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Ethiopia Human Rights Abuses Spark U.S. Congressional Action October 1, 2016

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Congressman Mike Coffman of Colorado in solidarity with Oromo protests at the global Solidarity Rally in Denver, USA. 29 August 2016

Ethiopia Human Rights Abuses Spark U.S. Congressional Action

Lima Charlie News Published on September 30, 2016 by J. David Thompson

U.S. Representatives push for legislation targeting Ethiopia after Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch document human rights abuses.

A bipartisan group of U.S. Representatives has proposed legislation targeted at the government of Ethiopia, after Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch documented hundreds of cases of alleged human rights abuses. House Resolution 861, titled “Supporting respect for human rights and encouraging inclusive governance in Ethiopia,” was introduced by Reps. Chris Smith (R-NJ), Keith Ellison (D-MN), Al Green (D-TX), Mike Coffman (R-CO), and Eliot Engel (D-NY).

“It is an abomination when any country tortures its own citizens,” said Rep. Smith, at a September 13th press conference on Capitol Hill. The human rights abuses, waged primarily against the Oromo and Amhara populations, have come to light despite Ethiopian authorities efforts preventing independent screeners from conducting transparent investigations.

The Resolution condemns the killing of peaceful protesters, the arrest and detention of students, journalists, and political leaders, and the stifling of political dissent under the guise of “counterterrorism.”

Ethiopia is a strategic ally of the United States. The country headquarters the 54 nation African Union, and, critical to U.S. interests, assists in counterterrorism efforts against al-Shabab, an Al-Qaeda aligned jihadi terrorist group based in Somalia. Ethiopia is also host to a staggering 750,000 refugeesfrom the war torn region.

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In a press statement Rep. Ellison said, “While Ethiopia is an important ally for the United States, continuing to let the Ethiopian government oppress its own people will only further destabilize the region. We must do all we can to ensure that the human rights of all Ethiopians are respected.” Rep. Smith added, “A valuable contributor to global peacekeeping missions, growing unrest in Ethiopia in reaction to human rights violations by the government threaten to destabilize a nation counted on to continue its role on the international scene”.

Resolutions, like the one proposed, tend to be more of an opinion that often do little in themselves because they lack the political leverage to prompt much action. They often fail to hold allied nations to a standard of conduct, as countries and international organizations are hesitant to regulate how other nations behave within their own borders.

The bill expressly calls on the government of Ethiopia to end the use of excessive force by security forces; hold security forces accountable after a full, credible, transparent investigation; release dissidents, activists, and journalists who have been imprisoned for exercising constitutional rights; respect freedom of assembly and freedom of the press; engage with citizens on development; allow theUnited Nations to conduct independent examinations; repeal certain proclamations limiting inclusive growth; and investigate shootings and a fire on September 3, that killed 23 people at a prison housing high-profile politicians.

Noteworthy, is that the bill also seeks to apply financial and other pressure towards the government, by calling for the Secretary of State to “conduct a review of security assistance to Ethiopia” and “improve transparency” with respect to such assistance, and to “improve oversight and accountability of United States assistance to Ethiopia”.

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Despite the good intention of the bill, critics highlight that it doesn’t go far enough. Henok Gabisa, a visiting Academic Fellow and faculty member at Washington and Lee University School of Law, stated in a personal interview:

“H.RES.861 is generally a good gesture from the United States Congress. It is very specific in a sense that it points out the consistent and constant patterns of corrosion of civil and economic liberties in the country. It also seems to give scrupulous attention to the marginalized groups who remain on the receiving end of the pain. That is really great. Nonetheless, owing to the mammoth financial aid transported to Ethiopian government by the U.S. under their bilateral security partnership, H. RES. 861 failed to deploy the political leverage of the [United States Government], and as a result it is nowhere nearer to fulfilling the goal it promises. In fact, Resolutions by merit are just declaratory statements or positions of a government. They may not be considered law in a positivist school of law. Yet again, H.RES.861 has no teeth to bite those who fail to comply the soft obligations it enumerated under the last sections 3-6.”

Experts give the bill a 32% chance of getting past the Foreign Affairs Committee and a 29% chance of being agreed to completely. Comparatively, from 2013-2015, 46% of simple resolutions made it past committee.

In a country of over 86 million, Oromos and Amharas constitute the two largest ethnic groups, combining for over 61% of the population. Yet, they are the most politically marginalized andeconomically disenfranchised. In 2015 Ethiopia’s ruling party, the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front, won every seat in parliament despite little ethnic diversity. The EPRDF has remained in power since the overthrow of Ethiopia’s military government in 1991.

Lima Charlie News, by J. David Thompson

J David Thompson (US Army) is a Juris Doctor candidate at Washington & Lee University School of Law focusing on International Human Rights Law. He is a Veterans in Global Leadership Fellow, and brings experience on human rights, international relations, strengthening civil society, refugee issues, interagency collaboration, and countering violent extremism. Prior to Washington & Lee, he served in the US Army as a Military Police officer and Special Operations Civil Affairs with multiple deployments to Afghanistan and one to Jordan—receiving a Bronze Star amongst other decorations. In Jordan, David worked at the US Embassy in countering violent extremism, strengthening civil society, and refugee response with other United States Government organizations, the United Nations, and various non-governmental organizations.


Members of U.S. Congress write to Secretary of State Kerry on #OromoProtests in Ethiopia December 24, 2015

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Stop killing Oromo StudentsAgazi, fascist TPLF Ethiopia's forces attacking unarmed and peaceful #OromoProtests in Baabichaa town central Oromia (w. Shawa) , December 10, 2015

Members of U.S. Congress write to Secretary of State Kerry on Oromo Protests in Ethiopia

 #‎OromoProtests‬ US Congress Members Keith Ellison, Betty McCollum & Tom Emmer write letter to U.S. Department of State. Page1#‎OromoProtests‬ US Congress Members Keith Ellison, Betty McCollum & Tom Emmer write letter to U.S. Department of State

The following is a letter written by members of the U.S. Congress: Reps. Keith Ellison (MN), Betty McCollum (MN) and Tom Emmer (MN), to U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry.


December 24th, 2015

Ellison, McCollum, Emmer Send Letter to Secretary of State Kerry Regarding Protests in Ethiopia

WASHINGTON DC – Reps. Keith Ellison, Betty McCollum, and Tom Emmer sent the following letter to Secretary of State John Kerry regarding the student protests in the Oromia region of Ethiopia calling for stronger action against human rights violations:

December 23, 2015

The Honorable John F. Kerry
Secretary of State
United States Department of State
Washington, D.C. 20520

Dear Secretary Kerry:

We are writing in regards to the recent student protests in the Oromia region of Ethiopia that have erupted in response to the Ethiopian government’s Master Plan to expand Addis Ababa into surrounding farmland. Minnesota is home to the largest Oromo population in the United States and we have been contacted by hundreds of constituents concerned about the violence and intimidation these protesters have faced from government security forces. We would like to commend you for condemning the recent killings and violence against peaceful Oromo protesters. However, our constituents feel that stronger action is required to address the deteriorating human rights situation in the region.

The United States and Ethiopia have shared a long, fruitful relationship and are partners on a number of issues important to the region. This ongoing relationship, coupled with the extensive foreign assistance that the United States provides Ethiopia each year, should be used to leverage the United States’ position that inclusive democracy be practiced in Ethiopia.

Numerous reports from organizations such as Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, and Committee on the Protection of Journalists have revealed the growing practice of government security forces using arbitrary arrests and prosecution to silence journalists and Ethiopian citizens who are simply exercising freedom of expression—a fundamental right and the cornerstone of a democratic society. These individuals are often charged under the draconian 2009 anti-terrorism proclamation. The continued mistreatment and displacement of the Oromo ethnic group in the Oromia region is especially troubling. Furthermore, the Charities and Societies Proclamation (CSO law), enacted in 2009, has made it nearly impossible for non-profits to operate in Ethiopia.

Similar protests last year left dozens of Oromos dead and hundreds arrested. This year, there have already been five officially recorded deaths, although constituents close to the issue have informed us the true number of deaths is much higher with a death toll of at least 75. Recently, Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn said that authorities “will take merciless legitimate action against any force bent on destabilizing the area.” This aggressive approach to peaceful protesters is cause for major concern by the United States and we therefore urge you to engage the Ethiopian leadership in a serious dialogue in order to prevent further loss of life and to ensure that Ethiopia is adhering to democratic principles.

The United States Congress has already sent a strong message regarding Ethiopia’s response to protests. The 2015 Omnibus Appropriations Bill has provisions to ensure that the U.S. funding to Ethiopia cannot be used to support forced evictions in the country. Furthermore, the bill requires U.S. assistance to be used to support local community initiatives aimed at improving livelihoods and be subject to prior consultation with affected populations. The bill also opposes U.S. funding to international financial institutions such as the World Bank for programs that could lead to forced evictions in Ethiopia.

We respectfully ask you to conduct a full, thorough review of this ongoing situation. We cannot look the other way when our allies are violating the human rights of their citizens. If during your investigation you find violations of the Leahy Law, we ask that you respond by taking appropriate action. Thank you for your attention to this important human rights matter.


Keith Ellison
Member of Congress

Betty McCollum
Member of Congress

Tom Emmer
Member of Congress

Cc: Susan Rice, National Security Advisor, White House
Samantha Power, United States Ambassador to United Nations
Congressman Ed Royce, Chairman of Foreign Affairs Committee, United States House of Representatives
Congressman Elliot Engel, Ranking member of Foreign Affairs Committee, United States House of Representatives


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