Can America Prevent Genocide in Ethiopia?

The United States can retain goodwill not by picking a side and providing weapons but by working to save lives and prevent genocide.


For nearly two years, a war has raged in Ethiopia as the elected government has fought to suppress a rebellion by the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF). The conflict began in early November 2020 when the Ethiopian government marched into Tigray, reportedly in response to a TPLF attack on government forces. Civil war erupted soon after. The war has had an unspeakable toll on Ethiopia. Recent reports indicate that violence is escalating, and the director general of the World Health Organization has warned there is a “very narrow window now to prevent a genocide.” While unilateral intervention by the United States is not in the American interest, the Responsibility to Protect requires collective action by the UN Security Council and General Assembly to prevent genocide.

In March 2022, a report from Ghent University estimated that around 500,000 people died in the first sixteen months of the conflict, with 100,000 of the deaths being direct killings. There have been 283 mass killing events of five or more civilians, 200,000 starvation deaths, and 100,000 deaths due to inadequate access to healthcare. An additional 2.5 million people have been forcefully displaced.

Samantha Power, the administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), warned that 1 million people are on the brink of famine. In January, the UN World Food Programme estimated that 40 percent of Tigrayans are suffering from an extreme lack of food and 9 million people across the three conflict-affected regions—Tigray, Amhara, and Afar—need humanitarian food assistance.

Why Genocide Is Possible

Since the conflict’s inception, the Ethiopian government has maintained a blockade on humanitarian aid, trade, transport, banking, electricity, and telecommunications. According to Refugees International, as of February 2022, only 6 percent of the food trucks needed to avert a famine have been allowed to enter Tigray. The internet is blocked in Tigray, and the government has denied press access since June 2021 to downplay fighting and control the narrative.