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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: 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.”