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News: US announces allocating nearly $2 m to support independent investigations of human rights atrocities as Blinken arrives in Addis Abeba

Secretary Blinken has met with Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs, Demeke Mekonnen this morning. Photo: Ministry of Foreign Affairs Ethiopia

Addis Abeba: The US State Department’s Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor (DRL) has announced the billing of 1.975 million USD to support independent investigations of human rights atrocities and justice and accountability processes for alleged atrocities “committed by all sides” in Ethiopia’s two year war.  

The announcement followed United States (US) Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s arrival in Addis Abeba, Ethiopia late at night on Tuesday to consult implementation of the cessation of hostilities agreement with government officials as a sequel of the US effort to support the peace process and smooth transitional justice after the two-years atrocious war ended last November following the signing of a permanent cessation of hostilities agreement between the federal government and the TPLF in South Africa, Pretoria.

Bilinken’s visit is the first high-ranking visit by a US official to Ethiopia since the outbreak of the war in November 2020, when the US-Ethiopian relationship began to deteriorate due mostly to ,the war’s atrocities against civilians in Tigray, Amhara, and Afar regions and the US’ repeated calls for early cessation of hostilities, which the Ethiopian government rejected for nearly two years.

According to the state department, he will also meet government officials, humanitarian partners, and civil society actors to discuss humanitarian assistance delivery, food security, and human rights.

Earlier, Amnesty International USA urged Blinken put justice and accountability for crimes committed by all parties to the conflict while tailoring human rights issues at the heart of his engagement with Prime Minister Abiy following the announcement of his trip to Ethiopia.

“Failure to do so will send a signal to perpetrators everywhere that the US will not stand up for justice,” said Kate Hixon, Africa Advocacy Director at Amnesty International USA. “Secretary Blinken’s trip will miss a crucial opportunity if he does not put human rights at the heart of his conversation with Prime Minister Abiy.”

The DRL currently programs about 6.65 million USD to advance democracy, respect for human rights, and conflict mitigation in Ethiopia.

The state department’s Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs also gets ahead spending approximately 3 million USD on atrocities response and justice programs in 2023.

“Secretary Blinken’s trip to Ethiopia comes at a critical time in the implementation of the Cessation of Hostilities (CoH) and when the Ethiopian government is actively mobilizing support to terminate the mandate of the International Commission of Human Rights Experts on Ethiopia (ICHREE),” said Kate. “United States and international community engagement remains vital, and it is positive to see the Secretary prioritizing Ethiopia.”

However, it is not clear if the US’ allocation of the fund to support independent investigations will be extended to support ICHREE’s ongoing works.

Last week, a group of 63 worldwide human rights organizations including Human Rights Watch (HRW) and Amnesty International (AI) appealed to the permanent representatives of member and observer states of the United Nations Human Rights Council, on February 28, to reject any resolution forwarded by Ethiopia the mandate of the UN’s International Commission of Human Rights Experts on Ethiopia (ICHREE).

The group’s appeal came in the backdrop of news that Ethiopia has circulated a draft resolution asking for the termination of the rights experts in the country.

“We write to urge your delegations to reject any resolution to prematurely terminate the mandate of ICHREE, and to express your support for the mandate and work of the Commission,” the group’s appeal reads.

Ethiopia’s latest attempt at blocking the ICHREE and its works failed in December last year when its draft resolution requesting the Fifth Committee of the UN General Assembly to not approve any resources was rejected by a vote of 71 against 32 in favor, whereas 50 members states abstained the vote.

It was the second failed attempt by Ethiopia to have UN’s General Assembly defund resources for the UN rights experts who were appointed by the UN to investigate war-related human rights abuses in Ethiopia. After its opposition to the formation of ICHREE, in April last year, the Ethiopian government voted to block the U.N. funding for it, unsuccessfully.

Ethiopia has also asked the United States to support its bid in terminating the mandate.

“Given the failure of the Government of Ethiopia to cooperate with the ICHREE, it is critical that Secretary Blinken make clear US support for the Commission and an expectation that the Government of Ethiopia allow them unfettered access to Tigray, Afar, Amhara, Oromia Regions, and other areas,” added Flavia Mwangovya, Amnesty International’s Deputy Regional Director for campaigns in East Africa, Horn of Africa and the Great Lakes regions. “The United States should not let down victims of gross human rights abuses in Ethiopia, and Secretary Blinken should use this trip as a venue to call for an independent investigation, prosecution, and judicial process.”

Blinken is also expected to meet with African Union Commission Chairperson Moussa Faki Mahamat “to discuss shared global and regional priorities and follow up on commitments from the U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit regarding food security, climate and a just energy transition, the African diaspora, and global health. The Secretary will underscore U.S. support for African permanent representation in multilateral bodies,” the statement said.

The US, largest bilateral donor in Ethiopia, has provided an estimated 3.16 billion USD in humanitarian assistance, since 2020, in response to the conflict as well as an ongoing drought in different parts of the country mainly affecting the southern and eastern parts, said the state department. USAID spent 1 million USD on human rights assistance in 2022. AS

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