Honorable Chairperson, Esteemed Lawmakers and Invited Guests :
Thank you for holding these important hearings
My name is Hassan Hussein, head of Foreign Relations with the OLF.
Today I speak not only on behalf of OLF but also ONLF and SLF. To the extent that the yearning for these ideals is universal, I speak for all who yearn for freedom and democracy in Ethiopia.
It is an understatement to say that Ethiopia is at a crossroads. The next year is likely to determine whether we are able, at long last, to overcome the bitter legacy of the past in which small cliques have ruled and the majority suffered and whether Ethiopia becomes a source of regional stability or instability. If Ethiopia descends into chaos, it will be Somalia on steroid.
Over the past year, in consultation with our constituencies inside the country and around the world, we have given much thought to finding ways to resolve the current crisis. After sober analysis and soul searching, we have concluded that dialogue offers the only way to achieve a lasting solution.
Honorable Chairperson and Your Excellencies ,
In order to get such a process started, we need the support of the international community. It is for that reason that we welcome this hearing.
The international community has long played a crucial role in Ethiopian politics. Unfortunately, rather than supporting democracy, it has usually chosen to back whichever group happened to be in control of the state.
In 1992, interim elections were held which could have led to the creation of a government that represented all of the diverse groups that live within the political boundaries of the Ethiopian state. Instead, the EPRDF chose to use the tactics of intimidation to prevent other parties--and the OLF, ONLF and SLF in particular--from freely and fairly contesting those elections, making that and all subsequent elections hollow exercises in futility for their respective populations. In the 14 years since, as Human Rights Watch has documented, the government has systematically and often brutally repressed political activity in Oromia, with rampant violation of human rights.
If the international community had taken a strong stand in support of free and fair elections in 1992, it would have given us a reason to remain in the political process and perhaps avert years of mayhem. Instead, however, it implicitly sanctioned the EPRDF’s monopolization of power.
As a result of last May’s elections, the international community now has a new opportunity to support the struggle for freedom and democracy.
Those elections demonstrated that the peoples are unwilling to be ruled as they have been for the last fifteen years. It should now be clear that the present rulers cannot continue to monopolize power without resorting to increasingly draconian measures, instigating more instability.
Fuelled by frustration by the absence of real choices in the elections and lack of political settlement to legitimate political demands, a popular uprising has been underway in Oromia since November. As in apartheid South Africa of the early 1970s, students have been in the forefront. In response, the ruling party has stepped up repression. Many have been killed. As I speak, thousands are being detained without trial. A military confrontation is ongoing in Ogaden. The Sidama face heightened suppression. Repression is fuelling tension all over the country. Unfortunately, these violations are taking place in the countryside - away from the watchful eyes of the media.
Events in Oromia, Somali state and Sidama demonstrate that the people are no longer willing to endure their traditional status as second-class citizens. The experiment in democracy in Ethiopia needs the meaningful participation of historically marginalized groups--who make up the majority population in Ethiopia-- to be successful; else the problem would simply be postponed.
Your Excellencies ,
We believe now is an opportune time to launch an all-inclusive process that would afford us all a new beginning. It gives me a great pleasure to inform you that we are currently talking to various parties on how to initiate such a new beginning. Charting this new course requires the participation of all--including the ruling party and the international community.
An extraordinary situation now prevails--demanding extraordinary solutions. We sincerely believe that the only way out of the quagmire is dialogue.
It is my hope that the EU would partner with us in the search for just peace and a genuine transition to freedom and democracy.