Monday, July 22, 2024

Washington Update: Urging US Action Amidst Ethiopia’s Crisis

Washington, DC – On June 25, Mesfin Mekonen, Bart Fisher, and Wzro Tsigereda, representing Ethiopian-American civic organizations, briefed staffers for six US senators about the crisis in Ethiopia and US policy options.

In opening remarks, Mesfin Mekonen thanked Senator Peter Welch (D-Vermont) and his national security adviser Amanda Thorpe for arranging this briefing and their interest in Ethiopia. Excerpts from his comments follow. 

Ethiopia is one of Africa’s most populous and influential nations. For centuries, it has been home to numerous diverse religious and ethnic populations. Ethiopia is critical to stability in the Horn of Africa and as a bastion against Islamic terrorism. The Middle East and Ukraine crises dominate the attention of the State Department and the national security community, but ignoring the looming catastrophe in Ethiopia is a mistake.

While there has been reporting in the press in the United States about the disastrous conflict between the central government and Tigray rebels, there is little, if any, reporting about the overall situation in Ethiopia. In short, things are desperate. The government of Ethiopia is attacking its own people with drones and military forces, killing and displacing Amhara people and other groups, waging war on the orthodox church, censoring the press, and jailing reporters. The State Department’s 2023 report on human rights in Ethiopia includes a mind-boggling list of horrors. It starts with “credible reports of arbitrary or unlawful killings, including extrajudicial killings; enforced disappearance; torture or cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment by the government; and harsh and life-threatening prison conditions,” including “violence or threats of violence against journalists, unjustified arrests of journalists,” as well as “crimes involving violence or threats of violence targeting members of racial or ethnic minority groups.”

Statement from Senator Ben Cardin, Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, about the war between TPLF and the Federal government: “As noted by the White House, sanctions are not directed at the people of Ethiopia or Eritrea, but rather the individuals and entities who are causing the violence and the ensuing humanitarian disaster. I strongly condemn the atrocities carried out throughout Ethiopia and call upon all parties to reach a negotiated ceasefire, pursue dialogue, and reach an agreement that ultimately results in a democratic, prosperous, and peaceful Ethiopia.”

Statement from Senate Foreign Relations Ranking member Senator Jim Risch:

“The ongoing human rights abuses and civilian deaths in Ethiopia are horrific. The Biden Administration should sanction senior Ethiopian officials and fighting forces for past and present atrocities – there is no excuse for continued inaction from the US”, Senator Risch said.

In a statement released on April 12, Amnesty International called for African and global human rights bodies to “urgently investigate killings of civilians by the Ethiopian National Defense Forces (ENDF) in Merawi town, Amhara region, after fighting with Fano militias on January 29, as war crimes of murder and extrajudicial executions.” Amnesty said, “Mass killings are becoming shockingly common in Ethiopia.”

In a recent speech, US ambassador to Ethiopia, Ervin Massinaga, said, “Regrettably, many people across Ethiopia, and across the globe, continue to face the same fear that Ethiopians did 87 years ago. Bandits, armed groups, and, at times, government security forces act with impunity in carrying out violations of…life, dignity, and respect” that all people deserve.

The situation in Ethiopia is complex, but the problems that must be resolved are straightforward: a corrupt authoritarian government is standing by while the country descends into civil war and lawlessness. Corruption is so severe the international community cut off life-saving food assistance for months and remains reluctant to meet the needs of desperate people. Economic mismanagement is pushing the nation to the brink of famine. And the government is fomenting deadly conflicts among ethnic groups that have lived in harmony for hundreds of years.

There are many more examples of unprovoked violence against innocent civilians. Because of Ethiopian government censorship and repression of journalists, news reports represent merely the tip of the iceberg.

The world should listen to Alice Wairimu Nderitu, the United Nations Special Advisor on the Prevention of Genocide, who warned the global community on October 10, 2023, of the ongoing risk of “genocide and related atrocity crimes” in Ethiopia.  The Lemkin Institute has alerted the world to “evidence of an ongoing process of genocide in the country against Amhara citizens.” 

The United States and the global community need to support fundamental human rights for all Ethiopians, the rule of law, and democracy.  The failure of the Biden administration to condemn crimes being committed on a daily basis by the autocratic regime of Abiy Ahmed encourages its continuing war on the Amhara people, creating needless suffering and the risk of violence that could destabilize the Horn of Africa.

We recommend the US government undertake a three-part strategy focused on cessation of hostilities, sanctions, and constitutional reform.

First, the United States can and must play a significant role in promoting a settlement of this ever-escalating war against the Amhara and other ethnic groups by the government of Ethiopia.  At a minimum, the United States can promote collective efforts of local, regional, and global actors to bring about an immediate cessation of hostilities and attacks by the government of Ethiopia against its own people.  Lasting peace in Ethiopia requires an urgent and inclusive dialogue and reconciliation.

Second, the White House and State Department should condemn the abuses the Abiy government is undertaking and condoning and take steps to alleviate the situation. These steps include the imposition of targeted sanctions on government officials who are responsible for abuses or who fail to protect the lives of innocent civilians.

Third, the US government should promote the drafting of a new constitution, an essential precondition to lasting peace and prosperity.  Article 39 of the 1994 constitution of Ethiopia grants rights for any ethnic group to secede and form a nation.  Thus, groups such as the Tigrayans and the Amhara currently have the constitutional right to secede, sparking a protracted civil war.  The ability of the central government to govern is undermined when every ethnic group has the right to secede.  The present constitution has exacerbated ethnic tensions.  If not revised, it will lead to the destruction of Ethiopia. 

Wzro Tsigereda, Diplomatic committee chair of Global Amhara Coalition, who traveled from New York City, addressed the audience. She said that we are all witnessing, with great alarm, the current Ethiopian government deliberately and recklessly driving the country towards crisis and fragmentation by fueling inter-ethnic tensions based on systematic marginalization and subjugation. A transformative and systematic fundamental change encompassing the core values of political freedom, economic prosperity, diversity, national unity, peace, sovereignty, and territorial integrity is needed. Such is central to the disillusion of the ethnic-based political machinery and its broad-based defunct institutions of corrupt ethnocentric government.

Therefore, how do we create and cultivate a stable, pluralistic democratic system of governance and a strong judiciary and civil society in Ethiopia when the national defense is waging war against its civilian population in the already war-torn, poverty-stricken, and politically unstable Ethiopia? The fragmentation and stabilization of Ethiopia under the current regime could potentially destabilize the entire region, which is the center of geopolitical strategic importance to the United States and the rest of the international community.

It must be noted that Fano’s voluntarily armed civilian communities are a mass movement made up of students, doctors, farmers, professors, former military officials, businessmen, workers, journalists, and women who are currently fighting back in self-defense for the survival of Amharas and other communities. Fano’s objectives are to instill justice, freedom, equality, fundamental human rights, and respect for the rule of law in Ethiopia against the brutal Abiy Ahmed/PP regime. Those core values of strength, selflessness, commitment, and humanity are why the Ethiopian people embrace and rely on Fanos. 

Bart Fisher, Council for seven Ethiopian-American civic organizations, said the Ethiopian people are experiencing continued repression from the government of Abiy Ahmed, attacks on churches, encouragement of ethnic cleansing, extrajudicial killings, and suppression of independent media. The current victims of the atrocities now taking place in Ethiopia are the Amhara people, a large ethnic group that is being ethnically cleansed.

Ethiopian-American civic organizations recommend that the US government undertake a three-part strategy focused on cessation of hostilities, sanctions, and constitutional reform.

Senate staff asked several questions, including the source of drones the Ethiopian military is using to attack civilians. The briefers stated that Ethiopia had purchased drones from Turkey, Qatar, and Saudi Arabia.

Staffers also wanted to know if the US government has responded to concerns raised by Ethiopian-American civic organizations. The only public response has been a speech by US Ambassador to Ethiopia Massinga, who spoke about the deteriorated human rights situation. They followed up by asking why the US government has yet to respond to the crisis in Ethiopia. The briefers said that crises in the Middle East and Ukraine are dominating the attention of the State Department and the national security community – and added that ignoring the looming catastrophe in Ethiopia and failing to act while it is still possible to avoid further instability is a mistake.

Author profile
Mesfin Mekonen

Mesfin Mekonen is the author of Washington Update, a bulletin about Ethiopia’s struggle for freedom and prosperity, and founder of MM Management.

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