Ethiopia is a federal republic under the leadership of Prime Minister Meles Zenawi and the ruling Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Democratic Front coalition. In the May 2005 parliamentary elections the ruling party won a third consecutive five-year majority, but opposition parties gained a large number of seats yielding the most pluralistic federal and regional parliaments in the country's history. Despite gains in multiparty representation, the government's human rights record remained poor in a larger context of narrowing political space in 2007. Human rights abuses reported in 2007 included the following: unlawful killings; beating, abuse, and mistreatment of detainees and opposition supporters by security forces; poor prison conditions; arbitrary arrest and detention, particularly of those suspected of sympathizing with or being members of the opposition; detention without charge and lengthy pretrial detention; use of excessive force by security services in an internal conflict and counter-insurgency operation; infringement on citizens' privacy rights; restrictions on freedom of the press; arrest, detention, and harassment of journalists for publishing articles critical of the government; restrictions on freedom of assembly and of association; discrimination against religious and ethnic minorities; and government interference in union activities.
The U.S. government is committed to helping the country progress along its transition to a multiparty democracy. The key U.S. strategies in the country were 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.
In efforts to avoid election-related political conflict around the 2008 local elections and the 2010 national elections, the U.S. government continues dialogue with the government to reopen political space and allow the opposition to operate freely without harassment or intimidation. 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. U.S. officials also promoted mediation efforts between the government and opposition leaders to encourage a reopening of the political dialogue that began prior to the November 2005 violence. The United States provided capacity building support to the House of Peoples' Representatives and the nine regional state councils. The U.S. government similarly has worked with opposition parties to encourage positive and productive engagement to advance the country's democratic transition.
The United States seeks to strengthen civil society's capacity to engage local government institutions effectively to improve the planning, implementation, transparency, and accountability of development projects and service delivery. To support the rule of law, U.S. officials issued public statements and lobbied the government for the release of political detainees, an effort that resulted in the pardon and release in 2007 of opposition leaders and journalists detained after the 2005 elections. The U.S. government 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 also started new programs to improve legal education, pre- and in-service training for judges, and respect for human rights legislation and regulations in the police and the courts.
The U.S. government uses the full range of diplomatic and programmatic support to promote media freedom and freedom of speech. The United States funded studies leading to guidelines for a draft press law/freedom of information act consistent with international legal and regulatory standards and provided extensive technical assistance to the drafting team. The U.S. government facilitated dialogue among government and private media stakeholders to improve working relations and plan public consultations on the draft press law. To promote a professional and balanced media, the embassy engaged local journalists and journalism students through personal contacts, programs, and training. In addition, a U.S.-sponsored Fulbright scholar was placed in Addis Ababa University's graduate school of journalism and communication. U.S. programming provided journalists with technical and ethics training.
The United States continues to engage the government diplomatically on human rights issues; provide training in respect for human rights for military, law enforcement, and local administration officials; and through programming, strengthen civil society organizations in human rights advocacy and monitoring. The U.S. government coordinates closely with other donors, both bilateral and multilateral, to try to maximize impact on reforms. The U.S. government collaborated closely with international organizations, NGOs, and other donors to develop a concerted approach to the government by urging it to mitigate the humanitarian and human rights impacts of its counterinsurgency operations in the Ogaden region. Through sustained engagement, these efforts succeeded in prompting the alleviation of many of the access and movement restrictions imposed on the region and averted a humanitarian crisis in late 2007.
The U.S. government promotes religious freedom and tolerance through an extended public service campaign on state television and radio. Public diplomacy outreach to the Muslim community included a series of seminars at local universities to promote religious tolerance, a conference for university administrators to discuss rising religious violence on university campuses, and work with student leaders and faculty on the causes of religious- and ethnic-based student violence. The embassy used the Speakers Program during Black History Month to show how religious communities can work together for social change. Exhibits and lectures on "Islam in America" also provided opportunities to teach about freedom of religion in the United States.
The United States continues to fund a program focused on victims of trafficking in country. The program includes antitrafficking campaigns for the general population and government officials and included components on prevention, prosecution, and protection. The program strengthened the institutional capacity of concerned government authorities, local NGOs, and civil society to develop a labor migration policy and antitrafficking law for the prevention of trafficking, protection of victims, and prosecution of traffickers. Shelter, medical care, counseling, clothing, and hygiene items are provided in Addis Ababa to support the return and reintegration of trafficked victims.