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Congressional Republicans Call on Biden Administration to Act Swiftly on Ethiopia Crisis

Lawmakers call for diplomatic pressure to stop bloodshed in Tigray

and • February 3, 2021 4:40 pm

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Republicans are calling on the Biden administration to help put an end to a humanitarian and security crisis that has left thousands dead in Ethiopia.

Congressional Republicans, led by Senate Foreign Relations Committee ranking member Jim Risch (R., Idaho) and House Foreign Affairs Committee ranking member Michael McCaul (R., Texas), said that President Joe Biden must act to alleviate the human rights crisis emerging in Tigray, an embattled region in northern Ethiopia. McCaul said Biden must "demand accountability" from the Ethiopian government, which has allegedly committed crimes against humanity amid a regional communications blackout.

"We still do not know the full extent of atrocities committed against civilians in Tigray, and the conflict has resulted in a staggering humanitarian crisis," McCaul said. "We must demand accountability, elevate our diplomatic engagement with the government of Ethiopia, and work with our allies and partners to prevent further destabilization in the region."

The conflict between the Ethiopian government and Tigray's leadership turned violent after local leaders refused to join Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed's Prosperity Party. Ahmed deployed the army into the region in November. Thousands of people are estimated dead after violent clashes between regional forces and Ethiopian troops reportedly aided by Somalia and Eritrea. Millions more may die of starvation as the region faces a food shortage. Despite a media blackout, videos showing alleged massacres in Tigray's capital are circulating online.

Neither the State Department nor the White House returned requests for comment. The Biden administration has expended little visible effort on the crisis beyond a State Department press release that called for increased aid to Tigray and urged for an end to the violence. 

Activists and lawmakers say that Biden must do more than issue public statements to address the bloodshed. The United States has been a key financial partner to Ethiopia for decades, shelling out $1 billion in foreign aid in 2020 alone. Sen. Risch said the White House will find strong bipartisan support in a sharply divided Congress if the administration moves forward with a diplomatic effort to put a stop to the siege in Tigray.

"We encourage [the Biden White House] to continue to push Ethiopian officials to abandon efforts that further the conflict and stoke tensions in the region," Risch said. "There is much bipartisan, bicameral support for such efforts. … Ethiopia's federal government needs to engage in a comprehensive and inclusive national dialogue with the many different political and ethnic factions in Ethiopia."

Ethiopia, one of Africa's most populous countries, is vital to ensuring regional stability. Another Republican aide said the Tigray crisis could soon spill out across East Africa if the Biden administration does not act. Ethiopian troops are a major partner of American forces on regional counterterrorism operations. The outbreak of internal conflict has led Ethiopian military leaders to alleviate pressure on al Shabaab, a growing jihadist organization in East Africa.

"Anyone who watches the region knows that such a conflict would have a reverberating effect," the aide said. "Once that balance gets tipped out of space, then everything starts to fall apart. … That's a problem for the United States, that’s a problem for Western interests."

Emily Estelle, a research fellow at the American Enterprise Institute’s Critical Threats Project, said an uptick in terrorist activities in a country already consumed by internal conflict could spell disaster. 

"The likelihood of continued fighting in that region is high. … The fighting in Ethiopia is having an effect on the counter al Shabaab fight in Somalia," Estelle said. "The United States is in a bit of a tricky position diplomatically."

A Republican committee staffer also spoke forcefully about the growing problems Biden faces with human rights and terrorism.

"Any kind of further withdrawal of partner forces would empower and embolden al Shabaab," the staffer told the Free Beacon. "I think it's a perfect storm of events that could have serious consequences."

The Ethiopian embassy did not return a request for comment.