By Awol Allo
It was only two months ago during the Israeli election that the White House was scrambling to convince the American public that the United States does not intervene in the electoral processes of other democracies.
“This administration goes to great lengths to ensure that we don’t give even the appearance of interfering or attempting to influence the outcome of a democratically held election in another country,” White House press secretary Josh Earnest said in defense of President Barack Obama’s refusal to meet with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
But the U.S. makes no apologies for its interventions on behalf of autocratic regimes elsewhere. For example, during a recent visit to Ethiopia, Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs Wendy Sherman praised Ethiopia as a vibrant and progressive democracy.
“Ethiopia is a democracy that is moving forward in an election that we expect to be free, fair, credible, open and inclusive,” she said. “Every time there is an election, it gets better and better.”
Sherman’s remarks drew the ire of activists and human rights organizations. Daniel Calingaert, the executive vice president of Freedom House, dismissed her praise as “woefully ignorant” and at odds with the reality of life as lived by ordinary Ethiopians. Not only were her claims inconsistent with human rights reports, but they also fly in the face of her department’s annual country surveys, which tell a radically different story.
In its latest Ethiopia report, for example, the State Department identified significant human rights violations, including restrictions on freedom of speech, Stalinist-style show trials, and crackdowns on free press, opposition leaders, activists and critical journalists. The report and others by human rights groups reveal a consistent and widespread pattern of abuse, including torture, arbitrary killings, restrictions on freedom of association, interference in freedom of religion and the politicized use of the country’s anti-terrorism proclamation.