Blinken speaks with Ethiopian leader about human rights concerns in Tigray
BY LAURA KELLY
Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Tuesday spoke with Ethiopia’s prime minister to express concerns over escalating violence and human rights violations in the country’s Tigray region and offer U.S. assistance to help resolve the conflict.
(Thehill)—Blinken urged Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed “to take immediate, concrete steps to protect civilians, including refugees, and to prevent further violence,” State Department spokesperson Ned Price said in a statement. “Secretary Blinken also asked that the Government of Ethiopia work with the international community to facilitate independent, international, and credible investigations into reported human rights abuses and violations and to hold those responsible accountable.”
The secretary also reiterated calls for the immediate withdrawal from Tigray of Eritrean forces and forces from the region of Amhara in northwest Ethiopia, according to Price.
Ethiopia’s foreign ministry did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Earlier this week, Ethiopia criticized Blinken for seeking a withdrawal of outside forces from Tigray.
“It should be clear that such matters are the sole responsibility of the Ethiopian government,” Ethiopia’s foreign ministry said in a statement issued Sunday, according to The Associated Press. The statement added that no foreign country should try to “dictate a sovereign nation’s internal affairs.”
Ethiopian federal forces in recent weeks have routed Tigray opposition figures from the region that in November sought to put its own leaders in regional government positions, against the wishes of the central government in the capital Addis Ababa.
Abiy, who was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2019 for reaching a peace agreement with neighboring Eritrea after 16 years of war, has come under international scrutiny for his government’s actions in Tigray.
The United Nations recently said that the humanitarian situation in Tigray is critical amid intensified fighting, with nearly 100,000 displaced and 1.3 million people in need of aid because of the conflict.
The conflict has drawn international concern over the fate of vulnerable civilians and refugees, as well as condemnation over reported atrocities.
Last week, Amnesty International and The Associated Press published new findings that Eritrean forces, allied with the Ethiopian army, instituted a brutal massacre in the Tigray city of Axum in late November, considered one of the holiest cities in Ethiopian Orthodox Christianity.
Amnesty Internationl said in the report that “many hundreds” were killed in the city by the Eritrean army that engaged in widespread looting and extrajudicial killings, “deliberately and wantonly” shooting at civilians during the worst of the violence.
The AP estimated that between 300 and 800 people were likely killed, and that bodies lay in the streets for days as Eritrean forces barred residents from collecting their loved ones.
Linda Thomas-Greenfield, the new U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, said the U.S. would raise the issue of alleviating humanitarian concerns in Ethiopia this month under its leadership of the U.N. Security Council.
Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Texas), the ranking member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, also responded to the massacre reports calling for “decisive action” by the Biden administration to hold those accountable for any atrocities committed.
“The horrors detailed in the reports coming out of the Tigray region are incredibly concerning and I am looking into them further,” he said in a statement last week.
“For far too long, the government of Ethiopia and other armed actors have blocked access by journalists and independent monitors to investigate these chilling accounts. I urge the Biden Administration to take decisive action to hold those accountable for any atrocities committed.”