February 5, 2023

Blinken refuses to say whether Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed is back in U.S. good graces, explains why country remains barred from AGOA following massive human rights abuses and massacres in Tigray

Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed Ali address the media briefing at the conclusion of the Official Visit by the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia at the Union Buildings in Tshwane. January 12
Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed Ali address the media briefing at the conclusion of the Official Visit by the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia at the Union Buildings in Tshwane. January 12

United States Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken refused to say whether Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed Ali, a Nobel Peace laureate turned warrior, whose forces massacred hundreds of thousands of Tigrayans, and displaced millions others during the two-year war in northern Ethiopia, is back in U.S. good graces.

The United States, the United Nations, the European Union and several other credible international and regional organizations estimated that hundreds of thousands of people were massacred in Tigray by Ethiopian and Eritrean forces while thousands were also killed by Tigrayan fighters across the nation, including in Amhara and Afar regions.

In addition, a devastating blockade around Tigray at the direction of Abiy left millions of people on the brink of famine and without access to medicine, communication and banking, a shocking barbarity the Director General of the World Health Organization Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus has described as a possible war crime and crime against humanity.

At his press briefing on December 15 to discuss the outcome of the U.S-Africa Leaders’ Summit President Joseph R. Biden Jr. hosted in Washington D.C. December 13-15, Blinken was asked by a reporter whether the fact that he met with the Ethiopian Prime Minister in Washington meant that he is “back in U.S. good graces.”

Blinken was also asked whether there would be discussions of renewing AGOA membership for Ethiopia. “As to countries and their participation in AGOA, the law has clear criteria, and we simply apply the facts in any given case to the law,” Blinken said.

President Joseph R. Biden Jr. on Friday also announced the removal of Burkina Faso from AGOA trade pack effective January 1, 2023.

Earlier this year, the United States also cut Ethiopia, Mali and Guinea out of a duty-free trade program over alleged human rights violations and coups.

The African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) provides eligible sub-Saharan African countries with duty-free access to the U.S. market for over 1,800 products, in addition to the more than 5,000 products that are eligible for duty-free access under the Generalized System of Preferences program.

Is Abiy back in U.S. good graces? Not exactly.

While Blinken expressed optimism for the cessation of hostilities in Ethiopia, and the peace deal between the Ethiopian federal government and Tigrayan forces in South Africa last month, he did not say whether Abiy is back in U.S. good books as asked by the reporter.

He said, “With regard to Ethiopia, there too we have a very important cessation-of-hostilities agreement that has led, over the last few weeks, to a significant reduction in violence in Tigray, the start of humanitarian assistance getting in in significant quantities, the beginning of the restoration of services, and, we hope as well, the need to verify with international monitors that human rights abuses are no longer taking place.

“So in both of these cases, I think we have now positive foundations to try to reduce tensions, resolve conflicts, create a stronger foundation for durable peace.  But these things are fragile; they demand constant engagement, constant effort.  And part of what we did here in Washington this week with the relevant actors was to work on the roadmap ahead for implementing these agreements, so there’ll be a lot of follow-up in the days to come.”

“Implementation of this agreement, just as with the Luanda agreement, is the critical piece.  The agreement’s there.  We need to make sure it’s implemented and that, ideally, the implementation is done as quickly and as effectively as possible.  Another critical component of this agreement is for Eritrean forces to withdraw from Tigray, and we’re looking to that and we’re – I’ve had discussions with a number of the leaders who were here about the need to see that happen.

The United States has long said that peace without accountability for war crimes and human rights abuses is not enough, and has asserted that those with blood on their hands, including Abiy’s federal forces and TPLF fighters should be held accountable.

For Abiy, many have wondered how a Nobel Peace Prize winner who maintained one of the most devastating blockades in history in Tigray and oversaw an army that hundreds of thousands of people dead can continue to retain a prize for peace.


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