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AAA Opening Remarks at the Virtual Public Hearing for the Annual Review of Country Eligibility for Benefits Under the African Growth and Opportunity Act for the 2025 Calendar Year



AAA Opening Remarks at the Virtual Public Hearing for the Annual Review of Country Eligibility for Benefits Under the African Growth and Opportunity Act for the 2025 Calendar Year


Transcript for opening remarks delivered on Thursday, June 27, 2024


Thank you to the AGOA implementation subcommittee for hosting this hearing, my name is Robel Alemu and I serve as Director of Communications for the Amhara Association of America (AAA).


Today our organization would like to express concerns regarding Ethiopia’s eligibility for benefits under AGOA for the 2025 calendar year.


In September 2021 President Biden declared executive order 14046 citing and I quote “I find that the situation in and in relation to northern Ethiopia, which has been marked by activities that threaten the peace, security, and stability of Ethiopia and the greater Horn of Africa region—in particular, widespread violence, atrocities, and serious human rights abuse, including those involving ethnic-based violence, rape and other forms of gender-based violence, and obstruction of humanitarian operations—constitutes an unusual and extraordinary threat to the national security and foreign policy of the United States.” [end quote]


This led to the United States Trade Representative terminating Ethiopia from AGOA trade preference effective January 2022 citing gross violations of internationally recognized human rights.


Despite recent diplomatic maneuvers and assurances of reform, the Oromo Prosperity Party regime of Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed remains in blatant violation of internationally recognized human rights, particularly against the Amhara population.


And for this reason, our organization believes the Abiy regime has not made any progress to meet compliance with AGOA requirements.


In November 2022 the cessation of hostilities agreement (COHA) was signed between the Abiy regime and the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) to bring an end to the fighting in northern Ethiopia, but unfortunately the COHA has failed to bring lasting peace to the region.


Since 2023, the UN, various medias, and human rights organizations including our own have documented a continued pattern of ethnic-based human rights violations targeting the Amhara community in the Amhara and Oromia Regions of Ethiopia.


AAA has documented atrocities, widespread violence, drone attacks on civilians, ethnic cleansing, mass arrests, torture, rape and other forms of gender-based violence, destruction of cultural heritage, complete communication blackout and restricted humanitarian access.


Internal reports indicate more than 1,000 hospitals and health centers are no longer operating and according to UNOCHA, over 4.1 million children are out of school in Amhara Region.


The OHCHR in its 2023 annual update documented nearly 600 (594) human rights violation incidents implicating the Ethiopian Government in 70% of these violations.


The office recorded 1,106 civilians killed in Amhara, including by 18 drone strikes by the national defense force resulting in 248 deaths and 55 injuries between August and December 2023.


In an interview with state media last December army Chief of Staff Berhanu Jula denied targeting civilians and announced his army would continue to use drones.


Since April 2024, Tigray Region Forces have worked alongside the national army to invade and ethnically cleanse more than 50,000 Amhara residents from the areas of Raya Alamata, Raya Bala, Korem, Ofla, Zata and Telemt in northern Amhara Region.


In addition, Tigray Region authorities have begun military aggressions in north-western Amhara Region.


We also find that the Abiy regime has failed to comply with requirements stated in section 104 of AGOA including among other things rule of law, political pluralism and the right to due process.


Various organizations have documented mass arrests of opposition figures, independent journalists, civil society leaders, and others based on their ethnic Amhara identity and political beliefs.


In many cases, victims were subject to arbitrary arrests and detentions, enforced disappearances, torture, transportation to undisclosed detention sites, denial of basic utilities and medical care.


Last August the Abiy regime declared a six-month state of emergency which was extended in February and expired this month.


Earlier this year, Amnesty International criticized the practice citing denial of basic human rights under the pretext of emergency laws, and lack of transparency following the extension of the state of emergency last February.


Another rights group Human Rights Watch (HRW) reported that the Ethiopian military committed summary (door to door) executions (of Amhara civilians) and other war crimes in the town of Merawi which HRW said undermines the Ethiopian Government’s claim of bringing law and order to the region.


It should be noted in recognition of these gross human rights violations being committed in the war in Amhara, President Biden had extended Executive Order 14046 by one year last September.


And last April, Secretary of Homeland Security, Alejandro Mayorkas, announced the extension and redesignation of Temporary Protected Status (TPS) for Ethiopia for 18 months, from June 13, 2024, through to December 12, 2025.


To conclude, in the span of a few minutes I have tried to convey the sheer scale of the horrific atrocities unfolding against the Amhara people in Ethiopia, in hopes that the United States as a global leader can take concrete steps to show the Abiy regime that perpetrators of atrocities are punished for abuses not rewarded.


This is why the Amhara Association of America urges the AGOA TPSC Subcommittee, and United States Trade Representative Ambassador Katherine Tai not to reinstate Ethiopia into AGOA for ongoing gross violations of internationally recognized human rights, and other violations in relation to rule of law, political pluralism and the right to due process.

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