Ethiopia emerged in 1997 as one of the members, alongside Eritrea, Uganda, Angola, and Rwanda, of a new political power block in east and central Africa that had, through its intervention and support, made possible the swift military campaign of the Alliance of Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Congo/Zaire (ADFL) and the ensuing takeover. Analysts characterized the Congo events and the prospects for its recovery a "second African liberation,"135 the result of the concerted action of a new generation of leadership, whose members had fought long liberation wars themselves, and would take no lessons from outsiders. There were growing indications that Ethiopia's prominence in regional politics had contributed to its growing immunity to international pressure on human rights issues.

European Union and Other Members of the Donor Community

When some of the main international partners of Ethiopia attempted, however timidly, to use their close ties with the country to address grave human rights concerns, their attempts were usually met with evasive tactics, if not outright rejection. In spite of repeated requests for it to do so, the Ethiopian government stalled in naming a government authority to act as a focal point to respond to the human rights queries and concerns of the diplomatic community. And when some of the more outgoing donors offered to assist the Ethiopian government in setting up and resourcing such a focal point, their offers went unanswered.136 However, Ethiopia's partners had themselves to blame for the high-handed attitude of their host. For far too long they had limited their interventions to requests to the Ethiopian government to come up with public responses to human rights concerns on high profile cases. The daily repressive practices in outlying areas in the country, and the clampdowns on the freedoms of expression, association, and assembly gradually slipped into a domain of accepted normality. Had the donor community put the samecommitment it showed in backing the economic liberalization programs of the government in promoting the respect of basic human rights in the country, the current government might have reacted differently.

Meanwhile, support for Ethiopia's economic development plans went ahead in full gear in 1996 and 1997, while the governments offered dismissive remarks to the donors' occasional, and sometime reluctant, expression of human rights concerns. In July 1996, for example, the response of the Ethiopian government to a resolution by the European Parliament that called on it to release the president of ETA and other political prisoners was that it had dealt with the high profile detainee in full conformity with the law. The government's statement went on to dismiss the resolution as indicative of "lack of seriousness and purpose,"137 and closed on this admonishing note: "[t]he Parliament should clearly understand that its intervention will have no constructive and positive effect on respect for human rights in the country . . . . The recent resolution of the European Parliament is the last thing that the administration of justice needs in Ethiopia."138

During a regional tour in east Africa in February 1997, European Commissioner Joao de Deus Pinheiro said the European Union increased its grants to Ethiopia, Kenya and Uganda by between 10 and 45 percent. The national and regional grants totaled 935 Ecus (U.S.$794 million) for the next five years. When journalists asked whether E.U. aid was tied to human rights improvements, Pinheiro said: "When you mention human rights you have got always to put things in perspective in the sense that things appear to be sometimes not so perfect in one spot but then when you realize what is going on in not so far away countries you realize that things there are much worse." He said one had to be pragmatic in making funding decision: "You cannot isolate human rights from the basic rights of the citizen for food, shelter, opportunities . . . all these things are important in assessing the progress of a country."139 According to an ambassador of a major bilateral donor country, high-ranking Ethiopian officials often articulated similar arguments when foreign diplomats raised specific human rights concerns and called for government investigations of reported human rights abuses, saying such investigations would divert the government's energy and resources from building schools and clinics!140 The clear answer to this false dichotomy was that the right to development was not incompatible with the respect of human rights.

The Ethiopian government was not lacking in signs of unconditional support from the donor community.141 From December 10 to 12, 1996, Ethiopia became the first country to host on its soil the meeting of its Consultative Group. Fifteen bilateral partners and twelve multilateral participated in the event, which the World Bank vice-president for Africa Region chaired. The Ethiopian delegation was led by the prime minister. Donors commended the achievements of Ethiopia's macroeconomic and structural adjustment program toward the alleviation of poverty in the country. According to the outgoing Dutch ambassador to Ethiopia, human rights concerns that he and a few other bilateral donors expressed in the meeting were not taken into consideration in its final outcome. Delegates, however, urged the government to improve its partnership with the civil society through increased dialogue and consultations with groups affected by the economic policies. At the conclusion of the meeting, donors pledged over U.S.$2.5 billion in new commitments of external financing for the years 1996/97-1998/99.142 In the third week ofJanuary 1997, its creditor nations agreed to give Ethiopia a debt reduction break of up to 67 percent, one of the most generous agreements availed to a least-developed nation.

On February 25, 1997, delegations from the World Bank and the European Commission, who between them provided up to 70 percent of economic assistance to Africa, met to discuss issues concerning a collaborative effort in portions of Africa. The European Commission team, headed by Professor Pinheiro, and the World Bank team, headed by the World Bank regional vice-president for Africa, Jean-Louis Sarbib, agreed to concentrate their efforts on poverty alleviation and private sector development in three countries: Mozambique, Ethiopia, and in the Ivory Coast. They also agreed that both poverty reduction and acceleration of economic growth in the private sector would benefit the impoverished and decided that their upcoming meetings should be held in the three African countries to encourage more participation on their part. On that occasion, the E.U.'s Development Commissioner stressed that growth, the development of human resources, and the reduction of poverty must go hand in hand with respect for human rights, democratic principles, and the rule of law. Needless to say, despite this declaration, the E.U. and the donor community at large had, as yet, to tap their largely underused leverage to pressure Ethiopia to comply with concrete good governance and human rights benchmarks.

Some encouraging signs did emerge during 1997, however. The British government withheld for a time the renewal of its four-year aid agreement designed to assist in the establishment of a civilian, accountable police force in Ethiopia, when it came up for renewal in May 1997, when the role of the police in the killing of the leader of the Ethiopian Teachers Association was credibly questioned. When the U.K. later offered a revised version of the agreement incorporating human rights values in the training and reference to judicial oversight, the Ethiopian side reportedly rejected the U.K.'s contribution outright. This followed diplomatic tensions between the two countries when the U.K. pressed in vain for the government to open an independent investigation of the Maru killing. The E.U. and other donors assisted, through the program "Institutional Strengthening of Parliamentary Institutions," in supporting preparations for the convening in December 1997 of an international consultation for the creation of a human rights commission and ombudsman institution. Ethiopia also reportedly granted access to the ICRC to visit an increasing number of places of detention in 1997, including kebele houses and army camps. A representative of an E.U. member state told Human Rights Watch that the government had agreed to individual prison visits on a monthly basis by donor embassy representatives. Requests to extend the authorization to coordinated visits by several embassies at a time were however not granted.143 On September 18, 1997, the European Parliament passed a resolution which condemned the assassination of Asefa Maru, and all human rights violations in Ethiopia by government security forces. They also called on the Ethiopian government to release all political prisoners, to guarantee fundamental rights, and to not obstruct the freedom of the press.144

United States

With $104 million in U.S. bilateral economic assistance, Ethiopia ranked as the second largest recipient of U.S. aid to the continent in Fiscal Year 1997. Private U.S. trade and investment activities in the country grew significantly, with some 120 U.S. investors starting operations and offices in the country by 1997.145 The United States cultivated the closest of relations with Ethiopia in all sectors of cooperation since the ouster of the Derg government in 1991. The country gradually acquired a central place in the U.S.'s strategy for the region, aiming particularly at containing the influence of the Islamist government of Sudan in the region and at stabilizing the situation in Somalia.

A number of high-level administration officials visited Ethiopia during 1996 and 1997 to discuss, in addition to bilateral affairs, regional security concerns. John Deutch, then director of the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency, held talks with Prime Minister Meles Zenawi in Addis Ababa in April 1996.146 In February 1996, Vincent Kern, the deputy assistant secretary of defense for international security affairs, had announced from the Ethiopian capital his government's readiness to assist Ethiopia's army and help in the consolidation of peace in the Horn of Africa. One of the main objectives of the October 1996 visit by former Secretary of State Warren Christopher, which was part of an extended tour in Africa, was obtaining support for the African Crisis Response Initiative (ACREI). This U.S.-led initiative aimed at creating a 10,000-strong force for deployment during humanitarian crises or for peacekeeping operations. The force would consist of contingents within national armies which will be trained and specially equipped for peacekeeping assignments. By July 1997, 120 U.S. troops landed in Uganda to start the training of the first ACREI unit. The training of troops from Ethiopia, Mali, Ghana, and Tunisia was to take place in a later phase.147

The U.S. had resumed its bilateral military relations and military assistance programs with Ethiopia following the fall of the Derg. Within this package, the U.S. provided the National Defense Forces with training in the fields of demining, basic soldiering skills, and military justice.148 In addition to this, Ethiopia was poised to receive additional military hardware and training as a member of ACREI, as explained above, and was also the main recipient of a special military assistance package valued at U.S. $20 million that the U.S. announced in November 1996 that it was extending to Ethiopia, Eritrea, and Uganda. The U.S. denied that it was making the military assistance grant with the purpose of assisting the three countries' proclaimed effort to topple the government of Sudan. State Department deputy spokesman Glyn Davies qualified the package as a "nonlethal defensive military assistance."149 In late September 1997, a U.S. official told the press that the government was going to increase the levels of its military aid to the same recipients who came to be known as the "front line states," while at the same time engaging the government of Sudan in an aggressive dialogue meant to press it into abandoning its support of fundamentalist groups in the region.

Despite the large influence that the U.S. wields in Ethiopia by virtue of its significant economic and military assistance programs to the country, and the strategic cooperation between the two countries, rarely had officials of the Clinton administration gone on public record on the issue of rampant human rights abuses in the country. The U.S. in effect appeared to maintain two levels of discourse on the issue of rights abuses in Ethiopia. At a political level, supportive statements were left to the ambassador on the ground, while critical comments were articulated in the U.S. Department of State annual reports on country human rights practices.

The new U.S. ambassador, David Shinn, like his predecessor, went on record voicing praise of the democratization and economic liberalization policies of the Ethiopian government and admiration of the administrative structures devised by the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia. In a December 1996 press conference Ambassador David Shinn called on the exiled opposition, if it were to gain credibility, to return to the country and participate in the political process, even at the risk of facing detention. He observed that local opposition groups had no presence outside the capital, a comment that one leading opposition party at least, the All AmharaPeople's Organization, found objectionable for failing, it said, to take into account restrictions that the government posed on free association and assembly.150

Noticeable exceptions to this supportive attitude have been, as mentioned above, the critical stance of the annual reports of the U.S. Department of State on country human rights practices, and the statement of former Secretary of State Warren Christopher during his October 1996 visit in which he called on the Ethiopian government to respect the freedom of the private press and abide by other human rights standards. This statement has as yet to lead to actual policy shifts aimed at encouraging a reluctant partner to move toward a more effective compliance with these standards.

Ambassador Shinn reportedly interceded with Prime Minister Meles Zenawi when he refused to receive a visiting fact-finding mission from Education International which was investigating the situation of the Ethiopian Teachers' Association, and the killing of Assefa Maru. As a concession, the prime minister agreed to meet with the United States member of the delegation, who was appointed labor advisor to President Clinton while he was in Ethiopia, but only in his capacity as a private citizen.151 Following a ninety-minute discussion, the prime minister told his interlocutor that in order for his government to resume negotiations with ETA, the association had to condemn violence, accept the constitution, and condemn terrorism in a public statement in which it would also undertake not to cooperate with terrorists. In response to these preconditions, ETA reiterated its rejection of violence and terrorism, and called on the government to renew negotiations with it. This had as yet to happen, by the last quarter of 1997.152

135 See, for example, Michael Holman and Michela Wrong, "Ripples of Revolution," Financial Gazette, May 26, 1997. 136 Summary of concerns of some members of the diplomatic community in the course of Human Rights Watch interviews, Addis Ababa, July, 1997. 137 "EPRDF Response to the European Parliament," July 28, 1996, disseminated by the Speaker of the Parliament to the multiple recipients of list <pol.ethiopia@wn.APC.ORG,> on July 29, 1997. 138 Ibid. 139 "Kenya: EU Boosts Grants to Three African States," Reuter, Nairobi, February 4, 1997. 140 Human Rights Watch interview, Addis Ababa, July, 1997. 141 "France: Paris Club Agrees Debt Relief For Ethiopia," Reuter, Paris, January 24, 1997. 142 "Ethiopia: Quarterly Update," vol. II, no. I, The World Bank Resident Mission in Ethiopia, p. 2. 143 Human Rights Watch interviews, Addis Ababa, July, 1997. 144 "EU: EP/Human Rights - Situation in Kenya, Bahrein, Colombia, Chili, Ethiopia ...," Agence Europe, Brussels, September 19, 1997. 145 "Ambassador Notes Growing Ethio-U.S. Relations," News From Ethiopia (Ethiopian Embassy to the U.S.), March 1997, p. 1. 146 "Ethiopia: CIA Chief in Ethiopia Last Week," Reuter, Addis Ababa, April 25, 1996. 147 "U.S. "Green Berets" to Land in Uganda as Trainers," Reuter, Kampala, July21, 1997. 148 According to a note from the Office of Defense Attache, U.S. embassy in Addis Ababa, in the brochure "Building Bridges Through Business: The U.S.-Ethiopia Trade Relations - Trade Exhibition," Addis Ababa, May, 1997, p. 15. 149 "USA: U.S. Denies Trying to Help Overthrow Sudan," Reuter, Nov.13, 1996. 150 "AAPO condemns US Ambassador's Biased Criticism of Opposition groups," Ethiopian Register, vol. 4, no. 2, February, 1997, p. 13. 151 Human Rights Watch interview with ETA officials, Addis Ababa, July, 1997. 152 "ETA's Principles and Objectives Are Always Clear," a press release by ETA, Addis Ababa, 1997.