The U.S President has signed a new executive order on Friday authorizing broad sanctions against those involved in perpetrating the ongoing conflict in Ethiopia as reports of atrocities continue to emerge from the Tigray region.
The administration did not immediately impose sanctions under the new order, but is prepared to take aggressive action unless the parties including the Ethiopian government, the Eritrean government, the Tigray People’s Liberation Front, and the Amhara Regional Government take meaningful steps to enter into talks for a negotiated ceasefire and allow for unhindered humanitarian access, a senior administration official told reporters.
The official said the administration is looking to see action within weeks, not months. Biden approved the executive order after the administration has telegraphed for months that the parties need to change course.
U.S Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Friday that absent clear and concrete progress toward a negotiated ceasefire and an end to abuses as well as unhindered humanitarian access to those Ethiopians who are suffering — the United States will designate imminently specific leaders, organizations, and entities under this new sanctions regime.”
In a statement Friday, Biden said that “the ongoing conflict in northern Ethiopia is a tragedy causing immense human suffering and threatens the unity of the Ethiopian state.”
He added that, “The United States is determined to push for a peaceful resolution of this conflict, and we will provide full support to those leading mediation efforts. I join leaders from across Africa and around the world in urging the parties to the conflict to halt their military campaigns respect human rights, allow unhindered humanitarian access, and come to the negotiating table without preconditions. Eritrean forces must withdraw from Ethiopia,”
Blinken noted that “if the parties take immediate steps” towards those ends, “the United States is prepared to delay imposition of sanctions and focus on supporting a negotiated process.”
Although an administration official voiced optimism “about the growing moves” by regional leaders and the African Union to support a mediated solution, the administration is “not optimistic about the situation on the ground and that’s why the President authorized this executive order in order to ramp up the pressure.”
Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed on Friday vowed that the country “will not succumb to consequences of pressure engineered by disgruntled individuals for whom consolidating power is more important than the well-being of millions.”
In a lengthy open letter to Biden, Abiy argued that his government’s actions in the Tigray region “have been continuously misrepresented” and blamed the Tigray People’s Liberation Front for the crisis.
“As a long-time friend, strategic ally and partner in security, the United States’ recent policy against my country comes not only as a surprise to our proud nation, but evidently surpasses humanitarian concerns,” Abiy wrote.
In the statement Friday, Biden said he is appalled by the reports of mass murder, rape, and other sexual violence to terrorize civilian populations.
The administration officials acknowledged that the situation in Tigray has deteriorated in recent months and voiced concern that violence could soon escalate as the rainy season comes to an end, allowing for greater movement in the region.
The situation is likely to be a key discussion at next week’s United Nations General Assembly in New York because it is right now one of the largest humanitarian catastrophes in the world.
The two senators said they “will unveil a new legislative effort in the coming weeks for Congress to drastically bolster US efforts to pursue accountability for the carnage in the Tigray region as this protracted ethnic conflict approaches the one year mark.”
The top Republicans Senate Foreign Relations Committee and House Foreign Affairs Committee, Sen. Jim Risch and Rep. Michael McCaul also welcomed the news, with the latter saying that “there must be accountability for these egregious acts and I support the Biden administration’s new Executive Order.”
He further urged the Biden Administration to finalize the determination on whether war crimes, crimes against humanity, and acts of genocide have been carried out during this conflict, a determination which was supposedly imminent when Administration officials testified in front of our committee in June. This determination must be completed and made public without delay.
Acting Assistant Secretary of State Robert Godec told lawmakers in late June that the administration is in full agreement that horrifying atrocities have been committed in Tigray and Secretary Blinken did say in earlier testimony, as you’ve said, that there were acts of ethnic cleansing.
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