Date: Tuesday, 21 September 2021
U•S• sets stage for more sanctions in Ethiopian conflict David H. Shinn Non-resident Scholar September 21, 2021 President Joe Biden declared on Sept. 17 an “extraordinary threat to the national security and foreign policy of the United States,” proclaimed a national emergency, and then announced in an executive order the groundwork for imposing sanctions on certain persons with respect to the humanitarian crisis in Ethiopia. The comprehensive executive order does not impose sanctions, but it sets forth the legal basis for doing so in the future on parties that engage in a variety of actions such as obstructing humanitarian access in northern Ethiopia or committing violence against civilians. The order applies to persons associated with the government of Ethiopia, the government of Eritrea or its ruling People’s Front for Democracy and Justice, the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), the Amhara regional government, or the Amhara regional or irregular forces. The action puts all actors involved in the northern Ethiopia conflict on notice that they can expect to be targeted individually with financial and visa sanctions should they violate any of the conditions spelled out in the executive order. While some will read the order as weighing more heavily on persons affiliated with the Ethiopian and Eritrean governments, it clearly includes the TPLF, whose followers in the United States or those wishing to visit the United States could be significantly impacted. It is not directed at the people of Ethiopia or Eritrea, but rather individuals and organizations causing violence and exacerbating the humanitarian crisis. Ethiopia’s Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed responded the same day in an open letter to President Biden. The thrust of his argument is that Ethiopia has declared the TPLF to be a terrorist organization and it remains unanswered why the U.S. “administration has not taken a strong position against the TPLF.” While the U.S. government has not agreed that the TPLF is a terrorist organization, it did include its followers as subject to these sanctions. The prime minister’s open letter also omits the fact that the TPLF was the most powerful political party in the umbrella Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF), which ruled the country from 1991 until 2018. The entire international community recognized the EPRDF as the legitimate government of Ethiopia.