Does US Resolution 97 Save the People of Tigray from Atrocities? A Reflection
By Asayehgn Desta, Sarlo Distinguished Professor of Sustainable Development
Ethioobserver May 29, 2021
In addition to tightening the allocation of the federal budget, cutting off supply lines and routes, and failing to provide assistance to the administrative region of Tigray when swarmed by locusts, Ethiopia’s Prime Minister Abiy teamed up with Eritrea and Somalian forces, borrowed drones from the United Arab Emirates (UAE), and assembled the Ethiopian Federal Forces with Amhara militias and the genocidal Fano youth squad to launch a full blown war to annihilate the people of Tigray on November 4, 2020.
Stated differently, over the last seven months, Abiy’s team of armed forces have deprived the Tigrayan civil population of access to water and food, killed animals, burned farm lands, and uprooted fruit trees and gardens. Water tanks and pipelines were fully dismantled and reservoirs were sabotaged using poisonous chemicals.
While cutting off the Tigrayans, food, water, electricity, telephone, and internet access, the team of invaders killed many young and old Tigrayans and raped underage girls, women, and nuns. In addition to bombing a number of historically important monasteries and mosques, Abiy and Isaias’ armed squads looted valuable items from hospitals, restaurants, and educational institutions.
With the support of the National Federal Forces, the Amhara militias claimed to be reacquiring the territories they lost to Tigray in 1991 by not only mercilessly killing, demolishing, chasing away, and uprooting the Tigrayans from their homelands and livelihood, but by also expropriating the productive assets and commercial activities of Tigray.
In short, by violating part of the rules of war of the Geneva Convention, ratified by 196 states to protect civilians (Lu, June 28, 2018), Ethiopia’s National Defense Force (the ENDF), Amhara militia forces, and Isaias’ armed forces mercilessly acted to precipitate environmental and ecological damages on Tigray.
After the mass killing, many of the Tigrays whose lives were spared managed to scatter to other regions, including Sudan. As of today, about 1,800,000 Tigrayans are displaced and face severe shortages of food, water, and medical care (the 117th US Congress 1st Session, 05, 19, 2021). In addition, more than 61,000 Tigray refugees remain settled down in Sudanese refugee camps that are overcrowded and lack sanitation. The refugees face distress, trauma, and exposure to communicable disease such as the coronavirus.
Given the people of Tigray “…are suffering a humanitarian crisis that is entirely man-made,” many international humanitarian groups are attempting to enter the region to deliver relief to save lives and to make the crisis known to the world (Clark, April 11, 2021).
For example, realizing that Abiy is one of the global “war mongers” and may deceptively not allow humanitarian organizations to enter Tigray to relieve the 4.5 million Tigrarus, the United States Ambassador to the UN, the Honorable Linda Thomas-Greenfield, reminded Antonio Guterres (the Secretary General of the United Nations) that his office “…has the mandate and the tools to bring the conflicts and potential starvation in Tigray into the spotlight” (Ethiopian Observer, 2021).
The UN Under-Secretary-General of Affairs, Mark Lowcock, also made it clear to the UN Security Council that Isaias’ forces must be forced to withdraw from Tigray before they continue any more sexual violence, extrajudicial killings, and destruction of Tigray’s historical and developmental infrastructures (Aljazeera, March 5 2021).
In addition, the United States Secretary of State, Anthony Blinken, pressed Ethiopia’s Prime Minister Abiy that Eritrean and Amhara forces be withdrawn from Tigray “…in full, and a verifiable manner” (Reuters, Africa, April 26, 2021).
Given the gravity of the matter, it is sad to note that the Ethiopian government has rejected all offers of mediation by the African Union. Furthermore, it needs to be taken as part of Abiy’s deception that his forces have neither completed nor ceased military operations and neither has he shifted his focus on rebuilding the Tigray region. His statement of providing humanitarian assistance to the people of Tigray is yet unfettered.
Concerned about the ongoing crisis in Tigray, the 97th US Congress has passed the following resolution: “The Government of Ethiopia, the Tigray People’s Liberation Front, and other belligerents in the conflict in Tigray region of Ethiopia need to cease the hostilities, protect human rights, allow unfettered humanitarian access, and cooperate with independent investigations of credible atrocity allegations” (the 117th Congress 1st Session, 05, 19, 2021).
Shattered by the unbearable atrocities, the Tigrayan masses appreciate the immense support given by the US Senate. More particularly the Tigrayans greatly value US Senators calling for 1) the immediate cessation of hostilities in the Tigray Region of Ethiopia, 2) the full withdrawal of Eritrea’s forces from Ethiopia, 3) the cessation of all human rights violations, 4) the condemnation in the strongest terms of murder, looting, rape, and other crimes committed by the Eritrean military, 5) the unfettered and immediate humanitarian access of personnel and supplies, and 6) the convening of a credible and countrywide process of national dialogue and reconciliation of civil society organizations in Ethiopia to work toward a sustainable resolution of grievances and chart a democratic and peaceful future path for Ethiopia.
As stated above, the analysis undertaken by the US Senators is very instructive. With all due respect, however, the US Senators seem to undermine the core factors that have created the big differences between Abiy and the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF). While Abiy has the desire to create a centralized or unitary system of government that controls power over a unitary state, the TPLF supports, since 1995, a federal system of government that calls for the autonomous status of self-governing regions.
With this diametrically opposed stand, on September 9, 2020, the TPLF defied the Ethiopian Government’s position to postpone general elections due to the COVID-19 pandemic and embarked on conducting the peaceful and democratic election of its local leaders. Although Abiy, Isaias, and the Amhara militias have prepared for a long time to attack the TPLF, Abiy used the reasoning of “law and order” to team up with foreign forces and Amhara expansionist militias to annex the people of Tigray. As a footnote, the US Congress needs to underline that, in addition to the TPLF, the Tigray people are also battling Abiy’s and Isaias’ armed forces.
Following his mentor, Isaias, Abiy has aversely failed to honor pledges to withdraw the Amhara militias, fanos, and the Eritrean foreign forces from Tigray. Thus like the European Union, the Biden Administration is weighing economic sanctions (for example, Ethiopia received about $1 billion foreign assistance last year from the US) against Ethiopia. In addition, the US is considering denying Ethiopia access to loans from the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank (Gebre and Marks, May 22, 2021).
Since Abiy has purposely failed to end the various human rights violations and atrocities suffered by the Tigrayans, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, in addition to economic and security assistance and defense trade control, has undertaken Visa restrictions against those “…who have conducted wrongful violence or other abuses against the people of Tigray region of Ethiopia, as well as those who have hindered access of humanitarian assistance to the in the region” (Press Statement, May 23, 2021).
The resolutions passed by 97 US Senators calling for, among other things, humanitarian support to relieve the tyrannized and distressed Tigrayans is the human thing to do. Biden’s decision to implement economic sanctions against Ethiopia has good intentions. Blinken’s imposition of visa and defense trade restrictions is very gracious. But the implementation of Biden’s and Blinken’s proposals by Abiy is very questionable.
However, instead of squarely facing the crisis that he created in Tigray and attempting to peacefully resolve it after the sanctions were imposed on Ethiopia, unashamedly, Abiy has started labeling the United States government as too unseasoned and not worth pursuing its economic and political routes. In addition, Abiy’s kitchen advisor, Andergachew Tsige, has gone one step further to threaten and burn the US flag and storm the US embassy in Addis Ababa (FNN Admin, May 20, 2021).
Generally, the lessons that we can learn from the above is that sanctions may be effective against democratic governments because the pressure can threaten their survival, but sanctions are unlikely to succeed when imposed against leaders who are on the verge of becoming authoritarian. For example, until he got the Nobel Prize, Abiy was a big admirer of economic liberalism. Abiy used to talk very highly of American democracy. Over the last three years, however, Abiy has learned from Isaias that sanctions can dehumanize the ruled subjects but can strengthen the rule of a dictator.
Aljazeera (March 5, 2021). “UN alleges war crimes in Ethiopia’s Tigray, urges Eritrea Exit.” https://www..aljazeera.com/news/2021/3/5/.
Blinken, A. (May 23, 2021). “United States’ Actions to Press for the Resolution of the Crisis in the Tigray Region of Ethiopia.” https://www.state.gov/united-states-action-to-press-for-the-resultion-of-the-crisis-in-the-tigray-region-of-ethiopia/
Clark, H. (April 11, 2021). “Starving Tigray: How Armed Conflict and Mass Atrocities Have Destroyed an Ethiopian Region’s Economy and Food System and Are Threating Famine.” World Peace Foundation. Https://sites,tufts.edu/wpf/starving-tigray/. Cited April 11, 2021.
Ethiopian Observer, (2021). “US Cracks Down on ‘Warmonger’ Who make food a Weapon,” ethioobserver.net/us-cracks-down-on-warmongers-whomake-food-a weapon/
FNN Admin (May 20, 2021). “Oromia Global Forum issues a press release on EZEMA leader Andargachew Tsige’s American Flag burning and Embassy storming threat.” Finefinne News Network. https://fnnmedia.org/blg/2021/5/20.
Gebre, S. and Marks, S. (May 22, 2021). “U.S. Weighs Financial Sanctions Against Ethiopia Over Tigray War.” Bloomberg. Https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2021-05-22/ u-s-weighs-financial-sactions-against-ethiopia-over-tigray-war.
Lu, Joanne (June 28, 2018). “The ‘Rules of War’ Are Being Broken. What Exactly Are They?” https://www.npr.org/sections/goatsandsoda/2018/06/28/621112394/
Reuters (April 26, 2021). “Blinken Presses Ethiopia’s Abiy on Withdrawal of Eritreans from Tigray.” Africa. Https://www.reuters.com/world/africa/blinken-presses-ethiopias-abiy-ensure-full-withdrawal-eritrean-troops-tigray-2021-04-26/
The Senate of the United States (O5,/19/2021). “S. Res.97—117 Congress (2021-2022), A Resolution calling on the Government of Ethiopia…”. Https://www.congress.gov/bill/117th-congress/senate-resoultion/97/text.