A US Senate Committee has given initial approval to a Senate resolution calling on the White House to review American assistance to Ethiopia, amid concerns over the kidnap and detention of activist Andy Tsege and other abuses in the country.
The resolution, ‘Supporting respect for human rights and encouraging inclusive governance in Ethiopia’, is set for a vote in the full Senate during this legislative session, after passing its first stage of approval by Senators on the Committee on Foreign Relations.
The text urges the Ethiopian government to “release dissidents, activists, and journalists who have been jailed”, and to repeal laws that have been used to imprison critics of the government. It also calls on the US Secretary of State, John Kerry, to “conduct a review of security assistance to Ethiopia.”
The resolution comes as concerns grow for the fate of an opposition activist with links to the U.S. who is held on Ethiopia’s death row. Andargachew ‘Andy’ Tsege, a British man whose partner and children are US citizens, was kidnapped by Ethiopian forces at an airport in June 2014 and forcibly taken to Ethiopia. He is held under a death sentence that was imposed in absentia in 2009, during a trial that was condemned by US diplomats at the time as a form of “political retaliation” that was “lacking in basic elements of due process.”
The resolution’s sponsor is Senator Ben Cardin, who recently described his case as “one of many that gives cause for concern” in Ethiopia. Senator Cardin represents the state of Maryland, where Andy’s American relatives are from.
Mr Tsege is a prominent figure in Ethiopian opposition politics, and has previously spoken in Congress about Ethiopia’s human rights situation. Speaking to US lawmakers in 2006, he said that “the scale of repression [by the country’s government] has exceeded Ethiopia’s darkest hours during the military dictatorship.”
Since his kidnap, the Ethiopian authorities have heavily restricted Mr Tsege’s access to the outside world, including his family, and have aired videos of him being ‘interrogated.’ Torture is common in Ethiopian prisons, and there are fears for Mr Tsege’s wellbeing.
Last year, President Obama used a historic visit to Ethiopia to condemn the country’s ruling party for “stifl[ing] voices”, and for not upholding the rule of law. International human rights organization Reprieve – which is assisting Mr Tsege’s family – has written to the Obama Administration asking officials to raise Mr Tsege’s case with their Ethiopian counterparts, but no reply has been received.
Commenting, Maya Foa, director of the death penalty team at Reprieve, said:
“Senators are right to condemn the Ethiopian government for the wave of repression that it has unleashed on journalists, bloggers and opposition activists in recent years. Among the victims is Andy Tsege, who has suffered a litany of abuses – from kidnap to torture and an in absentia death sentence – and whose young American family are desperate to have him home with them. If the Obama Administration is serious about improving democracy and the rule of law in Ethiopia, the White House must urgently heed these warnings from Congress – and demand the urgent release of political prisoners like Andy.”