News: Blinken trades carefully on Ethiopia war atrocities extent; optimistic on peace, drop in rights abuses

Secretary Blinken meeting Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed during which they discussed the “progress in implementing the Cessation of Hostilities Agreement and the need for accountability to reach a durable peace.” Photo: Blinken/Twitter

Addis Abeba – In his press engagement in Addis Abeba on Wednesday after a marathon of meetings with high level Ethiopian officials, including Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken traded his words carefully on delving the thorny issue of the extent of atrocities inflicted on civilians during Ethiopia’s two years war, which started in the Tigray region in November 2020.

His emphasis was rather on his optimism that the Pretoria Permanent Cessation of Hostilities Agreement (CoHA) was contributing to a decline in these atrocities, and further remarked that both parties to the agreement “acknowledged the atrocities committed and the devastating impact that they’ve had.”

Testifying before Congress in March 2021, Blinken became the first high ranking US official to acknowledge and condemn what happened in Western Tigray, which is still under the control of forces from neighboring Amhara region, constituted an act of “ethnic cleansing.” His remarks confirmed several other reports by international media and human rights organizations made before and after his testimony to the Congress, and were reaffirmed by the State Department itself a year later in April 2022 in which the State Department acknowledged ajoint report by Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International.

Fast forward, citing three U.S. officials “familiar with the matter”, Foreign Policy magazine published a report shortly before Blinken’s travel to Ethiopia that “the State Department drafted a declaration in 2021 that the Ethiopian government’s atrocities in Tigray constituted a genocide… but it never released the declaration.”  

During his press engagement on Wednesday, Addis Standard asked Secretary Blinken on why the report was shelved and if there was any plan to release it to the public.

The US has “regularly spoken out about human rights violations and abuses committed against civilians and has called for accountability for those responsible,” Blinken said, without addressing the question directly, and “a year ago I addressed this myself when I said that all parties to the conflict had committed atrocities.”

Blinken expressed his optimism that the reports “we have including just today from experts in the field show a very significant drop in human rights violations in Tigray. That’s significant and important, but obviously we want to see it get to – as in anyplace else – get to zero and that all parties remain committed to not engaging in any kind of abuse.”

He also pinned his hopes on “the commitment that exists to a process of transitional justice, and that includes both reconciliation and accountability” in post-Pretoria/ “What I heard today from everyone I spoke to was a commitment to that process. So we will be watching that as it moves forward, and this is something, again, that’s vital not just for us or for any other country. It’s first and foremost vital to all Ethiopians, because having that kind of transitional justice, building reconciliation, though, and building accountability, is the only way, in our judgment, to make sure that the peace that’s been achieved in Tigray is sustained. Getting at grievances, getting to justice, bringing people together – that is the way to make sure that peace lasts and that people can move on with their lives and the country can really move forward.”

During his visit, Secretary Blinken also met with the signatories of the Pretoria CoHA, Redwan Hussein, National Security Advisor to Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, and Getachew Reda, TPLF’s Spokesperson and Advisor to the regional leader Debretsion Gebremichael (PhD).

Despite progress in the areas of “silencing of the guns, delivery of humanitarian assistance, restoration of services as well as the disarmament of Tigrayan heavy weapons and significant withdrawal of Eritrean forces,” the signatories “acknowledged much work remains to fully implement the COHA and to ensure a lasting peace,” according to the official readout.

He nonetheless took the opportunity during his press engagement to “commend” both Prime Minister Abiy and the Ethiopian federal government, and Tigrayan regional leaders “for reaching this agreement and the significant progress in delivering on their commitments. These efforts have created the foundation to rebuild the communities that have suffered so in Tigray, Amhara, and the Afar regions. They need the help and support,” he said. AS

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