US urges Kenya to address crisis in Ethiopia’s Tigray region

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken speaks speaks during a visit by U.S. President Joe Biden to the State Department in Washington, U.S.,

The US Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken spoke Wednesday with Foreign Affairs Cabinet Secretary Raychelle Omamo to discuss the longstanding and important strategic partnership between the United States and Kenya. 

He urged Kenyan leadership in working with the United States on the UN Security Council and in other venues to address the crisis in Ethiopia’s Tigray region, particularly in light of recent reports of atrocities and a worsening humanitarian situation.

According to a statement from the US Embassy in Nairobi, Blinken emphasized the US commitment to working with Kenya to advance their shared interests in trade, democracy, human rights, global health, regional security, and climate change for the benefit of the American and Kenyan people. 

Blinken noted Kenya’s strong and durable multilateral engagement and welcomed the opportunity to cooperate closely with Kenya on the UN Security Council on matters of international concern. 

Last week, President Uhuru Kenyatta spoke with US President Joe Biden and also discussed the deteriorating humanitarian and human rights crises in the Tigray region and the need to prevent further loss of life and ensure humanitarian access.

The White House said Biden applauded “Kenya’s leadership in the Horn of Africa and commitment to counter-terrorism, economic growth, addressing climate change, and sustainable development.”

The Human Rights Watch says Federal forces carried out apparently indiscriminate shelling of urban areas in the Tigray region in November 2020 in violation of the laws of war.

Artillery attacks at the start of the armed conflict struck homes, hospitals. schools, and markets in the city of Mekelle, and the towns of Humera and Shire, killing at least 83 civilians, including children, and wounding over 300.

“At the war’s start, Ethiopian federal forces fired artillery into Tigray’s urban areas in an apparently indiscriminate manner that was bound to cause civilian casualties and property damage,” said Laetitia Bader, Horn of Africa director at Human Rights Watch.

“These attacks have shattered civilian lives in Tigray and displaced thousands of people, underscoring the urgency for ending unlawful attacks and holding those responsible to account.”

On November 4, the Ethiopian troops began operations in Tigray in response to what Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed described as attacks on federal forces and bases by forces affiliated with the region’s ruling Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF).

As of February 2021, many Tigray residents lack adequate access to food, fuel, water, and medicines.

More than 200,000 people are internally displaced, while tens of thousands have also fled to neighbouring Sudan.

Human Rights Watch interviewed 37 witnesses and victims of government attacks on Humera, Shire, and Mekelle, as well as nine journalists, aid workers, and human rights and forensic experts. Interviews were conducted in person in Sudan and by phone between December 2020 and January 2021.

HRW also examined satellite imagery, and reviewed photographs and videos from the site of six attacks that corroborated witness accounts.

Witnesses described to Human Rights Watch a pattern of artillery attacks by Ethiopian federal forces before they captured Humera, Shire, and Mekelle in November.

In each of these attacks, the Tigrayan Special Forces appeared to have withdrawn, while in Humera local militias lacked a significant presence to defend the town.

Many of the artillery attacks did not appear aimed at specific military targets but struck generalized populated areas. Human Rights Watch found similar patterns in interviews with 13 people from the towns of Rawyan and Axum.

These attacks caused civilian deaths and injuries; damaged homes, businesses, and infrastructure, struck near schools, disrupted medical services and prompted thousands of civilians to flee.

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