The African Union and the Tigray War: A reprehensible failure to uphold Union principles and protect civilians.


(By Afrem M. from Mekelle, First published on –

The over six months-old Tigray armed conflict waged by the Ethiopian, Eritrean and Amhara merciless leaders and their hundreds of thousands of forces against the people of Tigray (and not against the TPLF) resulted in the death and rape of tens of thousands of unarmed civilians and the displacement and starvation of millions.

As rightly stated by Amnesty International, the African Union (AU) and its institutions have almost done nothing in response to such dreadful crimes against the Tigray people. In fact, some African countries have disgracefully opposed a global action by the United Nations Security Council (UNSC). Of course, some few members of the Union have sided with the people of Tigray and demanded action in line with the AU’s norms and principles.

Today, irrespective of such a failure of the AU, the whole world knows, as widely reported by global bodies, human rights groups and credible media outlets, such as the UNSC, Horn of Africa Human Rights Forum, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, the European Union, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and CNN, that the Ethiopian and Eritrean armies and the Amhara forces are committing gross crimes against the people of Tigray by murdering, raping and torturing them en masse; looting and evicting them from their homes; wantonly vandalising and destroying their private and public property, services, infrastructure and their cultural and religious heritages; and ethnic profiling, arresting, searching and intimidating them in the whole of Ethiopia.

Deliberate and indiscriminate shelling of cities, towns, villages, churches and historic sites such as the Axum Obelisk and the Al-Nejashi Mosque are rampant, as fully reported by reputed rights groups.

Mass crimes and their effects

A U.S. government leaked report published by the New York Times, confirms that the Amhara forces in the Tigray conflict, are “deliberately and efficiently rendering Western Tigray ethnically homogeneous through the organized use of force and intimidation …. Whole villages were severely damaged or completely destroyed”.

This is corroborated by several credible reports. For example, the Ethiopian Federal Government installed Interim Administration of Tigray confirmed on 4 March, 2021 that one million Tigrayans from Western Tigray are missing. Such crimes are largely, but not fully, recognised by the Ethiopia’s Human Rights Commission Report of atrocities, sexual violence, looting and vandalism committed by the Amhara forces that are effectively controlling western (and southern) Tigray.

These grave violations of international human rights and humanitarian laws have caused the displacement of 2.2. million Tigrayans inside the region and over 60,000 fled to Sudan. Most shockingly, 4.5. million Tigrayans are facing the risk of man-made famine; despite some of the efforts made to deliver aid under international pressure and the uncheked claim of the Ethiopian government that it has delivered aid to millions of people, 80% of Tigray territory remained inaccessible to humanitarian relief and aid agencies. This dire situation, has already led to famine, and continued to alarm the United Nations. 

Save the Children reported that 5000 Tigray children are either left without parents or are separated from loved ones, due to the conflict and the crimes committed by the Eritrean, federal and Amhara forces.

Terrorising, torturing, abusing and assaulting Tigrayan civilians in cities, towns and villages of Tigray is commonplace—by the Eritrean, federal and Amhara forces in violation of human rights and humanitarian norms.

he ethnic cleansing continue to be perpetrated against Tigrayans was extended, inter alia, to African Union and UN peacekeeping personnel of Tigray origin—they were assaulted in South Sudan, detained and allegedly tortured upon their forced turned from Somalia and South Sudan and the Sudan. There is also an alleged kidnapping of a serving Tigray peacekeeper from the Sudan.

Ethnic profiling, harassment, illegal arrests, searches and abuses against Tigray civilians is rampant in other parts of Ethiopia. Tens of thousands of civilians, military and police officers have been detained in several concentration camps across the country.

In addition to the misery of millions of Tigrayans inside and outside the war zone, over 100,000 Eritrean refugees have also been impacted by this senseless war; the UN condemned the abduction, murder and arrests of thousands of Eritrean refugees by the Eritrean government in violation of established international Refugee norms. 

Deceit, cover up and obstruction of justice

The Ethiopian, Eritrean and Amhara regional authorities are engaged in a concerted effort to obstruct global justice by intimidating victims, survivors and witnesses across Tigray; their high-ranking political leaders, ministers and diplomats are also engaged in global campaigns to quell voices of justices in the name of sovereignty and non-interference to Ethiopia’s affairs. This is clearly an abuse and using the principles as a shield–Ethiopia is killing, raping, displacing and destroying the livelihoods of its own people in partnership with Eritrea, a foreign state that should not have been involved in the conflict.

The Ethiopian and Eritrean governments were acting in bad faith by making a total denial of the full military intervention of Eritrea to the conflict in violation of the AU Constitutive Act and the UN Charter.

Despite their overdue admission of mass atrocities and Eritrea’s intervention in the last few months, they are working hard to deceive the international community by making false promises to jointly investigate the atrocious crimes they have perpetrated and the withdrawal of Eritrean forces from Ethiopia’s territory. 

Tigray crimes offend human conscious and universal norms

The Tigray international and non-international armed conflict and the flagrant violations of international humanitarian, refugee, African Union and UN laws, in particular the atrocities committed by the Eritrean, Ethiopian and Amhara forces such as the Axum, Mariam Denglat and Debre Abay monastery, Mahbere-Dego, Hadush Adi, Temben, Hawzen, etc. massacres and the widespread and systemic gang rape and malicious looting, vandalism and destruction of property in Tigray, have shocked global public conscious. There is no doubt that Africans have also been shocked by such two or more states-sponsored international crimes.

Clearly, the Tigray armed conflict and resultant humanitarian crisis poses several questions of breaches of AU and UN laws, and engages the Union’s foundational principles, as enshrined under Article 4 of the Constitutive Act, including:

  • ‘the right of the Union to intervene in a Member State pursuant to a decision of the Assembly in respect of grave circumstances, namely: war crimes, genocide and crimes against humanity’;
  • ‘the non-interference by any Member State in the internal affairs of another’; and
  • ‘respect for democratic principles, human rights, the rule of law and good governance’;

Furthermore, the forced eviction of hundreds of thousands of Tigrayans from western and southern Tigray, contrary to the Ethiopian constitution, is a flagrant breach of the African (Kampala Convention) of 2009.

An abuse of the motto: ‘African solutions to African problems’

However, some officials of the Union and member States appear to have sided with the Eritrean and Ethiopian regimes, instead of upholding Union norms and international law, by abusing the slogan of ‘African solution to African problems’.

Watching idle and hindering international action while two-state sponsored crimes are being committed against an ethnic and national group in the continent can only send a wrong message to other human rights abusers and the international community about the integrity of the AU, its institutions and officials.

Furthermore, although the power struggle between the Abiy Ahmed-led Prosperity Party and the Tigray Peoples Liberation Front (TPLF) had contributed to the escalation of political tensions in the country, the African Union and its member States must understand that the Tigray armed conflict is now between the Tigray people on the one hand, and the three aggressor and repressor forces and their allies on the other.

This is why tens of thousands of Tigrayans are joining the struggle against foreign subjugation and extreme internal repression.

The crackdown and designation of some political actors as terrorist groups by the Ahmed regime would also exacerbate the dire humanitarian and conflict situation in Ethiopia.

The Union must act now to uphold its norms

Pursuant to the objectives and principles of the Protocol Relating to the Establishment of the Peace and Security Council (PSC) of the African Union, in the light of UN Charter obligations and the primary responsibility of the United Nations Security Council, the Union must undertake its responsibility by taking action to:

  1. Peacefully settle the armed conflict between the Ethiopian Federal Government and the Amhara forces on the one hand, and the Tigray regional state forces on the other hand;
  2. Uphold fundamental human rights and international human rights law as clearly stipulated in Article 4 (c) of the Protocol that established the PSC;
  3. Compel Eritrea to immediately and unconditionally withdraw from Tigray in accordance with Art 4 (f) of the Protocol;
  4. Invoke ‘the right of the Union to intervene’ to the Ethiopia/Tigray complex conflict in response to the gross war crimes, crimes against humanity and potential genocide that are continued to be committed, in consultation with the Assembly of the Union;
  5. Fully collaborate with the United Nations Security Council that has the primary responsibility to maintain international peace and security, and other like-minded states, in particular the United States and European countries, to: i) establish and dispatch an impartial inquiry commission; ii) protect Tigrayan civilians, victims, survivors and witnesses; iii) ensure unfettered aid delivery across Tigray; and vi) force the Eritrean and Amhara forces, as the main obstacles to peace and stability in the region and alleged perpetrators of the atrocious crimes there, immediately and unconditionally withdraw form Tigray; and
  6. Not recognise the crimes perpetrated by the Abiy and Isaias regimes by refusing to endorse the Ethiopian bogus election that is designed to provide legitimacy of an illegal and criminal regime that has been implicated in committing gross violations of African and international laws.

Short message:

In short, the African Union, its Member States and institutions must therefore stand with the people of Tigray, and not with those who are blatantly engaged in mass crimes at best. They must not give deaf ears to victims of atrocities, rape, eviction and starvation and hinder international action at worst.


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