WASHINGTON, D.C. — On May 17, U.S. Senators Ben Cardin (D-MD) and Marco Rubio (R-FL) introduced S.Res. 168, a resolution supporting respect for human rights and encouraging inclusive governance in Ethiopia. The resolution has bipartisan support and currently has 15 cosponsors after Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-WA) joined the original 14 on May 25.
Since October 2016, a state of emergency has been in effect in Ethiopia following anti-government protests. Many basic freedoms have been severely restricted and the extreme measures have been condemned for going far beyond what is acceptable under international law. The state of emergency was initially declared for six months. However, in March, it was extended for an additional four months following reports of further unrest.
Restrictions placed on the citizens of Ethiopia include curfews, social media blackouts and limitations on political opposition. The reported arrests of more than 26,000 people in the country also drew scrutiny from human rights advocates. The U.N. warned that years of development in the country is at risk of being undermined if the government continues its draconian measures.
In April, an Ethiopian government-backed report concluded that, since August 2016, 669 people had died as a result of the violence in the country. The government refused to allow an independent investigation into the violence and made it difficult for journalists to reach those affected.
S.Res. 168 calls for a U.N.-led, comprehensive and independent investigation into the recent protester killings and also condemns what it describes as the “excessive force” of the Ethiopian security forces. The resolution denounces the suppression of freedom of assembly and expression. It also urges protesters to refrain from any further violence.
S.Res. 168 petitions the Ethiopian government to lift the state of emergency. It advocates for the release of all political opponents, activists and journalists who have been jailed for exercising their rights guaranteed by the Ethiopian constitution. The resolution also cites U.S. assistance to Ethiopia as a bargaining tool in negotiations to promote improved democracy and governance in the country.
Ethiopia has received more than $5 billion in U.S. aid since 2010, making it the second-largest recipient of U.S. assistance in Africa. Given the considerable amount of U.S. aid that Ethiopia receives, the resolution calls on the Secretary of State and the USAID administrator to improve oversight and accountability of assistance to the country, in accordance with the principles laid out in the President’s 2012 Strategy Toward Sub-Saharan Africa.
The 2012 Strategy Toward Sub-Saharan Africa lays out four key objectives in the region: strengthening democratic institutions, spurring economic growth, trade and investment, advancing peace and security and promoting opportunity and development in the region. The strategy has a particular focus on the first objective of strengthening democratic institutions and seeks to challenge governments “whose actions threaten the credibility of democratic processes.”
Speaking on the resolution, Sen. Cardin remarked that the U.S. “must speak out when innocent people are detained, and laws are used to stifle legitimate political dissent.” S.Res. 168 shows a firm commitment on behalf of the U.S. that abuses of democratic freedoms and human rights will not be tolerated.
– Michael Farquharson