(Source: Boston Review, by ALEX DE WAAL, 02 March 2021) –
A civil war in the northern region of Tigray broke out in November 4, 2020. Denial within the international community has prevented much-needed humanitarian aid.
At terrifying speed, a humanitarian disaster of is unfolding in the Tigray region of northern Ethiopia. Amidst an ongoing civil war that broke out in November, the Tigrayan people are starving en masse. Occupying soldiers are killing, raping, and ransacking, mercilessly and systematically. The personable, reformist prime minister Abiy Ahmed Ali—who little more than a year ago was basking in the glow of a Nobel Peace prize—is driving his country into the abyss. There are indications that he wishes it wasn’t so, but every sign points to the fact that the forces he has unleashed are beyond his control. They include ethnic militia and the vast army of neighboring Eritrea, both implicated in sickening atrocities.
Amidst an ongoing civil war that broke out in November, the Tigrayan people are starving en masse.
The “international community”—African, American, and European diplomats, the United Nations and its agencies—have known for months that something truly horrendous is happening. But like shocked onlookers, they haven’t wanted to believe the facts. Ethiopians too—including government ministers, ambassadors, and humanitarian workers—are confused and in denial. They don’t want to believe that these things could happen in their country. Our collective pretense that things couldn’t be so bad is the biggest obstacle to stopping starvation and mass atrocity in Ethiopia.
The reports trickling out from Tigray are growing more shocking by the day. A report by Amnesty International documenting a massacre at the cathedral city of Axum has seized the headlines over the last few days. That atrocity is known to the world because pilgrims—including Ethiopian Americans—had congregated there for an annual festival. Amnesty International accuses Eritrean troops of perpetrating the atrocity. But it appears that the slaughter of civilians is happening everywhere.
The New York Times has got hold of a copy of an internal U.S. government report that documents “ethnic cleansing” in western Tigray, and CNN and Vice World News have compiled and cross-checked survivor testimonies from two other separate massacres in which scores, even hundreds, were killed and villages were burned. A graphic video taken shows soldiers standing over the bodies of the dead and dying discussing how to finish off those crying out in pain. And this is ongoing: last week, satellite evidence showed that more than 500 buildings were burned in another location, Gijet, where Tigrayan sources describe a scorched earth operation by six divisions of the Eritrean army.
People are dying of hunger. Aid workers tell of “staggeringly high” numbers of malnourished children, of hospitals so comprehensively ransacked that there are literally no medicines, of fields of standing crops burned by soldiers and grain stores and warehouses looted. Nurses say that they are receiving—but can’t help—a daily stream of women and girls who have survived rape.