U.S. determines all sides committed war crimes in Ethiopia conflict

U.S. Secretary of State Blinken visits Ethiopia
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By Daphne Psaledakis and Simon Lewis

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -The United States has determined that all sides committed war crimes during the conflict in northern Ethiopia that killed tens of thousands of people, left hundreds of thousands facing hunger and displaced millions, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on Monday.

Blinken said that after a careful review of the law and facts, the State Department determined that members of the Ethiopian National Defense Force (ENDF), Eritrean Defense Force, forces loyal to the Tigray People's Liberation Front (TPLF) and regional forces from Amhara committed war crimes during the conflict.

Members of the ENDF, Eritrean forces, and Amhara forces also committed crimes against humanity, Blinken told reporters, including murder, rape and other forms of sexual violence and persecution.

Members of the Amhara forces committed the crime against humanity of deportation or forcible transfer and committed ethnic cleansing through their treatment of Tigrayans in western Tigray, Blinken said.

The determination comes after the top U.S. diplomat's trip to Ethiopia last week, where Blinken praised progress in implementing a peace deal in the country but stopped short of re-admitting it to a U.S. trade program.

The Ethiopian government and forces from Tigray signed a ceasefire in November, ending the conflict.

Ethiopian government spokesperson Legesse Tulu did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Blinken's remarks. Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed's spokesperson Billene Seyoum also did not respond to requests for comment.

Additionally, Ethiopian Army spokesperson Colonel Getnet Adane, Eritrean Information Minister Yemane Gebremeskel, TPLF official Getachew Reda, and Amhara regional government spokesperson Gizachew Muluneh did not respond to requests for comment.

Blinken said he discussed with both sides in his meetings in Addis Ababa last week that there must be acknowledgement for the atrocities committed by all parties, as well as accountability.

"The conflict in northern Ethiopia was devastating. Men, women and children were killed. Women and girls were subject to horrific forms of sexual violence. Thousands were forcibly displaced from their homes. Entire communities were specifically targeted based on their ethnicity. Many of these actions were not random or a mere byproduct of war - they were calculated and deliberate," Blinken said.

"In terms of what happens next in Ethiopia, including what process they establish to provide for justice, for accountability, we'll see. I don't think that's been determined," he said.

Human rights violations by all sides, including extra-judicial killings, rapes, looting and displacing people by force, have been documented by U.N. bodies, Ethiopia's state-appointed human rights commission, independent aid groups and media including Reuters. All sides have denied the allegations.

The United States was outspoken in its criticism of alleged atrocities by Ethiopian forces and their allies from Eritrea and the Amhara region during the Tigray war.

When presented with allegations of human rights violations, Ethiopia - Africa's second most populous nation and traditionally a U.S. ally in East Africa - has traditionally responded by accusing Washington of meddling in its internal affairs and threatening to reassess the bilateral relationship.

(Reporting by Daphne Psaledakis, Simon Lewis and Susan Heavey in Washington and Hereward Holland and Giulia Paravicini in Nairobi; Editing by Andrea Ricci)