Biden administration says it’s committed to defending human rights and encouraging democracy in Ethiopia

The United States remains committed to addressing the humanitarian crisis in Ethiopia’s Tigray region and encouraging the country’s democratization, said U.S. State Department Spokesperson Ned Price at a Monday press conference.

abiy ahmed 
Abiy Ahmed

U.S. Special Envoy for the Horn of Africa Jeffrey Feltman is currently on a trip visiting nations and meeting with regional leaders throughout the Horn including Ethiopia, Sudan, and Egypt.

Speaking on the intentions behind Feltman’s meeting with Ethiopian leaders, Spokesperson Ned Price said Monday, “He is there to engage on the crisis in Tigray. He’s also there to engage in discussions regarding the [Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam].”

Jeffrey Feltman, Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs at the time, briefs press at UN Headquarters in 2018. Photo taken by Loey Felipe 
Jeffrey Feltman, Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs at the time, briefs press at UN Headquarters in 2018. Photo taken by Loey Felipe

As Feltman visits with regional leaders, the United States weighs its options for how to deal with the Tigray crisis and most effectively pressure the Ethiopian government into taking more serious action to resolve the crisis.

“The suffering of the people of Tigray is immense. It’s extraordinary,” said Price Monday. An April 8 report from USAID placed the number of people in the region that are in need of humanitarian assistance at over 4.5 million.

“As we consider our aid to Ethiopia, we want to make sure that in the first instance, we’re not doing anything that would place a further burden on the people of Tigray who are in such humanitarian plight,” said Price.

The course of action that the United States chooses has the potential to impact millions and it is important that every implication of a decision be considered in order to most effectively support those in need of assistance and relief.

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

The country of Ethiopia is slated to hold federal elections this June after Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed postponed last year’s elections. At the time, Abiy cited COVID-19 concerns as rationale for the decision but has faced widespread criticism as many conjecture that it was made to stay in power and avoid accountability to the people.

While the United States has indicated its full support for the democratization of Ethiopia, State Department Spokesperson Ned Price explained during Monday’s press conference that there are numerous obstacles that must be overcome in order for that to happen.

Speaking on the potential for fair and legitimate elections this June, he said, “If that is to be achieved, the Government of Ethiopia must respect the freedom of assembly, the freedom of speech, political participation, and access to internet and information.”

In June and July of 2020, the Ethiopian government had instituted a widespread shutdown of internet access in response to growing tensions, protests, and opposition movements following the death of Oromo musician, Haacaaluu Hundeessaa.

Prominent voices of dissent such as Oromo top opposition leader Jawar Mohammed are still arbitrarily detained today.

“Political parties, we know, should discourage violence, and state security forces must demonstrate restraint in the use of force and partisan tactics. Ethiopian Government support for political dialogue among key stakeholders on inclusive electoral processes – we believe that to be critical,” he continued.

Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken holds a press availability in Kabul, Afghanistan on April 15, 2021. [State Department photo by Ron Przysucha/ 
Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken holds a press availability in Kabul, Afghanistan on April 15, 2021. [State Department photo by Ron Przysucha/

As the Ethiopian government struggles to fully embrace democracy in the face of extensive human rights concerns, support and pressure from the international community, including the United States, is important in ensuring the democratic future of the country.

Noah Pitcher is a global politics correspondent for Today News Africa covering the U.S. government, United Nations, African Union, and other actors involved in international developments, political controversies, and humanitarian issues.

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