WASHINGTON – The United States said it “strongly supports democratization in Ethiopia” as it nears a national election June 5, while noting a “free, fair, and credible election” can happen only with a conducive electoral environment.
The statement comes amid a humanitarian crisis and conflict in Ethiopia’s northern Tigray region. U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken had pressed for Ethiopia’s and Eritrea’s commitments to withdraw Eritrean troops from Tigray “immediately, in full, and in a verifiable manner.”Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed said in late March that Eritrea had agreed to withdraw its forces from Tigray. Abiy Ahmed then traveled to Eritrea and met with President Isaias Afwerki, but despite assurances from Abiy that Eritrea would withdraw U.S. officials said there is no evidence to date that such a withdrawal has occurred.
Ethiopia has struggled to prepare for the June 5 general elections because of difficulties in registering voters. The general elections have been delayed since August because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Administrative elections for the cities of Addis Ababa and Dire Dawa are scheduled for June 12.
“If that (a conducive electoral environment) is to be achieved, the government of Ethiopia must respect the freedom of assembly, the freedom of speech, political participation, and access to internet and information,” said State Department spokesperson Ned Price Monday during a briefing. “Political parties, we know, should discourage violence, and state security forces must demonstrate restraint in the use of force and partisan tactics.”
“We’re also working closely with international partners to promote community-based dialogue to minimize violence surrounding the elections,” Price added, in response to questions posed by VOA.
The State Department did not say whether it believes the elections will go forward as planned under the circumstances.
Former U.S. Ambassador to Ethiopia David Shinn told VOA it is not possible to have an election in the Tigray region, adding “there are some real concerns as to the viability of an election on June 5th” in Ethiopia, outside of Tigray.
The unrest and restrictions on outside observers have led some to question the electoral process. On May 3, the European Union High Representative Josep Borrell issued a statement announcing the cancellation of an election observation mission to Ethiopia. Borrell cited disagreement “on key parameters” for an EU Electoral Observation Mission. “As conditions are not fulfilled, the deployment of the mission has to be cancelled,” the statement added.
On Monday, a bipartisan U.S. congressional statement expressed deep concerns for the continued presence of Eritrean forces in Tigray.
“The only viable path toward a durable cessation of hostilities and inclusive political dialogue will not be found through military action. The continued presence of Eritrean forces, who have been credibly implicated in gross violations of human rights in Tigray, is a major impediment to resolving this conflict,” said congressmen Gregory Meeks, the chairman of House Committee on Foreign Affairs, and Michael McCaul, the ranking member of the committee.
The U.S. will continue to pause non-humanitarian assistance to Ethiopia to pressure Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s government to do more to end atrocities in Tigray. But the State Department will continue other humanitarian aid to the country.
“As we consider our aid to Ethiopia, we want to make sure that in the first instance, we’re not doing anything that would place a further burden on the people of Tigray, who are in such humanitarian plight,” said Price.
“We want to make sure that as we consider any future steps that we continue to do all we can to support them,” he added.
The Tigray crisis was among issues discussed at last week’s G-7 foreign ministerial meetings in London.
In a communique, foreign ministers called on “all parties to cease hostilities immediately, ensure the protection of civilians and respect human rights and international law as well as media freedom and access, and hold those responsible for human rights violations and abuses, including sexual violence, accountable.”