Merkley Statement on Tigray Crisis in Ethiopia

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Following a new report from Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, Oregon’s U.S. Senator Jeff Merkley—a member of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations—released the following statement regarding the crisis in Ethiopia and the ongoing conflict, famine, and human rights violations, including in the Tigray region:

“The escalating situation is Ethiopia is heartbreaking and deeply concerning. Deadly violence and horrific human rights violations are being committed on a daily basis. Millions of people in northern Ethiopia are in need of food assistance, and an estimated 900,000 in Tigray are already facing famine conditions. Ongoing hostilities are also hindering aid access to a growing number of people in Amhara and Afar.

“I welcome the recent deliveries of food and humanitarian assistance to Tigray, but the fact remains that the current need and suffering there is far greater than the assistance that has been allowed to flow in. I urge the Ethiopian government, in the strongest possible terms, to end its de-facto blockade of Tigray and to reopen roads and air access immediately in order for food, fuel, and other humanitarian aid to reach the areas where it is desperately needed. 

“There is no military solution to this crisis; only a political solution will be durable. I applaud the work of the African Union’s envoy, former President Olusegun Obasanjo, and that of our own envoy Jeffrey Feltman in seeking a negotiated settlement, and I urge all sides to stop the violence and come to the negotiating table so that a peaceful path forward can be reached as soon as possible.

“Tragically, violence continues unabated. The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (UNHCHR) and the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission have found evidence for horrific atrocities. The Ethiopian government and its allied Eritrean and Amhara forces have been the largest perpetrators of atrocities against Tigrayans according to UNHCHR, but Tigrayan forces have also been implicated in atrocities in Amhara and Afar. I am also concerned with reports of violence by security forces against other communities associated with opposition groups, including the horrific killing earlier this month of Oromo traditional leaders at a religious ceremony. The UN has found all parties to the conflict have committed gross human rights violations, and I urge the Ethiopian government, the Tigray People’s Liberation Front, Amhara regional forces, the Oromo Liberation Army, and other parties to the conflict to cease fighting, end all human rights abuses and cooperate with investigations of the violence. At the same time, the international community must cease arms shipments to all sides. 

“The government must also immediately release the estimated 30,000 Ethiopians of Tigrayan descent who appear to have been detained solely based on their ethnicity, including Ethiopian-Americans, and explain their rationale for doing so. In addition, as the second-worst jailer of journalists in sub-Saharan Africa, the Ethiopian government must release detained journalists and end the blackout that has impeded journalists and international observers from fully and independently evaluating the atrocities in Tigray.

“The U.S. must do more to hold the Ethiopian government accountable for its human rights violations and to create pressure for parties to come to the table. That is why I have cosponsored Senator Booker’s amendment calling for a timely U.S. determination on whether war crimes, crimes against humanity, or genocide has been committed. I strongly urge the State Department to release its findings publicly and to do so as soon as possible. I also support the Ethiopia Peace and Democracy Promotion Act of 2021 to give the Biden administration more tools to push for a diplomatic end to the conflict.

“The U.S. has long been a leader for human rights on the global stage. Today, that leadership requires that we not stay silent on the crisis in Ethiopia. While there may be no easy solutions to this conflict, the U.S. must speak out loudly and forcefully against human rights abuses and be honest and unflinching in our assessment of crimes against humanity. I will continue to do all I can to push for an end to the violence and to bring about a future that gives the Ethiopian people the peace and accountability they deserve.”