Human Rights and Governance in EthiopiaDavid J. Kramer, Assistant Secretary for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor
Remarks at the Center for Strategic and International Studies
November 3, 2008
ASSISTANT SECRETARY KRAMER: Thank you very much for the introduction and thanks for inviting me to join you here today and to be with such a great panel. I do regret I’m just back from South Korea this weekend, so I won’t be able to stay to hear the panel. But colleagues from the Department – Jeff Krilla, Deputy Assistant Secretary in the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, is here and certainly an expert on Africa, and there may be other colleagues here from State who can certainly address any questions or issues that might come up during the discussion. But it is a real pleasure for me to be here. I actually worked at CSIS – I won’t say how many years ago, but quite a long time ago, and it’s always a pleasure to come back here.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY KRAMER: Yeah. Again, my apologies that I have to leave to you and to all who are here and to my fellow panelists.
MODERATOR: We have a question there.
QUESTION: I’d like to ask a question concerning – some of the speech that you just did was kind of vague, but I want to know exactly how does the instability, like now, like, relate to the instability and famine that happened in – I guess maybe the ‘80s when they did that “We are the World” type thing that Ethiopia, you know – that issue. Are you aware of that (inaudible)?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY KRAMER: Yeah, I remember.
QUESTION: Also, talking about, you know, Eritrea and the conflict between the two countries – basically, your speech was kind of vague, so basically I want to know what steps you took to actually fix those problems so that we can actually see the rationale behind how you solve the problems. Is that possible? If not, then I understand, but –
ASSISTANT SECRETARY KRAMER: Yeah, I mean, let me – I’ll try quickly. The issue of dealing with famine problems is – there is certainly a human rights component to it. I don’t want to suggest there isn’t. But helping Ethiopia deal with regions that are facing famine or starvation of people at risk, malnutrition, is largely an area that AID and others in the U.S. Government work on, so it’s not – doesn't directly fall under my bureau’s purview.
But we certainly do recognize the need for providing whatever help we can, but obviously the responsibility lies first and foremost with the government of Ethiopia. And any pockets of instability created by famine or starvation put at risk what the government is trying to do, and we certainly don’t want to see that.
In the case of Ethiopia and Eritrea, this is an issue that I have sort of divided up with my colleagues in the African Bureau, with Assistant Secretary Jendayi Frazer, and so she’s been the one taking the lead on that. And what we do want to see and what we do want to promote is for Ethiopia to play a role in enhancing and promoting stability throughout the region, and that’s something we work very closely with them on.
MODERATOR: Let’s take another question Steve Hadwick (ph). I mean, one of the questions is how will this affect kind of how the U.S. engages with Ethiopia. One of the problems is we don’t have a whole lot of leverage on the government. And I just wonder if, in your talks with the Africa Bureau, you know, how you see perhaps the relationship evolving or changing as a result of internal dynamics. We can take a couple of questions –
ASSISTANT SECRETARY KRAMER: Sure, no, that’s fine. Yeah, that’s fine.
MODERATOR: Yeah. So Steve Morrison (ph) in the back had a question, then we have a gentleman here.
QUESTION: Thank you. This is to follow on what Jen raised. David, thank you for your speech and thank you for your leadership on taking these issues up in the way you have in the last few months.
This just does seem to bring forward in a very dramatic way Ethiopia, the dilemma that we face, that many countries have gone in a regressive direction on tightening down and narrowing the space. Our leverage in many cases has diminished. In the case of Ethiopia, we’re putting this year probably over $900 million of assistance, but we don’t get leverage against PEPFAR money or emergency humanitarian programs, and we have an active, tacit security cooperation with the Ethiopians in Somalia. So it’s – you’re operating against a very tough background of trying to leverage the government in Ethiopia to decide not to proceed along a track or even to accelerate moving along that track anticipating the end of this administration and a delay in the transition leading into the next one.
So how do you deal with that overarching problem that we don’t seem to have much leverage, we’re in a phase where it’s going to be even more difficult to feel like you’re getting leverage? And is the congressional piece really where we should be also looking? I mean, the Feingold legislation, the fact that you have strong leadership there setting down some markers, maybe that is another dimension of this that we need to take account of.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY KRAMER: Sure, sure.
MODERATOR: If you can identify yourself.
QUESTION: Yes, may name is Dr. Bala Haftiesis (ph). My question relates about Ethiopia’s specific space in terms of the geopolitical environment, where there are serious challenges of governance (inaudible) in Eritrea, Djibouti, Yemen, Somalia, specifically, and how this instability and security challenges the whole population whereby there is a population influx into Ethiopia be it for humanitarian, economic or sometimes political and security concerns? When you talk about the political space shrinking within Ethiopia, are you also considering the external factors around in Ethiopia that are facilitating this very perhaps vulnerable political space to be (inaudible) especially I’m mentioning the works of al-Shabab, al-Qaida, al-Shabia (ph), the Eritrean (ph) terrorist network, and the fact that Ethiopia is the only viable state in that whole region to support some level of sustainable democracy or governance. Within that context, therefore, the shrinkage of political space and Ethio-U.S. relations, where does it balance? Is making Ethiopia vulnerable more by reducing some of the socioeconomic partnerships that we have with the United States – is that one way to go? Are there (inaudible) efforts being made in Somalia, Eritrea, those vulnerable areas, so that this communication also is balanced in terms of Ethiopia’s role within African Union and specific responsibility to protect the interests of the big international diplomatic community? Thank you.
MODERATOR: Thank you. Let’s take one more. The gentleman there.
QUESTION: Thank you so much. My question is regarding the Asafa (ph) (inaudible) the closing of political space (inaudible) the draft law only Ethiopian citizens can work in areas of democracy human rights issues. And you know, as you know, many (inaudible) still someone who has (inaudible) control the agenda of any activity. So the whole issues about promoting indigenous development of democracy, I mean, with money (inaudible) have a disproportionate control in the agenda of the country, so the whole (inaudible) just to local citizens to work in the area for democracy and human rights, and I don’t see in doing that Ethiopia breaking any international law. Is there any international law that allows foreigners to demand political rights in another country? This is the whole issue of allowing only – allowing democratic and political rights for citizens, not foreigners, they can work and so forth, economic issues and other social issues, but democracy and political rights are only rights that can be demanded by citizens. So I don’t – is there any (inaudible) breaking in this regard? Thank you.
MODERATOR: Thank you. Do you want to start with those – the leverage?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY KRAMER: Sure. All very good questions. Let me, Jennifer and you and Steve’s points on leverage. It is interesting, I mean, hearing your comments about our limited leverage contrast with some people whom I saw in Ethiopia who say we have lots of leverage, given how much assistance we provide. But your point, Steven, I think is absolutely right, which is we don’t want to politicize humanitarian assistance, we don’t want to politicize HIV/AIDS assistance. Those are – those are programs we need to continue and support because life and death is at stake in those programs and it’s a very slippery slope to go down and start politicizing those.
I think what we can do and are doing and need to do more of is coordination with the donors, because I think speaking collectively, we do perhaps add up to more leverage than might otherwise be the case that it’s simply the United States voicing concerns. And Ambassador Yamamoto, I think, has done an excellent job of this. We perhaps need to think of some other ways to ensure full coordination among the donor community outside of the capital. But I think the Ambassador with other ambassadors do get meetings with senior people in the government and I think that is an effective way of trying to get our points across.
The issue of legislation certainly gets their attention. I heard plenty of this when I was there about pieces of legislation before the Congress. And I think Congress has a rightful role to play in this, and so I’m not going to stand up here and second-guess the Congress in terms of what role it might be able to play.
I think the kind of engagement that we are practicing is one that takes patience. It’s a long-term process. There are certain issues that rise to the fore that require immediate action or short-term action. That’s what we’ve been doing on the CSO legislation. But I think we also have to realize that we, while responding to certain developments, have to maintain a long-term approach. That’s true in Ethiopia. It’s true around the world when we try to push on issues of human rights and democratization.
We want to be able – and this comes to the gentleman’s question here – I think we want to be able to – but it also dovetails with the question of leverage. We want to work with Ethiopia on counterterrorism, we want to work with Ethiopia in promoting regional stability. But it’s our firm view that doing so is best ensured by seeing Ethiopia develop in a more democratic direction. Our most reliable, secure, stable partners are those that are on a democratic path and those that respect human rights, and that’s one of the reasons why we stress to the government of Ethiopia that, as critical a partner as it is, it does not want to run the risk of producing pockets of instability or extremism as a result of efforts it launches domestically, perhaps unintendedly. It’s very important, I think, that Ethiopia stay on a democratic path, a path that respects not only its own people’s human rights but the human rights of people in other countries, too, while it works very closely with us and others in trying to promote stability.
So it’s our view that being as open as possible, appreciating the problems that are out there in the region, is the best way of approaching this. And we – as I said in my remarks, we do recognize it’s a tough neighborhood. It’s a very tough neighborhood. But Ethiopia, I think, has as good a chance to be a leader in the region as anyone, and that’s why we stake so much importance on what’s happening with Ethiopia both domestically and in foreign policy terms.
And in terms of closing political space and some of the question about violation, which I appreciate, thank you very much, some of the analysis that’s been done suggests there are questions about freedom of association, freedom of assembly, as it relates to some of the international conventions and covenants – the ICCPR, International Convention on Civil and Political Rights, which Ethiopia is a party to, and questions about the impact the legislation would have on the rights that are provided in those covenants.
We agree that having indigenous movements lead the way is absolutely the right thing for any country, whether it’s Ethiopia or anywhere else around the world. It doesn't work if it’s either the image or the reality that democracy is being imposed from the outside, that what we want to do with Ethiopia and elsewhere is to give people the opportunity, the choice, the freedom.
One of the concerns I have based on the conversations I had while I was in Ethiopia was there isn’t the ability domestically to provide funding and support for the kinds of organizations that we hope will lead the way, and that’s one of the reasons why I think foreign funding for an interim period – I don’t know how long interim is – is important. It’s one of the reasons why I think, given the lack of domestic sources of support, the foreign donors need to fill a void that’s there and give people the opportunity to establish roots and a firm foundation so that over time they don’t need to be relying or dependent on foreign funding.
So we do want to see Ethiopians take the lead and take full responsibility. We’re not trying to substitute for that, but we are trying to give them the ability to help them get established. And the Prime Minister was very eloquent on this point about indigenous capacity and I appreciated his comments on it. What we’re simply trying to do is to provide as much possibility and opening so that indigenous capacity can really take off in the country.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY KRAMER: I do, unfortunately. I can take one more if there’s one more.
MODERATOR: (Inaudible) one more pressing question.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY KRAMER: It’s probably usually a mistake, too, by the way. (Laughter.)
MODERATOR: Okay. This could be the one that really knocks you over.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY KRAMER: Exactly. The one I’ll say Jeff Krilla will stay here and answer it.
QUESTION: My name is Abdullah (ph) and I’m one of the (inaudible) candidate (inaudible) conflict resolution. Originally, I came from that region, actually, but I do have a lot of question concerning my area and maybe you can (inaudible) you know, explain me a little extra. (Inaudible) I have a (inaudible) report on page thirteen of the report that states (inaudible) Somalis share mistrust of the federal government and sense of (inaudible) from their right share of the service and development. So what is – what was methodology Human Rights Watch used to come to this conclusion?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY KRAMER: I hate to punt on this, but Human Rights Watch is right here and --
MODERATOR: We have a Human Rights Watch representative here
ASSISTANT SECRETARY KRAMER: -- I think they’re probably in a better position to answer what’s in their report than I am.
QUESTION: Thank you.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY KRAMER: So, anyway, my apologies, Jennifer. Thank you very much.
MODERATOR: Thank you so much for joining us.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY KRAMER: Sure.
MODERATOR: Let’s join me in thanking – (applause).
Released on November 18, 2008