Wednesday, March 03, 2021

Mass atrocities, including the use of rape and sexual violence in the Tigray region of Ethiopia

Ethiopia Tigray

(Source: Forbes, by Ewelina U. Ochab) –

In recent months reports have emerged highlighting the deteriorating situation in the Tigray region of Ethiopia. The ongoing armed conflict began on November 4, 2020, when “Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed ordered the Ethiopian Defense Forces (EDF) to militarily engage with the Tigray Regional Paramilitary Police and militia loyal to the Tigray People Liberation Front (TPLF) in what he stated was a response to multiple attacks by the Tigray security forces on the EDF North Command base in Mekelle and other military camps in Tigray Region.” A few days later, on November 9, 2020, evidence of the mass killing of several hundred people, mainly Amharans, in the western Tigray town of Mai Kadra, began to emerge. Subsequent weeks have seen reports of thousands killed, including civilians, and thousands fleeing to Sudan. In December 2020, the U.N. alleged violations of international humanitarian law and human rights law, including the deliberate targeting of civilians, extrajudicial killings and widespread looting. 

It did not start there and did not end there. Months before the atrocities, human rights organizations were sounding the alarms of atrocities to come. At the end of August 2020, Genocide Watch issued a genocide warning for Ethiopia “due to the government’s inaction to stop ethnically motivated violence between Oromo, Amhara, Tigrayan and Gedeo peoples.” In October 2020, Simon-Skjodt Center for the Prevention of Genocide, US Holocaust Memorial Museum, warned about the high risk of further atrocities: “The multiple conflicts currently roiling Ethiopia and the willingness of antagonists to use violence against civilian populations indicates a risk of further atrocities. As more separatist actors and armed groups take advantage of unrest spreading to further regions of Ethiopia, state security could again target civilians. Leaders in the Tigray region have already defied the central government by conducting regional elections in advance of the delayed national elections, now slated for 2021. The armed youth-led mobs who targeted and killed Oromo and Amhara community members in July have not faced justice. Resentment directed at the Abiy administration from the Oromo opposition is only growing.”

Recent reports suggest that the situation is not getting better either. At the end of January 2021, U.N. Special Representative of the Secretary General on Sexual Violence in Conflict, Pramila Patten, reported on serious allegations of sexual violence in the Tigray region of Ethiopia, including a high number of alleged rapes in the capital, Mekelle. As Patten states: “There are disturbing reports of individuals allegedly forced to rape members of their own family, under threats of imminent violence. Some women have also reportedly been forced by military elements to have sex in exchange for basic commodities, while medical centers have indicated an increase in the demand for emergency contraception and testing for sexually transmitted infections (STIs) which is often an indicator of sexual violence in conflict. In addition, there are increasing reports of sexual violence against women and girls in a number of refugee camps.”

These allegations require urgent investigation and accountability. Patten called upon the parties involved in Tigray region hostilities to commit to a zero-tolerance policy for crimes of sexual violence. She further called on the Government of Ethiopia to exercise its due diligence obligations to “protect all civilians from sexual and other violence, regardless of their ethnic origin and those displaced by conflict, and to promptly allow for an independent inquiry into all allegations of sexual and other forms of violence, to establish the facts and hold perpetrators accountable, provide redress to victims, and prevent further grave violations.”

Furthermore, all those affected by the atrocities require urgent medical and other assistance. This is particularly challenging due to the lack of access to the region. “Immediate medical and psychosocial assistance must be accompanied by protection measures, to ensure that those who have been forced from their homes due to violence are not placed at further risk of sexual violence within the camps. This includes the more than 5,000 Eritrean refugees in and around the area of Shire living in dire conditions, many of them reportedly sleeping in an open field with no water or food, as well as the more than 59,000 Ethiopians who have fled the country into neighboring Sudan.”

Reports of atrocities in the Tigray region require urgent attention. While Ethiopia’s government has been suggesting that the Tigray region has “returned to normalcy”, Ethiopia’s Minister for Women has now confirmed that rape has occurred “conclusively and without a doubt.” The question is now whether the government will hold its own soldiers accountable for these atrocities.


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Ewelina U. Ochab is a human rights advocate, author and co-founder of the Coalition for Genocide Response. Ochab works on the topic of genocide, with specific focus on persecution of religious minorities around the world, with main projects including Daesh genocide in Syria and Iraq, Boko Haram atrocities in West Africa, and the situation of religious minorities in South Asia. Ochab has written over 30 UN reports (including Universal Periodic Review reports) and has made oral and written submissions at the Human Rights Council sessions and the UN Forum on Minority Issues. Ochab is currently working on her PhD in international law, human rights and medical ethics. Ochab authored the initiative and proposal to establish the UN International Day Commemorating Victims and Survivors of Religious Persecution. The initiative has led to the establishment of the UN International Day Commemorating the Victims of Acts of Violence Based on Religion or Belief on August 22. Follow @EwelinaUO

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