July 13, 2024

Outrage Mounts as US Withdraws Atrocity Determination for Ethiopia, Drawing Criticism from Rights Groups

Joe Biden and Abiy Ahmed
Joe Biden and Abiy Ahmed

The recent decision by the US Treasury Department to backtrack on its determination of gross human rights violations in Ethiopia has sparked outrage among human rights advocates and international organizations.

The move, based on a State Department assessment, has raised concerns about the US government’s commitment to upholding human rights and seeking justice for victims of atrocities in the war-torn region.

In March, Secretary Antony Blinken made a landmark announcement, declaring that all parties involved in the conflict in northern Ethiopia had committed war crimes. The Ethiopian National Defense Forces, Eritrean Defense Forces, and Amhara forces were specifically implicated in crimes against humanity, including murder, rape, sexual violence, and persecution. The declaration was a crucial step towards holding accountable those responsible for the atrocities that have plagued the region.

However, this week, the Treasury Department informed Congress of its revised stance, stating that it no longer believes the Ethiopian government is engaged in a “pattern of gross violations of human rights.” This change opens the door for the Treasury Department to engage with economic aid institutions, including the International Monetary Fund, on matters concerning Ethiopia.

The decision has triggered a wave of criticism from prominent human rights organizations, which argue that the move overlooks the ongoing human rights abuses and sends a dangerous message that atrocity determinations carry minimal consequences.

“We’re deeply concerned that the US government no longer believes that gross violations of human rights are occurring in Ethiopia,” expressed Sarah Yager, Washington Director at Human Rights Watch. “Not only does the decision ignore the reality that grave human rights violations are continuing throughout the country, but it also sends a disastrous signal that US atrocity determinations come with few consequences.”

Amnesty International USA also condemned the US government’s shift in position, highlighting the lack of meaningful steps taken by Ethiopian authorities to address the crimes committed during the conflict in northern Ethiopia. Reports of ongoing violations and a failure to prioritize justice and accountability underscore the need for continued scrutiny and pressure on the Ethiopian government.

“The Biden administration purports to put human rights at the center of its foreign policy, yet their declaration that gross violations of human rights are no longer occurring flies in the face of this promise,” stated Amanda Klasing, National Director for Government Relations and Advocacy at Amnesty International USA. “To make such a determination before we’ve seen commitment to justice and accountability, and while reports of violations are ongoing, would be a politically expedient decision at the expense of survivors and victims.”

The withdrawal of the atrocity determination for Ethiopia comes in the wake of alarming reports from Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch documenting further violence and rights abuses. In April, Amnesty International called for the release of imprisoned journalists following a violent outbreak in the Amhara region that resulted in the tragic deaths of two humanitarian workers. In June, Human Rights Watch published findings of an ongoing ethnic cleansing campaign against Tigrayans in Ethiopia’s Western Tigray Zone, including allegations of torture, arbitrary detention, and forced expulsion.

As critics decry the US government’s decision, human rights advocates and international organizations stress the urgency of continued pressure on the Ethiopian government to address the human rights crisis, pursue justice, and ensure accountability for all parties involved.

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