Saron Yitbarek, Page Editor
The pale white stone steps of the Black Lion Hospital in Addis Ababa are soaked with the blood of Ethiopians killed or injured by their own government. Thirty-six died in protests this past June. Eighty have been killed since then.
Some have been punished for speaking out against a corrupt leader who uses his power to permanently silence opposition and maintain complete control. Some were wrongly targeted as protesters, caught at the wrong place at the wrong time and paying with their lives.
But all of them know the destruction emblematic of Ethiopian President Meles Zenawi's rule, and all have begged for the democratic rights that so many Americans take for granted. Yet after numerous demonstrations, protests and petitions, the world's powers do little in response to Ethiopia's crisis.
May 15 marked the first democratic presidential election in Ethiopian history. The millions of Ethiopians who came out to vote in what they thought would be a fair election did not foresee the death and terror that would result from it. When votes were counted, 90 percent of voters in Addis Ababa alone chose the opposition party, the Coalition for Unity and Democracy. That should have ended Zenawi's reign on its own, but he stopped the vote count and falsely declared his party victorious.
Ethiopians do not ask that foreign nations bring troops or arms to fight for them, and much simpler steps can be taken to end the months-long standoff.
The first would be to acknowledge that the current ruler hurts rather than helps the Ethiopian people. The United States and Great Britain both count on Zenawi as an ally in the war on terrorism. British Prime Minister Tony Blair appointed Zenawi to the Commission of Africa, a group of 17 leaders dedicated to self-rule and economic improvement in the continent. Blair hoped that Zenawi would lead his country on the path to democracy. But since he has violated fundamental human rights, Great Britain should strip him of his title and condemn his actions. To date, neither has happened.
The people of Ethiopia seek more aid for political refugees and those wounded in protests. Instead of giving money to a corrupt government, the global community should send aid to organizations working directly with the Ethiopian people in their stuggle against their nation's repressive leadership. This will ensure that aid money is used for its intended purposes and not be abused by the government.
Since Zenawi came to power in 1991, the U.S. has sent a total of $21 billion in aid to the Ethiopian government, hoping the new leader would create a healthy democracy for his country. So far the only action the U.S. has taken against the Zenawi government is a lukewarm threat of cutting off aid payments. But this threat, made months ago, means very little to a leader who is capable of killing his own people to stay in power, especially one who already has accumulated millions of dollars from 14 years of corrupt rule.
Although the conflict is practically unknown to most Americans, some have started to recognize Ethiopia's dire situation. Senator Paul Sarbanes (D-Maryland) wrote a letter to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice requesting that the administration work to stop the current violence and help Ethiopia achieve a real democracy. "I am gravely concerned about the government's indiscriminate targeting of citizens," wrote Sarbanes, "and the fact that many have been detained without charge or trial, in violation of due process."
With this alarming information, the world must take action to end a regime guilty of the violation of its people's basic human rights.