The European Union has pledged assistance worth 650 million euros to Ethiopia, nearly three years after it cut direct aid to the East African country over atrocities committed in a bloody civil war.
Jutta Urpilainen, the EU commissioner for international partnerships, announced the agreement during a press conference with Ethiopian Finance Minister Ahmed Side in the capital, Addis Ababa, on Tuesday.
"It is time to gradually normalize relations and rebuild a mutually reinforcing partnership with your country," said Urpilainen, describing the aid package as "the first concrete step" in this process after a cease-fire ended the war last November.
The EU aid package was initially worth $1.04 billion and was due to be given to Ethiopia from 2021 to 2027, but it was suspended in late 2020 after fighting broke out in the northern Tigray region. The U.S. also halted assistance and legislated for sanctions.
Ahmed said the aid would help boost Ethiopia’s post-war recovery and facilitate badly needed economic reforms at a "critical juncture" for the country.
"This strategic partnership is now back on rack," he said.
However, direct budgetary support to Ethiopia’s government remains suspended and will not be restored until "very clear political conditions" are met, Urpilainen said without specifying.
She added that a program from the International Monetary Fund was also needed first.
Earlier Tuesday, Urpilainen held meetings with Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed and Moussa Faki Mahamat, the chairman of the African Union Commission.
The Tigray war killed unknown thousands and was characterized by massacres, mass rape and allegations of enforced starvation. The EU has long insisted it would not normalize relations with Ethiopia until there was accountability for these crimes.
Ethiopia has tried to block a U.N. probe from investigating the atrocities and has launched its own transitional justice process, which human rights experts say is flawed. The U.N. probe has said all sides committed abuses, some amounting to war crimes.
The EU’s aid pledge to Ethiopia came a day before the deadline for renewing the mandate for the investigation at the U.N. Human Rights Council in Geneva.
On Tuesday, the U.N. experts warned that more independent investigations into Ethiopia’s "dire human rights situation" were needed due to the "overwhelming risk of future atrocities."
"There is a very real and imminent risk that the situation will deteriorate further, and it is incumbent upon the international community to ensure that investigations persist so human rights violations can be addressed, and the worst tragedies averted," said Steven Ratner, one of the U.N. experts.
A report by the U.N. panel last month cited "grave and ongoing" atrocities in Tigray and questioned Ethiopian officials' commitment to delivering true accountability.
Last week Human Rights Watch said the EU should submit a resolution at the U.N. Human Rights Council calling for continued investigations into atrocities.
"Not doing so would be renouncing its own commitments," the rights group said.