Discussions are due to get under way in Brussels today (Monday) which could shape the relations between the EU and the Horn of Africa for years.

Below, Human Rights Watch’s Laetitia Bader lays out what is at stake. The meeting comes after a visit to Eritrea by EU representatives at a higher level than has taken place for years.

It would appear that the EU is attempting a “reset” after abandoning its disastrous road building programme that used National Service conscripts in what amounted to slave labour. The EU promised to end the programme in September 2020.

EU and UK Ambassadors inspect Ethiopia-Eritrea Road, 2020

Today’s Brussels talks have got Ethiopia worried and they mobilised their diaspora, who have appealed to the EU not to increase sanctions against the Addis government.

Twelve Ethiopian Organizations wrote a letter to the European Parliament  objecting to draft resolution (2021/2206 INI). [See below] They rejected the use of “Western Tigray” arguing that it is a Tigrayan term. And they are particularly worried about suggestions that there should be “an urgent deployment of an AU-led international peacekeeping force with a robust civilian protection mandate to Western Tigray,” to help end the war.

Clearly there are major sensitivities for all concerned, but the EU has been silent on the war in Tigray for far too long. Brussels needs to come up with a robust proposal that will support the AU/Kenyan mediation efforts to bring this tragic conflict to an end.  

EU Should Press Ethiopia for Tangible Rights Progress

Government Should Ensure Access to Aid; End Arbitrary Detentions

Laetitia Bader

Laetitia Bader

Tigray crisis
Ethiopians wait for food distribution in a small town north of Mekele, in the Tigray region of northern Ethiopia, May 7, 2021. © 2021 AP Photo/Ben Curtis © 2021 AP Photo/Ben Curtis

The future of European Union engagement in Ethiopia will be high on the agenda of EU foreign ministers gathering next Monday in Brussels. This meeting takes place 19 months into an armed conflict originating in the northern Tigray region that has been devastating for the civilian population.

The Ethiopian government in February lifted a state of emergency used to arbitrarily arrest thousands of Tigrayans, and since April has permitted greater numbers of aid convoys to enter Tigray. Still, abuses and suffering remain rife in northern Ethiopia. For nearly a year, the government has maintained an effective siege of Tigray, limiting food, fuel, and other critical supplies while also shutting off communications, banking, and electricity. While more aid has been allowed in, the amount remains far less than the population’s needs. The lack of drug supplies and services in particular means that people with chronic illnesses, along with survivors of abuses, including wartime sexual violence, do not have essential care.

Human Rights Watch in April released a report with Amnesty International documenting an ethnic cleansing campaign against Tigrayans by officials and security forces from the neighboring Amhara region. While the authorities restrict access to rights monitors and aid agencies, hundreds and perhaps thousands of Tigrayans are arbitrarily detained there in life-threatening conditions.

In a May 26 letter to the EU and member states, Human Rights Watch called for clear human rights benchmarks to underpin relations with the Ethiopian government. These include ending mass arbitrary detentions and allowing independent monitors’ access to detainees, the restoration of basic services, and unhindered and safe humanitarian access throughout conflict-affected areas.

There has been no meaningful accountability for war crimes and other serious abuses committed in Amhara, Tigray, and neighboring Afar regions. Government investigative processes and outcomes lack transparency, and international investigations continue to be hampered.

Federal authorities have for years conducted mass arrests and prolonged arbitrary detentions in Oromia, and have more recently detained thousands in Amhara.

For EU pressure to carry weight, the focus needs to be on ending harm to civilians. Diplomatic engagement and access with Ethiopia’s government should not be an end in itself, but a tool to achieve tangible progress in protecting civilians countrywide.

As the world watches the EU take robust measures against those responsible for war crimes elsewhere in the world, it shouldn’t settle for less in the Horn of Africa.

Ethiopian Organizations Oppose European Union proposed amendment on security policy in the Horn of Africa

June 18, 2022

Ethiopian News _ European Parliament
Organizations that endorsed the letter to the European Parliament


Twelve Ethiopian Organizations wrote a letter to the European Parliament  expressing objection to draft resolution (2021/2206 INI).

They are opposing proposed amendment in Foreign Affairs and security in the Horn of Africa which impacts Ethiopia.

Letter they wrote is featured below : 

To: Honourable David McALLISTER, Chair, Committee on Foreign Affairs (AFET)

Subject:  Foreign Affairs and Security Policy on Horn of Africa Resolution (2021/2206 (INI)).

Dear Sir,

We, the undersigned organizations world wide, with members including Ethiopians and citizens of European and North American countries are writing you to express our objection to the proposed amendments concerning Ethiopia in the Foreign Affairs and Security Policy on the Horn of Africa draft resolution (2021/2206 (INI)). While the proposed amendments cover wide ranging issues of concern to us, we are particularly distressed by amendments 108, 109 and 171. Amendment 109 calls for “an urgent deployment of an AU-led international peacekeeping force with a robust civilian protection mandate to Western Tigray, ….” 

To begin with, amendment 109 uses the term “Western Tigray” whereas the inhabitants of the area call their land Wolqait-Tsegede. Western Tigray is a term stealthily inserted into the lexicon of the conflict in Tigray by the Tigray People Liberation Front (TPLF) to enhance its claim that the area is an integral part of Tigray. In fact, Wolqait-Tsegede was made part of Tigray through illegal incorporation soon after the TPLF took power in 1991, without the consent of the residents who happen to be Amharic speaking. Shortly thereafter, it initially resettled about 70,000 of its demobilized combatants in the area and tens of thousands more during its 27-year control of the country while at the same time evicting Amharic speaking people who call the region their ancestral homeland. 

This arbitrary and unlawful measure of the TPLF did not go unchallenged. For 29 years, the people of Wolqait-Tsegede had been peacefully protesting the decision by petitioning the EPRDF government to undo the illegal incorporation into the regional administration of Tigray. It is, therefore, incredulous that Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch would step into this highly contested issue and echo the TPLF narrative and refer to the area as “Western Tigray,” knowing fully well that there existed no such administrative entity before 1991. 

The use of the term Western Tigray and the call for sending in a so-called peacekeeping force by MEP sponsors of the amendment prima facie is inappropriate in our view, to say the least. First, it amounts to endorsing the politically motivated rebranding of “Wolqait-Tsegede” as “Western Tigray.” The rebranding of the name of the territory is an important first step in the strategy of TPLF and its lobbyists in their desperate effort to implant their false narrative in the international fora. 

Secondly, the call by members of the European Parliament for international intervention in the internal affairs of Ethiopia based on a controversial report, every bit of which bears the hallmarks of TPLF propaganda, seriously compromises the objectivity of the entire debate. 

What is more, the EU is still reluctant to endorse and support the implementation of a joint investigation report covering the same war-torn areas of northern Ethiopia by the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission (EHRC) and the Office of the High Commissioner of Human Rights (OHCHR) of 3rd of November 2021. Yet, Amendment 171 calls for a new international commission of inquiry focusing on what it calls “alleged crimes against humanity and ethnic cleansing” by Amhara forces against Tigrayans. 

The bias of the sponsors of the amendments is obvious. They all appear to endorse the recent Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch reports which employed a much more questionable methodology in its investigations than the report by EHRC and OHCHR. The 27 years of brutal TPLF dictatorship, mass detention, extra judicial killings, human rights violations, and rampant corruption of the TPLF regime are mentioned nowhere in these amendments, let alone sanctioned. 

The Ethiopian Constitution has a legal provision to address internal border disputes and identity issues. The House of Federation, in accordance with Article 48 of the Constitution, is mandated to resolve matters of internal border disputes and identity questions in different parts of the country. It is a common practice for internal border disputes such as the case of Wolqait-Tsegede and Humera and other disputed areas to be taken care of through existing internal administrative/legal mechanisms. Other similar cases in the country have been handled accordingly.  

And finally, it is worth noting that as a backdrop to these resolutions and amendments and calls for intervention in Ethiopia, Ethiopians have begun engaging in an all-inclusive peaceful process they call “national dialogue” to try and reconcile their differences, and usher in an era of peace, development, and national unity. Permanent solution can only be drawn through such domestic legal/traditional means and not by prescribing for a buffer through deploying international peacekeeping force. It is such measures that should be encouraged and supported and not foreign intervention that will exacerbate the situation.

Considering all the above, dear sir, we request that the honorable members of the European Parliament reconsider the amendments they have tabled on the issue of Wolqait-Tsegede in general and refrain from endorsing the decidedly partisan and interventionist view reflected in the joint report by Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch. 

Please accept, Mr. Chairman, the assurances of our highest consideration. For further correspondence, kindly contact Defend Ethiopia Task Force in Belgium at Defeth.be@gmail.com

CC: Members, Foreign Affairs Committee, The European Parliament, The European Council

Initiated by:

  • Defend Ethiopia Task Force in Belgium (DETF-BE)
  • Defend Ethiopia Task Force in Europe (DEFT-EU) organized in Belgium, Czech Republic, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Norway, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, The Netherlands and the United Kingdom 

Endorsed by: 

  • American-Ethiopian Public Affairs Committee (AEPAC
  • Ethio-American Development Council (EADC
  • Ethio-Canadian Network for Advocacy and Support (ECNAS
  • Ethiopian Community in Spain (ECSP
  • Ethio-Czech Community z.s. (ECC)
  • Ethiopian Diaspora Associations in Belgium (EDAB)
  • Ethio-France Association for Development of Ethiopia (EFADE)
  • Ethiopian Forum for Dialogue and Cooperation in Germany (EFDCG)
  • Global Ethiopian Advocacy Network (GLEAN)
  • Network of Ethiopians in Geneva for Action Task Force (NEGAT)
  • United Ethiopian Community Association in South Africa (UECASA)