Updated: February 24, 2021
Ethiopian federal forces violated the laws of war by carrying out indiscriminate shelling of urban areas in the Tigray region in November of 2020, Human Rights Watch said on February 10. These artillery attacks struck homes, hospitals, schools, and markets, resulting in at least 83 civilian deaths and over 300 injuries.
While US President Joe Biden has repeatedly claimed that his administration will defend freedom and human dignity around the world, he has yet to take any action in response to this issue.
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In the time since the Human Rights Watch’s conclusion, President Biden has not made any public statements about the attacks.
Biden spoke on foreign policy Friday at the Munich Security Conference, denouncing autocracy and affirming the importance of fighting for and defending democracy. The humanitarian crisis in Ethiopia was not mentioned in his speech.
Throughout his first month in office, Mr. Biden has repeatedly emphasized the importance of the United States’ role on the global stage. He has often expressed his plan to undo the previous administration’s “America first” approach to international relations, instead working to combat important humanitarian issues around the world.
During his first foreign policy speech on February 4th, the President spoke of his plan for addressing global issues, saying, “We must start with diplomacy rooted in America’s most cherished democratic values: defending freedom, championing opportunity, upholding universal rights, respecting the rule of law, and treating every person with dignity.”
Now is the time for the Biden Administration to make good on its plan and defend the freedom and dignity of the people of Ethiopia.
During that same speech, the President spoke of “renewing our role in international institutions, and reclaiming our credibility and moral authority, much of which has been lost.”
How can the United States possibly establish moral authority and credibility if it sits idly by while another government commits such horrible acts against its people?
During his speech Friday, Biden said “Democracy doesn’t happen by accident. We have to defend it, fight for it, strengthen it, renew it. We have to prove that our model isn’t a relic of history; it’s the single best way to revitalize the promise of our future.”
If he is to defend democratic ideals around the world, as President of the United States, Biden ought to put extensive pressure on Abiy Ahmed, the Ethiopian Prime Minister, and demand answers for the human rights violations that have unfolded under his governance.
In a parliamentary address on November 30, Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed maintained that Ethiopian federal forces had not caused civilian casualties during their military operations in Tigray that month.
A government Twitter account created during the conflict claimed that federal forces had “been successful in providing maximum protection to civilians” and “avoided combat in cities and towns of the Tigray region.”
Abiy Ahmed must be held responsible for the violations of international law that Human Rights Watch claims occurred under his leadership. If US President Joe Biden is to truly use his power to combat human rights violations globally, his immediate action in response to the developments in Ethiopia is critical.