AAA reject’s Blinken’s depiction of Amhara regional forces as external actors acting independent of ENDF

Amhara Association of America rejects Blinken’s depiction of Amhara regional forces as external actors acting independent of Ethiopian National Defense Forces (ENDF). Secretary Blinken’s statement inaccurately depicts Amhara regional forces operating as synchronized units of the Ethiopian military fighting against TPLF as a separate entity in the conflict. Secretary Blinken’s stance on this matter further inflames ethnic tensions and polarization of the country.

Amhara Association of America Response to Secretary Blinken’s May 15, 2021 Statement on the Conflict in Tigray Region of Ethiopia

May 18, 2021

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The Amhara Association of America (AAA) issued the following response to United States Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s May 15, 2021 press statement “Continuing Atrocities and Denial of Humanitarian Access in Ethiopia’s Tigray Region”.

Among other concerns about the humanitarian situation related to the ongoing war in Tigray, Secretary Blinken writes:

The conduct of the Eritrean Defense Forces and Amhara regional forces have been particularly egregious…We equally urge the Government of Ethiopia to withdraw Amhara regional forces from the Tigray region and ensure that effective control of western Tigray is returned to the Transitional Government of Tigray.

AAA feels it necessary to respond to several aspects of Sec. Blinken’s statement, including the political administration of Welkait (“Western Tigray”) and the conduct of armed belligerents in Tigray. In addition, AAA must also address the lack of a comprehensive American policy or concern towards Ethiopia’s internal crises beyond Tigray Region– particularly regarding atrocities committed against ethnic Amharas.

Political Administration of Welkait

Secretary Blinken’s May 15, 2021 statement is not the first time that he has demanded that Amhara regional forces leave Welkait an area TPLF annexed from Gondar Province in the 1980s, but it is the first time that he has explicitly endorsed the political administration of Welkait by the Tigray Region. For multiple reasons, AAA is disappointed by Secretary Blinken’s declaration.

First, the Secretary’s statement negates the fact that Welkait is being administered by people selected from the local population. Secondly, the Secretary’s repeated statements on Welkait betray either an ignorance of, or unwillingness to acknowledge, the numerous human rights abuses against the Amharas of Welkait when it was under the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) control from the late 1980s to November 2020. The full details of this history, which include what AAA believes amounted to acts of ethnic cleansing, can be found in AAA’s March 2, 2021 statement.

For years, Amharas petitioned the TPLF-controlled Tigray Regional Government, the TPLF-dominated federal government of Ethiopia, and international agencies and organizations to address these grievances. While the TPLF’s steadfast refusal to allow for the equal protection of rights in Welkait was no surprise, sadly, the United States showed no interest in investigating or condemning these injustices when the TPLF was in power.

Therefore, the Amhara community in the United States, Ethiopia, and elsewhere interprets Secretary Blinken’s latest pronouncement as an implicit endorsement of the TPLF’s irredentist campaign over the past 30 years to strip Welkait of its Amhara population. While this may not be the Secretary’s intent, his vague statement on Welkait is read that way by millions of Ethiopians who know the history of the land.

AAA finds it particularly insulting that in his pronouncements on Welkait, Secretary Blinken has yet to even acknowledge the November 9, 2020 Mai Kadra Massacre, in which hundreds of mainly ethnic Amharas were reportedly slaughtered by a youth militia and local security forces of the TPLF. By publicly ignoring this atrocity while weighing in on the administration of Welkait, AAA feels that Secretary Blinken and the State Department are presenting a simplistic and historically inaccurate narrative of the area that overlooks decades of suffering of Amharas there. We are concerned Secretary Blinken’s latest comments on Ethiopia’s ethnic border dispute will increase ethnic tensions and add to the polarization of the country.

In addition, while the State Department claims that it only cares about the “humanitarian and human rights situation” regarding Tigray Region, it is not the United States’ prerogative to tell another country how its administrative divisions should be delineated, as Secretary Blinken did in this statement. It is notable that the United States is the only international actor to demand that Welkait be administered by the Tigray Region or weigh in on the topic at all. Arguably, Secretary Blinken’s unilateral pronouncements on Welkait run counter to Article 2(7) of the Charter of the United Nations, barring an Article 39 determination by the United Nations Security Council.

For months, AAA has tried to communicate these concerns to the State Department, but our repeated attempts at outreach have been ignored. As a diaspora organization that speaks on behalf of several hundred thousand Amharas in the United States, AAA calls on the State Department to engage with us in an earnest conversation about the concerns raised in this statement.

While the State Department has no problem presenting the issue of Welkait’s political administration in as simple a way as possible, they cannot ignore the historical and contemporary suffering of the Amhara people who have lived there for centuries. AAA urges Secretary Blinken to endorse a thorough, independent investigation by the United Nations or other appropriate body regarding the demographic history of Welkait prior to its takeover by the TPLF, along with the treatment of the Amhara population there from 1991–2020. Such an investigation should then be used by the Government of Ethiopia to inform the ongoing deliberations in Ethiopia on how to respond to the Welkait Amharas’ decades-old quest for respect of their Amhara identity, justice, and self-rule.

Conduct of Armed Belligerents in the Conflict

While AAA finds Ethiopia’s military response to the TPLF’s November 4, 2020 attacks on the Northern Command justified and necessary, that cannot give the Ethiopian forces and Eritrean Defense Forces (EDF) cart blanche to violate the human rights of Tigrayan civilians. As we wrote in our March 2, 2021 public statement :

AAA, its members, and its broader support base vehemently oppose any actions — either in isolated incidents or as part of a systematic campaign — that harm or threaten to harm Ethiopian civilians of any ethnic background. As Amharas have recently suffered multiple, targeted ethnic massacres in Mai Kadra, Oromia, Metekel, and Guraferda, we would never wish a similar fate upon any other group. We condemn any actions by military forces or militias that have resulted in injured or killed civilians, stolen or damaged property, or expulsion from homes.

In the following weeks, several reports from humanitarian organizations on the ground and journalists have documented continued atrocities against civilians in Tigray Region by both Ethiopian forces and the EDF. These recent reports by human rights organizations — including the EHRC — and multiple media outlets on the massacres of unarmed Tigrayan civilians, including in churches, should horrify all Ethiopians, regardless of ethnicity or religion. AAA condemns these alleged atrocities by both Ethiopian forces and the EDF, along with the widespread accounts of abhorrent sexual violence against Tigrayan women, the blocking of humanitarian aid distribution, and the looting of civilians’ property, among other human rights abuses and atrocities.

Some of the reports from humanitarian organizations on the ground and journalists accused Amhara regional forces being involved in the mass displacement of ethnic Tigrayans from Welkait. Tigrayans claim that Amhara forces subjected them to violence, persecution, and looting of properties to pressure them into fleeing eastward. Some Tigrayan women also report sexual violence and rape at the hands of Amhara fighters in Welkait, and reporting that Amhara regional forces have blocked the distribution of humanitarian aid to Tigrayans. AAA recognizes that the historical ethnic cleansing, violence, discrimination, and persecution against Amharas from Welkait by the TPLF cannot be avenged by a contemporary violation of rights of Tigrayans who live there now. Once again, we reiterate our forceful condemnation of atrocities committed against Tigrayan civilians and anyone in Ethiopia. AAA unequivocally joins Secretary Blinken in calling for accountability for all crimes against civilians in Ethiopia, including in Tigray Region.

However, AAA reject’s Blinken’s depiction of Amhara regional forces as external actors acting independent of Ethiopian National Defense Forces (ENDF). Secretary Blinken’s statement inaccurately depicts Amhara regional forces operating as synchronized units of the Ethiopian military fighting against TPLF as a separate entity in the conflict. Secretary Blinken’s stance on this matter further inflames ethnic tensions and polarization of the country.

We are also concerned that the State Department has not called out the TPLF’s continuing conduct that violates international humanitarian norms and the law of war. This includes the TPLF’s recent attack in the Wag Hemra Zone of the Amhara Region that killed multiple civilians. We call on Secretary Blinken to condemn the TPLF for its attack against civilians and the November 4, 2020 attacks on the ENDF, urge the TPLF to cease its armed resistance, and to allow full humanitarian access to Tigrayans in the areas it controls.

Again, we call on all belligerents to abide by international humanitarian norms and the law of war, allow full, unfettered access to humanitarian assistance by the international community, and permit independent media access and ground investigations of all alleged atrocities by the appropriate international bodies. As an important step towards the goal of accountability and bring the perpetrators to justice, AAA supports the joint UN-Ethiopian Human Rights Commission (EHRC) investigation of all reported human rights abuses, including those perpetrated by the TPLF. We also support the recent call by the US Senate Foreign Affairs Committee to extend the UN-EHRC joint investigation to other regions particularly in Oromia and Benishangul Gumuz regions where we have extensively documented crimes against humanity and ethnic cleansing against Amharas.

The United States’ Unwillingness to Acknowledge the Ethnic Cleansing of Amharas Across Ethiopia

AAA estimates that from June 29, 2020 to April 30, 2021, a minimum of 1,998 Amhara civilians were slaughtered in dozens of attacks across the country, and a minimum of 800,000 Amharas were internally displaced or sought refuge in Sudan due to these massacres.

For months, AAA has regularly informed Members of Congress about the ongoing ethnic cleansing of Amhara civilians in multiple parts of Ethiopia. This advocacy has borne success with recent public actions, such as the joint letter from five Democratic Senators and the joint statement from the bipartisan leaders of the House Foreign Affairs Committee.

Unfortunately, to this day neither Secretary Blinken, the United States Embassy in Addis Ababa, the United States Ambassador to the United Nations, nor any other relevant American official have commented on these atrocities beyond a couple of vague, short statements acknowledging “ethnic tensions” in the country. Our attempts to discuss this crisis, along with other severe human rights issues occurring outside the Tigray Region for other Ethiopians, with relevant officials at the State Department have been met with silence.

While it may not be Secretary Blinken’s intent, the continued ignoring of atrocities against Amharas within and outside Tigray Region leaves AAA with the impression that Amhara lives do not matter to the State Department. This is bolstered by the repeated pronouncements about Amhara regional forces in Welkait — the only context the State Department has even said the word “Amhara.”

Therefore, AAA calls on the State Department to acknowledge and condemn the human rights atrocities that have been committed against Amharas, including in Mai Kadra, since last summer. We also urge the State Department to support comprehensive, independent human rights investigations in all areas of Ethiopia where Amharas have been targeted for slaughter, along with conflict zones for Ethiopia’s other ethnic groups.

AAA welcomes the opportunity to discuss these issues further with Secretary Blinken or other relevant officials at the State Department. Finally, AAA supports calls for an inclusive, national dialogue representing all of Ethiopia’s ethnic and religious communities to discuss common ground for systemic reforms to the country’s ethnic-based governing institutions. We feel these institutions and the governing philosophy of ethnic federalism are at the heart of the multiple crises facing Ethiopia.

Media Contact: Tewodrose (Ted) Tirfe, Chairman, Amhara Association of America info@amharaamerica.org

About AAA: The Amhara Association of America (AAA) is a nonprofit organization that represents the Ethiopian Amhara diaspora in the United States. Visit www.amharaamerica.org for more information.

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Minilik Salsawi

I AM PROUD TO BE ETHIOPIAN ! ኢትዮጵያዊ በመሆኔ እኮራለሁ !Human Rights Activist and Mereja Media Online Journalist and Blogger. https://minilik-salsawi.blogspot.com