US Senate unanimously calls for Tigray ceasefire

Resolution passes calling for end to hostilities and withdrawal of Eritrean troops from region

BERLIN, GERMANY - MAY 07: A protester kneels during a demonstration against Ethiopia's war against Tigray regional forces near the Chinese Embassy on May 07, 2021 in Berlin, Germany. The protesters were also demanding the Chinese government stop supporting the Ethiopian government. The Tigray War began in 2020 and is ongoing. (Photo by Sean Gallup/Getty Images)

The US Senate has unanimously passed a non-binding resolution that calls for a ceasefire in Ethiopia’s Tigray region and the full withdrawal of Eritrean troops.

James Risch of Idaho, the top Republican on the Foreign Relations Committee, introduced the resolution, which “calls for the immediate cessation of hostilities in the Tigray region of Ethiopia” and “condemns in the strongest terms all violence against civilians".

The resolution, which was passed Wednesday, also “calls on the government of Eritrea to immediately and fully withdraw its military forces from Ethiopia and condemns in the strongest terms any human rights violations, murder, looting, rape and other crimes committed by the Eritrean military or any other forces in the Tigray region or elsewhere in Ethiopia".

Eritrean forces agreed to withdraw from Tigray in March, but have failed to do so. The resolution refers to credible reports that the country's forces in Tigray have attacked civilians as well as looted and destroyed homes and religious institutions.

Ethiopia has blocked telephone and internet access in Tigray while restricting journalists from entering and has also blocked the UN from providing humanitarian aid.

Congress is also pushing the Biden administration to sanction Ethiopian and Eritrean officials involved in human rights abuses in Tigray under the Global Magnitsky Act.

The Tigray Centre for Information and Communication is also lobbying the White House to levy the sanctions and is asking the House of Representatives to pass a similar resolution.

The centre has hired Karl Von Batten, head of the consulting firm Von Batten-Montague-York, to make its case to the administration of President Joe Biden and to Congress.

"We can't stand by and watch innocent civilians raped, shot and massacred and killed," Mr Von Batten told The National. "This was a vote for humanity and we call on the House to put out its own strong resolution.

“We call on the White House to heed the Senate’s call and place sanctions on the actors, not as a country, but the bad actors who have committed these crimes,” he added.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken, who has said that "ethnic cleansing" is taking place in Tigray, personally called for the withdrawal of Eritrean forces during a phone call with Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed last month.

Multiple sources in Congress have told The National that the Biden administration is reviewing "all options" to respond to the Tigray crisis, including sanctions. However, the State Department has declined to comment on the possibility of enacting sanctions.

Mr Biden's envoy for the Horn of Africa, Jeffrey Feltman, visited the region last week, in part to mediate the Tigray crisis, and briefed the Senate on his trip behind closed doors on Monday.

The Senate is also expected to have Biden administration officials publicly testify on the Tigray conflict next week.

During his trip, Mr Feltman addressed the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam. Egypt and Sudan have objected to the dam, arguing it will restrict their access to Nile River water.

The Senate resolution notes the Tigray conflict “occurs within the context of complicated regional and global dynamics, including ongoing negotiations between Ethiopia, Egypt and Sudan over the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam.”