Members of the Oromo Ethiopian diaspora community rallied support at the U.S. Capitol for legislation aimed at curbing human rights abuses in the country.
WASHINGTON (Talk Media News) – Several dozen members of the Oromo Ethiopian diaspora community expressed support for recently introduced legislation aimed at curbing human rights abuses in that country during a press conference outside the U.S. Capitol on Tuesday.
“People are calling for the freedom and democracy that you have here; we want the same things that you have,” said Oromo marathon runner and reform advocate Feyisa Lilesa, who recently won a silver medal at the Rio Olympics.
Lilesa performed two successive peaceful protest displays by making fists and crossing his arms above his head, which was popularized following the Nov. 12, 2014 Oromo protest. He is in the U.S. on a special skills visa. Lilesa wrote an Op-Ed in The Washington Post Tuesday detailing his personal experiences seeking asylum.
“I call on the U.S. government to urge the Ethiopian government to make sure that democracy prevails in Ethiopia,” Lilesa said.
Demssew Tsega Abebe, 28, who is also a marathon runner and was training for the Olympics before he was held captive and tortured by the Ethiopian government, told TMN he greatly appreciated Lilesa’s defiant stand against Addis Ababa.
“Feyisa is my friend,” Abebe said. “We Oromo are very proud of what he had done.”
House Africa Subcommittee Chairman Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J.) who introduced a bi-partisan resolution on Monday, said Ethiopia’s status as a close American ally will no longer insulate the minority-ethnic-Tigrayan-Marxist-dominated regime led by Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn from accountability for committing egregious crimes against its people.
“The resolution speaks for itself…It’s an effort to say to Ethiopia: ‘Yes we have been allies and friends in the war on terror…but you’re mistreating your own people and it’s time to slow down,” Smith said.
The legislation includes provisions that specifically condemn recent acts of violence such as the killing of protestors, arrest and detention of journalists, students, activists, etc., and also requests that the Secretary of State formulate a plan to improve oversight of military assistance to Addis Ababa.
At least 20 inmates were killed Sept. 3 when a fire broke out at the Addis Ababa Qilionto prison where anti-government protestors were being held according to the Ethiopian government. A government report said 21 prisoners suffocated while two others were killed in an escape attempt. Local media outlets disputed the claims, quoting anonymous witnesses who said prison wardens had shot prisoners.
The Oromo, who make up the majority of Ethiopia’s population, are protesting what amounts to an incremental land grab by Addis Ababa to expand the country’s capital and bring better services and economic opportunities to rural areas.
The land grab could potentially result in the forced eviction of Oromo residents. As of late protests in Oromia have been met with heavy crackdowns by security forces. More than 100 protestors were killed during a demonstration during the weekend of Aug 6-7, according to the Oromia Media Network.
The Oromo have been oppressed throughout three successive regimes. The Oromo have a distinct culture and language separate from Ethiopia’s official dialect of Amharic. At least 5,000 Oromos were arrested between 2011-2014 for peaceably challenging the regime, according to a 2014 Amnesty International report.
Intern Danielle Prokop contributed to this article.