(By The Horn of Africa Civil Society Forum, 26 March 2021) –
In 2018 Prime Minister (PM) Abiy started a very much welcome peace process with Eritrea. An initiative for which he received the Nobel Peace Prize in 2019. However, it is now clear that the talks between PM Abiy and President Isais were not about peace and normalisation of relationships; they were high-level secret preparations for war against Tigray. A Tigray whose autonomy and whose political elites emerged as mutual enemies requiring removal, especially following the September regional elections1.
The Horn of Africa Civil Society Forum (HoACS Forum) is gravely concerned about Tigray’s war; it is a conflict that has already resulted in the pain and suffering of the thousands of people in Tigray. It has also caused a resurgence of humanitarian access restrictions, freedom of information, and speech. The Eritrean military’s involvement means that this is a conflict that has a regional dimension and impact.
It is a brutal conflict implicating armed groups, especially the Eritrean forces and the Amhara militia, in human rights crimes against Tigray’s people already reported by Amnesty International2, Human Right Watch3, Ethiopian Human Rights Commission4, and the international media.
- The Major crimes committed since the declaration of war on Tigray on the 4th of November 2020 include:
- Grave atrocities and heavy indiscriminate shelling and aerial bombing of populated areas including using Unmanned Arial Vehicle (drones);
- Extrajudicial executions of tens of thousands of civilians;
- Denying people to collect corpses of their loved ones and let the hyenas eat corps;
- Widespread rape and sexual violence against women and girls used as a weapon of war;
- Systematic starvation of people by looting and deliberately destroying food and livelihood sources critical for survival;
- Deliberate and long interruption of basic services: water, electricity, phone, internet and banking and medical emergencies to deny fundamental needs and disrupt communication and support from families, relatives, and friends;
- Prohibition of humanitarian access and looting and diversion of aid deliberately to cause mass starvation and famine employed as a weapon of war;
- Ethnic profiling, firing from jobs, eviction from rental houses, detention and imprisonment in internment camps of tens of thousands of Tigrayans soldiers in the Ethiopian defence forces, including those in UN peacekeeping missions, wealthy private business owners, those that have been working in Ethiopian Airlines, banks and other public and private companies;
- Forcible return and attacks on refugee camps;
- The forced disappearance of close to 20,000 Eritrean refugees from Shimlba and Histats and the repeated and pre-planned destruction of the refugee camps;
- Annexure of a large swath of Tigray by the Amhara militias & systematic demographic change;
- Forcing people to acquire Eritrean ID and barring humanitarian assistant from reaching particularly to the Irob communities in Tigray by the Eritrean forces;
- Massive displacement of people, including 67,000 refugees from Tigray and more than 2 million internally displaced persons within Tigray;
- The systematic destruction of industries such as Almeda Textile Factory, Addis Pharmaceuticals, Sheba Leather, and Tsemayat Marble Stones;
- Systematic destruction and pillage of UNESCO registered and other heritage sites, religious and cultural buildings including in Aksum, Negash, and Debre Damo;
- Systematic destruction and looting of public and private service institutions and properties such as universities, hospitals, pharmacies, health centres, schools, hotels, bakery;
- The organised looting and unlawful confiscation of the Endowment Fund’s properties for Tigray’s Rehabilitation (EFFORT). A multi-million – dollar public endowment that belonged to the people and government of Tigray.
On the 4th of November 2020, Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed appeared on national TV and announced the start of the ‘law and order operation in Tigray. He ordered the Ethiopian National Defence Forces (ENDF) — Ethiopia’s military to apprehend members and supports of the Tigray Peoples Liberation Front (TPLF) and their supporters, if necessary, by force; hence to fight the Tigray regional paramilitary police and militia loyal to the TPLF. He justified the initiative because the Tigray security forces had attacked the ENDF’s Northern Command, based in Mekelle. Since the start of this conflict, the ENDF has relied on the support of special forces and militias from the Amhara region, which borders Tigray and the Eritrean Defence Force.
The legal status of the Eritrean forces in Tigray is not clear, nor is the command structure under which they are operating5. Both the Ethiopian federal government and the Eritrean regime have made contradictory statements about Eritrean soldiers’ involvement in Tigray’s conflict. In Ethiopia, senior military commanders6 and the Tigray interim civilian administration have repeatedly confirmed the Eritrean army presence in the region. These contradictions expose the opaque nature of the federal government’s relationship with the Eritrean regime7.
If the federal government of Ethiopia admits to the presence of Eritrean forces in Tigray, the responsibility for Eritrean soldiers’ actions will fall on both countries. If Ethiopia denies Eritrean forces presence in Tigray, then their presence is an act of invasion, and it is the Ethiopian government’s responsibility to repel such invasion. To acquiesce to the invasion and the associated violations of civilian and refugees human rights by Eritrea is an abdication of the Ethiopian government’s responsibility to protect its population and the refugees. It is a severe breach of international law.
Read the full report: The Horn of Africa Civil Society Forum Report on Tigray 26 March 2021