(By GSTS Press Release, 21 January 2021) –
Urgent call for unfettered access to humanitarian corridor and cessation of the war
“The world will not be destroyed by those who do evil, but those who watch them without doing anything” – Albert Einstein
At the heart of the war on Tigray (one of 9 Federal States of Ethiopia) by Federal Forces and the Eritrean army, is the democratic right of the Tigrayan people for a self-rule within the Federal constitution of Ethiopia. The Ethiopian constitution allows each state the right to elect its local government every 5 years, and Tigray duly conducted its elections within the 5-year time on September 9th, 2020 (Fig. 1)1. Over 2.7 million Tigrayans voted according to the constitution, in a free and fair election observing social distancing, in defiance of the Federal Government that unconstitutionally postponed the Ethiopian general election indefinitely. The Ethiopian prime minister (PM) Abiy Ahmed came to power in April 2018 following the resignation of the previous PM and has never been elected, and given that his interim term of office ended on October 5th 2020, his government is widely seen as lacking legitimacy.
The tension that had been rising over the past two years burst when Abiy’s Federal army amassed troops around Tigray2 for an extended period of time leading to the 4th of November when, together with the Eritrean army from the north3, invaded Tigray from several fronts. It is now clear PM Abiy had been planning this war together with the Eritrean despot, Issayas Afewerki, for some time4, as both leaders had a common and vested interest in destroying the elected government of Tigray. Issayas harbors deep hatred of Tigrayans following the 1998 boarder-war defeat by Ethiopia while Abiy, having locked almost all Ethiopian Opposition leaders over the past few months, perceived Tigray and its leadership posed the only sizeable opposition to his increasingly autocratic rule. Just two weeks before the war, the two leaders were seen to visit each-other’s military training camps openly and it was obvious that they had decided to crush Tigray5, the only state where there had been law and order and peace in contrast to many other regions of Ethiopia. Ironically, Abiy, the 2019 Nobel Peace Prize awardee used this recognition to unleash the most barbaric war crimes on his own people, under the pretext of “law enforcement”. Indeed “analysts now think that this prize-winning peace deal with Eritrea was a little more than a military pact designed to crush the Tigrayan leadership”5. Ordinary civilians have been enduring indiscriminate airstrikes, ethnic targeted arbitrary killings and massacres consistent with genoicide6-8. Wide spread human rights abuses including the rape of women and girls have also been confirmed by the international media and Abiy’s own military9. This has resulted in Over 60,000 traumatized refugees10 who have crossed to Sudan and an estimated 2.5million internally displaced peoples (IDPs). Several reports and eyewitnesses reported that thousands of people have been killed, their villages and towns bombarded11 and looted, by Eritrean soldiers and Amhara militias and the Fano (a clandestine Amhara youth group)12. A significant number of private and public properties have been looted and destroyed including: factories, universities, technical colleges, hospitals, health centers, agricultural farms and irrigation systems, tractors, ambulances, construction machinery and trucks, dairy farms, horticulture farms, and old churches and heritages. The civilian atrocities and decimation of Tigray, reconstructed from the 1984 famine, by much public effort and investment is summarized in the Table below.
Despite the assurance given to the UN General Secretary by Abiy that Eritrean troops have not crossed to Tigray, an Ethiopian army official confirmed otherwise.18 Indeed, a British newspaper the Telegraph, reported: “The extent of Eritrea’s involvement in Ethiopia’s brutal civil war has been exposed after an Ethiopian general was caught on camera admitting soldiers from the secretive gulag-state (Eritrea) had been conscripted to fight in his country.”19 Although the Tigray Regional Government’s president, Dr Debretsion Gebremichael had alerted the world of the clear involvement of Eritrean soldiers in Tigray from the start based on the testimonies of captured Eritrean soldiers, it was not until early in December that the US confirmed this to be “credible”.20 Lately, the involvement of Somalia’s nearly 3000 military forces, trained by the Eritrean Government21, in the Tigray war has become evident. It is well recognized that Eritrea is a highly militarised, police state ruled by a despot without any elections or constitution for the past 30 years. Many hundreds of thousands of Eritreans have fled the country’s horrendous military conscription, which often keeps people working in forced labor for decades.19 Sadly, the 100,000 Eritrean refugees currently in Tigray were now at the mercy of Eritrean invaders who have “raided these camps, torturing refugees and deporting them back to Eritrea.”19 The U.N. refugee chief Filippo Grandi cited recent satellite imagery of fires and other destruction at the two inaccessible camps as “concrete indications of major violations of international law.”22
Unfortunately, history has repeatedly shown that dictators do not respond to toothless “requests” but robust sanctions. To date, the UN has not tabled a formal motion for debate at the Security Council. Only the EU, to its credit, withheld the planned €88 million aid to the Ethiopian government until and unless a humanitarian corridor is allowed. The High Representative Joseph Borrell stated: “the situation on the ground goes well beyond a purely internal ‘law and order’ operation. We receive consistent reports of ethnic-targeted violence, killings, massive looting, rapes, forceful returns of refugees and possible war crimes. More than 2 .5 million people have been internally displaced. And while people are in dire need of aid, access to the affected region remains limited, which makes it very difficult to deliver humanitarian assistance” 23. This week the Washington Post16 reported: “the first humanitarian workers to arrive after pleading with the Ethiopian government for access describe weakened children dying from diarrhea after drinking from rivers. Shops were looted or depleted weeks ago. A local official told a Jan. 1 crisis meeting of government and aid workers that hungry people had asked for “a single biscuit.” With banks closed and people unable to access money, it is now clear more than 4.5 million Tigrayans need emergency food supplies and without this, aid workers warned “hundreds of thousands might starve to death”16. What is happening in Tigray is unprecedented and is indeed a silent genocide of the 21st century through complete blockage, looting and destruction of infrastructure including hospitals and other life-saving services, mass starvation and arbitrary killing of civilians. The main purpose is to destroy the local economy, create a feeling of alienation and food deprivation in order to keep the people of Tigray under political control of the PM. These tactics by the Government has effectively turned starvation into a weapon of war, to force the Tigray population to surrender because of job loss, and deprivation to healthcare services, potable water and food distribution.
The international community can no longer wait and let another man-made famine unfold in Tigray. For no fault of theirs the people have suffered enough!
We hereby are calling on the International Community for immediate actions as follows:
- Immediate cessation of the war and withdrawal of Eritrean forces without any preconditions
- Unfettered and full access to humanitarian corridor for aid (life-line support) to avoid a humanitarian catastrophe
- Immediate and full access to independent media
- Lifting of communication blockage and restoration of essential services
- UN-mandated independent investigation into the war, war crimes and tabling the issue at UNSC
- UN monitoring for the respect of international law, including stoppage to the profiling, targeting, arresting and arbitrary killing of Tigrayans throughout the country
- All-inclusive national dialogue and reconciliation, prior to the General Election
- Immediate deployment of UN peacekeeping force to stabilize the humanitarian and political instability in the region
Click to download the file in PDF Press Release Civilian Atrocities, Sexual Violence and a Looming Famine in Tigray