EU top diplomat Josep Borrell criticised EU member states on Monday (13 December) for failing to agree on sanctions against those suspected of war crimes in Ethiopia’s civil war, expressing frustration over Europe’s failure to give an effective policy response to “large scale human rights violations” there.
The EU’s response to the civil war in Ethiopia was “one of my biggest frustrations” of the year, said Borrell, the EU’s foreign affairs high representative. He said the EU had not been able to stop “mass rapes using sexual violence as a war aim, killings and concentration camps based on ethnic belonging,” pointing to the lack of unanimity among EU governments.
It is understood that Germany is one of the leading countries reluctant to impose sanctions, though Borrell told reporters that “many countries felt that it (sanctions) wasn’t an adequate solution.”
While the Biden administration in the United States has imposed sanctions under its human rights Magnitsky Act, the EU has not followed suit beyond freezing $107 million in budget support to Ethiopia.
Last month, EU officials told EURACTIV that sanctions were being discussed within the context of the bloc’s Human Rights Sanctions regime, but little progress has been made.
In the meantime, the EU has continued to supply humanitarian aid, despite continued difficulties in aid reaching those in need. Aid experts in Ethiopia say that only around 10% of aid reaches those who need it most.
Borrell acknowledged that while sanctions would not have halted the conflict, they “would have, in my view, influenced the behaviour of the actors.”
Alongside multiple reports of human rights abuses by both sides in the conflict, the fighting has had devastating humanitarian consequences. According to the UN’s World Food Programme, more than 400,000 people are estimated to be living in famine conditions in Tigray. Around 9.4 million people in Ethiopia are now in dire need of food aid, it said.
The war has derailed the economic and political reform agenda, which had earned wide international praise to Ethiopia’s Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed.
The civil war started last November when federal forces entered the country’s northern province after rebels from the Tigrayan People’s Liberation Front launched an attack on a government military base.
The Abiy government subsequently cracked down mercilessly on the insurgents and ignored all demands by the international community for a ceasefire and peace settlement with the TPLF. Instead, Abiy has stated that nothing short of total military victory will be sufficient.
African Union mediator Olesegun Obasanjo and Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta have been leading regional efforts to broker peace.
Earlier this week, local media reported that TPLF forces had retaken the historic town of Lalibela, in the neighbouring Amhara province, though government forces are also reported to have recaptured towns in Tigray in recent weeks.
Slovenia, in its capacity as head of the EU’s Council presidency, on Monday requested a special session of the UN Human Rights Council on the situation in Ethiopia.
More than 50 countries supported the call, Slovenia’s Permanent Mission to the UN Office in Geneva announced.
The United Nations Human Rights Council will hold a special session on Friday on the “grave” situation in Ethiopia at the request of the EU, according to a UN statement issued on Monday.
The Ethiopian government has reacted furiously to the calling of the special session, and described it as an “unjust and counterproductive attempt by some to exert political pressure”.
The UN Council had ignored calls to investigate human rights violations and atrocities by the TPLF in Amhara and Afar province, said Ethiopia’s foreign ministry.
[Edited by Frédéric Simon]