By David Smith
Ambassador Herman J. Cohen is no stranger to controversy in his long career of lobbying on behalf of foreign governments. Africa Intelligence called Ambassador Cohen “one of the most active American lobbyists for Africa in the 1990s. The American Prospect put it more cynically saying, “he [Ambassador Cohen] has emerged as the influence peddler of choice for African despots in need of a public relations buff-up.” Charles Lewis, executive director of the Center for Public Integrity, characterized lobbyists who represent foreign dictators as “putting a face on murder and mayhem.”
A list of some of Ambassador Cohen’s clients is a virtual “who’s who” of dictators: Robert Mugabe (Zimbabwe), Mobutu Sese Seko (former Zaire), Laurent Kabila (Democratic Republic of the Congo), Blaise Compoare (Burkina Faso), Charles Taylor (Liberia), Edward Dos Santos (Angola), and Hajji Omar Bongo Ondimba (Gabon).
Ambassador Herman Cohen is not officially registered as a lobbyist for the Eritrean government. Yet, just a few days ago he tweeted a statement on the U.N.’s decision to continue sanctions on Eritrea as a “miscarriage of justice.” He wrote:
The United Nations Security Council has decided to continue sanctions against Eritrea for another year. This decision has no basis in fact. It was taken because certain persons in the highest levels of the United States Government have mean spirited grievances against Eritrean President Isayas Afwerki.
All accusations against Eritrea regarding alleged assistance to the Islamist terrorist group al-Shebab in Somalia have never been substantiated. All experts on Somalia now agree that for the past three years, there have not even been rumors about such assistance. This is pure bullying.
He then blames “certain persons [Susan Rice] in the highest levels of the United States Government have mean spirited grievances against Eritrean President Isayas Afwerki.
Seriously, Ambassador Cohen?
Ambassador Cohen is not a registered lobbyist for the Government of Eritrea. However, public records show that in 2012 he, along with George Denison, was a lobbyist for a group called Democracy Ethiopia. They were paid a total of $20,000 for unknown lobbying activities in 2012. Information from the Sunlight Foundation shows that in 2014, Ambassador Cohen still represented this organization. But who are they? There appears to be no information online about such a group other than a fragment of a sentence that says the organization seeks to encourage democracy in Ethiopia.
Huh? So Ambassador Cohen feels comfortable representing the interests of a government just recently cited in the U.N. Human Rights Commission report as “a violator of gross human rights abuses” and “crimes against humanity,” and, at the same time, an organization allegedly promoting democracy in Ethiopia.
Ambassador Cohen has had positions at the highest level of our government—from Ambassador to National Security Advisor. Yet, he seems to have no shame about flaunting his hypocrisy on values that are fundamental to principles of American democracy. The simple fact that 5,000 Eritreans a month are risking life and limb to flee their country should be a wake-up call to the Eritrean government and to its defenders such as Ambassador Cohen. No elections. No constitution. Indefinite military service. “Slavery-like” conditions of military service, says the United Nations. Poverty. Despair. This is Eritrea.
If Ambassador Cohen is not legally representing the government of Eritrea, then why is he ruining his name and the good offices of the United States government. There must be more to the story than we know.