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WP | Starvation Has Become a Weapon Of War in Ethiopia. U.S. Action Is Urgent

Posted by addisethiopia / አዲስ ኢትዮጵያ on June 15, 2021

💭 Ethiopia: Hunger + Pandemic + Sex ‘Used as Weapons of War’ in #TigrayGenocide

FOR MONTHS humanitarian agencies have been warning that famine could spread in the Ethiopian region of Tigray if government forces and allied troops from neighboring Eritrea did not end a brutal campaign to subjugate the area. Now that emergency has arrived. U.N. agencies reported last week that more than 350,000 of Tigray’s 6 million people are living in famine conditions, and 2 million more are at risk. Some 140,000 of those facing starvation are children, according to UNICEF, which says 33,000 are at imminent risk of death.

This humanitarian catastrophe, which U.N. officials say could rival the epic Ethiopian famine of 1984 if not arrested, is a deliberate result of the military campaign waged in Tigray since late last year by the government of Abiy Ahmed and the allied Eritrean regime of Isaias Afwerki. According to U.S. and U.N. officials and press reporting, the forces of the two governments have burned farmers’ fields and stores and slaughtered or stolen livestock. They have also systematically blocked aid deliveries to the parts of Tigray not under government control. Eritrean forces, the U.N. humanitarian coordinator Mark Lowcock said last week, are “trying to deal with the Tigrayan population by starving them.” Food, he told the Reuters news agency, “is definitely being used as a weapon of war.”

Forced starvation of children is only the latest atrocity Ethiopian and Eritrean forces have resorted to in what, so far, has been a failed effort to crush the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), which has controlled the region for decades and dominated Ethiopia’s government until Mr. Abiy came to power in 2018. The United Nations has also reported mass rapes of women, massacres of civilians, and ethnic cleansing. More than 2 million people have fled their homes, leaving their fields behind. Tigrayan men are being rounded up and summarily executed.

The United States and other Western governments have attempted in vain to stop this scorched-earth assault. Secretary of State Antony Blinken began publicly demanding the withdrawal of Eritrean and Ethiopian militia forces from Tigray soon after taking office; Sen. Christopher A. Coons (D-Del.), a confidant of President Biden, was sent to lobby the Ethiopian ruler. Last month, Mr. Blinken announced visa sanctions against Ethiopian and Eritrean officials involved in abuses or the blocking of food aid. The European Union and United States have suspended hundreds of millions of dollars in aid.

None of it has worked. Mr. Abiy promised in March that Eritrean troops would leave Tigray, but they are still there. So are Amhara militias from a neighboring Ethiopian region that have engaged in ethnic cleansing as well as blocking food. Journalists reporting on the atrocities have been arrested or expelled from the country. Meanwhile, China and Russia have blocked action by the U.N. Security Council, which — to its shame — has yet to publicly meet on the Tigrayan crisis.

The U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, is among those warning of another massive Ethiopian famine. “We cannot make the same mistake twice,” she said last week. “We cannot let Ethiopia starve.” Mr. Blinken pledged “further actions from the United States” if “those responsible” for the crisis did not “reverse course.” Though Ethiopia has been a valuable U.S. ally, the Biden administration now has no choice but to take that action.


Ethiopia, Human Rights, and The Internet

No African issue has absorbed as much time in the early months of the Biden administration as has the ongoing—and avoidable—tragedy in Ethiopia’s Tigray province. President Biden was forceful and correct in calling for an end to the “large-scale human rights abuses” occurring in Tigray, including the widespread sexual violence and the need for Eritrean and Amhara forces to withdraw from the province. Now, the administration is stuck in the tough position of considering sanctions that would cut off funding to the country from the U.S., its allies, and the multilaterals, which could risk further delegitimizing and destabilizing an already fragile government.

Nonetheless, the decision to impose visa restrictions on Ethiopian and Eritrean officials who are responsible for the atrocities in Tigray is an appropriate action, and a watershed given Ethiopia’s long-standing role as a key regional ally. There is clearly scope for ratcheting up the sanctions if Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, who won the Nobel Peace prize in 2019, does not deescalate the conflict and follow through on his commitments to senior American officials, including Senator Chris Coons and Special Envoy Jeffery Feltman.

A next step could be along the lines recently advocated during Congressional testimony by John Prendergast, the human rights activist and co-founder of the Sentry, in which he called for carefully targeted Magnitsky sanctions. Such sanctions would include asset freezes on Ethiopian and Eritrean officials and their national and international networks through which they perpetuate the conflict and benefit personally.

The principal dilemma for the Biden administration is how to mobilize pressure on Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed to induce him to end the conflict and the suffering without turning Ethiopia—the largest recipient of American development assistance in sub-Saharan Africa—into a pariah nation.


In addition to the visa sanctions, the administration has shown a willingness to walk a diplomatic tightrope of pressuring the Ahmed government, reportedly imposing cuts in security and economic assistance and extending $350 million in food aid in hopes of fending off starvation in Tigray.

Perhaps the most difficult decision facing the administration is whether it should cancel a $500 million investment that the board of the U.S. Development Finance Corporation (USDFC) approved in January that enabled the Vodafone Group Plc to win a new mobile-phone license issued by the Ethiopian government last month. It would be a mistake for the Biden administration to cancel this financing.

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