US and allies call on Ethiopia to release detained Tigrayans

The US and five allies say international monitors must be allowed 'unhindered' access to ethnic Tigrayans in detention

Members of the Ethiopian National Defence Force (ENDF) transport a Saeer KS-19 automatic 100mm anti-aircraft gun in Shewa Robit, Ethiopia, on Sunday. AFP
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The United States and five of its allies called on Ethiopia on Monday to release ethnic Tigrayans that Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s government has detained amid advances from the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) on Addis Ababa.

Washington joined Canada, Britain, the Netherlands, Denmark and Australia in a statement noting that the six countries are "profoundly concerned by recent reports of the Ethiopian government’s detention of large numbers of Ethiopian citizens on the basis of their ethnicity and without charge."

The state of emergency Mr Abiy declared last month is “no justification for the mass detention of individuals from certain ethnic groups," the statement noted, calling for “unhindered and timely access by international monitors.”

Mr Abiy declared the state of emergency after the TPLF joined several other militias to make advances on Addis Ababa.

The prime minister, who won the 2019 Nobel Peace Prize, has since appeared on the front lines of the conflict.

The joint statement pointed to reports from Addis Ababa’s own Ethiopian Human Rights Commission as well as independent watchdog Amnesty International documenting “widespread arrests of ethnic Tigrayans, including Orthodox priests, older people and mothers with children” being held without trial in “inhumane" conditions.

A US official noted last month that some of the detainees include US-Ethiopian dual nationals.

Washington has sought to bring the Ethiopian government and the TPLF to the negotiating table as the Tigray conflict spills over to the rest of the country and threatens the capital.

President Joe Biden's administration has gone so far as to halt a legal review into whether human rights abuses in Tigray amount to a genocide in the hopes of persuading Mr Abiy’s government to start talks.

However, the Biden administration has also announced Ethiopia’s expulsion from the African Growth and Opportunity Act, which provides eligible countries with duty-free access to the US market, citing human rights atrocities.

The US has also sanctioned some Eritrean military officials who oversee forces backing Ethiopian troops in the conflict.

Monday's statement also voiced “grave concern” over human rights abuses from all sides of the conflict, noting that “all parties must comply with their obligations under international humanitarian law."

Amnesty International has documented sexual violence and civilian casualties in Tigray at the hands of Ethiopian forces and their allies.

The human rights organisation has also documented similar human rights abuses against civilians in neighbouring Amhara at the hands of the TPLF.

Ethiopia has cut internet, phone and media access in Tigray since the conflict erupted last year while reportedly complicating or halting the delivery of humanitarian aid to the war-torn region.

Witnesses have described widespread human rights abuses in Tigray, including the displacement and murder of civilians, gang rapes, the destruction of civilian infrastructure and the burning of crops.

The UN World Food Programme on Monday noted that its $579 million funding shortfall is “threatening its ability to meet the critical food and nutrition needs of millions of food insecure Ethiopians and refugees.”

The agency said it requires $316 million “to deliver emergency food and nutrition assistance to 3.7 million people in Northern Ethiopia over the next six months.”

Updated: December 06, 2021, 3:27 PM