Prof. Ann Fitz-Gerald Describes HR 6600 and S.3199 Draft Bills as Large and Brutal

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March 25/2022 /ENA/ The Ethiopian News Agency (ENA) raised questions to Professor Ann Fitz-Gerald regarding the draft HR 6600 and S.3199 bills on Ethiopia.

She is the Director of the Balsillie School of International Affairs and a Professor in Wilfrid Laurier University’s Political Science Department.

Prof. Fitz-Gerald noted that the evidence-based analysis underpinning the Bills remains flawed and skewed in favour of one party to the conflict. The following is the full text of the interview:   

ENA: How do you see the impact of HR 6600 and S.3199 in affecting the relations between Ethiopia and US?

Prof. Ann Fitz-Gerald: I see the impact of HR 6600 and S.3199 certainly affecting the relations between Ethiopia and the US. Good relationships and partnerships are all about two-way cooperation, predictability and trust. 

Of course, relationships can incur setbacks, but the diplomatic nature of bilateral relationships offers many different mechanisms, and skilled leadership, to work through setbacks, as and when they occur…of course, if the setback is not beyond repair. 

That the relationship between Ethiopia and US had broken down over the last 18 months is not in dispute.  This notwithstanding, there has been communication by both countries that demonstrate a commitment towards improving the relationship and working together. 

And whereas there have definitely been some signs of more recent two-way cooperation between the two countries – with some further injections of US funding to support different regional states and institutions – there are still some very large and brutal ‘sticks’ with perhaps less ‘carrots’ in sight.

And, in relation to the challenges that the US has taken issue to, these ‘sticks’ appear to be being applied in a somewhat uneven way with no sanctions, or even a threat of a sanction, lodged at the feet of the group who initiated, expanded and prolonged the conflict—for [TPLF] has re-invaded and re-occupied 5 districts in Afar.

These ‘sticks’ are not only the two Bills you cite, but also the cessation of Ethiopia’s membership in AGOA.  These are debilitating measures for the country which will only hurt those at the bottom of the food chain. 

Sanctions will also adversely affect regions which have already been hit very hard by conflict, including Tigray, Afar and Amhara.  As sanctions impact on the extent to which a country can source spare parts and foundational material for building infrastructure, reviving the education and health sector, and other critical services, will be very challenging under sanctions. 

There is also an implication that those who may step in to support Ethiopia under sanction will be punished by the US and therefore deterred from providing such support. The restrictions may put limitations on the ease with which diaspora funds can enter into the economy – a critical pipeline of hard currency for the country which will impact on foreign direct investment. 

Sanctions will also adversely affect regions which have already been hit very hard by conflict, including Tigray, Afar and Amhara.  As sanctions impact on the extent to which a country can source spare parts and foundational material for building infrastructure, reviving the education and health sector, and other critical services, will be very challenging under sanctions. 

There is also an implication that those who may step in to support Ethiopia under sanction will be punished by the US and therefore deterred from providing such support. The restrictions may put limitations on the ease with which diaspora funds can enter into the economy – a critical pipeline of hard currency for the country which will impact on foreign direct investment. 

The sanctions also call for an independent investigation team to come into Ethiopia and carry out investigations into conflict-related human rights violations with no recognition towards the Joint Investigation Team (JIT) whose report from Tigray was accepted, endorsed and applauded yet with no further mandate to carry out a similar investigation using the same methodology in Amhara and Afar. 

In short, this provision communicates a lack of confidence in Ethiopia’s human rights commission and justice sector (which donors like the US funded the development and reform of) and therefore the requisite oversight mechanisms to function as a democratic, sovereign state.  A ‘no confidence’ slideback – whether real or artificial – in these critical accountability and oversight functions will take years to rebuild the capacity of.

I think that the final thing I would say is that these big ‘sticks’, in the form of very punitive sanctions, pay no regard or give no credit to all of the gestures which the government has made towards the US demands over the past 12 months. 

More specifically, the Government of Ethiopia withdrew from Tigray in June 2021 and called a unilateral ceasefire; it worked with the humanitarian partners to streamline the aid delivery channels/processes to expedite aid to the norther regions; after pushing TPLF fighters back into Tigray in December 2021 and after liberating occupied communities in Amhara and Afar, the Government committed to not crossing into Tigray and pursuing any further military campaigns there; in January, political prisoners including TPLF leaders were released; the six-month State of Emergency was ended after three months; and efforts continue to support humanitarian aid deliveries into the conflict affected regions. 

I cite these to highlight the fact that, despite these gestures, no ‘sticks’, or any elements of the ‘sticks’ have been dropped.  On the side of the US Government, all ‘sticks’ are still being pursued.  So in relation to what I said above about what makes for a healthy relationship, it is not surprising that many are questioning the level of trust and two-way nature currently characterising the relationship.  

ENA: In your opinion, why are the US representatives interested to put pressure on Ethiopia at this level?

Prof. Ann Fitz-Gerald: It seems that, since the early stages of the conflict, there has been a strong effort for some members of the US Congress to pursue a ‘domestic genocide designation’ against the Government of Ethiopia and sanctions against leaders.  This agenda continues to be driven by the same officials and lobbyist groups, despite the Report of the JIT confirming that no genocide had taken place. 

So it seems that, whereas we have seen some signs of support and slightly shifted postures following the release of the Amnesty International Report which exposed TPLF atrocities in Amhara, the same group of officials pushing for the genocide designation and sanctions continue to do so and with statements being made by these individuals paying no regard to the atrocities committed outside of Tigray or the TPLF’s re-invasions and re-occupations back into Afar. 

This indicates that the evidence-based analysis underpinning these Bills remains flawed and skewed in favour of one party to the conflict. 

So it seems that, whereas we have seen some signs of support and slightly shifted postures following the release of the Amnesty International Report which exposed TPLF atrocities in Amhara, the same group of officials pushing for the genocide designation and sanctions continue to do so and with statements being made by these individuals paying no regard to the atrocities committed outside of Tigray or the TPLF’s re-invasions and re-occupations back into Afar. 

This indicates that the evidence-based analysis underpinning these Bills remains flawed and skewed in favour of one party to the conflict. 

In parallel to this, I think that the Biden administration is concerned about protecting US interests in the wider Horn of Africa; interests which also involve players like Egypt, Sudan (both of which recently met with US officials), Somalia, Somaliland and Eritrea. 

Whereas the stability of Ethiopia is pivotal to this, so are certain other dynamics which the US sees Ethiopia in helping enable for it to pursue these interests.  In my own view, these interests are not entirely in line with a more self-sufficient PAX Horn of Africa which the Ethiopian PM envisioned.  

ENA: What do you think will be the way to stop the ratification of the bill?  

Prof. Ann Fitz-Gerald: Whereas the US Government hears regularly from Ethio-American diaspora, it is also important for the US – and other western countries – to hear an authoritative, well-articulated and evidence-based ground-based view of what the passing of these Bills will do to a country which, at the same time, the US wishes to see stable and peaceful. 

Due to its status as a developing country with still high levels of poverty, Ethiopia lacks the cash reserves and access to foreign currency which would give it any capacity to even mitigate against the short-term effects of sanctions. 

And we know that sanctions are not a passing fad…they linger and their effects are felt for years.  Even today, despite sanctions having been lifted in Sudan, many will describe that the limitations that the Sudanese people – and Sudan’s economy – still faces as a result of the lingering impact of the sanctions make the population still feel that it is under sanctions. 

And we know that sanctions are not a passing fad…they linger and their effects are felt for years.  Even today, despite sanctions having been lifted in Sudan, many will describe that the limitations that the Sudanese people – and Sudan’s economy – still faces as a result of the lingering impact of the sanctions make the population still feel that it is under sanctions

I make this point because other African nations will no doubt also be watching with concern and may also speak out against the imposition of these persistently harsh and brutal ‘sticks’– despite the many gestures which the Government of Ethiopia has made in response to US requests.

So in short, Ethiopia has never been in more need of a compelling, and widely publicized appeal – led at the highest levels and with the widest continental backing – not only to ask why such measures continue to be pushed towards the only party to the conflict cooperating with US requests; but also what these measures would do to the country, and the years of international donor investment and progress that it would unravel-thereby creating the very instability and fragility that the US wishes to avoid.

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