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Etenesh Abera

Addis Abeba, April 10/2018 – Despite a strong objection from Ethiopia, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a critical Ethiopia resolution 128 (HRes128) yesterday.In a letter addressed to the House of representatives, Kassa Teklebirhan, Ethiopia’s Ambassador to the United States, said the resolution “would be inappropriate and untimely” and requested the House to “stop the adoption”. He also said it was “counterproductive.”

“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,” said Felix Horne, Human Rights Watch Ethiopia and Eritrea researcher.

The schedule was announced a few weeks ago by Rep. Mike Coffman of Colorado’s 6th district who has been at the forefront of introducing the resolution.

Sponsored by Rep. Christopher H. Smith HRes128 was first introduced on Feb 15/2017 ; it has 71 cosponsors and has received a strong bipartisan support. The resolution passed the vote at the House Foreign Affairs Committee in July 2017.

HRes128 calls for respect for human rights and encourages inclusive governance in Ethiopia. But it also contains sections that condemn “the killing of peaceful protesters and excessive use of force by Ethiopian security forces; the detention of journalists, students, activists and political leaders who exercise their constitutional rights to freedom of assembly and expression through peaceful protests; and  the abuse of the Anti-Terrorism Proclamation to stifle political and civil dissent and journalistic freedoms.”

Yesterday, a group of Ethiopian rights advocacy organizations joined Human Rights Watch and issued a joint letter urging congress to pass the resolution. “We support passage of H. Res. 128 as a means to send a strong, unambiguous signal that the United States Congress requires concrete reforms. Such reforms are needed to create a path toward improved respect and protection of human and civil rights, political stability and sustainable regional security,” the joint letter reads.

On the same day, Freedom House also published statement urging the passage of the resolution. Quoting  Jon Temin, director of Africa Programs at Freedom House, the statement said: “In recent days the Government of Ethiopia has taken positive steps by releasing political prisoners, closing the Ma’ekelawi crime investigations unit, and restoring mobile internet service that had been shut down for over six months. Passing H.Res.128 will send a strong message that additional comprehensive reform measures are needed to put Ethiopia on a democratic path.”

Ethiopian netizens have also conducted a social media campaign using the hashtag #HRes128.  Many have highlighted the ongoing gross rights abuse in Ethiopia while at the same time tagging twitter handles of members of the congress.  The resolution is also strongly supported by the Ethiopian Americans Civic council in Colorado (EACC). EACC says its primary mission is to raise awareness “about human rights abuses in Ethiopia within the Ethiopian community in Colorado as well across the nation, organize the Ethiopian community for the United States local and national political election process participation so that the elected officials will support and stand with the Ethiopian people.”

 

But not all Ethiopians who are otherwise critical of the government’s human rights handling support the resolution. Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed “should form some new task force that will combat #HRes128 with renewed narrative and renewed effort. If such effort was to come from his government he will have a lot of support from a significant portion of the silent diaspora,” wrote Tamerat Negera, an Ethiopian journalist in exile, on his Facebook. He further said that the resolution undermines Ethiopia’s sovereignty. “It’s not a common position even among Ethiopian nationalists but I believe Ethiopian nationalists shouldn’t lobby against Ethiopian government even when the government isn’t in our liking for various reasons. Because I believe it will undermine the sovereignty of our state,” Tamerat said.

Ethiopian authorities are “anxiously waiting for the result,” according to a senior official from the ministry of justice. “The timing of the resolution is unhelpful given all the positive changes the country is undertaking currently including the appointment of a reformist Prime Minister,” the official who wants to remain anonymous said. There is no official reaction from the government so far and Addis Standard’s attempt to get a statement from the communication affairs office was to no avail.

In addition to condemning the killings of peaceful protesters, among others, the resolution also calls the government to lift the current state of emergency as well as “investigate the killings and excessive use of force that took place as a result of protests in the Oromia and Amhara regions; and allow a United Nations rapporteur to conduct an independent examination of the state of human rights in Ethiopia,” among others.

The vote on the resolution came one day after the killing by a member of the Ethiopian military of Ayantu Mohammed Sa’idoo, who was pregnant and was a mother of a four year old girl in Qobo, east Hararghe zone of the Oromia regional state.  AS

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