On 24 May 2021 the US Department of State announced a visa restriction policy on four parties stated to have allegedly conducted wrongful violence and abuses and hindered access to humanitarian assistance to the Tigray region. The sanction levies restrictions on visa issuance for any current or former Ethiopian or Eritrean government officials, members of the security forces, Amhara regional forces and members of the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF). The statement issued by the state department indicated that the visa restriction will also be applied to immediate family members.
The state department warned those parties that the US may take further actions and called for other countries to follow the same suit to stop the parties from aggravating the humanitarian crisis in Tigray.
The US government demands from the government of Ethiopia and other parties holding accountable to those who committed violations and atrocities, ensure unfettered humanitarian access, protect civilians, and end hostilities and pursue peaceful resolutions. It also urged the Eritrean government to immediately withdraw its forces from the regional state.
Citing the reluctance of all parties to respond to the call, the state department said that the US government has imposed wide-ranging restrictions on economic and security assistance to Ethiopia. However, the US government did not announce the details of the economic sanctions and the list of individuals who will fall under the visa restriction.
The statement also asserted that the US government would impose defense trade control policy and will continue its existing restrictions.
War broke out in Ethiopia’s Tigray regional state seven months ago between the federal government and the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF)-led armed forces. The federal government controlled major areas of the Tigray region and killed and arrested senior civil and military leaders of TPLF and its forces. However, crises loomed in the regional state.
The sanctions came after a series of pressures and cessation of hostilities calls from the international community and the US government regarding the Tigray armed conflict and following crises.
The United Nations Security Council (UNSC) held four sessions regarding the armed conflict that is followed by humanitarian crises and human rights abuses crisis in Ethiopia’s Tigray region. It has been issuing ‘statements of deep concerns about the humanitarian and security crisis. On April 22, 2021 the UNSC called for a scaled-up humanitarian response and unfettered humanitarian access and for a continuation of the international relief effort and investigations into allegations of violence.
The US government has been issuing statements regarding humanitarian and security concerns in the Tigray region. The United States State Department has been calling for the ‘immediate withdrawal of Eritrean forces and Amhara regional forces’ from Tigray and cessation of hostilities by all parties to the conflict, and a commitment to permit unhindered humanitarian access. But Ethiopia refused the call saying the acts of ethnic cleansing and involvement of foreign forces in the ongoing military operation are ungrounded allegations.
On 18 March 2021, the US State Department issued a press statement by Antony Blinken, US state secretary. It provided an additional 52 million US dollars in assistance to respond to the humanitarian crisis in Tigray. The state secretary also called for the cessation of hostilities, withdrawal of Eritrean and deployed Amhara regional forces, and the need for accountability for human rights abuses and atrocities by all parties such as Ethiopian National Defense Forces, Tigray People’s Liberation Front forces, Eritrea Defense Forces, and Amhara regional special forces.
On 19 May 2021, the US Senate endorsed a resolution that calls on the Ethiopian government, the TPLF, and other involved parties in the conflict in Tigray to cease all hostilities, protect human rights, allow unfettered humanitarian access, and cooperate with independent investigations of credible atrocity allegations.
The US government stopped aid to Ethiopia due to differences over the water filling of the Great Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) during the Trump administration last year. The security and development aid halt imposed last August was about 272 million dollars.
The new Biden administration reversed the decision and delinked the suspension from the GERD issue. However, the US government didn’t completely pause the previous sanction and stated last February that it has attached it to the crisis in Tigray. The US State Department notified that the resumption of the assistance will be assessed on a number of factors and development regarding humanitarian improvements in Ethiopia’s Tigray regional state.
On 24 May 2021, the Ethiopian Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MoFA) issued a statement expressing its disappointment by the US State Department decision to impose a visa restriction.
The MoFA threatened that if the US government continues the interference and meddling in Ethiopia’s internal affairs, Ethiopia will be obliged to reassess its relations with the US which might have implications beyond the two countries’ bilateral relationship.
On May 26, 2021, US president Biden urged in a press statement that belligerents of the Tigray armed conflict should wage and adhere to a ceasefire.
Following the visa restrictions, rallies across Ethiopia and abroad such as in Norway, Italy, and Canada have been held opposing the decision of the US government. The demonstrators showed their support to China and Russia by coming with pictures of Chinese President Xi Jinping and Russian President Vladimir Putin. Asked if the visa restrictions and diplomatic pressure from the US could push Ethiopia toward the East, Dina Mufti stated that the Ethiopian government wants to improve and have a good relationship with any country.
John Inhofe, Oklahoma senator who has opposed the visa restrictions, arrived in Ethiopia early this week for a visit and met and held discussions with Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed (PhD), Foreign Affairs and Deputy Prime minister Demeke Mekonnen, and Tagese Chafo, House of People’s Representatives speaker.
On June 02, 2021, Dina Mufti, MoFA spokesperson said in a weekly press brief that efforts are being made to improve the deterioration of relations with the US. “We hope it [the deteriorating relationship] will change,” he said.
Note: Our effort to get comments and further clarifications from the US Embassy in Addis Ababa bore no fruit.
Fact Checked by: Hagos Gebreamlak
Edited by: Fasika Tadesse