On May 24th, 2020, the Foreign Ministry of Ethiopia announced that it would “be forced to reassess its relations with the United States, which might have implications beyond our bilateral relationship.” Al Jazeera reports that this is in response to the United States announcing restrictions on Ethiopian and Eritrean officials as the conflict in the region of Tigray is unchanging without an end in sight. According to NPR, this conflict has taken thousands of lives and displaced at least a million people. While it has been hard for humanitarian organizations to get closer to the conflict, they know that there is a humanitarian crisis in the region and possible war crimes have been committed.
The United States stands firm on the necessity of ending the humanitarian crisis in Tigray, as Antony Blinken says, “People in Tigray continue to suffer human rights violations, abuses, and atrocities, and urgently needed humanitarian relief is being blocked by the Ethiopian and Eritrean militaries as well as other armed actors.” The United States has also put in place visa restrictions for Ethiopian and Eritrean officials to try and help end hostilities taking place in Tigray. According to Al Jazeera, the European Union has also suspended budget support payments, calling for change with the United States. These restrictions have angered Ethiopia as the central government denies wrongdoing and shifts blame, saying, “What is even more saddening is the tendency by the US administration to treat the Ethiopian government on an equal footing with the TPLF, which was designated as a terrorist organization … two weeks ago.”
The conflict in Tigray is a humanitarian crisis that does not seem to be going away without international pressure. As reported by Al Jazeera, there has been a huge amount of killings of civilians and reports of gang rapes. Ethiopia is denying these claims but these injustices could result in the ethnic cleansing of Tigrayans. Because of the unchanging nature of this conflict, pressure from international organizations like the EU as well as powerful countries like the United States seems necessary. While this will by no means solve the conflict in Tigray, international pressure and attention towards the region could create change as Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed will want to maintain legitimacy and stay in power. While it is important to not create too much international hostility and potentially make the conflict worse, creating sanctions and publicly denouncing the actions of the current government may prove to be the most direct and effective course of action.
The current regional unrest in Ethiopia came to a head when Abiy Ahmed became Prime Minister of Ethiopia in 2018. The different ethnic groups within Ethiopia have long created tensions when forming government coalitions. The New York Times reports that “Ethiopia’s two biggest ethnic groups, the Oromo and the Amhara, make up more than 60 percent of the population, while Tigrayans, the third-largest, is just 6 to 7 percent.” The Tigray People’s Liberation Front headed Ethiopia’s rebel coalition that was in charge of the central government from 1991 to 2012. While the country flourished economically during this time, the New York Times says “the government systematically repressed political opponents and curtailed free speech, and torture was commonplace in government detention centers.” The current government is killing famous TPLF figures with the help of their neighboring country, Eritrea. The New York Times reports that Eritrean soldiers will dress up as Ethiopian soldiers and commit atrocities in Tigray. These reports are what have led to the international denunciation of Ethiopia’s current government.
This conflict proves to be a huge humanitarian crisis, only made worse by the involvement of the Eritrean soldiers. According to Al Jazeera, Ethiopia has felt the mounting pressure from the EU and the United States to hold the people at the heart of these atrocities accountable, as well as remove Eritrean soldiers from the area. That being said, the international community has yet to see a lessening of conflict in Tigray, and the Ethiopian government has only proven to be angry with the sanctions currently in place without implementing change. Moving forward, it is important to continue to put international humanitarian pressure on Ethiopia to call for a peaceful end to conflict and to hold responsible parties accountable for the war crimes and humanitarian injustices that have been committed.