USA to freeze Ethiopian bank and airline assets and allow victims of genocide to sue for recovery

Tens of thousands of victims in Tigray have been killed, abused, displaced, and starved

The United States State Department is growing impatient with the lack of action of the Ethiopian government in stopping the war against Tigray and other rebel groups. The World Politics Review reports the heavy sanctions are being considered against two huge Ethiopian government businesses with hundreds of millions of US dollar assets who they say have contributed to the violations of human rights, sexual atrocities, killing of innocents, and displacements of millions of Ethiopian.

Ethiopian Airlines, Africa’s largest airline, is one of the major sources of foreign currency to the government of Ethiopia. As of October 2020 it reported a yearly profit of $ 3.3 billion. with much of that coming from flights to and from the United States and Europe. There are considerable deposits of foreign currency and US and allied countries banks which could be frozen.  Additionally stopping Ethiopians airlines flights to US and allied countries would devastate its revenue. Like most airlines Ethiopian Airlines carries large loans on its aircraft which could default if the business is shutdown. 

Ethiopian Commerce Bank, owned by the Federal government of Ethiopia, is the largest bank of the country. Assets exceed 60% of all deposits, loans, and foreign currency holdings in the country. In part because of the instability of the birr and the safety of deposits in the USA the Ethiopian Commerce Banks maintains millions in deposit with the New York Federal Reserve which would be frozen.

Von Batten-Montague-York, L.C., a US based policy and advocacy group, announced that is likely that US Federal courts will begin to allow Tigray citizens and others who have been the victims of human rights abuses to begin lawsuits against assets of Ethiopia and perhaps Eritrea. This is allowed under a Federal law called the Alien Tort Statue. According to the Cornell Law School information “The Alien Tort Statute (“ATS”; also known as the Alien Tort Claims Act) refers to 28 U.S.C. § 1350, granting jurisdiction to federal district courts “of all causes where an alien sues for a tort only in violation of the law of nation or of a treaty of the United States.” Broadly speaking, it serves as a statutory instrument for gaining universal jurisdiction over violations of international law”. This law has been in existence since 1789.

Tigrayan Ethiopian Airlines Stewardess abandoned by ethnic profiling


A representative photo of an Ethiopian Airlines Flight Attendant

Modified from a report by Martin Plaut
This is a story of a woman – I will call her ‘Hewa’,  a Tigrayan Ethiopian Airlines Stewardess who has been deprived not only of her job, but of the country she loves. She reports ethnic profiling started as soon the current Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed came to power in 2018. Even though she had senior status for long term routes the Tigrayans regardless of status were only “allowed short-haul destinations in Africa or the Middle East. They are more tiring as there is a rapid turn-around. And the pay is worse. There are no stop-overs or per-diem payments.”

When she inquired as to why no answer was ever forthcoming. Her union was not giving answers or help to Tigrayans.

In October last year Hewa took leave and went to see friends in America. When she was scheduled to return her leave was extended. Then she was put on indefinite, unpaid leave. The airline had, in effect, abandoned her. Hewan asked repeatedly why this was. Her bosses were evasive, or refused to reply.

Now she is staying with a friend of her brothers. They are back in Mekelle with arrest warrants out for them.  She says “I feel so oppressed. My friends call, but I can’t say anything to them. I am almost crying on the phone.”

A mother, in her early thirties, Hewa is now seeking refugee status in the USA. She has left behind her little son and a mother in her sixties. “I feel very sad. I had a life in Addis; I had my son and my family. I never thought of leaving,” Hewa says.  Separated from family and the life she loved in Ethiopia, with security officers monitoring her house in Addis, there seem few options for Hewa.

Many respected news media organizations including the The Telegraph (UK), BBC, New York Times, and Martin Plaut have been reporting this type of behavior for many Tigrayan employees over the past year which Ethiopian Airlines denies. The United Nations has expressed concern that discrimination against pilots, stewardesses, and security guards among others is concerning.