US Secretary of State Antony Blinken speaks at a briefing on the 2022 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices at the State Department in Washington, Monday, March 20, 2023. AP
Blinken, who had sounded upbeat in Ethiopia about the prospects for peace after a breakthrough November 2 accord, made a forceful call for accountability.
"Many of these actions were not random or a mere byproduct of war. They were calculated and deliberate," America's top diplomat said as he presented an annual US human rights report.
He said the State Department carried out a "careful review of the law and the facts" and concluded that "war crimes" were committed by federal troops from Ethiopia as well as Eritrea, a former adversary which allied with Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed in the offensive, and by the rebel Tigray People's Liberation Front (TPLF) and forces from the neighboring Amhara region.
Blinken added that the State Department also found "crimes against humanity" by Ethiopian, Eritrean and Amhara forces, although he did not mention the TPLF.
"We urge the government of Ethiopia and the government of Eritrea as well as the TPLF to hold those responsible for these atrocities accountable," Blinken said.
"The conflict in northern Ethiopia was devastating. Men, women and children were killed. Women and girls were subject to horrific forms of sexual violence. Thousands were forcibly displaced from their homes. Entire communities were specifically targeted based on their ethnicity."
Blinken also spoke of accountability during his trip to Addis Ababa, where he held an unusually long meeting with Abiy and also met senior TPLF leader Getachew Reda.
But he did not directly mention war crimes or crimes against humanity while in Addis Ababa. Abiy voiced anger when Blinken during the war spoke more generally about crimes against humanity and the Ethiopian leader has rejected UN-led efforts for a probe.
Blinken, asked about the timing, said it was "appropriate to release the determination" at the time of the release of the human rights report.
The United States has previously estimated that some 500,000 people died in the two-year conflict, making it one of the deadliest wars of the 21st century and dwarfing the toll from Russia's invasion of Ukraine.