Ethiopia conflict: Joe Biden signs order authorising sanctions

TPLF rebels

Rebels who are pro-TPLF (Tigray People's Liberation Front), arrive after eight hours of walking in Mekele, the capital of Tigray region, Ethiopia, on June 29, 2021.

Photo credit: Yasuyoshi Chiba | AFP

What you need to know:

  • Biden, whose administration had warned of sanctions before, says the new decision is supposed to unlock humanitarian corridors, which have been blocked or impeded.

US President Joe Biden on Friday signed an executive order that authorises a wide range of sanctions on those responsible for the Ethiopia conflict, if they refuse to choose ceasefire and dialogue.

In the first ever step to punish warmongers in Ethiopia since the conflict began, Biden’s order, which will be implemented if parties don’t sue for peace, said all parties to the conflict will be sanctioned if they violate the peace call.

They include the governments of Ethiopia and Eritrea as well as the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) and the Amhara regional government and forces.

Biden, whose administration had warned of sanctions before, says the new decision is supposed to unlock humanitarian corridors, which have been blocked or impeded. With the order, anyone attacking, looting, obstructing or destroying humanitarian aid and its corridors will be punished.

Biden said he found the situation in Tigray “has been marked by activities that threaten the peace, security, and stability of Ethiopia and the greater Horn of Africa".

In particular, the US President singled out incidences of violence, atrocities and serious human rights abuse, including those involving ethnic-based violence, rape and other forms of gender-based violence, and obstruction of humanitarian operations , which he said “constitute an unusual and extraordinary threat to the national security and foreign policy of the United States".

Ringleaders in focus

The sanction regime will target persons, rather than their organisations, in what is seen as a targeted push to ensure ringleaders choose peace.

Their property in the US will be frozen and they will be barred from getting US visas. Americans will be barred from doing business with anyone sanctioned over the Ethiopia conflict.

In addition, US financial institutions will be barred from advancing credit or buying equity from the person, in what may prevent targeted individuals from disposing off their assets.

Since November last year, the Ethiopian government has been battling the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), once a ruling party but now declared a terrorist group in the country.

Although Addis Ababa has declared it a law enforcement operation, the war has led to a series of atrocities, committed by both sides at different times of the year.

On Thursday, Human Rights Watch said Eritrean and TPLF fighters alternately committed ‘war crimes’ on Eritrean refugees in the country. Other watchdogs like Amnesty International and the UN have acknowledged atrocities and a rising humanitarian crisis.

The order said that while maintaining pressure on those persons responsible for the crisis, “the United States will seek to ensure that appropriate personal remittances to non-blocked persons and humanitarian assistance to at-risk populations can flow to Ethiopia  … through legitimate and transparent channels, including governments, international organisations, and non-profit organizations.”

“The United States supports ongoing international efforts to promote a negotiated ceasefire and political resolution of this crisis, to ensure the withdrawal of Eritrean forces from Ethiopia, and to promote the unity, territorial integrity, and stability of Ethiopia.”

The parties did not immediately respond to the threat of sanctions.