The US House of Representatives on Thursday passed legislation that would force the Joe Biden administration to determine whether Ethiopia’s and Eritrea’s actions in the Tigray region constitute genocide.
The provision, introduced by Democrat Tom Malinowski, was included as an amendment to the annual defence authorisation bill, which the House passed 316-113.
The Senate has yet to vote on its own version of the defence authorisation bill. But if Mr Malinowski’s provision remains in the final legislation, it would require Secretary of State Antony Blinken to determine whether “actions in the Tigray region of Ethiopia by the Ethiopian and Eritrean armed forces constitute genocide” under US law.
The US legal code defines genocide as “the specific intent to destroy, in whole or in substantial part, a national, ethnic, racial or religious group".
Mr Biden signed a broad executive order last week paving the way for sanctions on actors responsible for human rights atrocities in the Tigray civil war.
The Biden administration has said that it would enact those sanctions on the Ethiopian and Eritrean governments as well as the Amhara Regional Government and the Tigray People’s Liberation Front within a matter of weeks unless the parties agree to a ceasefire.
The US last month sanctioned the chief of staff of the Eritrean defence forces, Filipos Woldeyohannes.
The Biden administration has repeatedly called on Eritrean forces to withdraw from Tigray.
Although Ethiopia has maintained an internet, phone and media blackout in Tigray, witnesses have described widespread human rights abuses, including the displacement and murder of civilians, rape, the destruction of civilian infrastructure and the burning of crops.
Fighters from the Tigray People’s Liberation Front have also retaliated with their own abuses during raids on villages in Amhara, including a massacre this month that killed 120 people.
The conflict broke out last year when Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed launched a military offensive against Tigray with the backing of Eritrean forces and Amhara militias.