White House comments on whether sanctions should be extended to Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed and Eritrean President Isaias Afwerki over atrocities in Tigray

The White House on Tuesday commented on whether the sanctions the U.S. government announced on Monday against an Eritrean top general should be extended to Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed Ali and Eritrean President Isaias Afwerki over the man-made humanitarian disaster unfolding in Tigray.

Asked during a press briefing whether the Biden administration was planning to extend sanctions to the Prime Minister of Ethiopia and the President of Eritrea, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki gave a multilayered answer.

Press Secretary Jen Psaki holds a Press Briefing, Wednesday June 2, 2021, in the James S. Brady White House Press Briefing Room. (Official White House Photo by Cameron Smith)
Press Secretary Jen Psaki holds a Press Briefing, Wednesday June 2, 2021, in the James S. Brady White House Press Briefing Room. (Official White House Photo by Cameron Smith)

“I don’t have anything to preview for you in terms of additional sanctions. Obviously, we continue to evaluate — reserve that right should that be a recommendation made and something the President approves,” Psaki said.

On whether President Joseph R. Biden Jr. intends to be as engaged in the Ethiopia’s Tigray crisis as he was during the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, Psaki said the American leader continues to track developments in Ethiopia and has been engaging with high-level officials.
 
“I will certainly note that the President — we are closely tracking — we are closely engaged with high-level officials on the situation on the ground,” she said.  

The U.S. Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) on Monday sanctioned General Filipos Woldeyohannes (Filipos), the Chief of Staff of the Eritrean Defense Forces (EDF), “for being a leader or official of an entity that is engaged in serious human rights abuse committed during the ongoing conflict in Tigray.”

The department said Filipos is designated pursuant to Executive Order (E.O.) 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.”

“The Treasury Department will continue to take action against those involved in serious human rights abuse around the world, including in the Tigray region of Ethiopia, where such acts further exacerbate the ongoing conflict and humanitarian crisis,” said Director of the Office of Foreign Assets Control Andrea M. Gacki. “Today’s action demonstrates the United States’ commitment to imposing costs on those responsible for these despicable acts, which worsen a conflict that has led to tremendous suffering by Ethiopians. We urge Eritrea to immediately and permanently withdraw its forces from Ethiopia, and urge the parties to the conflict to begin ceasefire negotiations and end human rights abuses.”

The Treasury Department said as a result of Monday’s action, “all property and interests in property of the person above that are in the United States or in the possession or control of U.S. persons are blocked and must be reported to OFAC.”

It added, “In addition, any entities that are owned, directly or indirectly, 50 percent or more by one or more blocked persons are also blocked. Unless authorized by a general or specific license issued by OFAC, or otherwise exempt, OFAC’s regulations generally prohibit all transactions by U.S. persons or within (or transiting) the United States that involve any property or interests in property of designated or otherwise blocked persons. The prohibitions include the making of any contribution or provision of funds, goods, or services by, to, or for the benefit of any blocked person or the receipt of any contribution or provision of funds, goods, or services from any such person.”

The Treasury department detailed why it took the unprecedented action against Eritrea, saying that the ongoing conflict in Tigray has exacerbated a humanitarian crisis that threatens hundreds of thousands of lives.

The United States government warned 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.

Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken participates in a roundtable discussion with Executive Women@State via video teleconference from the U.S. Department of State in Washington, D.C. on March 26, 2021. [State Department photo by Freddie Everett
Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken participates in a roundtable discussion with Executive Women@State via video teleconference from the U.S. Department of State in Washington, D.C. on March 26, 2021. [State Department photo by Freddie Everett

“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.

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