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Washington Update: Demonstrators denounce US policy toward Ethiopia

Washington, DC – Ethiopian-Americans held demonstrations last week throughout the United States, including in front of the White House, to denounce the Biden administration’s policy toward Ethiopia and to demand a reversal of a policy that treats the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) aggressors as victims. Ethiopians in Canada, South Africa, Israel and Europe held similar demonstrations. Ethiopians also demonstrated in front of the US embassy in Addis Ababa to denounce the misguided US policy toward Ethiopia.

US Ethiopian policy has been distorted by a failure to understand the corrosive effects of a constitution that exacerbates ethnic divisions, by a willingness to ignore human rights abuses, and a desire to simplify complex conflicts into fights between forces of good and evil.

Atrocities committed by the TPLF

The European Union and the US have failed to condemn atrocities committed by the TPLF, including the killing of over 1000 innocent people by TPLF soldiers and militia on November 9-10 in Mai-Kadra. The massacre, and the identity of its perpetrators, have been described by Amnesty International and the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission.

There are many other examples of ethnically motivated violence in Ethiopia, including in Metekel where ethnic Gumuz armed groups and OLF/Shenne have engaged in a targeted campaign against members of other ethnic groups in the area, including the Amhara.

There are reports demonstrating that the regional government in Tigray (TPLF) is forcefully channeling food and medical supplies towards insurgency efforts rather than civilians and destroying infrastructure in a concerted and deliberate effort to further fuel the conflict.

The Reuters news agency has reported that Tigrayan forces have killed a large number of civilians since they seized territory in Amhara. Tens of thousands of people fled their homes in the region as the Tigrayan forces advanced.

The TPLF ravaged the airport that services the UNESCO world heritage sites in Lalibela, in the Amhara region.

Amnesty International has reported on TPLF atrocities in Nifas Mewcha, in Amhara’s Gaint district. During a nine-day period in August, TPLF forces raped more than 70 women, Amnesty International reported. Agnes Callamard, Amnesty International’s Secretary General, said TPLF fighters committed war crimes and possibly crimes against humanity.

Ethiopia Peace and Democracy Promotion Act of 2021

Senators Chris Coons (D-Del) and Jim Risch (R-Idaho) have introduced the Ethiopia Peace and Democracy Promotion Act of 2021. In a statement, Coons said the bill is intended to “bolster the United States’ diplomatic, development, and legal response to support democracy, human rights, peace, and stability in Ethiopia. In addition to suspending American security assistance to the government of Ethiopia and authorizing American support for conflict resolution and civil society peacebuilding efforts, the bipartisan legislation mandates the imposition of targeted sanctions against individual actors who are found to undermine attempts to resolve, who profit from, or who provide material support to any entity that is party to the civil war.” Coons described his understanding of the situation in Ethiopia, and called for both Prime Minister Abiy and the TPLF to choose peace over war, in an article in Foreign Affairs.

Statements from friends of Ethiopia in the U.S. Congress

Rep. Chris Smith, Senator Jim Inhofe and Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee have all recently issued statements calling on the US to take a balanced approach to Ethiopia and condemning Biden administration officials who are advocating on behalf of the TPLF.

Representative Chris Smith issued a statement criticizing the US State Department for failing to recognize and condemn the atrocities committed by the TPLF. In a statement posted on Twitter, Smith accused the State Department of ‘abetting a scapegoating narrative’ for the TPLF. He wrote: “There’s been a failure by @StateDeptSpox to call out reprehensible atrocities committed by the Tigrayan People’s Liberation Front which precipitated the conflict last November.”

Rep. Jackson Lee (TX-D) told Ethiopian-Americans: “Your voices are going to be heard in halls of Congress… I will take your voices to Washington.”

Senator Inhofe issued a statement condemning the Biden administration, saying it “continues to treat this situation [in Ethiopia] with both sides being equal, when clearly they are not. One side is the democratically elected government, the other is a disgruntled faction reacting with violence because they are no longer in power, it’s a terrorist group.”

Open letter to Blinken

On behalf of 14 Ethiopian Diaspora groups, the American Ethiopian Public Affairs Committee has drafted an open letter to Secretary Blinken calling for immediate targeted sanctions against the TPLF leadership. “We cannot stand by while the TPLF commit more atrocities,” the letter states. It is available at https://aepact.org/open-letter-to-secretary-blinken/.

US State Department messaging about Ethiopia

The demonstrations and criticisms may be having some effect, at least on the Biden administration’s rhetoric. Speaking at a House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing on December 1, Molly Phee, Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs, expressed US support for the “unity, sovereignty, and the territorial integrity of Ethiopia.” She said the US “is taking no sides in this conflict.”

On December 6, the governments of Australia, Canada, Denmark, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom, and the United States issued a statement on detentions in Ethiopia. In addition to condemning ethnically based detentions by the Ethiopian government, the statement expressed “grave concerns” about “atrocities being committed by all parties to the conflicts” in Ethiopia. The statement called for a political solution to the crisis: “It is clear that there is no military solution to this conflict, and we denounce any and all violence against civilians, past, present and future. All armed actors should cease fighting and the Eritrean Defense Forces should withdraw from Ethiopia. We reiterate our call for all parties to seize the opportunity to negotiate a sustainable cease fire without preconditions. Fundamentally, Ethiopians must build an inclusive political process and national consensus through political and legal means, and all those responsible for violations and abuses of human rights must be held accountable.”

Washington Update: Deteriorating Human Rights Situation in Ethiopia

Reporters and politicians in the United States seem to have forgotten the atrocities and human rights violations committed by the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) when they were in power in Ethiopia, but the Ethiopian people cannot forget. All over Ethiopia, people have taken to the streets to demonstrate and denounce the announcement of a combination of terrorist organizations with the TPLF against Ethiopia. Ethiopia’s Tigray rebels have joined forces with other armed and opposition groups in a new escalation of a war that threatens to tear the country apart.

The Ethiopian Parliament has designated these groups, organizations including the OLF/Shenne which has massacred Amhara civilians, as terrorists. The massacre of civilians at Guliso Woreda, West Wolega Zone, was orchestrated by the OLF- Shene group and TPLF, Oromia State President Shimelis Abdisa said.

Ethiopian-Americans demonstrated in front of the White House on Monday November 8 to denounce the Biden administration’s policy towards Ethiopia and to demand a reversal in a policy that treats the TPLF aggressors as victims.

The deteriorating human rights situation in Ethiopia is a tragedy that the U.S. and world cannot ignore.

Ethiopians are united in opposing a return to power by the TPLF. The President of the Somali regional state Mustefa Omer has demanded an apology from TPLF officials for the mass killings that took place in various parts of the state during the TPLF-led Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) rule. “This is the place. It is one of the places where grave human rights violations were committed to Somali people by TPLF officials. Here is one of the graveyards where nine members of a family were murdered by the TPLF,” said the president in a video message.

TPLF atrocities are not relegated to the past. Following the unilateral ceasefire declared by the federal government in June 2021, there have been hundreds of killings, brutal attacks and rapes in areas occupied by the TPLF. Briefing the media, Ethiopia Justice State Minister Fekadu Tsega said the terrorist group carried out large-scale atrocities on civilians in violation of international laws in South and North Gondar zones of the Amhara region as well as Galykoma Kebele of Afar region.

The conflict is causing man made famine. According to the World Food Programme, over a million people in Ethiopia are in dire need of food.

After the immediate conflict has been calmed, Ethiopians must take steps to avoid future conflicts. Peace and stability depend on abandoning the ideology of ethnic division and launching a project to revise the Ethiopian constitution. The present constitution was created to exacerbate ethnic divisions. It will lead to the destruction of Ethiopia.

Ethiopian-Americans ask the U.S. Congress and the administration to review its policy towards Ethiopia and request the TPLF to remove its arsenal and fighters from Amhara, Afar and other parts of Ethiopia before any negotiations for peaceful settlement occur.

Washington Update: US and the International Community Must Keep Their Eyes Open

Washington, DC – The events in Afghanistan must not distract the world from the catastrophe that is occurring in Ethiopia. The crumbling of the Afghan government, and the horrors that are already being imposed on its people, should serve as a reminder that U.S. policies must be rooted in accurate and unbiased information. Lies, fantasies and selective reporting led to disastrous failures in Afghanistan. The same is happening in Ethiopia.

U.S. Ethiopian policy has been distorted by a failure to understand the corrosive effects of a constitution that exacerbates ethnic divisions, by a willingness ignore human rights abuses, and a desire to simplify complex conflicts into fights between forces of good and evil.

In attempting to mediate the conflicts in Ethiopia, special envoy Jeffrey Feltman must not repeat mistakes the U.S. has made in the past when it excluded pro-democracy Ethiopian parties from negotiations over the nation’s future. The U.S. should not forget recent history, including the corruption, violence and human rights abuses of the EPRDF and TPLF.

OLF/Shenne terrorist group has struck a military alliance with the Tigray forces now pressing toward the country’s capital, as the conflict that erupted in the Tigray region last year spreads into other parts of Africa’s second-most populous country.  The TPLF and OLF/Shenne terrorist group activities might be a breeding ground for Al Qaeda and Al Shebab in Ethiopia.

In a recent statement regarding the looting and killings of innocent civilians in the Lalibela, Woldeya and Afar regions, Ethiopia’s Foreign Minister said: “The action of the irresponsible group is testing the Federal Government’s patience and pushing it to change its defensive mood which has been taken for the sake of the unilateral humanitarian ceasefire.”

The statement added that the Ethiopian government is “being pushed to mobilize and deploy the entire defensive capability of the state if its humanitarian overtures for a peaceful resolution of the conflict remain unreciprocated,” and accused Tigrayan fighters of launching “new attacks in the neighboring regions of Amhara and Afar, which left more than 300,000 people displaced and thousands dead.”

The U.S. must also avoid sanctions that will merely annoy powerful individuals in Ethiopia while imposing additional misery on ordinary people. In developing policies toward the escalating civil war, the U.S. and the international community must keep their eyes open.

A recent statement by Rep. Gregory Meeks on the escalating violence in Ethiopia’s civil war is a step in the right direction. “The recent ejection of international humanitarian actors, the armed incursion into Lalibela – a holy site and home of renowned UNESCO World Heritage sites – and the grim discovery of bound and possibly tortured corpses in the Tekeze River indicate parties to this conflict remain callously indifferent to the suffering of the Ethiopian people. All parties must accede to an immediate cessation of hostilities and avoid taking Ethiopia down the path toward civil war and state collapse. I call on the Tigrayan Peoples Liberation Front to withdraw from Amhara and Afar regions, as well as on Eritrean troops and Amhara forces to leave Tigray. African and other international partners have an important role in bringing the Government of Ethiopia and other parties to the conflict closer to the negotiating table and to an inclusive national dialogue without further delay.”

Statement For the Record Submitted for Congressional Hearing on “Conflict in Ethiopia”

Written testimony of Mesfin Mekonen for the Congressional Hearing on Conflict in Ethiopia

Honorable Chairman Gregory Meeks, Ranking member Congressman Michael McCaul, Subcommittee Chairwoman Karen Bass and Christopher Smith, and distinguished members of House Foreign Relation Committee.

I would like to extend my appreciation to all of you for granting the opportunity to submit my written testimony for this important hearing.

I am the representative of the Ethiopian/American community and have been working closely with Congress, especially with Congressman Christopher Smith and his Staff, Senate and the State Department on Ethiopia on Human Rights issues for the last twenty years.

The Ethiopian-American Community respectfully submits the following testimony for the aptly titled hearing on “The Conflict in Ethiopia.”

Ethiopians realize that the fate of their country rests in the hands of the Ethiopian people, but they also believe that the United States of America can help a great deal, and can serve as an inspiration in Ethiopia’s quest for human rights, democracy, and prosperity. Ethiopia has been an important ally of the United States in Africa. The stability of one of Africa’s most populous nations is critical to American policy, especially in the important Horn of Africa region.

The U.S. relationship with Ethiopia dates back to 1903, when King Menelik II signed a treaty of commerce with a representative of the U.S. government. Ethiopia supported the U.S. during the Cold War and has sacrificed the lives of its soldiers in the war on terrorism.

The U.S. has provided generous support for Ethiopia, on a humanitarian basis and in support of American strategic objectives.
American aid helped Ethiopians overcome drought and famine, even as the country was ruled by a corrupt, violent and repressive dictator, Meles Zenawi.

Meles was a leader of the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), and when he came to power, head of the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRD). The U.S. government looked away as Meles and his government imposed a constitution on Ethiopia that swept away a centuries-long tradition of ethnic and religious tolerance in favor of a divide-and-rule strategy that pitted neighbor against neighbor in a struggle for access to food, land and security.

Reporting in the U.S. news media about the conflict in Ethiopia has lacked balance, focusing exclusively on the tragedy in Tigray, and has failed to put that tragedy in context.

The lack of balance in reporting about Ethiopia is exemplified by the world’s indifference to the fate of over 1,000 innocent people who were killed by TPLF soldiers and militia on November 12 in Mai-Kadra. The massacre, and the identity of its perpetrators, have been described by Amnesty International and the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission.

Ethiopian-Americans believe that Eritrean troops must withdraw from Tigray province in order for peace and law and order to be restored in the region. It is no less important for Sudanese troops to withdraw from Ethiopia territory.

The United Nations should be empowered to investigate killings and atrocities committed throughout Ethiopia, not just in Tigray, and all responsible individuals and organizations should must face justice. Violence, against all parties, is wrong and must be stopped.

Ethiopians can only live-in peace again if the root causes of conflict are identified and addressed. First and foremost, this requires replacing the constitution that has torn apart the country with a new charter based on national unity, democracy and respect for human rights.

The government of Ethiopia must carry out its basic responsibility to ensure public safety and security by ending politically motivated violence, especially on the Amahara in the Oromia, Benshangul and Southern regions of the country.

The priority of the U.S. Congress should in the short-term be to provide assistance to those who are suffering. As a matter of human decency and because a stable Ethiopia is in the strategic interests of the U.S., Congress and the Biden administration should help Ethiopia break out of the cycle of poverty, violence and repression. The U.S. should promote democracy and respect for human rights in Ethiopia.

U.S. policy makers should also learn from their past failures, from America’s coddling of Ethiopian dictators who mouthed soothing words about democracy while savagely repressing peaceful opponents and from the U.S. prematurely declaring the current Prime Minister Abiy a savior. The U.S. government has all too often acted on a limited understanding of the reality on the ground in Ethiopia.

Today Congress and the Biden Administration are being counseled to impose sanctions on Ethiopia that will have little effect on government elites or corrupt business leaders but could devastate innocent Ethiopians. Doing so would turn ordinary Ethiopians against the United States. It would also rip holes in fragile safety nets that are preventing the country from becoming a failed state and a haven for terrorists.

Rather than harm and alienate Ethiopians, the U.S. should support the Ethiopian people while pushing Abiy to respect human rights, release political prisoners, stop censoring news media, eradicate corruption and start a process of national reconciliation.

Thank you for your time and consideration, and for your focus and attention on this matter.

Sincerely and Respectfully Yours,

Mesfin Mekonen
Ethiopian-American Community