by Felix Horne
Human Rights Senior Researcher, Horn of Africa
Today, the US House of Representatives passed a resolution encouraging Ethiopia’s government to increase respect for human rights, rule of law, and democracy. This non-binding resolution, combined with recent statements from the US Embassy in Addis, sends a strong signal to Ethiopia’s new prime minister that the US expects significant reforms ahead.
Resolution 128 was passed in large part because of Ethiopian-American voters concerned with the Ethiopian government’s rights record, who worked together to make themselves an important constituency. Their persistent efforts despite the efforts of the Ethiopian embassy and their Washington lobbyists led to an impressive 108 Congressional representatives from 32 states co-sponsoring this resolution. Hopefully they can build on this success and advocate for binding legislation on Ethiopia.
Amongst other things, the resolution calls for Ethiopia’s government “to allow an independent examination of the state of human rights in Ethiopia by a rapporteur appointed by the United Nations.” Ethiopia has repeatedly rebuffed efforts to investigate allegations of serious crimes by government forces and has not let in any UN Special Rapporteur to investigate allegations of abuse since 2007. With a new prime minister, now is the time for Ethiopia to change course and allow independent experts to investigate, including the Special Rapporteurs on torture and freedom of assembly.
Over the past two years, Ethiopia’s government security forces have arrested tens of thousands of people protesting government policies and have killed over 1,000 demonstrators. Torture in detention is rife, and independent media, civil society, and opposition parties are severely limited.
The United States, like many of Ethiopia’s international partners, is focused on collaborating with the country on counterterrorism efforts, peacekeeping, and economic growth. Yet for the partnerships to be effective, Ethiopia needs to be stable. And in light of the past two years’ sweeping protests, the question of stability is inextricably linked to Ethiopia’s harsh response to dissent and political opposition.
This resolution not only encourages the government to implement key reforms, but says that future US cooperation should be tied to Ethiopia’s “demonstrated commitment to democracy, the rule of law, and human rights.” Encouraging those reforms with measurable, specific, and transparent benchmarks in exchange for future cooperation is critical. It is also important that other countries follow the US Congress’ lead on tying support to tangible progress.