A former congressman from Florida and an Ethiopian-American advocacy group in northern Virginia have joined the growing chorus of voices lobbying for US action as violence continues to ravage Ethiopia’s northern Tigray region.
Rep. Connie Mack (R-Fla.) is lobbying on “support for US humanitarian assistance to Ethiopia” via Black Diamond Strategies on behalf of JM International, a real estate development and petroleum distribution company based in northern Virginia. Black Diamond’s registration was effective Dec. 16 but was only made public today.
JM International has also retained the services of lobbying firm Platinum Advisors DC according to a filing that was made public last month. Erik Huey and Anthony Hobbs, a former legislative director to Rep. Carol Shea-Porter (D-N.H.) are registered on the account. Mack, Platinum and JM did not respond to requests for comment.
Meanwhile the Tigray Center for Information and Communication, a humanitarian group based in Alexandria, Virginia, has hired policy and advocacy consulting firm Von Batten-Montague-York to help with its mission of securing aid for the Tigray region. More than 50,000 people have reportedly been killed since Ethiopian forces attacked the province’s ruling Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) in November amid accusations that the party attacked a military base. Hundreds of thousands of people have fled the region, which is now threatened by famine.
Von Batten’s lobbying registration says the firm will lobby Congress and the Joe Biden administration to demand the removal of military personnel and militia from neighboring Eritrea. Human rights groups have accused Eritrean troops of massacring Tigrayan civilians, while the Ethiopian government denies that the conflict has evolved into a regional war.
The firm will also lobby to “initiate action aimed at pressuring the Ethiopian government to open access for humanitarian supply line and relief to Tigrayans in need of assistance” amid accusations from the United Nations that Addis Ababa is blocking aid deliveries to non-government-controlled rural areas in Tigray. And it will push for the “establishment of an independent investigation team to investigate the claims of war crimes and human rights abuses against the Tigray.”
The firm’s co-founder, Karl Von Batten, told Foreign Lobby Report that he has been working with the Tigray Center for Information and Communication for the past six months but just recently registered as a lobbyist as he steps up his focus on Congress and the administration.
“The main push right now is to ensure that one, we have a ceasefire, and two, that all foreign troops leave the region — especially foreign troops,” Von Batten said.
Von Batten is also representing another Ethiopian non-profit, the Oromo Legacy Leadership & Advocacy Association. He has hired the services of DiRoma Eck & Co. to lobby for human rights sanctions against Ethiopian security forces guilty of abuses against the Oromo people but said that for now the focus of the Tigray lobbying isn’t on sanctions but on making sure the conflict remains a foreign policy priority for the Biden administration.
“So far, we’ve heard about condemnations,” Von Batten said. “We intend to push to see some action, some teeth to this.”
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken has expressed his concerns both publicly and directly with Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed.
During a phone call with the prime minister on March 2, Blinken pointed to reports of human rights abuses in the country and “urged the Ethiopian government to take immediate, concrete steps to protect civilians, including refugees, and to prevent further violence,” according to a statement from State Department spokesman Ned Price.
Most recently, Blinken called acts against the Tigray people by Ethiopian troops and their allies “ethnic cleansing” during a March 10 House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing. Ethiopia denies the allegations.
Faced with a growing chorus of bipartisan criticism, the Ethiopian Embassy in Washington hired Washington lobbying firm Venable for $35,000 per month in February. Venable has since shared statements by Ahmed and helped set up calls with key members of Congress for Ambassador Fitsum Arega.