Ethiopian Olympic Runner Calls on U.S. To Push for Human Rights in His Country

Olympic silver medalist Feyisa Lilesa attends conference in Washington

September 23rd, 2016
Dimitra Giannou, CD News

Feyisa Lilesa won the silver medal for Ethiopia in the marathon at last month's Rio Olympics. Last month, he was in Washington to call for the U.S Congress to take action in solidarity with Ethiopians protesting against their government.

“I know that Americans are peace-loving people. My people are also peace-loving people, but they have been denied peace for a very long time”, he said in his native Afaan Oromoo at a news conference on Tuesday at Capitol Hill. “People are calling for the freedom, democracy that you have here. We want the same things, and I call on the U.S. government to urge the Ethiopian government to make sure that democracy prevails in Ethiopia.”

As Lilesa approached the finish line of the Rio marathon, he crossed his wrists as a sign of protest. This attracted worldwide attention. He is part of Ethopia’s largest ethnic group, the Oromo, and he made the symbol in solidarity with Oromo protests that have occurred in Ethiopia since November over issues including land rights and fair representation in government.

"Crossing my wrists in Rio has already had a great impact on my life", he said. "I am now separated from my dear mother, my supportive wife and my precious children in Ethiopia who I miss dearly".

U.S. Representatives Chris Smith, a New Jersey Republican, Keith Ellison, a Minnesota Democrat. and Mike Coffman, a Colorado Republican, presented House Resolution 861 ‘Supporting Human Rights and Encouraging Inclusive Governance in Ethiopia’ during the news conference.

The resolution calls on the government of Ethiopia to end the use of excessive force by security forces and to investigate the killings and disturbances during protests in the Oromia and Amhara regions. It also urges the government to hold security forces accountable for wrongdoing through public proceedings. Eleven organizations have signed the resolution.

Other athletes have followed up Lilesa’s move. Ebisa Ejigu crossed his arms in the Quebec City Marathon in Canada, and Tamiru Demisse, an Ethiopian paralympic runner, did the same as he won his silver medal in the men’s 1,500 meters for the visually impaired at the Paralympics in Rio.

Lilesa, in the U.S. on a temporary visa, said he was figuring out his future but was not seeking asylum in the U.S. 


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