The international community has done little to hold the EPRDF government accountable for widespread human rights violations since it came to power more than ten years ago. The EPRDF continues to receive substantial foreign assistance from the U.S., Europe, and multilateral agencies. Some of this, like recent announcements by the U.S., E.U., and U.N. to donate substantial amounts of humanitarian assistance in response to a worsening food crisis in many parts of the country, is commendable. They have also supported various aspects of democratization, educational development, and poverty alleviation. However, at times, donors have supported the security sector without demanding accountability.
Since the attacks on New York and Washington on September 11, 2001, Ethiopia's international prominence has grown. Ethiopia is now a partner and a "frontline state" in the U.S. war on terrorism. Correspondingly, aid to Ethiopian security forces has increased and international criticism of the government has become even more muted. The newly designated U.S. ambassador to Ethiopia told Human Rights Watch that human rights and the "war on terror" are both important objectives for the United States.226 But a senior State Department official told Human Rights Watch that Ethiopia's cooperation in gathering intelligence from Sudan and Somalia and in other matters he was not at liberty to discuss is so important to U.S. interests that the U.S. effectively wields little if any leverage over the Ethiopian government. He said that, although the U.S. is aware that Ethiopia's interests do not always coincide with its own and listens to its partner "with a jaundiced ear," the country's human rights record is "not a factor" in the bilateral relationship "as a point of fact."227
The U.S. Embassy in Addis Ababa has declined to take a strong stand against police shootings of protesters and other egregious abuses reported in its annual human rights report.228 Although the U.S. provides substantial support to the Ethiopian military, which reportedly has a budget of some U.S.$300 million, the U.S. has not used its leverage to ensure that adequate funds be allocated to non-lethal crowd control techniques or that perpetrators of human rights violations are held accountable.229 Members of Ethiopian civil society organizations have told visiting U.S. government representatives that statements of embassy officials are at times indistinguishable from those of the Ethiopian government.230 A European diplomat expressed frustration with the U.S. attitude. "They think, what is one hundred deaths in a country of some 65 million?" he said.231 Some expressed hope that the new U.S. Ambassador Aurelia Brazael, who criticized the large numbers of political prisoners in Ethiopia at her confirmation hearing before the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations in July 2002, would be more willing to denounce human rights violations.232
The E.U. has recently demonstrated an increased willingness to take a stand on human rights violations in Ethiopia, notably with its demand for an inquiry and accountability for civilian killings at Tepi and Awassa. However, European diplomats said they were reluctant to provide Ethiopia with assistance to improve its means of responding to civil disturbances. Germany and the U.K. suspended assistance to the Ethiopian police in 1997 after materials they provided had reportedly been used in the commission of human rights violations including the assassination of Assefa Maru. The Ethiopian government then rejected an agreement incorporating human rights into the training and reference to judicial oversight over police.233 One European diplomat said his government would only consider providing assistance if the Ethiopian government made a genuine effort to hold accountable those responsible for the Tepi and Awassa killings.234 Human Rights Watch takes the position that, because Ethiopia already receives substantial foreign aid that benefits its military and security forces, additional assistance should not be necessary to enable the government to respond to student demonstrations and civilian disturbances without lethal force.
229 When a Human Rights Watch researcher asked an American diplomat responsible for economic affairs to comment on the government's claim that it could not afford non-lethal means of crowd control although it receives U.S. military assistance and its military budget is reportedly U.S.$300 million, she curtly replied "For whatever reason, they don't have non-lethal crowd control methods!" and abruptly ended that subject of discussion. Human Rights Watch interview, Addis Ababa, July 25, 2002.
232 Human Rights Watch interview Washington, D.C., September 20, 2002. The statement Ambassador Brazael delivered at her confirmation hearing indicated that she intends to make the promotion of human rights a priority. Statement by Ambassador Aurelia Brazael, Ambassador-designate to Ethiopia, Before the U.S. Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, July 9, 2002.