Diaspora Group Warns Sanctions Bill Advanced to House Floor Will ‘Destroy Ethiopian-US Relations’
21:53 GMT 10.02.2022 (Updated: 11:38 GMT 23.11.2022)
© SputnikProtesters wrapped in Ethiopian national flags hold a sign written in Amharic at a rally outside the White House in Washington, DC, on November 8, 2021, demanding the US stay out of the conflict between the Ethiopian government and a rival political faction in the northern Tigray Region.
When the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) announced a complete withdrawal to Tigray in mid-December, the Ethiopian government began a national dialogue on reconciliation. However, it has rejected negotiations with the designated terrorist group, saying it must recognize the sovereignty of Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s government.
On Tuesday, the House Foreign Affairs Committee voted to advance to the House floor a bill that lawmakers say is aimed at ending the 15-month-long war in Ethiopia, where the TPLF has launched an uprising against the government after having its longtime-leading role in Ethiopian politics diminished.
According to a news release by Rep. Tom Malinowski (D-NJ), the bill would authorize US President Joe Biden to “impose sanctions on individuals who undermine negotiations to end the conflict, commit human rights abuses, exacerbate corruption, or provide weapons to any hostile party”; suspend all security assistance with the Ethiopian government until certain conditions are met; require the US to oppose World Bank or International Monetary Fund loans to Addis Ababa; and require the US State Department to make a determination about “allegations of crimes against humanity, war crimes and genocide,” as well as to draw up a plan for “supporting democracy and human rights in Ethiopia.”
“The war in Ethiopia has created one of the worst humanitarian crises in the world, and all the combatants, along with their foreign backers, are responsible for horrific abuses of basic human rights,” Malinowski said in the release. “Today, Congress is coming together to say that the conflict must end, and to hold accountable all those responsible for perpetuating it.”
Separately on Tuesday, the US Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) published new regulations outlining how sanctions against Ethiopia issued by US President Joe Biden in September 2021 operate on a practical level.
US Agenda ‘Is Alien to Peace’
However, according to many Ethiopians, Washington is targeting the wrong people.
“͞Put quite simply, this will bring about the end of the Ethiopia-US relationship as we know it,” Mesfin Tegenu, chairman of the American Ethiopian Public Affairs Committee, a diaspora group, said in a statement following the bill’s advancement.
“͞The Bill is simply not reflective of the realities on the ground, many of the actions it requests of Ethiopia from an amnesty for prisoners to the formation of a national dialogue are already in progress. Also, the Bill has limited focus on the TPLF, the insurgent group who triggered this conflict, and is yet to fully lay down arms and cease fighting,” he added.
The AEPAC said it has advanced an alternative proposal to US lawmakers, which would demand the TPLF end its latest offensive into neighboring Afar state and disarm; recognize that the humanitarian crisis in Ethiopia includes Amhara and Afar, where the TPLF invaded and occupied last year; and support the Abiy government’s efforts for an inclusive national dialogue.
We call on Congress to support peace in Ethiopia: pic.twitter.com/nAEIPpDBv3— The American-Ethiopian Public Affairs Committee (@AmericaEthiopia) February 9, 2022
“Above all else, peace is the most important outcome. An end to the conflict brings safety, recovery, and growth for the people of Ethiopia,” the group tweeted.
According to the UN World Food Program, 9.4 million Ethiopians need food aid in Tigray, Amhara and Afar. Unrelatedly, another roughly 7 million Ethiopians in the Afar lowlands and Somali State require food aid due to persistent drought that has plagued the entire Horn of Africa.
The AEPAC also called on the US to readmit Ethiopia into the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA), a US law that gives certain African countries preferential trade rights with the US. Ethiopia was punished at the start of the year by being removed from it, which as BreakThrough News documented, endangers critical parts of Ethiopia’s industrial sector and the workers employed there.
Yemane Gebremeskel, the Minister of Information for Ethiopia’s ally against the TPLF, Eritrea, also said on Twitter that the US agenda “is alien to peace” and Washington’s attempt to couch its actions in “promoting peace” was “galling.”
Yemane called the bill “an affront” to a recent resolution adopted by the African Union that condemned “the continued unilateral application and enforcement by certain countries of such measures as tools of pressure, including political and economic pressure, against any country, particularly against African Union Member States, with a view to preventing these countries from exercising their right to self-determination.”
The US hit Eritrea with sanctions in November 2021, claiming its involvement in the anti-TPLF struggle was exacerbating the conflict and undermining the integrity of the Ethiopian state. When Chinese State Councilor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi visited Asmara in early January, he issued a joint statement saying Beijing “firmly supports Eritrea in opposing external interference.”
Is the sudden removal of Ethiopia from the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) a humanitarian step, like the US says? Or will it hurt millions of workers? BT went to an Ethiopian industrial park to find out the truth of who’s really going to suffer. https://t.co/cDNm91bCQn pic.twitter.com/cFYjD2Ae2p— BreakThrough News (@BTnewsroom) December 25, 2021
“Regional countries know best the problems within the region, and it's up to the people of a country to properly handle its internal affairs,” he added.
Despite Washington’s posturing as a neutral actor interested only in peace, in reality it has supported the TPLF’s efforts from the beginning, including advising them on forming a post-Abiy provisional government after his anticipated overthrow, as Sputnik reported at the time.
15 Months of War
The TPLF ruled Ethiopia for 27 years, but amid mass protests against its rule, the group’s coalition of ethnic groups fell apart in 2018 and for the first time selected Abiy, an Oromo, to lead the coalition instead of a Tigrayan. After becoming prime minister, Abiy quickly ended a 20-year war with Eritrea and set about reducing the domineering power of the TPLF over Ethiopian politics, including by combining the political coalition into a single centralized party and attempting to move central military assets out of Tigray.
The TPLF resisted these moves and after illegally holding postponed elections amid the COVID-19 pandemic in September 2020, the group mounted a sneak-attack on Ethiopian troops deployed to Tigray that November. The war quickly drew in Eritrea after the TPLF attacked Asmara for sheltering retreating Ethiopian troops, and by the summer of 2021, the group launched an offensive into Amhara and Afar that brought its forces within 130 kilometers of the capital.
A quick counteroffensive in November and December 2021 repulsed the TPLF, forcing them back into the Tigrayan borders, but they left behind looted cities and towns, including emptied food warehouses used by United Nations aid groups. The group has continued to refuse the peace terms offered by Abiy, which include disarming and acknowledging his government’s sovereignty over Tigray state. In January, they launched a new attack into Afar that interrupted a large UN World Food Program convoy, which was forced to return to Djibouti.
According to UN data, more than 70,000 people have fled the violence, heading across the border into neighboring Sudan, and an estimated 4 million more have been internally displaced. There is no reliable death toll for the conflict.