- The Washington Times - Sunday, April 23, 2006

Dear Sgt. Shaft:

I am writing this note to thank you for everything you did to help us find our way through these dark hours in the history of Ethiopia. Sir, you will always be remembered for being one of our heroes who stands for the Ethiopian people in time of crisis. Thank you again for helping us. Please keep writing the truth.

Thanks,

Tefera M.

Arlington

Dear Tefera:

The true American champion of the Ethiopian people is Rep. Christopher H. Smith, former chairman of the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee, who spearheaded H.R. 4423. I received the following from one of your fellow countrymen, Mesfin M., who observed the hearing and noted that major progress has been made in the effort to enact legislation committing the U.S. government to supporting democracy and human rights in Ethiopia.

The House International Relations subcommittee on Africa, global human rights and international operations voted April 6 to send H.R. 4423, the Ethiopian Freedom, Human Rights and Democracy Act, to the House floor for a vote. The bill has been renamed and improved since it was introduced and includes stronger demands for the immediate release of political prisoners. It condemns in particular two incidents in which peaceful demonstrators were shot by government forces, and prohibits travel to the United States by government officials and forces involved in the shootings.

Mr. Smith summarized the bill by adding that it provides support for the work of both international and domestic human rights agencies and urges the dispatch of the U.N. Special Rapporteur on Torture.

It also provides human rights training for both domestic human rights organizations and government agencies, so that both sides are clear about what is called for in international human rights agreements to which Ethiopia is a signatory, and so that the rule of law can prevail in Ethiopia’s court system.

Mesfin stated that there was some drama at a recent subcommittee meeting when Rep. Donald M. Payne, New Jersey Democrat, attempted to derail H.R. 4423 by introducing alternative legislation.

Like Mr. Smith’s bill, Mr. Payne’s legislation condemns the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF), notes the suppression of legitimate dissent and demands the release of political prisoners. It is far weaker, however, when it comes to specific steps the U.S. government should take to foster democracy in Ethiopia and to pressure the Ethiopian government to respect human rights.

The EPRDF indirectly confirmed the superiority of the Smith bill. The Ethiopian Embassy in Washington released a statement praising Mr. Payne and attacking Mr. Smith in a sure sign that Mr. Smith is on the right track.

Mr. Payne’s proposal to substitute his watered-down legislation created some fireworks. Mr. Smith said that Mr. Payne had kept quiet for months and had never attempted to contact Mr. Smith regarding Ethiopia. Mr. Smith accused Mr. Payne of attempting to stall the bill. In the end, Mr. Payne received only four votes and his bill was defeated. Mr. Smith’s H.R. 4423 received six votes. It has 15 co-sponsors, and many members of Congress have informed us that they will co-sponsor or vote for it.

Shaft notes

The Women’s Memorial Foundation is pleased to announce that “Faces of the Fallen: America’s Artists Honor America’s Heroes” has been extended through May 31. The exhibit, which pays tribute to America’s service members killed in Iraq and Afghanistan, has been named one of the top five gallery exhibitions for 2005 by The Washington Post.

This extraordinary exhibit includes more than 1,300 portraits by 200 artists from across the country. The exhibit, which is free and open to the public, includes portraits of service members killed from Oct. 10, 2001, through Nov. 11, 2004, and has been seen by more than 230,000 visitors to the Women in Military Service for America Memorial, at the gateway to Arlington National Cemetery.

For more information about the exhibit, visit www.facesofthefallen.org or call 800/222-2294 or 703/533-1155.

Send letters to Sgt. Shaft, c/o John Fales, P.O. Box 65900, Washington, D.C. 20035-5900; fax 301/622-3330; call 202/257-5446; or e-mail sgtshaft@bavf.org.

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