Washington toughens stance to fight atrocities in Ethiopia

Ethiopia

(Source: The Guardian, Jason Burke, 23 May 2021) – 

Joe Biden’s administration increases pressure on government of prime minister Abiy Ahmed to end human rights abuses

Ethiopian PM Abiy Ahmed. The WHO recently described the situation in his country as ‘horrific’
Ethiopian PM Abiy Ahmed. The WHO recently described the situation in his country as ‘horrific’. Photograph: Tiksa Negeri/Reuters
 

Senior Ethiopian officials may face restrictions on their travel to the US, as Washington increases pressure on the government of prime minister Abiy Ahmed amid growing global concern about atrocities and famine caused by conflict in the northern region of Tigray.

Though visa restrictions are likely to target only a small number of individuals, the move signals President Joe Biden’s administration is shifting to a more direct strategy to force Ahmed to end continuing human rights abuses in Tigray and allow free flow of much-needed humanitarian aid.

Last week relief agencies said millions in Tigray were threatened with famine. Hundreds of massacres have been reported, with thousands of victims documented. Many have been blamed on Ethiopian troops or soldiers from neighbouring Eritrea sent to reinforce the offensive.

The head of the World Health Organization described the situation as “horrific”. “Almost five million people need humanitarian aid… and many have started dying from hunger, and severe and acute malnutrition is becoming rampant,” Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, from Tigray, said at a news conference in Geneva.

The UN complained last week of increased incidents where relief cargoes had been stopped and humanitarian vehicles or supplies confiscated “by parties to the conflict”.

US officials and congressional aides told Foreign Policy magazine that the new measures were “an opening diplomatic salvo” and a “shot across the bow”, and come amid deteriorating relations between Washington and Ahmed’s administration.

Analysts say US officials have been frustrated by Ethiopia’s rejection of Washington’s concerns as communicated by special envoys and senior-level conversations in recent months.

Other measures could include reducing the substantial security assistance given to Ethiopia by the US or blocking multibillion-dollar programmes run by the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, foreign policy said.

There are widespread fears in the US and elsewhere that protracted conflict in Tigray could seriously destabilise Ethiopia, previously a linchpin of stability and western security strategy in one of Africa’s most volatile regions.

Ethiopian federal troops moved into Tigray in November with the aim to “restore the rule of law” by ousting the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), the political party then in power in the province, after surprise attacks on federal army bases there.

The offensive was declared successful after the TPLF leadership evacuated its stronghold of Mekelle, the provincial capital, and an interim administration loyal to Addis Ababa was installed.

However, it became clear by late January that, after initial setbacks and heavy losses, the TPLF had rallied and was waging an intensifying insurgency against federal forces.

On Friday, Ethiopia for the first time accused troops from neighbouring Eritrea of killing 110 civilians in a massacre in Tigray.

The attorney general’s office sharply contradicted law enforcement officials who claimed earlier this month that the “great majority” of those killed in the city of Axum had been fighters, not civilians.

In March, the Guardian reported that almost 2,000 people killed in more than 150 massacres by soldiers, paramilitaries and insurgents in Tigray had been identified by name by researchers studying the conflict. The oldest victims were in their 90s and the youngest were infants.

It is difficult to determine the conflict’s death toll so far but the total number of victims is likely to run into the tens of thousands, and will probably never be known.

The US and EU have repeatedly called for the Eritrean troops blamed for many of the worst atrocities to withdraw.

“The continued presence of Eritrean forces in Tigray further undermines Ethiopia’s stability and national unity,” the US secretary of state, Antony Blinken, said last week.

 

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