US aid chief Samantha Power recognizes Irish leadership on humanitarian nightmare in northern Ethiopia

The United States on Friday recognized Irish leadership in the United Nations Security Council to draw attention to the dire humanitarian crisis in northern Ethiopia. 

The recognition was conveyed to Ireland’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney during a meeting with the Administrator of the U.S. Agency for International development (USAID) Samantha Power.

Both leaders discussed a wide range of issues, including “their shared commitment to combating the climate crisis, responding to the humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan, and advocating for unhindered humanitarian access to the people of Syria,” USAID spokesperson Rebecca Chalif said in a statement.

Chalif added that “Administrator Power thanked the Foreign Minister for Irish leadership in the UN Security Council to draw attention to the dire humanitarian crisis in northern Ethiopia.”

Administrator Power on Friday also met with Denmark’s Minister for Development Cooperation and Minister for Nordic Cooperation, Flemming Møller Mortensen, and both leaders discussed a number of issues, including how to empower women in sub-Saharan Africa.

“They discussed climate finance and adaptation, ending the COVID-19 pandemic, and humanitarian response priorities in Afghanistan and Ethiopia. In addition, they discussed the shared US and Danish commitment to advancing democracy and governance and safeguarding against digital repression around the world through the upcoming Tech for Democracy Summit in Copenhagen and President Biden’s Democracy Summit,” USAID spokesperson Chalif said. The meeting concluded with Administrator Power and Minister Mortensen signing the first-ever Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between USAID Power Africa and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Denmark. The MOU aims to increase investment in renewable energy projects, provide access to finance and training for African entrepreneurs, especially women, and support the next generation of innovative energy solutions to combat energy poverty and climate change in sub-Saharan Africa.”

The crisis in northern Ethiopia has continued to escalate in recent months, and on Friday last week, U.S. President Joseph R.Biden Jr. authorized sanctions to be used against those undermining peace in the country and hindering access into the humanitarian assistance.

Detailing the sanctions last week, the United States Department of the Treasury said President Biden’s Executive Order (E.O.), “Imposing Sanctions on Certain Persons with Respect to the Humanitarian and Human Rights Crisis in Ethiopia,” was in response to the growing conflict and humanitarian and human rights crisis in northern Ethiopia, which has threatened the peace, security, and stability of Ethiopia and the greater Horn of Africa region.

The Executive Order declares a national emergency with respect to the crisis and provides the Secretary of the Treasury, in consultation with the Secretary of State, with authorities to impose a range of targeted sanctions on persons determined, among other things, to be responsible for or complicit in actions or policies that expand or extend the ongoing crisis or obstruct a ceasefire or peace process in northern Ethiopia or commit serious human rights abuse. 

“Together, with allies, partners, and international organizations, the United States calls on all parties to enter into negotiations to end the conflict. This conflict has created a widespread humanitarian crisis and threatens the stability of Ethiopia,” said Deputy Secretary of the Treasury Wally Adeyemo.  “The Treasury Department is prepared to employ the range of targeted actions to hold accountable anyone contributing to the deepening of this crisis. The negotiated end of the conflict will set the stage for the United States and international partners to reengage in our efforts to support Ethiopia’s reforms to boost economic growth and job creation.” 

The Executive Order authorizes targeting of actors contributing to the crisis in northern Ethiopia and is not directed at the people of Ethiopia, Eritrea, or the greater Horn of Africa region. 

The Treasury Department said it remains committed to ensuring that U.S. sanctions do not limit the ability of civilians located in Ethiopia and the region to receive humanitarian support from the international community. 

“As part of this commitment, concurrent with the issuance of the new E.O., Treasury issued three general licenses (GLs), which authorize official activities of certain international organizations and other international entities, certain transactions in support of nongovernmental organizations’ (NGOs) activities, and certain transactions related to the exportation or reexportation of agricultural commodities, food, medicine, and medical items. 

“Treasury is committed to facilitating the flow of humanitarian assistance to the people of Ethiopia.  Treasury will continue to work with financial institutions, international organizations, and the NGO community to ease the flow of necessary resources to the people in need across Ethiopia and throughout the greater Horn of Africa region,” said Deputy Secretary Adeyemo.

The Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) also issued six Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) which provide additional clarity and guidance regarding the non-application of OFAC’s 50 Percent Rule to the property and interests in property of persons blocked pursuant to the new Executive Order, as well as additional information on the activities authorized by Ethiopia general licenses.

Reacting to President Biden’s sanctions last week, Administrator Power said the United States “cannot ignore the fact that heinous human rights abuses are being perpetrated against civilians.”

In a statement, she wrote, “Today, President Biden signed an Executive Order (E.O.) establishing a new sanctions regime that authorizes the United States to target any party responsible for or complicit in actions or policies that are prolonging the conflict in northern Ethiopia, and those that commit human rights abuses, or obstruct humanitarian access and a ceasefire. These sanctions are not directed at the people of Ethiopia or Eritrea and have clear exemptions to allow for the continuation of ongoing development and humanitarian programs. The United States is the largest donor of humanitarian assistance to people affected by this crisis, and we will continue to provide life-saving aid to all those in need regardless of ethnicity, religion, or political affiliation. 

“The conflict in northern Ethiopia has sparked one of the worst humanitarian and human rights crises in the world, with over 5 million people requiring humanitarian assistance and up to 900,000 living in famine conditions in Tigray. The conflict now risks expanding into a wider civil war that threatens Ethiopia and regional stability. The United States continues to work diplomatically to press for an end to this humanitarian and human rights crisis, and this Executive Order provides new leverage against those obstructing progress towards a negotiated ceasefire, hindering humanitarian access, or committing serious human rights abuses. 

“We cannot ignore the fact that heinous human rights abuses are being perpetrated against civilians. I have personally met with Ethiopian refugees from Tigray, many of them women, who shared heart-wrenching experiences of armed actors committing murder, rape, and other gruesome acts of sexual and gender-based violence. Tens of thousands of women and girls in northern Ethiopia will need medical, mental health, psychosocial, and legal services to begin to rebuild their lives. Hundreds of thousands of people are facing starvation, in large part because of the Government of Ethiopia’s efforts to delay and prevent humanitarian aid from reaching civilian populations who need this emergency food and medical assistance to survive.  

“The suffering of the Ethiopian people ensnared in this conflict must end. We call on all parties to cease hostilities, allow and facilitate unhindered humanitarian access, ensure accountability for human rights abuses, and enter into an inclusive dialogue to chart a path forward that preserves the unity of their state.” 

Chief White House Correspondent for

Simon Ateba is Chief White House Correspondent for Today News Africa. Simon covers President Joe Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris, the U.S. government, the United Nations, the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank and other financial and international institutions in Washington D.C. and New York City.

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