(Addis Ababa) Ethiopian and Eritrean authorities on Tuesday denounced “selective” and “defamatory” US statements accusing their respective armies of war crimes, allied during the two-year conflict in Ethiopia’s Tigray region.
On Monday evening, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, who had just returned from a visit to Ethiopia, accused all belligerents – pro-government forces and rebels alike – of committing war crimes, saying many of these acts were not were neither “random” nor “a by-product of the war”, but “were calculated and deliberate”.
He also accused in particular the Ethiopian federal army and its allies (Eritrean army and forces and militias of the Amhara region) of crimes against humanity – including “murder, rape and other forms of sexual violence and persecution” – without blaming the forces of the rebel authorities in Tigray.
“The government of Ethiopia does not accept the general condemnations contained in this” American declaration and denounces “a unilateral and antagonistic approach […]”, protested its Ministry of Foreign Affairs on Tuesday.
This US statement “is selective because it unfairly distributes responsibility among the parties. For no apparent reason, the United States “appears to exonerate one of the parties from certain charges of human rights violations, such as rape or sexual assault despite clear and overwhelming evidence of his guilt”, he continued, in reference to the forces of the rebel authorities in Tigray.
The rebel authorities in Tigray (north) did not respond to AFP’s requests.
Eritrea, an internationally isolated country ruled with an iron fist since 1991 by Issaias Afeworki, considered that these accusations “not new”, were not based “on any factual and indisputable evidence” and reflected “hostility and demonization unwarranted” and permanent actions by Washington towards him.
Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed sent the federal army to Tigray in November 2020, accusing the regional authorities of the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), which had been contesting his power for several months, of having attacked military bases there.
Mr. Abiy received the Nobel Peace Prize in 2019 for ending 20 years of open or hidden war with Eritrea.
But since the conflict in Tigray, he has gone in the eyes of Washington from the status of a symbol of a new generation of modern African leaders to that of a quasi-pariah.
A peace agreement, signed on November 2, 2022 in Pretoria, put an end to this conflict in Tigray, but Asmara did not participate in the discussions and is not a signatory.
This agreement was negotiated and signed under the aegis of the African Union (AU), but Washington’s influence was crucial with the parties, according to diplomatic sources.
Addis Ababa laments on Tuesday an “unwarranted division of responsibilities” that “undermines US support for an inclusive peace process in Ethiopia” and an “inflammatory statement” likely to “pit communities against each other” in the country.
Visiting Ethiopia on March 15, Mr. Blinken linked the resumption of a greater economic partnership with Addis Ababa, interrupted by the conflict in Tigray, to “reconciliation and accountability” in the atrocities.
Tuesday in Geneva, the UN commission responsible for investigating accusations of repeated human rights violations committed in recent years in Tigray deplored that the Ethiopian government did not allow its investigators to go there.
“The members of the commission visited Addis Ababa in July last year” but since then no dialogue could be established, said the chairman of this group of investigators, Mohamed Chande Othman. “But we keep reaching out to them,” he said.
Ethiopia assured Tuesday that it would “continue to put in place all measures to hold accountable those responsible […] and to ensure that justice is done for all victims”.
The exact toll is difficult to assess, but the United States estimates that some 500,000 people died during the conflict in Tigray, more than since the Russian invasion of Ukraine.