December 7, 2022

U.S. warns that sanctions against Eritrean military leader over serious human rights abuses in Ethiopia’s Tigray region are only the first step, more to come

Eritrean President Isaias Afwerkii is welcomed by Ethiopia's Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed upon his arrival at Addis Ababa International Airport
Eritrean President Isaias Afwerkii is welcomed by Ethiopia's Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed upon his arrival at Addis Ababa International Airport

The United States government warned on Monday that sanctions against the Eritrean Defense Forces (EDF) Chief of Staff General Filipos Woldeyohannes (Filipos) over serious human rights abuses in Ethiopia’s Tigray region are only the first step, warning that more could come.

“Today’s action demonstrates the United States’ commitment to promoting accountability for those who abuse human rights and continue to perpetuate the crisis in Ethiopia.  The United States will continue to identify and pursue action against those involved in serious human rights abuse in Ethiopia and prolonging the ongoing conflict and humanitarian crisis,” said U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken.

Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken participates in a virtual on-the-record roundtable discussion with Kenyan and Nigerian journalists from the U.S. Department of State in Washington, D.C. on April 27, 2021. State Department photo by Ron Przysucha

The United States announced on Monday that it was designating General Filipos Woldeyohannes (Filipos) for his connection with serious human rights abuse committed during the ongoing conflict in Ethiopia. 

Blinken said Filipos was designated pursuant to Executive Order 13818, which builds upon and implements the Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act and targets perpetrators of serious human rights abuse and corruption around the world. 

According to Blinken, “Filipos commands all of the EDF forces that have committed serious human rights abuses in Ethiopia throughout the conflict.”

“Under Filipos’ command, EDF troops have raped, tortured, and executed civilians in Ethiopia,” Blinken said. “Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) have described a systematic effort by the EDF to inflict as much harm on the ethnic Tigrayan population as possible in the areas the EDF controls.  Eritrean troops have forcibly displaced civilians and ransacked businesses; IDPs spoke of a “scorched earth” policy intended to prevent civilians from returning home.”

Blinken added that “the United States is concerned that large numbers of EDF have re-entered Ethiopia, after withdrawing in June,” asserting that “prolonged, intensified and expanded conflict increases the risks of violence against civilians and rights violations.”

“We call upon the Eritrean government to withdraw its military forces immediately and permanently from Ethiopia,” Blinken said, adding that the United States “condemns in the strongest terms human rights violations and abuses in Ethiopia, including those involving the killings, forced removals, and systemic sexual violence.”

He said the United States continues to urge all parties to the conflict, including the Tigray People’s Liberation Front, “to end abuses against civilians, take steps to de-escalate the conflict, allow for unimpeded humanitarian access, and commit to a negotiated ceasefire.”

“We call on the UN Security Council and wider international community to come together to push for a peaceful resolution of this ongoing conflict,” Blinken wrote.

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