President Biden signed an executive order Friday authorizing the Treasury and State departments to sanction government officials involved in the ongoing conflict in Ethiopia amid reports of atrocities in the country’s Tigray region.
The executive order does not immediately sanction any person or government entity but rather grants U.S. agencies the ability to quickly impose penalties. Mr. Biden is hopeful that the threat of sanctions will cause Ethiopian leaders to reverse course and seek a peaceful political solution to the conflict devastating the region.
The executive order enables the U.S. to act swiftly if the parties don’t seek a diplomatic solution and a cease-fire. Steps the parties could take to avoid sanctions include accepting the African-union negotiation efforts, designating a negotiation team to resolve the dispute, allowing humanitarian aid convoys into the region, or restoring electricity and other basic needs in Tigray.
Also on Friday, the Treasury Department issued new rules to make it easier for humanitarian assistance including food, medicine and medical devices to arrive in Tigray.
The Ethiopian government and Eritrean government forces have been battling the Tigray’s People’s Liberation Front since last November in the North Ethiopia region.
The Tigray region borders Eritrea.
It is estimated that more than 52,000 people have died in the conflict with thousands more suffering.
“The ongoing conflict in northern Ethiopia is a tragedy causing immense human suffering and threatens the unity of the Ethiopian state,” Mr. Biden said in a statement.
“Nearly one million people are living in famine-like conditions, and millions more face acute food insecurity as a direct consequence of the violence. Humanitarian workers have been blocked, harassed, and killed. I am appalled by the reports of mass murder, rape, and other sexual violence to terrorize civilian populations.”
Mr. Biden also emphasized that the sanctions were not directed against the people of Ethiopia but rather individuals perpetrating the violence and humanitarian crisis. He said the U.S. will continue to provide Ethiopia with humanitarian assistance.
“The United States remains committed to supporting the people of Ethiopia and to strengthening the historic ties between our countries,” the statement continued.
More than 5 million Ethiopians need humanitarian aid, and 900,000 are living in famine conditions in the Tigray region, the White House said. Less than 10% of humanitarian supplies have reached those impacted by the conflict, while the rest has been diverted.
A human rights report accused Eritrea forces and Tigray rebels of killing and raping refugees in the Tigray.
In May, the Biden administration restricted visas on current Ethiopian and Eritrean officials in an effort to encourage a political solution to the violence.