US playing hardball with Ethiopia, rallies EU for more Addis sanctions

Tuesday June 15 2021
Ethiopia protests.

Protesters during a massive rally in Addis Ababa last month to rail against US restrictions on economic and security assistance over the conflict in Tigray region. PHOTO | AFP

By Allan Olingo

The United States has rallied its allies in the European Union for more sanctions against Ethiopia, including further funding cuts, over the Tigray conflict.

The Tigray conflict was on President Joe Biden’s agenda as he met his counterparts in the G7 meetings in the UK at the weekend.

Last Thursday, the EU, and Washington held a high-level meeting to discuss the worsening humanitarian situation in Tigray, calling on Addis to “stop increasing the restrictions in Tigray,” with the US pushing for further sanctions on Addis from the EU.

This came barely a week after US Special envoy to the Horn of Africa Jeff Feltman visited the region, and met with Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta over the Ethiopian crisis. On Tuesday, President Kenyatta travelled to Addis Ababa for a one-day visit, where he met with Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed but details of the meeting are scanty.

During the meeting, attended by Mr Feltman, the EU and US sought to mobilise bolder and concerted response by the international community to meet the growing humanitarian needs, ensure respect for human rights and prevent further atrocities against civilians in Tigray.

In the meeting, Mr Feltman said it is time to move from analysis to action.


“I think the G7 summit will do a lot to light a fire under the international community to respond forcefully with funding and unified messages to those continuing to fight in Tigray, those that are creating tensions and violence across Ethiopia,” Mr Feltman said at the time.

Linda Thomas-Greenfield, US ambassador to the United Nations told the meeting that countries must “act now.”

She criticised the UN Security Council for failing to hold public meetings over the Tigray crisis to pressure the parties to stop fighting, allow aid workers safely in and demand Eritrean troops leave.

“What are we afraid of? What are we trying to hide? The Security Council’s failure is unacceptable. We have addressed other emergent crises with public meetings. But not with this one. So, I ask those who refuse to address this issue publicly, do African lives not matter?” Thomas-Greenfield asked.

In a statement after the meeting, they urged all parties to the conflict to agree to a ceasefire immediately to facilitate humanitarian assistance to all Tigrayans regardless of where they are and to stop violence against civilians.

“We would also like all parties in the conflict to recall the obligation to adhere to international humanitarian law and exercise their responsibility towards the protection of all civilians, including humanitarian workers. This should remain paramount and must be applied at all times, and not be conditional on a ceasefire being in place,” they said.

Starvation as a weapon

“The Ethiopian and Eritrean authorities must ensure that Eritrean armed forces withdraw from Ethiopia immediately, in line with its previous commitment. We also call upon the international community to scale up its life-saving support in the region, including through humanitarian funding, and to do everything in its power to protect the lives, dignity and livelihoods of the civilian population in Tigray,” they said.

Seven months into the Tigray conflict, the international community has been raising the alarm over human rights atrocities and the humanitarian crisis.

“Of the six million in Tigray, 5.2 million people are facing hunger and require emergency food assistance. With 90 percent of the population in extreme need of humanitarian aid, the stakes could not be higher. We have continuously called for an end to the violence and for unfettered humanitarian access to all parts of Tigray, but we are witnessing increasing restrictions,” they said.

The US, and EU, say the restrictions on access are severely impeding the ability of humanitarian workers to assist the most vulnerable, notably in blocked rural areas, where the crisis is worst.

Two weeks ago, the Biden administration slapped Ethiopia with economic and visa sanctions over the conflict.

Washington hoped its latest measures against Abiy’s administration will help rally international pressure to force an end to the atrocities in Tigray and allow aid in for the over five million people. In December 2020, the EU suspended budget support payments to Addis, even as the country struggled with debt repayment, having already asked for debt restructuring in February from G-20 counties.