US expresses 'grave concern' over harrowing reports of atrocities in Ethiopia

US expresses 'grave concern' over harrowing reports of atrocities in Ethiopia
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White House national security adviser Jake SullivanJake SullivanSunday shows preview: Democrats' struggle for voting rights bill comes to a head Canadian foreign minister to visit Kyiv next week to deter 'aggressive actions' by Russia US intelligence says Russia has prepared a false-flag operation to invade Ukraine MORE spoke with Ethiopia’s deputy prime minister on Thursday and expressed “grave concern” over the growing humanitarian and human rights crisis in the country.

The call came after a disturbing report by The Associated Press and warnings by the United Nations that a campaign of rape and murder is being carried out against the Tigrayan people by military forces from the Amhara state of Ethiopia and neighboring Eritrea.

Sullivan spoke with Ethiopian Deputy Prime Minister Demeke Mekonnen and discussed “critical steps to address the crisis, including expanded humanitarian access, cessation of hostilities, departure of foreign troops, and independent investigations into atrocities and human rights violations,” National Security Council spokesperson Emily Horne said in a statement.

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“Mr. Sullivan stressed that the United States is ready to help Ethiopia address the crisis, building on our longstanding bilateral partnership and friendship.”

The Associated Press on Wednesday published a report detailing dozens of accounts by Tigrayan refugees who described rapes, beatings, gunshot wounds and seeing dozens of corpses suggesting a massacre.

Last month, the deputy U.N. aid coordinator in Ethiopia, Wafaa Said, said five medical facilities in the region had reported at least 516 rape cases, a number she said likely underrepresented the overall number because of the stigma associated with rape and a destruction of health facilities, Reuters reported.

The AP’s report on Wednesday also said Tigrayan refugees have had their ethnic identities erased from newly issued identity cards, in what the news agency said was evidence of a concerted effort by the Ethiopian government to erase their ethnic identity.

Secretary of State Antony BlinkenAntony BlinkenChina launches cooperation deal with Iran, rebukes US unilateral sanctions Putin's 'Brezhnev Doctrine' involving Ukraine could backfire Biden faces down Putin MORE has used the term “ethnic cleansing” to describe what is happening in Tigray, a serious charge that describes the forced expulsion of a population through violence, killings and rapes. He has also called for the withdrawal of Eritrean troops from the country.

The administration previously dispatched Sen. Chris CoonsChris Andrew CoonsDemocrats' filibuster gambit unravels Sen. Rob Portman announces positive COVID-19 test Ukraine president, US lawmakers huddle amid tensions with Russia MORE (D-Del.), a senior member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, to Ethiopia to carry a personal message from President BidenJoe BidenSunday shows preview: Democrats' struggle for voting rights bill comes to a head David Weil: Wrong man, wrong place, wrong time  Biden's voting rights gamble prompts second-guessing MORE to Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, Nobel Peace Prize winner, to address the reports of atrocities.

The U.S. has had diplomatic relations with Ethiopia for more than a century. It is the second most populous country in Africa and receives one of the “largest and most complex assistance programs,” according to the State Department.

Administration officials have focused on the humanitarian crisis and allegations of human rights atrocities in the country since Biden took office.

The conflict occurring in the north of Ethiopia began in November, with government forces instituting a brutal crackdown in the Tigray region after Tigrayan officials sought to hold their own elections after national polls were delayed.

The Ethiopian government has admitted to Eritrean forces being present in the north and has committed to investigating allegations of atrocities but has criticized such reporting as “slanted” that “portray the federal government as the instigator of all crimes.”

In a lengthy statement from the Ethiopian foreign ministry responding to Wednesday’s report by the AP, the government called the Tigray People’s Liberation Front, a political opposition party, a “criminal enterprise” that is “armed to its teeth.”

The violence occurring in the region is further being exacerbated by a critical lack of essential services. The U.S. announced last month it was committing an additional $52 million to aid the humanitarian crisis, providing “lifesaving protection, shelter, essential health care, emergency food aid, water, sanitation, and hygiene services.” That is on top of approximately $100 million provided at the outset of the conflict.