The long-time Prime Minister of Ethiopia, Meles Zenawi died today at the age of 57. Mr. Zenawi has ruled Ethiopia for decades. He and his party is known not to tolerate dissent and have been accused of killing, torturing and imprisoning political prisoners. Mr. Zenawi won 99% of the vote in the last election, so he is either the most popular leader in the history of the world, or free and fair elections are hard to come by in Ethiopia. It is unclear how the death of this strongman will affect the political situation, but it is likely that the EPRDF political party will continue to strengthen its hold on the government and nation.
The United States has mixed feelings about Ethiopia. Ethiopia is in a region ripe with Islamic militants and the U.S. has given support to the EPRDF who has prevented Islamic Militants from having a safe haven in the country. However, the EPRDF has a terrible human rights record and the U.S. Department of State Human Rights Report states the following:
“The most significant human rights problems included the government’s arrest of more than 100 opposition political figures, activists, journalists, and bloggers. The government charged 14 of those arrested under the antiterrorism proclamation. In addition, it charged another 17 persons outside the country in absentia under this proclamation. The government restricted freedom of the press, and fear of harassment and arrest led journalists to practice self-censorship. The Charities and Societies Proclamation (CSO law) continued to impose severe restrictions on civil society and nongovernmental organization (NGO) activities.
Other human rights problems included torture, beatings, abuse, and mistreatment of detainees by security forces; harsh and at times life-threatening prison conditions; arbitrary arrest and detention; detention without charge and lengthy pretrial detention; infringement on citizens’ privacy rights, including illegal searches; allegations of abuses in connection with the continued low-level conflict in parts of the Somali region; restrictions on freedom of assembly, association, and movement; police, administrative, and judicial corruption; violence and societal discrimination against women and abuse of children; female genital mutilation (FGM); exploitation of children for economic and sexual purposes; trafficking in persons; societal discrimination against persons with disabilities; clashes between ethnic minorities; discrimination against persons based on their sexual orientation and against persons with HIV/AIDS; limits on worker rights; forced labor; and child labor, including forced child labor.”
I have worked with several Ethiopians in the U.S. who have personally suffered persecution at the hands of the EPRDF government police and security forces. I have helped Ethiopians apply for and receive asylum in the U.S. because they were persecuted for their political opinion. If you are currently in the U.S. and have suffered persecution by the government of Ethiopia because of your political beliefs or imputed political beliefs, such as being a member of an opposition party, supporting human rights, or expressing your disagreement with the Ethiopian government, you might be eligible for Asylum in the U.S. Even if you have not personally suffered persecution, if you have a well-founded fear of future persecution, you might still be eligible for asylum. Please note that generally asylum must be applied for within one year of entry into the U.S. Speak with an immigration attorney if you have been harmed by the government of Ethiopia or people the government was unwilling or unable to control and that harm was based on your political opinion, race, ethnic group, gender, sexual orientation, religion or membership in a social group.