FACT SHEET: Biden-⁠Harris Administration Actions in Response to Ongoing Crisis in Northern Ethiopia

September 17,2021

“My Administration will continue to press for a negotiated ceasefire, an end to abuses of innocent civilians, and humanitarian access to those in need.” 

– President Biden

Today, President Biden is taking further steps to respond to the ongoing conflict in northern Ethiopia.  This conflict has sparked one of the worst humanitarian and human rights crises in the world, with over 5 million people requiring humanitarian assistance and nearly one million living in famine-like conditions.

The parties to the conflict – including Ethiopian National Defense Forces (ENDF), Eritrean Defense Forces (EDF), the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), and Amhara regional forces – have committed human rights abuses against civilians.  There have been widespread reports of armed actors committing brutal acts of murder, rape, and other sexual violence against civilian populations.  The UN Population Fund has estimated that tens of thousands of women and girls in northern Ethiopia will need medical, mental health, psychosocial, and legal services to begin to rebuild their lives following conflict-related sexual and gender-based violence.

Together with allies, partners, and international organizations, the United States calls on all parties to end hostilities, to allow and facilitate unimpeded humanitarian access, to ensure accountability for human rights abuses, and to enter into an inclusive dialogue to preserve the unity of the Ethiopian state.  We also call on the Ethiopian government and the TPLF to begin discussions without preconditions to achieve a negotiated ceasefire and a political resolution of the conflict.  In remarks to the UN Security Council in August, the UN Secretary-General was clear: “All parties must recognize a simple truth: there is no military solution.”

The United States is committed to helping Ethiopia address the ongoing challenges, building on the deep and historic ties between our two countries.  At President Biden’s direction, the United States is actively pursuing measures to promote an end to the fighting, protect human rights, and help meet humanitarian needs:

Sanctioning Those Prolonging the Conflict and Perpetrating Abuses

Today, President Biden signed an Executive Order (E.O.) establishing a new sanctions regime that gives the U.S. Department of the Treasury (Treasury), working with the U.S. Department of State (State), the authority to hold accountable those in the Ethiopian government, the Eritrean government, the TPLF, and the Amhara regional government who are responsible for, or complicit in, prolonging the conflict, obstructing humanitarian access, or preventing a ceasefire.  Treasury is prepared to take action under this E.O. to impose targeted sanctions against those responsible for the ongoing crisis.

While imposing sanctions under this E.O., the United States will take measures to mitigate unintended effects on the people of Ethiopia and the wider region.  The United States will seek to ensure personal remittances to non-sanctioned persons, humanitarian assistance to at-risk populations, and longer-term assistance programs and commercial activities that address basic human needs continue to flow to Ethiopia and the greater Horn of Africa region through legitimate and transparent channels.

This Executive Order follows sanctions and visa restrictions the United States has already imposed.  In August 2021, the Department of Treasury sanctioned General Filipos Woldeyohannes, the Chief of Staff of the Eritrean Defense Forces, pursuant to E.O. 13818, which builds upon and implements the Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act.   In May 2021, Secretary of State Antony Blinken announced a policy under Section 212(a)(3)(C) of the Immigration and Nationality Act imposing visa restrictions on individuals believed to be responsible for, or complicit in, undermining resolution of the crisis in Tigray.

The United States has imposed defense trade restrictions for exports to Ethiopia amid the ongoing conflict and reported human rights abuses.  The United States urges other countries to implement similar measures to stop the flow of weapons to any parties to the conflict and support a negotiated ceasefire.

The actions of those involved in the conflict will determine whether the U.S. government imposes sanctions.  The United States is prepared to impose sanctions if there is not progress toward a resolution of the conflict.  If there is progress, the United States is prepared to work with the international community to mobilize critical assistance for Ethiopia to recover from this conflict, reorganize its significant debt, and revitalize its economy.

Facilitating Ceasefire Negotiations and a Political Resolution of the Conflict

Working with allies and partners, the United States is committed to supporting the Ethiopian government and the TPLF to negotiate a sustainable ceasefire and a peaceful resolution of the conflict.  At the Carbis Bay Summit in June, G7 leaders urged “an immediate cessation of hostilities” and pursuit of a peaceful resolution to the crisis.  In August, a majority of UN Security Council members publicly backed the Secretary-General’s call for the parties to “immediately end hostilities without pre-conditions and seize the opportunity to negotiate a lasting ceasefire.”  More broadly, the United States encourages an inclusive and credible national dialogue in which all Ethiopians have a say in their shared future.

In March 2021, President Biden sent Senator Coons and a high-level delegation to meet with Ethiopian Prime Minister Ahmed Abiy and to offer to help peacefully resolve the conflict.  In April 2021, the Administration appointed Ambassador Jeffrey Feltman as U.S. Special Envoy for the Horn of Africa.  Special Envoy Feltman is leading a diplomatic effort to address the interlinked crises of the region.  To that end, the United States will continue to work closely with our partners in the region, including the chairman of the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD), Abdallah Hamdok, and welcomes the African Union Commission’s appointment of former Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo as its High Representative for the Horn of Africa.

The United States has also provided support for local-level efforts in Ethiopia to promote dialogue and reconciliation across political and ethnic divisions.

Investigating and Documenting Human Rights Abuses

Accountability for atrocities committed during the conflict is necessary for peace and will help deter a recurrence of violence.  The United States is committed to supporting the investigation and documentation of human rights abuses in the ongoing conflict in order to lay the groundwork for future accountability efforts.

The United States has provided financial support for the ongoing joint investigation by the UN Office of the High Commissioner of Human Rights (OHCHR) and the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission.  The United States cosponsored the European Union’s resolution at the UN Human Rights Council in July to strengthen this investigation.  The United States conveyed further support for OHCHR’s work at the Human Rights Council’s Interactive Dialogue on Ethiopia on September 13.

The United States supports the ongoing commission of inquiry by the African Commission of Human and People’s Rights.  The United States is also committed to and planning financial support for a supplemental, third-party-led human rights documentation initiative focused on transitional justice and ensuring accountability for atrocities committed by all parties in the ongoing conflict.

Supporting the People of Ethiopia

Ethiopia has made significant development gains in recent years, but the conflict threatens that progress and the well-being of the Ethiopian people.  The United States has a long record of partnering with the people of Ethiopia to promote development, and while we have imposed restrictions on certain economic and security assistance as a result of the human rights situation, we continue to provide significant aid to the Ethiopian people.  Ethiopia remains one of the largest recipients of U.S. humanitarian and development assistance in the world, spanning areas such as agriculture, health, clean water, food and nutrition security, basic education, and support for women and girls.  This assistance benefits all regions of Ethiopia.

The United States is the single largest single donor of humanitarian aid to Ethiopia, providing nearly $900 million in total humanitarian assistance over the past year.  USAID has provided nearly 65% of all donor contributions to date to the humanitarian response in northern Ethiopia.  In August 2021, USAID Administrator Samantha Power visited Ethiopia and Ethiopian refugee camps in neighboring Sudan and committed to sustain ongoing assistance.

The United States is also committed to helping Ethiopia to address the COVID-19 pandemic.  The United States has provided more than $185 million in COVID-19 related assistance to Ethiopia in addition to the donation of nearly 2 million COVID-19 vaccine doses delivered to date.  This support has included efforts to strengthen local health system capacity for infection prevention control; reduce morbidity and mortality through strengthening COVID-19 case management; accelerate widespread and equitable access to and delivery of safe and effective COVID-19 vaccinations; and mitigate the secondary humanitarian impacts of COVID-19 through emergency food assistance to affected populations.

Listening to and Partnering with U.S. Stakeholders, including Ethiopian American Leaders

The Administration is committed to building upon the deep and historic ties between Ethiopia and the United States.  The United States benefits tremendously from a large and vibrant Ethiopian-American community.  We celebrate the rich contributions that individuals with ties to the Horn of Africa make to all aspects of our nation, including in academia, the arts, business, healthcare, sports, and more.  The Administration is reaching out and creating opportunities for dialogue with Ethiopian-American leaders and stakeholders.  We welcome their unique ideas and contributions to promote understanding and healing across ethnic and political lines as we seek to achieve the shared goal of a united, peaceful Ethiopia.

“The United States has a deep and long-lasting commitment to the people of the Horn of Africa.  We will continue to speak out against violence and inhumane treatment of any group of people, and we will continue our support for addressing humanitarian needs in the region.  We believe Ethiopia, a great and diverse nation, can overcome its current divisions and resolve the ongoing conflict, beginning with a negotiated ceasefire.  Building peace will not be easy, but it can and must begin now with dialogue and by seeking unity in our common humanity.

President Biden, September 10, 2021

###