Ethiopia at Tipping Point as Congress Mulls Human Rights Bill
The ruling regime in Ethiopia has refused all requests for an independent human rights inquiry by U.N. special rapporteurs.
Ethiopia has been under a state of emergency decree since October 2016. That decree imposes “draconian restrictions on freedom of expression, association, and assembly that go far beyond what is permissible under international law.” There has been a significant deterioration in human rights violations in Ethiopia over the past decade.
For over a decade, Reps. Christopher Smith (R-N.J.) and the late Donald Payne (D-N.J.) toiled tirelessly to pass a bill promoting democracy and human rights accountability in Ethiopia. In 2007, HR 2003, co-sponsored by 85 members, passed the House.
That bill sought to promote human rights, democracy, judicial independence, press freedom and counterterrorism cooperation; and it strongly urged release of all political prisoners. The bill died in the Senate, supposedly due to a hold placed by Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.).
In February, Representative Smith introduced H.R. 128 to “support respect for human rights and encourage inclusive governance” in Ethiopia. Last Week, Senators Ben Cardin (D-Md.) and Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) introduced S.R. 168, co-sponsored by 14 senators, which mirrors the House version.
In a statement, Cardin cautioned “partnering with the Ethiopian government on counterterrorism does not mean that we will stay silent when it abuses its own people.” Rubio underscored the “critical” need for the U.S. to remain “vocal in condemning Ethiopia’s human rights abuses against its own people.”
During the March 9 hearing on the H.R. 128, Smith stated that there are “at least 10,000 political prisoners” in the country. He condemned the arbitrary imprisonment of opposition party leaders, criminalization of journalism under an “anti-terrorism law” and the absence of the rule of law and “lack of due process in Ethiopian courts”.
Ranking Member Karen Bass (D-Calif.) also underscored the “steady assault on the human and civil rights of citizens” and the deprivation of the “right of peaceful assembly and freedom of expression” in Ethiopia.