Concerns over Humanitarian Crisis in Tigray, Ethiopia
There has been widespread outrage at the recent killing of Seyoum Mesfin, from 1991-2010 the Foreign Minister of Ethiopia, by the armed forces of the current government of Ethiopia. However, it was noticeable that Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab made no public statement on the killing either during or following his recent visit to Ethiopia. It appears that Seyoum Mesfin was assassinated with two other leading members of the Tigray Peoples Liberation Front (TPLF), former Federal Affairs Minister Abay Tsehaye and ex-parliamentary chief whip Asmelash Woldeselassie, in circumstances that remain unclear. Tigray is still cut off from the outside world by the Ethiopian government, which has prevented all communication with the region.
The Ethiopian government claimed that the three men were killed when they refused to surrender to government forces, although five other members of the TPLF were detained alive at the same time. Whatever the circumstances, there can be no justification for the execution of leading politicians, who were elderly civilians, nor for the use of the army in such a manner to resolve political differences. Such acts of force strongly suggest that the aim of the Ethiopian government can be characterised as eliminating the TPLF as a political force within Ethiopia. According to this government’s own reports, it has already killed the Tigray regional state’s former police commissioner and fourteen other leading members of the TPLF, and captured several others including the former president and vice-president of Tigray, as well as Sebhat Nega, one of the organisation’s founders.
The recent action of the Ethiopian army is a continuation of that which took place at the end of last year and amounted to an invasion and military conquest of Tigray by the central government, based on a number of pretexts. What was referred to as a policing operation arose out of political differences between the TPLF, which was the governing party in the state of Tigray, and the central government over constitutional matters relating to the democratic rights of the people of Tigray to vote and elect their own government, as well as the defence of the constitutional rights of all Ethiopians. The TPLF had fought for many years to end the arbitrary and undemocratic rule of the previous military rulers of Ethiopia. It introduced the first democratic elections in Ethiopia and established mechanisms for the people to participate in governance and to deliberate over and decide the nature of Ethiopia’s constitution. As the leading force in the governing Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front, it led many important political and economic developments in Ethiopia from 1991 to 2018. No doubt it made mistakes and had its weaknesses, but it did not act in the arbitrary and violent manner of the current regime, headed by the Nobel peace laureate Abiy Ahmed, which has removed the elected state government of Tigray by military might and is now hunting and killing its leading members, as well as those of the TPLF.
The military conflict in Tigray shows no signs of cessation, despite the claims of the central government, and is now reported to be responsible for over 2.5m people fleeing their homes, a third of Tigray’s population. There are 60,000 refugees who have fled to Sudan, as well as 5,000 Eritrean refugees within Tigray. The UN is still demanding access to the region to deliver food aid and is reporting that troops under the direction of the Ethiopian government are destroying crops and livestock. Even the new interim administration in Tigray has reported that some children have died of hunger and that 4.5m people are urgently in need of emergency food aid. The UN Secretary-General’s representative on sexual violence issued a statement expressing concern about reports of widespread rape in Tigray, including in refugee camps, and demanded that UN monitors be allowed entry to the region. There have also been reports of the destruction and looting of important cultural sites and other atrocities and violations of international law.
There is every sign that a war has been unleashed not only against the TPLF but also against the entire people of Tigray. There are also numerous reports that foreign troops, from both Eritrea and Somalia, have been deployed in this war, while the Ethiopian government stands accused of persecuting Tigrayans and their supporters throughout Ethiopia. In addition, the Ethiopian government continues to act in an oppressive manner in regard to the peoples and regions of other parts of Ethiopia.
In Britain and many other countries, Ethiopians and Eritreans have joined together to condemn the actions of the governments of Ethiopia and Eritrea in Tigray, to call for an end to the violence and to demand the immediate delivery of food and other humanitarian aid. They have also recognised that it will be through their own efforts, as well those of other democratic people throughout the world, that the situation in Ethiopia will be changed for the better. This is the case today just as it was in the recent past when the peoples of Ethiopia and Eritrea overcame many difficulties created by oppressive governments, chiefly through their own self-reliant struggles.