Alarming the international community of the intensified air strikes aimed at the destruction of Tigray and call for declaration of a No-Fly zone over Tigray

Open Letters

For Immediate Release

The Global Society of Tigray Scholars and Professionals (GSTS) registers deep alarm at the continued airstrikes by the Ethiopian National Defense Forces (ENDF) on Mekelle, the capital city of the Tigray region, which have been being conducted daily since the 18th of October 2021. Under the disguise of military targets, these airstrikes are indiscriminately bombing a densely populated city and its surrounding suburbs, areas currently also hosting hundreds of thousands of internally displaced people (IDPs). It is evident that the ongoing airstrikes are nothing more than reprisal attacks meant to destroy Tigray’s remaining infrastructure and other basic livelihoods; and terrorize the people of Tigray. Media outlets, humanitarian workers, and other eyewitnesses reported scores of civilian casualties and countless grievously injured, including children and pregnant women. The inaction (beyond mere words of condemnation) by the international community following the airstrikes on Mekelle has further emboldened the Ethiopian government to even expand its indiscriminate airstrikes to other areas of Tigray, including the air raids conducted on the towns of Agbe (Tembien) on October 20, 2021,1 Adwa and Mai Tsebri on October 24, 2021.2 In Mai Tsebri and Adwa, local hospital and what little is left of Almeda Textile factory, which had been destroyed by Ethio-Eritrean forces months ago, were respectively targeted.3

GSTS is particularly troubled by the alarming events surrounding the 22nd of October when the Ethiopian government deliberately timed an air raid to coincide with a scheduled and previously cleared, UN humanitarian flight. The Ethiopian government intentionally sought to put the UN flight in the middle of the crossfire, as Tigrayan Forces would be forced to respond to the airstrikes, an incident that would have jeopardized the lives of several UN humanitarian workers and sparked international condemnation. Beyond illuminating the callous nature of the Ethiopian government, the airstrikes show further Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s complete disregard for human life and international norms. Currently, thousands of Tigrayans are dying due to lack of humanitarian aid, and over a million are in an active famine. Yet, Abiy’s administration is committed to exacerbating this entirely manmade famine by hindering humanitarian operations at every turn.

In response to the Ethiopian government’s reckless decision to use a UN humanitarian flight as a shield for an aerial attack, the UN has decided to halt all humanitarian flights to Tigray, furthering the aim of the Ethiopian government to maintain a total humanitarian blockade and siege on Tigray. The most recent update from the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) revealed that in the last week, only one percent of the more than one million Tigrayans in conditions of active famine and the millions of others in urgent need of aid had been reached. Since July, less than 10% of the needed aid has been allowed into Tigray.4

GSTS underscores that the Ethiopian government’s continued air raids not only have genocidal intentions but also threaten the core principles of human rights and humanitarian laws. More specifically, we would like to highlight four pressing issues surrounding the current campaign of airstrikes.

  1. Despite claims by the Ethiopian regime that aerial attacks were targeting strikes against military installations and training sites, it is widely known that there are no military centres left in Mekelle, Agbe (Tembien), Mai Tsebri, and Adwa after the ENDF left the cities. Therefore, the primary targets have been civilian infrastructure, including factories and universities. The government’s indiscriminate shelling and aerial bombardment of civilian infrastructure in densely populated areas have characterized the war on Tigray from its start in November 2020.5 In the months since, the allied Ethiopian forces have engaged in the systematic destructions and looting of public and private infrastructure, including factories,6 hospitals7 and schools8, heritage sites, and places of worship.9 As evidenced in these reports, these facilities were deliberately vandalized and destroyed so that they were no longer functional. PM Abiy Ahmed revealed the intentionality behind his campaign to destroy Tigray in a speech following the retreat of the Ethiopian National Defense Forces from Mekelle in June 2021. More specifically, he told the Ethiopian people and the rest of the world that Mekelle had been reduced to the level of small towns such as Abi Addi, Sheraro, or Beshasha [the village of his birth]10so that it is no longer a focal point in Ethiopia.
  2. As has been widely reported, Abiy’s administration has been in the process of purchasing a lot of military weapons, including Unmanned Arial Vehicles (drones) over the past several months. The government’s stockpiling of weapons illuminates that its intensified attacks on Tigray at this time are premeditated and offer further proof of its commitment to escalate its war effort further. GSTS is particularly alarmed to learn from internal sources that the regime in Addis Ababa is further planning for intensified airstrikes against civilians and civilian objects targeting populated cities, hospitals and clinics, agricultural and crop harvest piles, farmlands, markets and businesses, universities, Tekeze hydroelectric power, telecommunications infrastructure, hotels, civilian industrial facilities, and other remaining civilian infrastructure in Tigray, that are indispensable for the survival of ordinary people, only further demonstrate its determination to eradicate the Tigrayan people. Evidence has also surfaced of the Eritrean regime moving heavy weapons toward Zalambesa and other areas, seemingly preparing for another coordinated new invasion of Tigray.
  3. In the past week, the Ethiopian government has intentionally focused its airstrikes on Mekelle. Mekelle is a densely populated city with an estimated population of over one million during times of peace but is currently hosting hundreds of thousands of additional internally displaced people (IDPs). Therefore, the decision to strike Tigray’s most populated city was motivated by its ability to optimize damage on civilian and civilian objects. Civilian harm was exacerbated by the airstrikes being conducted during peak times of civilian activity and over densely populated areas of commerce. The government’s overt act of terrorism is reminiscent of the mass massacres, pillaging, rape and sexual violence, and civilian persecution that plagued the Tigrayan people during the ENDF occupation of the area. Towards the end of this past week, the airstrikes have expanded to include other towns in Tigray such as Agbe (Tembien), Adwa, and Mai Tsebri, once again targeting economic infrastructures and civilian lives and further confirming the evil intent of Abiy’s government to destroy Tigray.
  4. Under Principle VI(b) of the 1950 Nuremberg Principles adopted by the International Law Commission, Ethiopia’s “wanton destruction of cities, towns, or villages, or devastation not justified by military necessity” constitutes a war crime. Furthermore, the Ethiopian government’s year-long practice of civilian persecution and gross atrocities designed to collectively punish the people of Tigray constitute human rights violations and completely disregards all rules of engagement during times of war.

We at GSTS are deeply distressed that this systematic and genocidal campaign against the people of Tigray is being allowed to happen in full view of the international community and UN institutions mandated with protecting and safeguarding civilians in vulnerable contexts. There can be little doubt that in the absence of united, immediate, and resolute action by the international community, the Ethiopian government and its allies will continue to commit atrocities and violate humanitarian and human rights laws with complete impunity. Under Principle VI(b) of the 1950 Nuremberg Principles adopted by the International Law Commission, Ethiopia’s “wanton destruction of cities, towns, or villages, or devastation not justified by military necessity” constitutes a war crime. Furthermore, the Ethiopian government’s year-long practice of civilian persecution and gross atrocities designed to collectively punish the people of Tigray constitute human rights violations and completely disregards all rules of engagement during times of war.

GSTS reiterates our call to the US, EU, UNSC, NATO, G7, and the international community at large to take immediate action and:

  1. UnequivocallycondemntheairstrikeonTigrayanciviliansandcivilianobjectsand hold the Ethiopian government accountable for violating the 1949 Geneva Conventions, which outlined specific protection of civilians
  2. Urgently establish a “No-Fly Zone” over Tigray, in a way that does not hinder humanitarian aid delivery including air bridge and air drop, to protect civilians from further indiscriminate aerial attacks and to secure unfettered delivery of humanitarian aid via a direct air bridge and air drop into Tigray
  3. Impose targeted sanctions on the Ethiopian and Eritrean governments – including an embargo proscribing the sale or supply of arms, ammunition, military vehicles, and equipment, as well as all other relevant economic and travel bans
  4. Conduct a UN-mandated investigation of all atrocities, including weaponized starvation, weaponized rape, and sexual violence, war crimes, crimes against humanity, and acts of genocide
  5. Exert pressure on all parties into the conflict to immediately end hostilities and sit for an immediate negotiated ceasefire and all-inclusive EU, US, or UN-mediated national political dialogue

The time has come for the world to coerce the Ethiopian government to live up to its international obligations, including the protection of the inviolable and sacrosanct rights of civilians, including during times of conflict. Anything less would be, yet another indefensible failure to collectively enact the Responsibility to Protect (P2P) in the face of gross human rights and international laws violations; and grave atrocities.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

1 https://apnews.com/article/africa-united-nations-kenya-ethiopia-abiy-ahmed- 83a7d47310dd4b0aa1e591228bc339cc

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2021/oct/24/ethiopia-airstrikes-target-tigray-rebels-as-aerial-campaign-continues

3 https://edition.cnn.com/2021/10/24/africa/ethiopia-air-strikes-conflict-tigray-intl/index.html

4 https://reports.unocha.org/en/country/ethiopia

5 https://www.hrw.org/news/2021/02/11/ethiopia-unlawful-shelling-tigray-urban-areas

6 https://www.hrw.org/news/2021/07/02/un-security-council-end-inaction-ethiopia

7 https://msf.org.uk/article/tigray-crisis-hospitals-and-healthcare-centres-deliberately-targetted

8 https://www.hrw.org/news/2021/05/28/ethiopia-tigray-schools-occupied-looted

9 https://www.eepa.be//wp-content/uploads/2020/11/Situation-Report-EEPA-Horn-No.-55-14-January-2021.pdf;

10 https://www.garoweonline.com/en/world/africa/abiy-ahmed-why-i-withdrew-endf-from-tigray

 

 

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