The Senate Foreign Relations Committee voted unanimously on Wednesday on a measure to end all hostilities in the Tigray region of Ethiopia just days after the Biden administration dispatched a high-level envoy to mediate between the parties.
In a voice vote, Republican and Democratic senators on the committee unanimously agreed to Senate Resolution 97, “calling on the government of Ethiopia, the Tigray People's Liberation Front (TPLF) and other belligerents to cease all hostilities, protect human rights, allow unfettered humanitarian access and co-operate with independent investigations of credible atrocity allegations” in the region.
The bill is sponsored by the high-ranking member on the committee, Jim Risch, and has the backing of senior senators from both parties, including Chris Coons, who was sent by the Biden administration to Addis Ababa last weekend to mitigate the crisis.
Ongoing fighting between Ethiopian troops and the TPLF has left more than 50,000 dead, according to Ethiopia’s three opposition parties, and has displaced hundreds of thousands during four months of conflict.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken has referred to acts of “ethnic cleansing” committed during the fighting.
The resolution thanks the government of Sudan for welcoming refugees and calls on “the government of Eritrea to immediately and fully withdraw its military forces from Ethiopia".
Not until this week did Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed Ali admit to the presence of such forces.
The Senate bill also calls on the government in Ethiopia “to ensure that any apprehensions of TPLF members are carried out with the least possible use of force and that the rights to which those detained are entitled under Ethiopian and international law are fully respected".
It also urges all parties to cease hostilities and make demonstrable progress to guarantee unfettered and immediate humanitarian access.
Mr Risch said the broad support for the resolution makes the conflict Tigray a priority for this Senate.
“This resolution sends a bipartisan signal to Ethiopia, our allies and our own government that the withdrawal of Eritrean forces, the cessation of hostilities and getting Ethiopia back on track to achieve a once-in-a-generation democratic transition are priorities for the US Senate.”
Mr Coons called the bill a “step in the right direction".
Mr Blinken announced last week an additional $52 million in US assistance to Tigray, bringing the total US contribution to about $153m.
“The assistance from the American people will enable our international humanitarian partners to help some of the estimated 4.5 million people in need in Tigray and nearly 62,000 refugees who have fled to Sudan,” Mr Blinken said.
In a joint statement, Mr Blinken and EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Joseph Borrell stressed the need for investigating humanitarian abuses.
“They discussed a variety of measures to support unhindered humanitarian access, investigations of human rights violations and abuses, a cessation of hostilities and the immediate withdrawal of Eritrea from Ethiopian territory,” the State Department said.
Doctors Without Borders has spoken of executions and extrajudicial killings in the conflict.
“[There were] extrajudicial killings of at least four men who were dragged off public buses and executed by soldiers while our staff members were present on Tuesday,” the organisation revealed in a statement.