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U.S. Congress Should Call Ethiopia’s Bluff

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Dr. Rajiv Shah, left, USAID administrator speaks with Ethiopian Prime Minister H.E. Hailemariam Desalegn in 2014. (© Flickr USAID)

by Yoseph Badwaza, Senior Program Officer, Africa

Addis Ababa has halted a human rights resolution in the House by threatening to break off security cooperation with the United States.

When Congressman Mike Coffman (R-CO) addressed a gathering of mostly Ethiopian-origin constituents in late September, he told them that according to the Ethiopian ambassador in Washington, Ethiopia would stop counterterrorism cooperation with the United States if Congress went ahead with a planned vote on a resolution calling for human rights protections and inclusive governance in the country (H. Res. 128).

The threat appears to have worked: The floor vote on the resolution has been indefinitely postponed.

This may be viewed as just another instance of an authoritarian government playing the counterterrorism card to avoid international criticism for a bad human rights record. But in the case of Ethiopia, it is more than that.

H. Res. 128 has strong bipartisan support, with 71 cosponsors. The resolution passed the House Foreign Affairs Committee unanimously on July 27 and was scheduled for a vote by the full House on October 2. As the author of the measure, Congressman Chris Smith (R-NJ), said during the committee mark-up, the resolution is like a mirror held up to the government of Ethiopia, and it is intended to encourage them to recognize how others see them and move forward with reforms.

While the resolution contains provisions that call for sanctions—under the Global Magnitsky Act—against Ethiopian officials responsible for committing gross human rights violations, the more important reason why the government took the severe step of threatening the U.S. Congress is the damage that this resolution could do to the country’s image.