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As reported last week in The Hill and also by an overseas blogger at an E.U. hearing in Brussels, DLA Piper is lobbying on behalf of Prime Minister Meles Zenawi and his Ethiopian government on Capitol Hill. For a minimum of $50,000 a month, DLA Piper lobbyists are urging Congress not to sanction the country for human rights violations. It’s a bold move, given that Zenawi’s violent crackdown on protesters following contested national elections in 2005 was strongly condemned by human rights advocates.

Although the United States has maintained good relations with the Ethiopian government, deeming it an ally in its war on terror, the Department of State in 2006 reported that Ethiopian security forces shot and killed 187 people, wounded 765, and arrested and detained opposition leaders, human rights advocates and journalists. The State Department’s report last year suggested the situation had not improved, noting that the government’s human rights violations included:

Unlawful killings, and beating, abuse, and mistreatment of detainees and opposition supporters by security forces; poor prison conditions; arbitrary arrest and detention, particularly of those suspected of sympathizing with or being members of the opposition or insurgent groups; detention of thousands without charge and lengthy pre-trial detention; infringement on citizens’ privacy rights and frequent refusal to follow the law regarding search warrants; use of excessive force by security services in an internal conflict and counterinsurgency operations; restrictions on freedom of the press; arrest, detention and harassment of journalists for publishing articles critical of the government…

A bill pending in Congress — the Ethiopia Democracy and Accountability Act of 2007 — would withhold $1.5 million in military aid and place other sanctions on Ethiopia until the government agreed to take specific steps to improve its human rights record. DLA Piper partner Dick Armey, a former House majority leader, together with partner Gary Klein are among the lead lawyers working on Ethiopia’s behalf to defeat the bill. The bill passed in the House last October and has been strongly promoted by human rights groups. According to The Hill, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee has not yet taken up the bill.

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