Blinken described the two-year war in Ethiopia’s Tigray region as a “devastating” conflict that generated widespread killing, sexual violence and displacement. “Many of these actions were not random or a mere byproduct of war,” he told reporters at the State Department. “They were calculated and deliberate.”
The State Department’s finding on the conflict, which culminated in a peace deal in November, includes an assessment that Ethiopian and Eritrean troops, along with rebel Tigray forces and Ethiopian regional forces fighting in support of the federal government, had committed war crimes.
It also says that Ethiopian, Eritrean and the regional Amhara forces committed crimes against humanity, including rape and murder. The regional Amhara forces also forcibly deported people from parts of Tigray and were responsible for acts of ethnic cleansing, the State Department said.
Blinken said last year’s agreement had already saved countless lives. “But that doesn’t erase what happened over the last two years, which is why it is so important that we get this transitional justice process moving and that there is accountability as well as reconciliation,” he said.
The announcement comes shortly after Blinken visited Addis Ababa, Ethiopia’s capital, where he pressed for accountability measures and for full implementation of the truce deal during talks with Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed and Tigrayan leaders. Ethiopia, which has the second-largest population in Africa and is a key contributor for peacekeeping missions, has long been an important regional partner for the United States.
The Biden administration is moving cautiously as it seeks to repair strains with Ethiopia caused when, during the conflict, U.S. officials denounced alleged abuses by government fighters and their Eritrean allies, and Ethiopian officials warned Washington to stay out of internal affairs. The United States has not yet restored the country’s participation in a preferential trade pact after its suspension over alleged abuses during the war.
Asked whether the United States might someday assess that genocide had occurred during the conflict, a State Department official said that this week’s finding “in no way precludes a future determination if new information becomes available.” The official spoke on the condition of anonymity to speak freely.
Sen. James E. Risch (R-Idaho), the top Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said the Ethiopia determination was long overdue. “The rhetoric of this administration’s supposed ‘human rights first foreign policy’ continues to lack the action that would demonstrate its reality,” he said in a statement
Beyond Ethiopia, Blinken pointed to an array of global abuses that he said amounted to a “backsliding in human rights conditions.” He named Iran’s crackdown on protesters and China’s treatment of minority Uyghurs, which the United States has deemed genocide, and its repression of political freedoms.
Rights advocates welcomed the report but said the Biden administration, which has promised to put human rights at the core of its foreign policy, must do more to close the gap between words and practice.
Nicole Widdersheim, deputy Washington director at Human Rights Watch, said the annual reports represented a valuable “cataloguing” of problematic behavior worldwide. “But they often don’t match policymaking,” she said.
Advocates say the Biden administration has sometimes subordinated human rights to security and economic concerns, and at times failed to sufficiently press allies on repression or other abuses. That criticism was particularly acute last year when Biden made a controversial visit to Saudi Arabia, which has a long track record of repression and whose de facto leader was blamed by U.S. intelligence agencies for the killing of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi. That visit underscored the tension between the administration’s human rights agenda and concerns about increasing competition with China and Russia.
Widdersheim cited the report’s references to alleged abuses by security forces in Egypt, which — despite a decision to withhold a portion of annual security aid — still receives huge amounts of military assistance from the United States.
Blinken defended the administration’s approach and said that officials must take other American priorities into account when shaping relations with foreign countries.
“We’re not pulling our punches with anyone, as we call things as we see them,” he said. “Human rights is a central interest of ours. It’s not the only one, and my responsibility is to make sure that we’re doing our best to advance all of our interests however we can.”
Asked about the situation for women and girls in Afghanistan following the U.S. withdrawal in 2021, Blinken said the Taliban government’s steps to restrict freedoms were deplorable, but provided no hint of what new actions the United States might take in response.
“To the extent the Taliban’s looking for more normal relations with countries around the world, that will not happen so long as they continue to advance these repressive edicts against women and girls,” he said.
Katharine Houreld in Nairobi and John Hudson in Washington contributed to this report.
*This story has not been edited by The Infallible staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.