November 19, 2020

Cardin, Van Hollen, Senate Democrats Press Pompeo on Conflict in Ethiopia

Senators urge Pompeo to engage with Prime Minister Abiy, express concern over rapidly escalating violence

WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Senator Chris Van Hollen led over fifteen of his Senate colleagues in a letter to U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, expressing their alarm at the ongoing conflict in Ethiopia and urging Pompeo to directly engage with Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed.

“We write to express our alarm at the deteriorating political and humanitarian situation in Ethiopia. The conflict in Tigray poses serious risks to Ethiopia and the broader region. We urge you to engage directly with Prime Minister Abiy and continue pressing all parties to agree to an immediate ceasefire, the de-escalation of tensions, protection of civilians, humanitarian access, and respect for international humanitarian law,” the Senators begin.

They underscore the rapidly deteriorating humanitarian situation, noting, “The conflict has already resulted in hundreds dead and thousands displaced.” And they go on to point to recent remarks by the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, who warned, “there is a risk this situation will spiral totally out of control, leading to heavy casualties and destruction, as well as mass displacement within Ethiopia itself and across borders.”

The Senators outline the devastating toll of the conflict and underscore, “The ongoing violence is precipitating a humanitarian crisis. More than 27,000 refugees have crossed over into Sudan, with as many as 200,000 expected.” They also note, “The conflict poses a direct threat to hundreds of American citizens, journalists, and aid workers in the Tigray region and surrounding areas.”

The Senators close the letter, pressing, “We urge you to engage directly with Prime Minister Abiy and continue pressing all parties to agree to an immediate ceasefire, the de-escalation of tensions, protection of civilians, humanitarian access, and respect for international humanitarian law. Once a ceasefire is achieved, all parties must commit to addressing outstanding grievances through a peaceful dialogue and work to stabilize Ethiopia’s imperiled democratic transition.”

Senator Van Hollen was joined in sending the letter by Senators Cory Booker (D-N.J.), Chris Coons (D-Del.), Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), Tim Kaine (D-Va.), Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Ed Markey (D-Mass.), Mark Warner (D-Va.), Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), Ben Cardin (D-Md.), Jacky Rosen (D-Nev.), Bob Casey (D-Pa.), Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), Michael Bennet (D-Colo.), and Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio).

The full text of the letter is available here and below.

 

Dear Secretary Pompeo:

We write to express our alarm at the deteriorating political and humanitarian situation in Ethiopia. The conflict in Tigray poses serious risks to Ethiopia and the broader region. We urge you to engage directly with Prime Minister Abiy and continue pressing all parties to agree to an immediate ceasefire, the de-escalation of tensions, protection of civilians, humanitarian access, and respect for international humanitarian law.

Tensions between the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) and the federal government, which had been escalating for months, erupted into military confrontation on November 4th, after the government alleged that TPLF fighters attacked an Ethiopian National Defense Forces (ENDF) position in Tigray. The conflict has already resulted in hundreds dead and thousands displaced. Airports and roads have been closed and phone and internet service to the Tigray region has been cut, leaving families disconnected from their loved ones and seriously hampering humanitarian response efforts. There is a shortage of fuel and some shopping and banking services have halted, creating a cash shortage.

On November 13th, the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights warned that “there is a risk this situation will spiral totally out of control, leading to heavy casualties and destruction, as well as mass displacement within Ethiopia itself and across borders.” Reports indicate that bombs have struck non-military targets, including a hydroelectric dam—a charge the government denies. Amnesty International has confirmed that “scores, and likely hundreds, of people were stabbed or hacked to death in Mai-Kadra (May Cadera) town in the South West Zone of Ethiopia’s Tigray Region on the night of 9 November,” a massacre some witnesses attributed to the TPLF, which has denied involvement. A report from Reuters indicates that Ethiopian police visited an office of the United Nations’ World Food Programme (WFP) with a list of purported TPLF operatives embedded with various local and international organizations, raising concerns that ethnic Tigrayans may be targeted by police.

On November 14th, the conflict escalated further as media reported TPLF forces launched at least three rockets into Eritrea, striking the airport in capital of Asmara. The next day, Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Tibor Nagy condemned the attack, describing it as an effort to internationalize the conflict.

The ongoing violence is precipitating a humanitarian crisis. More than 27,000 refugees have crossed over into Sudan, with as many as 200,000 expected. The United Nations is now working with the Government of Sudan to ensure that they are granted refugee status and to establish a new refugee camp to accommodate them. The Sudan Red Crescent Society has deployed medical staff and essential medicines, and is conducting screenings for COVID-19. The U.N. is also working to establish a humanitarian corridor in Ethiopia, but reports suggest that humanitarian access to Tigray is currently constrained, with implications for over 2 million people in need of aid there, including over 90,000 Eritrean refugees. The conflict poses a direct threat to hundreds of American citizens, journalists, and aid workers in the Tigray region and surrounding areas.    

We appreciate your statements calling for de-escalation and the State Department’s responsiveness to inquiries from the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. We understand that the Department is engaged with the Government of Ethiopia, the TPLF, neighboring countries, the African Union, and the United Nations. We urge you to engage directly with Prime Minister Abiy and continue pressing all parties to agree to an immediate ceasefire, the de-escalation of tensions, protection of civilians, humanitarian access, and respect for international humanitarian law. Once a ceasefire is achieved, all parties must commit to addressing outstanding grievances through a peaceful dialogue and work to stabilize Ethiopia’s imperiled democratic transition.

Sincerely,

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