Thursday, April 26, 2012

Detentions display UN's impotence in Ethiopia

Ethiopia's government, a favored and oft-praised Western partner, has held one United Nationsemployee in jail without charges for well over a year, while another is facing prosecution under a notorious anti-terrorism law.
The detentions are a stark indicator of the UN's predicament in the illiberal Horn of Africa nation.
The 27 UN agencies in Ethiopia largely work harmoniously with the government in areas such as funding HIV/AIDS programs, helping care for a quarter of a million refugees, or supporting female education campaigns. UN cash, for example, has helped provide antiretroviral therapy to 249,000 HIV-sufferers from 743 facilities – there were only 3 clinics offering the treatment in 2005. A high level delegation representing six UN agencies visited Ethiopia this month, and praised the country for its progress toward meeting five out of the eight Millennium Development Goals, rapid economic growth, and heavy investment in social services. Few would disagree that advances are being made in providing healthcare, education, and infrastructure for over 80 million Ethiopians.
The dignitaries, however, made no mention of Ethiopian national and UN Local Security Assistant Yusuf Mohammed, who has been languishing in a remote regional jail – without charges – since December 2010. Human rights activists say Ethiopia may use Mr. Mohammed as a bargaining chip in gaining custody of his brother, wanted for bankrolling a rebel group from Denmark.
A colleague of Mohammed's in the UN Department of Safety and Security, Abdirahman Sheikh Hassan, is being prosecuted for links with the same designated terrorist group, the Ogaden National Liberation Front. The group operates in Ethiopia's Somali region, which is inside Ethiopia but is majority Somali ethnic. Mr. Hassan's arrest in July came shortly after he negotiated the release of two abducted UN World Food Program workers with leaders of the ethnic-Somali insurgents.
While Prime Minister Meles Zenawi's two-decade-old government welcomes international assistance as it strives to haul Africa's second-most populous nation out of poverty, there is no doubt about who's in charge.
"The UN and any other member of the international community are caught between a rock and a hard place," says an aid worker with years of experience in the Somali region, who asked not to be named. "While there is clearly some great work going on in many key sectors, if anybody were to push their agenda beyond a limit considered acceptable by Ethiopia's notoriously strong and rigid government, then they would risk being expelled from the country." Or, he says, if you are Ethiopian; imprisoned.
Confidentially – public protestations may jeopardize career advancement – UN staff tell of regular harassment by the Ethiopian authorities: equipment is impounded at customs, UN workers' spouses are denied work permits, and vehicles are searched in contravention of the government's 53-year-old agreement with the organization.
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