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Washington D.C.- House Foreign Affairs Lead Republican Michael McCaul gave the following opening remarks at a full committee hearing highlighting conflict in Ethiopia with Ambassador Robert F. Godec and Assistant to the USAID Administrator Sarah Charles. 

In his opening remarks, Lead Republican McCaul highlighted the catastrophic conditions on the ground in Tigray, including famine and atrocities committed against civilians.

“Almost one million people are starving, and according to the UN, systematic rape and sexual violence is rampant…In my assessment, war crimes, crimes against humanity, and acts of genocide have been carried out against the Tigrayan people.”

When McCaul pressed Ambassador Godec on when a genocide declaration would be made, he replied:

The Secretary needs to make a decision and when he’s ready I’m sure that will happen.” 

He emphasized the gravity of the situation, and underscored the role that Congress plays in drawing attention to this crisis.

 “The timing of this hearing couldn’t be more appropriate with the ceasefire called just yesterday. For them to know that the eyes of Congress are watching, and the American people are watching this, and it needs to stop.” 

 

Click to Watch. 

-Opening Remarks as Delivered-

“Thank you, Chairman, and thanks for calling for the support in hearing on the conflict in Ethiopia and drawing attention to what is happening there in this very violent situation.

I want to thank our witnesses, Ambassador Godec and Assistant Administrator Charles, for being with us today.

This is a pivotal point in Ethiopia’s future.

Ethiopia has long been a strategic ally, as the Chairman said, in the Horn of Africa, a vital contributor of UN peacekeepers, and a strong economic partner.

Hundreds of thousands of Ethiopian-Americans call the U.S. home.

Unfortunately, deep-seeded ethnic tensions, economic challenges, and grievances from decades of Ethiopian Peoples’ Revolutionary Democratic Front rule has undermined fragile progress in Ethiopia.

In early November, fighting broke out between the Ethiopian National Defense Forces and the Tigrayan Peoples Liberation Front.

Eritrean Defense Forces were also deployed, fighting alongside Ethiopian security forces in what has been described as a “law enforcement operation.”

A few weeks later, and days before Thanksgiving holiday, then-Chairman Engel and I wrote to Prime Minister Abiy.

We commended his commitment to reforming Ethiopia, for pursuing accountability for human rights abuses, improving media freedom, brokering peace with Eritrea, and recognizing his Nobel Peace Prize.

We also expressed deep concern over reports of heavy civilian casualties in Tigray and asked for his decisive leadership to ensure the safety and security of all Ethiopians and to advance peace and stability.

Seven months later, almost one million people are starving, and according to the UN, systematic rape and sexual violence is rampant. What a change from the Nobel Peace Prize to this.

In my assessment, war crimes, crimes against humanity, and acts of genocide have been carried out against the Tigrayan people.

Last week, Prime Minister Abiy stated, “there is no hunger in Tigray.”

The stunning denial of the catastrophic conditions on the ground in Tigray is appalling.

I am cautiously optimistic of reports of a ceasefire. The situation in Tigray remains fluid, and I am concerned by reports that Tigrayan Defense Forces intend to leverage this for strategic gain.

Whether this ceasefire will facilitate much needed food and medical aid to the Tigrayan people remains to be seen.

A political solution is needed, and all parties to the conflict must prioritize addressing the dire need of civilians.

The U.S. has provided almost $500 million in lifesaving food aid and medical supplies.

Our international partners, including allies in Europe and the members of the UN Security Council, need to step it up.

We must continue to increase the pressure on all sides to bring an end to the fighting and suffering in Tigray.

This includes targeted sanctions against those responsible for committing heinous atrocities and reexamining support through international financial institutions.

All sides have committed gross human rights abuses – members of the Tigray People’s Liberation Front, Ethiopian security forces, Eritrean security forces and Amhara regional forces.

The joint investigation by the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and Ethiopian Human Rights Commission must have full access and independence to investigate these crimes, and other human rights abuses in Ethiopia.

The conflict in Ethiopia is also unraveling fragile stability in the region including:
• Increasing border tensions with Sudan;

• Lack of progress of GERD negotiations with Egypt, Sudan and Ethiopia;

• The impact of the withdrawal of Ethiopian National Defense Forces from counter Al Shabaab operations in Somalia;

• Reports of rising ethnic tensions across Ethiopia.

The U.S. Special Envoy to the Horn of Africa, Jeffrey Feltman stated recently that the Ethiopia crisis could make Syria look like “child’s play”.

As a diplomat who spent the entirety of his 30-year career in the Middle East, this was no small warning.

The world needs to wake up to the gravity of the situation before us.

Millions of lives are at stake.

So again, Mr. Chairman, thank you for calling attention to this grave situation, and I look forward to the testimony.

With that I yield back.”

Click to Watch.

-Questions and Answers as Delivered-

Rep. McCaul- “Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I think the timing of this hearing couldn’t be more appropriate with the ceasefire called just yesterday. For them to know that the eyes of Congress are watching, and the American people are watching this and it needs to stop.  

And I hope that in that way Mr. Chairman that this committee can make a difference and this Congress by holding this very hearing.

For them to know that we are watching this hopefully will prevail with the ceasefire that will take hold. But I want to ask a little differently the same question that the chairman asked, Ambassador, the 1948 Genocide Convention legally obligates states to prevent and to punish crime of genocide.

The EU’s Special Envoy to the Horn of Africa and Finnish Foreign Minister, said that senior Ethiopian officials told him “they are going to wipe out the Tigrayans for 100 years.”

Earlier this month, Administrator Power said that Ethiopia is, quote, “destroying the reproductive health of Tigrayans” which calls into question whether conditions amount to a genocide.

And then Secretary Blinken called this ethnic cleansing. Now I know you can’t answer this directly, but in my judgement, when I look at the genocide convention and the requirements for it to be called a genocide, I think those requirements have been met.

Do you have any response?

Ambassador Godec- “Thank you representative McCaul. I would simply say, first, we do look forward to working with the committee and Congress and that this hearing is indeed well timed.

With respect to your specific point, as I indicated earlier, we have this fact and law-based review underway.

We have pushed it at a very accelerated pace, and it is far advanced. The Secretary needs to make a decision and when he’s ready I’m sure that will happen.” 

Rep. McCaul- “Thank you for that candid answer. Ms. Charles, I mean you said a million people noware experiencing catastrophic food insecurity with millions more on the brink. And I guess the question is getting our humanitarian assistance in.

There’s been discussions about securing the border to block out any humanitarian assistance and NGOs from getting into the affected population.

Can you tell us what the latest is and what are the plans on USAID’s part to ensure that this assistance is provided?”

Ms. Charles-Thank you for that question and I also wanted to say the clear, united voice of Congress and raising the alarm bell around famine and the need for humanitarian access has been really important and consequential.

As you said, nearly 800,000 people currently at catastrophic levels, possibly up to two million more at emergency levels of food insecurity. We’ve significantly scaled up our assistance since March and are working with partners not just on food assistance, but all the health and nutrition, the enablers, that are necessary to prevent famine.

But the next week and two weeks will really be quite consequential. If this unilateral ceasefire holds and we’re able to take advantage of this, we’ve prepositioned food, but we need a couple of things to happen almost immediately.

We need the government of Ethiopia to lift the communications blackout, which is still ongoing as of this morning in order to enable our partners to get out.

We need the Amharic regional forces to lift checkpoints on the three major arteries that we will need to move food on over the next several weeks and we need to continue to press on our UN and our other donor partners to scale up assistance as well.”

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