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After Ending Ethiopia’s Trade Status, US Weighs Sanctions, Genocide Designation Over Tigray War

Posted by addisethiopia / አዲስ ኢትዮጵያ on November 3, 2021

The Biden administration is ending Ethiopia’s special trade status under U.S. law — the latest penalty imposed on the Ethiopian government amid its ongoing war with the Tigrayan People’s Liberation Front, the regional force that once controlled the federal government.

The decision, announced Tuesday by the White House, comes amid an expansion in the conflict, which has its anniversary Wednesday. The U.S. special envoy for the Horn of Africa warned it could spill out into a wider civil war, threatening even more suffering for the Ethiopian people and more instability in the region.

To halt that expansion and push both sides to negotiate, the administration has prepared targeted U.S. sanctions against figures on all sides, according to two sources familiar with the plans.

The State Department has also prepared a declaration that the Ethiopian government’s atrocities against Tigrayans constitute a genocide, both sources said, although it’s unclear whether Secretary of State Antony Blinken will sign it and when.

While those first sanctions could come soon, it’s the suspension of Ethiopia’s trade status under the African Growth and Opportunity Act on Tuesday that marked a new step. In a message to Congress, President Joe Biden said Ethiopia’s “gross violations of internationally recognized human rights” made it ineligible for AGOA under the law.

The suspension is required under U.S. law, but it is also seen as another warning shot across Abiy’s bow — with a potentially strong economic impact on the country, which exports between $100 million and $200 million to the U.S. each year, according to various estimates.

But it won’t take effect until Jan. 1, 2022, so Ethiopia can still reverse the decision before its implementation, according to Ambassador Jeffrey Feltman, U.S. special envoy for the Horn of Africa.

“It’s not too late to retrace our steps toward the path not taken, but the change in direction must occur in days, not weeks,” he said Tuesday.

Events on the ground, however, show the war is heading in the opposite direction. Abiy’s government declared a national state of emergency Tuesday amid concern that the Tigrayan Defense Forces may move on the capital Addis Ababa after seizing towns just 160 miles to the northeast, according to the Associated Press.

Ethiopia’s Ministry of Trade and Regional Integration criticized the Biden administration’s decision, saying that it was “extremely disappointed” and that the move will “reverse significant economic gains in our country and unfairly impact and harm women and children.”

“We urge the United States to support our ongoing efforts to restore peace and the rule of law — not punish our people for confronting an insurgent force that is attempting to bring down our democratically elected government,” it added in a statement.

But Feltman made clear the U.S. sees Abiy’s government as part of the problem here, in particular because its “unconscionable” blockade on the Tigray region since June has led to shortages of food, medicine, fuel,\ and cash. Some 900,000 people are facing famine-like conditions in the region, according to U.S. estimates.

The United Nations has estimated that 2,000 trucks of aid are needed per month to deal with the humanitarian crisis, but just 1,100 trucks have entered in total since the beginning of July — 13% of what’s required — per Feltman.

“Without question, the most serious obstacles are intentional government delays and denials,” he added during remarks at the U.S. Institute of Peace. “This unfortunately suggests an intentional effort by the authorities to deprive Ethiopians who are suffering of life-saving assistance. … No government should be adopting policies or allowing practices that result in mass starvation of its citizens.”

Feltman was also quick, however, to condemn the TPLF, especially for its “unacceptable” offensives into neighboring Afar and Amhara regions that have worsened the humanitarian situation. He urged them not to march on Addis, too.

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