the pardon; she remains in detention. The United States has urged the government to release Birtukan and reinstate her pardon.

The United States continues to engage the government diplomatically on human rights issues; provide training in respect for human rights for law enforcement, local administration officials, and the military; and strengthen civil society organizations in human rights advocacy and monitoring through programming. The United States seeks to strengthen civil society's capacity to engage local government institutions to improve the planning, implementation, transparency, and accountability of development projects and service delivery. For example, recognizing the role of competition over scarce resources in fueling conflict, the United States supported conflict resolution programs with local groups to identify gaps in service delivery and to engage local governments to respond equitably to mitigate potential intercommunal tensions. However, the Charities and Societies Proclamation may impede such assistance. The U.S. Government coordinates closely with other donors to try to maximize impact on reform efforts. U.S. programs also provide financial support to small-scale projects initiated by local NGOs, community and faith groups, and civic associations that support short-term activities designed to bring about tangible improvements in citizens' lives. The law will render such projects unlawful, if continued without the express agreement of the government

The U.S. Government utilizes a wide range of diplomatic and programmatic activities to promote freedom of the media and speech. The United States continued to support stakeholders' deliberations on a draft press and freedom of information law and provided extensive technical assistance to the drafting team. However, when the law was adopted it did not incorporate many stakeholders' concerns and allowed for criminal penalties for unspecified crimes committed through mass media. The U.S. Government sponsored workshops, roundtables, and other public diplomacy outreach activities to encourage better relations between government and private media and held public consultations before the July 2008 passage of the press law. To promote a professional and balanced media, the United States continues to engage local journalists and journalism students through programs and exchanges. In addition, the United States continued to sponsor a Fulbright scholar at Addis Ababa University's School of Journalism and Communication. U.S. officials continued to deliver guest lectures at the university to stress transparency in government-media relations and journalism ethics and techniques, and to foster partnerships between American professors and journalism schools. The United States also sponsored spokesperson training for officials from a wide range of ministries. The training emphasized openness, access, accuracy of information, and quick responses to media queries.

The U.S. Government continues to promote religious freedom and understanding through an extended public service campaign on state television and radio. U.S. supported conflict resolution programs explore traditional mediation approaches and bring together communities in at-risk areas to address disputes before they erupt into broader conflict. U.S.-supported conflict management programs in Gambella, Southern Nations, Oromiya, and Somali Regional States work to enhance government and civil society collaboration in democratic governance processes, including a strong focus on promoting conflict sensitive development and local service delivery. Exhibits and lectures on "Islam in America" and interfaith tolerance provided opportunities to discuss freedom of religion using the United States as an example of a pluralistic society.