As war goes on in Ethiopia, ethnic harassment is on the rise

Eritrea Tigray

(Source: New York Times, Simon Marks and 

Lisanewerk Desta, a theologian, said that a dozen police officers burst into his home in Addis Ababa while he was at work, looking for anything that could incriminate him.
Lisanewerk Desta, a theologian, said that a dozen police officers burst into his home in Addis Ababa while he was at work, looking for anything that could incriminate him.Credit…Mulugeta Ayene for The New York Times

ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia — On a bright day in mid-November, about a dozen police officers with machine guns barged into the home of Lisanewerk Desta, a theologian who is the head of the library and museum department at the Ethiopian Orthodox Church, and got to work.

The men, who had no warrant, Mr. Lisanewerk said, poured dried goods from his kitchen onto the floor, emptied his clothes drawers and even looked inside his clay coffee pot, seemingly searching for something to incriminate him. They confiscated only one item, he said: his Ethiopian identification card, which shows that he is from the Tigray ethnic group.

“I’m a scholar of the church, I’ve got nothing to be afraid of,” said Mr. Lisanewerk, who in an interview at his home shared photos and videos that his daughter had surreptitiously recorded of the raid. “But now I am under suspicion.”

Tigrayans belong to one of about eight major ethnic groups in Ethiopia, and for nearly three decades, they were the dominant force in the country’s politics. But life for many Tigrayans began to change in early November after Ethiopia’s prime minister, Abiy Ahmed, launched a military operation in the northern region of Tigray, whose leaders have resisted Mr. Abiy’s drive to centralize power in the federal government.

Nearly 50,000 Tigrayans have fled the country, in what the United Nations has called the worst exodus of refugees Ethiopia has seen in more than two decades.

Since then, many ethnic Tigrayans who live in the capital and other parts of Ethiopia say they have been treated like criminal suspects and subjected to various forms of discrimination, harassment and abuse by government officials.

They report being detained without charges, put under house arrest, and barred from traveling outside the country. Tigrayans say they have had their businesses shut down, homes ransacked and money extorted by security officials.

Several Tigrayans who live outside Ethiopia said they hadn’t heard for weeks from family members who were taken away suddenly to police stations and prisons. Some Tigrayan members of the Ethiopian military forces are being held in detention centers around the country, their families said.

The reports of ethnic profiling of Tigrayans, who represent about 6 percent of Ethiopia’s population of 110 million, are alarming to the delicate mix of people and power that makes up Ethiopia. The country is an uneasy confederation of 10 ethnically identified states, including Tigray, where fighting continues even though the national government has declared victory.

The moves have drawn concern from the United Nations Office on Genocide Prevention, which said that cases of ethnic profiling constituted “a dangerous trajectory that heightens the risk of genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity.” Continue Reading


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