Tuesday, June 6, 2023 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Blinken: ‘All parties’ committed war crimes in Ethiopian war

Military forces were accused of murder, rape and ethnic cleansing.

WASHINGTON (CN) — The U.S. State Department has accused all sides in Ethiopia’s recent conflict in the Tigray region of war crimes

Secretary of State Anthony Blinken said Monday that the Ethiopian National Defense Forces (ENDF), Eritrean Defense Forces (EDF), Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) and Amhara forces committed war crimes in the two-year conflict.

“Formally recognizing the atrocities committed by all parties is an essential step to achieving a sustainable peace,” Blinken said. “Those most responsible for atrocities, including those in positions of command, must be held accountable.”

While the announcement carries no legal ramifications, it shores up the United States' support of a United Nations probe into war crimes in the conflict that killed thousands and forced more than 2 million people to flee their homes. 

The U.S. has previously sanctioned Eritrea's military and political entities and revoked Ethiopia’s access to the African Growth and Opportunity Act trade program for atrocities in the conflict.

Blinken, who last week visited Ethiopia and met with the government, Tigrayan officials and victims of the conflict, said his determination came after a “careful review of the law and the facts.”

He said the Ethiopian and Eritrean military and Amhara forces committed “murder, rape and other forms of sexual violence, and persecution.” Amhara forces are also accused of forced deportation and ethnic cleansing.

Blinken called for Eritrea and Ethiopia to “ensure comprehensive justice and accountability for those responsible for abuses.”

“These steps — acknowledgment, accountability, and reconciliation — are key to breaking the cycle of ethnic and political violence that has gripped Ethiopia and prevented it from reaching its unlimited potential for too long,” he said. 

The war was an escalation of ongoing tensions in the country that have festered since 2018.

The TPLF was the main force in the coalition that ruled Ethiopia for about 30 years until anti-government protests broke up the party’s rule in 2018. Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed was appointed to break up the domination of the Tigray People’s Liberation Front and reform the political system, but TPLF refused to be part of the new ruling party.

One of Abiy’s first measures was to end a longstanding territorial dispute with Eritrea in the Tigray area in northern Ethiopia, according to the Council on Foreign Relations, which angered officials in the TPLF.

The Covid-19 pandemic delayed national elections in 2020 and Abiy’s term was extended until elections could be held. Officials in Tigray protested and organized their own regional elections and Abiy accused TPLF of raiding military installations.

Abiy sent troops to Tigray in late 2020 to regain control of the region, causing the outbreak of war.

The two sides agreed to a ceasefire in November, with Eritrea withdrawing from the country and the TPLF agreeing to demobilization.

The U.N. is leading an inquiry into atrocities in the war, but the Ethiopian government is reportedly trying to stop the probe. Reuters reported the country is circulating a motion to suspend the investigation.

Categories: Government International Politics

Read the Top 8

Sign up for the Top 8, a roundup of the day's top stories delivered directly to your inbox Monday through Friday.