Preliminary estimates by a Canadian aid agency, released on Thursday, show that nearly 1,000 Ethiopians have died in custody as a result of a brutal crackdown by the nation’s security forces. Government officials deny responsibility, and many of those who have been detained have been released. But abuses in detention are still occurring, and the death toll has increased.
While government officials claim to maintain tight control over security forces, many Ethiopians complain of a lack of impartial investigation into civilian deaths, and low rates of accountability for security forces. At the same time, hundreds have been killed or maimed, and thousands have been affected by a new Ebola outbreak. The crisis persists despite what observers say are serious efforts by the government to stem the violence and avoid international embarrassment.
Ethiopia is a key ally of the United States, and many people there had high hopes when Donald Trump took office. But the outrage of Ethiopians over the attacks on protests in October 2017 and the lack of strong opposition support are on display again as they mourn those killed and fight for their democracy. A Canadian ambassador said recently that he feared the situation in Ethiopia was in “awkward territory.”
Other “awkward” envoys have recently expressed similar sentiments about Zimbabwe and Rohingya refugees in Myanmar. And what the Trump administration has not yet gotten with Ethiopia is in opposition voices in Canada, where critical responses to Ethiopia’s excesses are welcome. Canadian policy toward Ethiopia should be robust, consistent and principled. That would give the new government in Addis Ababa an added incentive to show transparency about abuses and to curtail them. If Western nations wish to prevent the collapse of Ethiopia’s democratic foundations and to preserve its peace and stability, they should recognize that they will pay a price for abandoning Ethiopia’s long-standing free-market values.
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