(CNN) – The US Senate has unanimously passed a resolution calling for the immediate withdrawal of Eritrean troops from Ethiopia’s war-torn northern Tigray region, after a CNN investigation revealed that the soldiers were cutting off critical aid routes.
A CNN team traveling through Tigray in late April witnessed Eritrean soldiers, some disguising themselves in old Ethiopian military uniforms, blocking aid to starving populations more than a month after Ethiopia’s Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed pledged to the international community that they would leave.
The resolution, sponsored by Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman James E. Risch and passed by the Senate on Thursday, called on Eritrea to “immediately and fully withdraw its military forces from Ethiopia” and condemned human rights violations committed by the Eritrean military.
It also urged US Secretary of State Antony Blinken to ensure that a “full, independent, international investigation into all reports of human rights violations, abuses, and atrocities” committed in the course of the conflict is carried out and that those responsible be held accountable. Blinken called for such a probe on February 27, a day after investigations by CNN and Amnesty International into two separate massacres.
Thousands of civilians are believed to have been killed in Tigray since November, when Abiy launched a major military operation against the region’s ruling party, the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), sending in national troops and fighters from Ethiopia’s Amhara region.
CNN has previously reported that soldiers from neighboring Eritrea had crossed into Tigray and perpetrated extrajudicial killings, massacres, sexual violence and other human rights abuses.
The renewed drive for action by US lawmakers was prompted by CNN’s investigation, which revealed Eritrean soldiers were manning checkpoints in Tigray, obstructing and occupying key humanitarian aid routes, roaming the halls of one of the region’s few operating hospitals and threatening medical staff.
On May 12, Von Batten-Montague-York, the Washington, DC-based advocacy group that led the push for the resolution, said on Twitter that CNN’s report “confirms what we have briefed members of Congress: War crimes are being committed against civilians in Tigray.”
“We are doubling our push for passage of S.Res.97 and sanctions against Ethiopian and Eritrean officials guilty of crimes against civilians in Tigray,” the group added.
Despite pressure from the US, there has been no sign that Eritrean forces plan to exit the border region anytime soon.
The Senate on Thursday called on the Biden administration to “conduct and impose strict accountability measures on those found responsible” of human rights violations, opening the door for potential US sanctions.
Rep. Michael McCaul, the top Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, and Rep. Gregory Meeks, the New York Democrat who chairs the committee, have been leading a continued push for the Biden administration to “urgently use all available tools, including sanctions and other restrictive measures, to hold all perpetrators accountable and bring an end to this conflict.”
McCaul told CNN on Thursday that “there have been ample, credible reports from human rights groups and journalists on the continuing presence of Eritrean troops, and reports that have implicated them, and other armed actors, in human rights abuses, rape and other atrocities.
“It is clear that the Government of Ethiopia and the Government of Eritrea have not upheld their public commitment to withdraw Eritrean forces out of Tigray. Now we have this on-camera evidence from CNN.”
He argued that the “Biden administration needs to take action now to demonstrate we are serious when we demand accountability for atrocities.”
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken has repeatedly called for the withdrawal of Eritrean and Ethiopian regional forces from the Tigray region, unfettered humanitarian access and an independent investigation into the human rights abuses being committed.
He has spoken several times with Abiy about the crisis, most recently last month to press Ethiopia and Eritrea to make good on commitments to withdraw Eritrean troops “immediately, in full and in a verifiable manner.”
In a statement on Saturday, Blinken demanded Eritrea and Ethiopia “take all necessary steps to ensure that their forces in Tigray cease and desist this reprehensible conduct.”
“The continued presence of Eritrean forces in Tigray further undermines Ethiopia’s stability and national unity. We again call upon the Government of Eritrea to remove its forces from Tigray,” Blinken added.
Ethiopia and Eritrea have not responded to repeated requests for comment on CNN’s findings that soldiers are blocking aid in Tigray.