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Rights Group Seeks Accountability as Ethiopia Wins 2-Year UNSC Term


FILE - The United Nations Security Council votes on a resolution during a meeting at U.N. headquarters, March 2, 2016.

FILE - The United Nations Security Council votes on a resolution during a meeting at U.N. headquarters, March 2, 2016.

Human rights groups are using Ethiopia's recent election to a non-permanent United Nations Security Council seat to push for a humanitarian agenda inside the east African nation. Ethiopia has a strained relationship with human rights groups which have criticized it for stifling political dissent and jailing journalists and political opponents. The country has not allowed a U.N. special rapporteur inside the country to investigate allegations of abuse since 2007.

The two-year appointment on the Security Council is more of a political prize than a reward for good behavior, said the Human Rights Watch deputy director at the United Nations, Akshaya Kumar.

“We, as human rights activists, always like to use the opportunity of these elections to draw attention to the gaps that we see sometimes between the rhetoric that these states use when they are running for the election and when they are promising what kind of approach they’ll take as a council member and the situation back home, because all of them say that they’ll use their seat on the Security Council to promote human rights globally,” she said.

Ethiopian Foreign Minister Tedros Adhanom said the election shows that the country has the "respect and trust of the world." He said combating terrorism and addressing migration issues will be among Ethiopia's priorities.

The election marks the first time in 26 years that Ethiopia has sat on the Security Council. Ethiopia has held the seat twice since 1945 and will be joined this time by Bolivia, Kazakhstan and Sweden beginning Jan. 1, 2017.

HRW's report of abuses

Early last month, Human Rights Watch released a comprehensive report detailing abuses in Ethiopia. The report stated that more than 400 peaceful protesters in the Oromia region were killed by Ethiopian security forces and tens of thousands more remain in detention since the demonstrations began in November 2015.

FILE - A man drives a horse-cart past the wreckage of a truck torched during demonstrations along the road in Holonkomi town, in Oromia region of Ethiopia, Dec. 17, 2015.

FILE - A man drives a horse-cart past the wreckage of a truck torched during demonstrations along the road in Holonkomi town, in Oromia region of Ethiopia, Dec. 17, 2015.

The government has played down the scale of the protests and the severity of the response, saying security forces were responding to acts of violence; but, Human Rights Watch took a closer look into 62 of about 500 protests within the last eight months and its findings suggest that most have been peaceful protests. The comprehensive report was produced after interviews with more than 125 victims, witnesses and government officials.

Human Rights Watch said it will work to make sure that Ethiopia’s comments as a new leader on the U.N. stage match actions to promote human rights at home.

"We’d like to probe that and say, ‘Okay, that may be true with how you’ll act when you’re in New York in that chair, but what about what’s happening to your people back home,’" said Kumar.

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    Salem Solomon

    Salem Solomon is a journalist and web producer at Voice of America’s Horn of Africa Service, where she reports in English, Amharic and Tigrigna. Her work has appeared in The New York Times, Poynter.org, Reuters and The Tampa Bay Times. Salem researches trends in analytics and digital journalism, and her data-driven work has been featured in VOA’s special projects collection.

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