How should the US react to human rights abuses in Ethiopia?
By Matt Hadro
.- One member of Congress is hoping for a “serious policy review” by the Trump administration of the United States’ relationship with Ethiopia, citing human rights abuses by the government there.
“To truly stop violence abroad, Ethiopia must stop violence at home,” Rep. Chris Smith, chair of the House subcommittee on Africa and global human rights, stated at a press conference outside the U.S. Capitol building on Wednesday.
“Since 2005, untold thousands of students have been jailed, have been shot during demonstrations or have simply disappeared in the last 11 years,” Smith stated Feb. 15. “Ethiopia’s next generation is being taught that the rights that democracy normally bestows on a country’s citizens don’t apply in their country.”
Smith and Rep. Mike Coffman (R-Colo.) introduced a House resolution (H. Res. 128) Wednesday “highlighting the crisis in Ethiopia due to government violations of the human rights of its citizens,” Smith stated.
“With this resolution, we are showing that the United States remains committed to universal respect for human rights, and that we will not tolerate continued abuse of those human rights by Ethiopian security forces,” Coffman said.
There has been a “steady erosion” of democracy in Ethiopia since 2005, the congressmen maintained.
Government dissidents have been jailed, citizens have been tortured and killed by the government’s security forces, and freedom of the press has been infringed upon. Ethnic groups have been the victims of violence perpetrated by the government.
Peaceful protests in the Oromia and Amhara regions of the country were met with hundreds of killings and tens of thousands of arrests by security forces in 2016, Human Rights Watch said in its recent report on the country. Citizens released from jail claimed they were tortured while in custody.
“Instead of addressing the numerous calls for reform in 2016, the Ethiopian government used excessive and unnecessary lethal force to suppress largely peaceful protests,” Felix Horne, senior Africa researcher at Human Rights Watch, stated in the report released in January.
One protest in the Oromia region resulted in the police using tear gas, rubber bullets, and rounds fired into the air to break it up, claiming that the crowd was getting out of hand. An ensuing stampede killed 50. The Inter-religious Council of Ethiopia, on which Catholic leaders sit, called for prayer and peace amid the protests and asked government leaders to listen to the people.
The recent protests in the Amhara region of the country have showed a sense of “identity” on the part of embattled citizens, and their “need to survive,” Tewodrose Tirfe of the Amhara Association of America, a refugee who came to the U.S. in 1982, noted.
“The U.S. and the West cannot sympathize with a government that kills people,” Seenaa Jimjimo, a human rights advocate who was born and grew up in Ethiopia, insisted in her statement at Wednesday’s press conference.
Amidst protests, a state of emergency was declared by the state in October and is “being used as a method to crack down even further on basic human freedoms,” Coffman said.
Thus, the resolution is the “first step by our representatives to let the Ethiopian government know that the U.S. policy is changing, that their continued human rights violations on innocent civilians will not be tolerated,” Tirfe stated.
“We invoke the Global Magnitsky Act,” Gregory Simpkins, staff director of the House subcommittee on Africa, said on Wednesday of the law which enables sanctions against specific “entities and persons who violate the human rights of people.”
Ethiopia has acted as a key ally in fighting international terrorism, Smith noted, but if it fails to protect human rights at home then extremism could fester within its own borders.
“What Congressman Smith and I are asking is for the Congress of the United States to join together and pass this resolution condemning the Ethopian government for its human rights abuses,” Coffman stated.
“And I think it’s important for all Americans to care about human rights to encourage their member of Congress to co-sponsor this resolution so that we can pass it in the Congress.”