Biden administration says ‘any effort to change the internal boundaries of Ethiopia by force is unacceptable’, condemns retaliatory attacks against civilians and ‘escalating military conflict’ in Western Tigray

The Biden administration on Monday said it was “gravely concerned by reports of ongoing hostilities in western Tigray and evidence of escalating military conflict there.”

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The administration added that “any effort to change the internal boundaries of Ethiopia by force is unacceptable.”

“Any issue of such national importance, like borders, would be an issue for the Ethiopian people to decide through consensual dialogue, not by the barrel of a gun,” U.S. State Department spokesperson Ned Price told reporters in Washington D.C.

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He condemned what he described as the “escalating fighting” in Western Tigray, saying it “will undermine critical ongoing efforts to deliver humanitarian relief to famine-affected populations in Tigray.”

Department Spokesperson Ned Price holds the Daily Press Briefing at the U.S. Department of State in Washington, D.C., on February 9, 2021. [State Department Photo by Freddie Everett
Department Spokesperson Ned Price holds the Daily Press Briefing at the U.S. Department of State in Washington, D.C., on February 9, 2021. [State Department Photo by Freddie Everett

He said the United States is once again calling on all parties to move towards “a negotiated ceasefire” in the interests of civilians and to “preserve the unity of the Ethiopian state.”

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“We again call on the Tigrayan Defense Forces, the Amhara regional forces, and Ethiopian National Defense Forces to move towards a negotiated ceasefire in the interests of civilians in the region and to preserve the unity of the Ethiopian state,” Price said. “We strongly condemn any retaliatory attacks that have been or may be directed against civilians in the Tigray region, whether by organized military or security forces or by rogue elements. The United States further calls on all armed actors to comply with their international humanitarian legal obligations, including regarding the protection of civilians. All those who are responsible for violations of international humanitarian law and human rights abuses must be held accountable.”

Price also commented on the results of the June 21 elections that were released last week showing that Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed‘s Prosperity Party had won most seats in parliament.

Well, the Secretary himself has spoken to this. It was late last month, June 21st, he issued a statement noting that the elections took place against the backdrop of grave instability, including increasing interethnic and intercommunal conflicts and an electoral process that was not free or fair for all Ethiopians,” he said.

Price added: “The boycott of the elections by opposition parties, the detention of vocal political leaders, the ongoing violence in multiple parts of the country – look, all of this underscores the need to launch an inclusive effort to build a national consensus on the governance of Ethiopia that, importantly, preserves the sovereignty and the unity of the state and strengthens rather than undermines the constitutional order.

“In this period following the election, it’s critical that Ethiopians come together to confront growing divisions. We urge politicians and community leaders to reject violence and to refrain from inciting others to violence. And we’ll be watching the situation very carefully going forward. Thank you all very much.”

On Monday, the Biden administration said it was also investigating whether the killings in Tigray, northern Ethiopia, in the past eight months, constituted crimes against humanity, war crimes or genocide.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken told reporters in Washington DC that the administration was assessing facts to make a final determination.

Secretary Antony J. Blinken participates in a virtual U.S. Embassy London meet and greet, in London, United Kingdom, on May 4, 2021. State Department Photo by Ron Przysucha
Secretary Antony J. Blinken participates in a virtual U.S. Embassy London meet and greet, in London, United Kingdom, on May 4, 2021. State Department Photo by Ron Przysucha

Asked whether the killings in Tigray, Ethiopia, and those of the Rohingya people in Myanmar constituted crimes against humanity, genocide, or war crimes, Blinken responded, “Look, both reviews are ongoing. We’re bringing together the facts, the legal assessments, and both are being very actively considered.”

Blinken took questions from reporters after making remarks on the release of the 2021 Congressional Report Pursuant to the Elie Wiesel Genocide and Atrocities Prevention Act.

Quoting Elie Wiesel who said the opposite of love isn’t hate, but indifference, Blinken asserted that the report released on Monday “represents a stand against indifference and a commitment to do more to prevent and respond to atrocities, including genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes.”

Early this year, Blinken said Ethiopian and Eritrean troops as well as militia allied to them targeted people in Tigray based on their ethnicity, a development that would constitute a genocide.

The United States does not do business with countries and leaders that engage in genocidal acts.

Although it is not clear who is conducting the investigation or making the assessment, the determination that genocide took place in Tigray would require prosecutions and more actions from the United States and the international community.

U.S. Acting Assistant Secretary for Conflict and Stabilization Operations Robert Faucher speaking on the release of the 2021 Congressional Report Pursuant to the Elie Wiesel Genocide and Atrocities Prevention Act, said the report “draws attention to the heinous acts of sexual violence and gross human rights violations that have been reported in Tigray, Ethiopia, including indiscriminate attacks on civilians, medical personnel, and humanitarian workers.”

“In terms of the situation in Tigray and what we – what’s represented in the report, the report goes through May of this year, and there have been developments since May in Tigray and among – with the election and various other things that have occurred.  We are still very concerned about the situation there.  We’re calling for all parties to respect the ceasefire,” Faucher said. “We’re calling for full humanitarian access into that region. It is very concerning to see what’s going on for the people there.” 

He added: “We are also asking for full cooperation with the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission and the UN Human Rights Council – their investigations into the allegations that are being made about what is going on there.  And at the same time, we want the Eritrean forces to withdraw and the full scope of the situation to basically be brought down several notches.” 

Eritrean President Isaias Afwerkii is welcomed by Ethiopia's Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed upon his arrival at Addis Ababa International Airport, Ethiopia, Saturday, July 14, 2018. (AP Photo Mulugeta Ayene)
Eritrean President Isaias Afwerkii is welcomed by Ethiopia’s Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed upon his arrival at Addis Ababa International Airport, Ethiopia, Saturday, July 14, 2018. (AP Photo Mulugeta Ayene)

Secretary Blinken noted that the report was released just a day after the 26th anniversary of the genocide at Srebenica when more than 8,000 Bosniak Muslim boys and men were slaughtered. 

“The American people join the people of Bosnia and Herzegovina in solemn remembrance of those victims and in solidarity with their families.  We’re reminded of how important it is to do all we can to prevent atrocities like this from ever occurring,” Blinken said.

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