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US Congress pressures Ethiopia to respect human rights

The US Congress on Tuesday passed House Resolution 128, which urges the Ethiopian government to lift state of emergency restrictions and to respect anti-government protesters’ human rights.

The US Congress has passed House Resolution 128: Supporting respect for human rights and encouraging inclusive governance in Ethiopia. Image: @Advocacy4Oromia(twitter)

There was intense lobbying by human rights organisations for Congress to pass the resolution, sponsored by Republican representative Christopher Smith. On the eve of the vote Freedom House, a US based democracy watchdog, said the passing of resolution 128 will encourage the Ethiopian government to deliver on recent promises made on reform.

Director of Africa Programs at Freedom House, Jon Temin, said in the statement the resolution is a tool that will promote accountability for the serious human rights abuses against anti-government protesters.

“In recent days the Government of Ethiopia has taken positive steps by releasing political prisoners, closing the Maikelawi crime investigations unit, and restoring mobile internet service that had been shut down for over six months," Temin said.

Colorado representative Mike Coffman urged the passing of the resolution by describing the human rights crisis in Ethiopia as extremely troubling.

“I firmly believe the passage of this resolution will encourage the Ethiopian government to end its practise of violence and repression and provide a strong basis of an inclusive government,” Coffman pleaded.

State of emergency

The Ethiopian parliament ratified a state of emergency on Feb. 16, a day after First Prime Minister

Hailemariam Desalegn’s resignation. eNCA reported that by March 31 more than 1,100 were arrested.

After the March 25 2018 arrest of two journalists and nine Zone9 bloggers at the home of journalist Temesgen Desalegn, forty civil society organisations sent a joint letter to then Prime Minister-elect Abiy Ahmed Ali expressing concerns.

The eleven were released without charge after 11 days of detention.

This is the second state of the emergency declared by the Ethiopian government in less than two years. The previous one declared on October 2016 to August 2017 lasted 10 months.

Ethiopia has been rocked by protests mainly from the Oromia and Amhara regions since the end of 2015. Trouble started when the Ethiopian government expressed plans to extend Addis Ababa’s boundaries by encroaching on Oromia territory. The plan was eventually dropped.

Ethiopia's capital Addis Ababa is fully within the Oromia region. Plans to expand its territory in 2015 sparked unrest.

Resolution 128 condemns the killing of peaceful protesters and the detention of journalists, students, activists and political leaders who exercise their constitutional rights to freedom of assembly and expression through peaceful protests.

It further calls for the repeal of proclamations that undermine the rights to freedom of expression, political rights and those that permit the detention of peaceful protesters and dissenters.

The resolution directs the US state department to review security assistance and to improve oversight over the assistance US provides to Ethiopia.

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