The US Department of State and its human rights unit are facing a backlash after the release of a video showing an employee torturing and murdering an Ethiopian citizen in a US jail.
The video, which has been viewed more than 1.5 million times on YouTube, shows a white guard kneeling on the body of Abdulrahman Elizondo, an Eritrean national who was serving time in a Michigan jail for murder.
Elizondos family and human rights activists condemned the US State Department for failing to act on the footage, which they said showed a “deeply disturbing” incident that should be investigated by the US Justice Department.
On Monday, a US state official said the State Department had launched an investigation into the footage.
The official said that the US would provide more information to the Ethiopian government and that the Ethiopian consulate in Washington, DC, was “working to resolve this matter”.
The video has sparked a public outcry and has been denounced by Ethiopia, which is seeking an independent investigation into Elizonds murder.
“The video is shocking, it’s a horrific, horrendous incident that we need to investigate,” Ethiopia’s foreign minister, Yemi Osotimehin, said in a statement on Monday.
The Ethiopian government said it “strongly condemns” the murder and “deepest sympathies with the family and friends of Abdulraha Elizongo”, a 43-year-old Ethiopian who was stabbed to death on a street in Detroit on December 3, 2013.
“We are not going to allow any other form of injustice and we will not allow any state department to ignore the crimes that were committed in this country,” the statement said.
The US State department and its Human Rights Office are facing backlash for their handling of the case.
“I don’t think it’s any surprise to us that this is a case that has attracted attention in the United States,” said Richard Gowen, the assistant secretary of state for African affairs, in a phone interview with Al Jazeera.
“In the last several years we’ve had a number of incidents where we have seen the State department trying to get the right answer from the Ethiopian side, but not the right action from the US side.”
“The fact that the Ethiopians have been able to push this issue, the fact that they are trying to raise awareness in the international community, is something that we’re very proud of,” he added.
US officials have called the incident “an isolated incident”.
“The State Department will provide all of the information necessary to the authorities to determine what happened, what the appropriate process was, and we’ll provide any other necessary assistance,” Gowen said.
US state and foreign ministries have not responded to Al Jazeera’s request for comment.
Human rights activists have accused the US of using its embassy in Ethiopia as a vehicle to silence the family of Elizonda.
They have also criticised the State government for not doing enough to protect Elizondons rights, including for holding his wife in detention and forcing her to undergo psychiatric evaluations.
“If the US was really concerned about the rights of Ethiopian citizens, it would have immediately taken action on the case and taken all necessary steps to protect those rights,” said Eliza Sow, director of the African Center for Human Rights and an adviser to the Elizondingan family.
“It should have taken those steps before it took this extreme action.”
Elizendos death sparked outrage in Ethiopia, where the death sentence was handed down on October 14.
In addition to the death, Elizondeos family also filed a lawsuit against the Ethiopian embassy in Washington for failing “to protect and serve the rights and interests of Ethiopian-Americans and their families”.
The lawsuit, which was filed in federal court in the US state of Michigan, alleges that the embassy “failed to provide adequate security measures” and that it failed to “act promptly and effectively” when the embassy was threatened with a court order.
The embassy responded to the lawsuit on October 19.
The State Department has defended the Ethiopian authorities in the past.
“Our embassy in the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa, does a great job of serving the Ethiopian people and providing the basic human rights and basic liberties for our citizens,” a spokesperson told Al Jazeera in an email statement.
“That said, the Ethiopian legal system, including the courts, has a long history of abuse and discrimination against the rights, dignity and freedoms of its citizens.”
The US government has also defended the government of Ethiopian President Isaac Dekonim.
“He was elected to the presidency and we have not had a criminal justice system in his country for decades,” Gowan said.
“So we will continue to support his government in the fight against corruption, the fight for the rights to privacy and other human rights that we have here in the country.”
“But it’s not the US government that is the problem, it is the Ethiopian Government,” Gowans said.
Ethiopia has long been a