Post falsely claims that US has imposed fresh sanctions on Ethiopia over human rights abuses

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A post shared in Ethiopia alleged that the US imposed new sanctions on Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s government in November 2022 over human rights violations in parts of the country. As a result, it alleged, Ethiopian leaders would be barred from attending a December summit with US and African leaders in Washington DC. But the claims are false: the US State Department told AFP Fact Check that no fresh sanctions had been imposed on Ethiopia recently, nor have its leaders been blocked from attending the event.

The post was published on Facebook on November 28, 2022, and has been shared more than 200 times.

Screenshot showing the false post, taken on December 1, 2022

Written in Afaan Oromo, the text translates to: “US president Joe Biden has imposed new sanctions on Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s government. Biden has also blocked Abiy’s administration from participating in the upcoming Africa-US international summit over human rights violations in Oromia and other regions in Ethiopia.”

Oromia is Ethiopia’s largest federal state and home to the Oromo, the country’s biggest ethnic group who have long complained of marginalisation.

Reports of fighting and massacres emerged in recent weeks in this region haunted by a long-running insurgency, even as a peace deal was struck to end a two-year conflict in Ethiopia's northern Tigray region.

Since the conflict erupted, the Tigray region has been cut off from the outside world, creating shortages of food, medicine, electricity, and fuel.

Both government troops and Tigrayan rebels have been accused of atrocities, including ethnic cleansing and sexual violence.

In September 2021, US President Joe Biden signed Executive Order (EO) 14046 “imposing sanctions on certain persons with respect to the humanitarian and human rights crisis in Ethiopia”.

The sanctions targeted four groups and two individuals deemed responsible for human rights abuses, violence, unrest, and the obstruction of humanitarian efforts.

In early 2022, a ceasefire was declared between Ethiopian troops and Tigray rebels but ended five months later in August 2022.

After a first failed attempt earlier this year, a second ceasefire was implemented on November 4, 2022, following an agreement signed in South Africa resulting from talks mediated by the African Union (AU).

No new sanctions

The US State Department told AFP Fact Check that the claim of fresh sanctions was false.

“The United States has not imposed any sanctions related to the conflict in northern Ethiopia since November 2021, when we announced designations against two Eritrean individuals and four organisations under Executive Order 14046,” it said in an email.

It further clarified that “the US government has not blocked Ethiopian government leaders from attending the upcoming African Leaders Summit” but that “the sanctions actions announced in November 2021 remain in effect” to date.

More than two million Ethiopians have been displaced since fighting erupted in Tigray in November 2020

The summit, scheduled for December 13-15 this year, will discuss pressing problems facing the continent, including food security and climate change.

AFP Fact Check has asked the Ethiopian government if it will send representatives but is yet to get a response.

According to the US State Department, 49 out of the 50 invited AU states have confirmed attendance.

In a statement released in July 2022, Biden said the gathering would “demonstrate the United States’ enduring commitment to Africa and will underscore the importance of US-Africa relations and increased cooperation on shared global priorities”.

The summit is widely seen as US response to increased African political and economic engagement with other countries, notably Russia and China.

Renewed violence in Oromia

The ongoing fighting between Ethiopian government troops and the Oromo Liberation Army (OLA) rebels has led to dozens of casualties in recent weeks.

The conflict, coupled with prolonged drought, has inflicted humanitarian crises in parts of Oromia and neighbouring regions, according to a November 2022 report by the UN Office of Coordination Humanitarian Affairs.

Since 2021, however, the US has not imposed any new sanctions related to the Tigray war.