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US Threatens Sanctions Against Officials in Tigray Conflict

September 17, 2021 by Daniel Mollenkamp
An unidentified armed militia fighter walks down a path as villagers flee with their belongings in the other direction, near the village of Chenna Teklehaymanot, in the Amhara region of northern Ethiopia Thursday, Sept. 9, 2021. (AP Photo)

The United States has threatened to issue new sanctions against members of the Tigray conflict in northwestern Ethiopia. 

The conflict, which has continued to deteriorate the stability of the region, has grown since last November. White House officials have said that the parties to the conflict have resisted steps to broker peace negotiations and that they are actively stymieing humanitarian aid.

President Joe Biden signed an executive order authorizing the sanctions this week, and government officials have warned that without ceasefire negotiations, a stop to the human rights abuses, and access for humanitarian workers to provide aid, the sanctions will be put in place “imminently.”

The sanctions, which include financial and visa sanctions, are broad. They would potentially cut across the parties of the conflict in Tigray, including Ethiopia, Eritrea, Tigray People’s Liberation Front, and the Amhara regional government. They would target individual leaders involved in the conflict which the U.S. government says are hindering peace, and has threatened to designate specific leaders, organizations, and entities, although the U.S. hasn’t yet named names. 

These aren’t the first sanctions related to this conflict. In May, visa restrictions were enacted. In August, the U.S. sanctioned the chief of staff of the Eritrean Defense Forces, General Filipos Woldeyohannes, according to materials from the White House. America also has trade restrictions in place related to defense in the region. 

In a speech explaining the sanctions, Biden also called on Eritrean forces to leave Ethiopia, and the U.S. has called for the unconditional beginning of ceasefire negotiations between Ethiopia and the TPFA mediated by the African Union. 

Senior White House officials have said that if the parties to the conflict do this they can avoid the sanctions and the U.S. will “mobilize assistance for Ethiopia to recover and revitalize its economy.”

New sanctions would allow the U.S. to go after the parties responsible for blocking humanitarian aid to civilians in the region, as well as those undermining the ceasefire negotiations, a note from the State Department said.

U.S. officials have stressed that the sanctions are not aimed at the Ethiopian people and that it will not affect U.S.-aid into the region. 

The conflict has taken an immense toll on civilians.

Sexual violence has been a particular concern, as well as blockage of aid to civilians in the conflict areas.

Prepared statements from the White House released Friday emphasized the murder, rape, and brutality targeted at civilians, and it also described the situation as “one of the worst humanitarian and human rights crises in the world,” though officials have so far stopped short of labeling the actions war crimes like Laetitia Bader, Horn of Africa director at Human Rights Watch, the human rights-focused nonprofit, has.

“Over 5 million people require humanitarian assistance, and up to 900,000 are already living in famine conditions in the Tigray region alone, more than anywhere else in the world today,” a senior White House official said during a press briefing. 

“Less than 10 percent of the needed humanitarian supplies, however, have reached the Tigray region over the past month due to obstruction of aid access,” that official added.

No medicine or fuel has been delivered to Tigray since Aug.16th, according to U.S. officials.

U.S. Agency for International Development Administrator Samantha Power went to Ethiopia in August and reported back that hundreds of thousands were in danger of starving. The United Nations Children’s Fund, UNICEF, estimated that as many as 100,000 children were perilously close to starving to death. 

Comments from the White House said that the U.S. is engaged with Abdallah Hamdok, chairman of the Intergovernmental Authority on Development, and former Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo, who has been named as African Union Commission’s High Representative for the Horn of Africa.

The Biden administration appointed Jeffrey Feltman, who’s leading American efforts at ceasefire negotiations, as the special envoy to the Horn of Africa in April. 

UN Secretary General António Guterres has also decried the unfolding tragedy, saying that it endangered the country’s future and that it is “tearing apart the social fabric of the country.”

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