More than five million people in Ethiopia's Tigray region are dependent on humanitarian aid, according to UN estimates, and around two million people have been displaced. Since November 2020, a war has been raging in Tigray between the government army, its allies and the rebels of the Tigray People's Liberation Front (TPLF). Numerous serious human rights violations have occurred, including the massacre of civilians in the region. The Ethiopian Foreign Ministry now claims that the military operation is over, but the situation remains critical. Before the conflict erupted, the U.S. Agency for International Development's “Famine Early Warning System Network“ rated the food situation in Tigray as stable. Today, it's warning of a hunger crisis.
The government in Ethiopia prevents journalists from reporting freely in the area. As a result, it is quite difficult to gather reliable information on the situation in Tigray. The World Peace Foundation, based at Tufts University, holds the Ethiopian government and its allies responsible for the humanitarian crisis. According to a report by its researchers, Ethiopian politicians are using hunger as a weapon: a war crime. The report draws on eyewitness and media accounts, the work of human rights organizations, assessments by the UN and an analysis of satellite imagery.
The systematic plundering of assets left many households in Tigray destitute and limited their ability to generate income and acquire food. Displaced persons have reported threats against farmers, destroyed tools, stolen livestock and burned fields. In addition, the conflict disrupted the sale of agricultural products and activities, as well as labor migration. The United Nations also claims that humanitarian access to the area continues to be unpredictable. There has been an increasing number of incidents in which the transport of aid was denied and vehicles and their cargo were confiscated by the warring parties.
The TPLF dominated Ethiopian politics for nearly three decades, leading the ruling party coalition called the “Revolutionary Democratic Front of the Ethiopian Peoples“ (EPRDF). During that time, the country was a repressive autocracy, with the TPLF hated in many parts of the country. In 2018, its coalition partners allied against the group. Abiy Ahmed came to head the EPRDF, took over as the head of government and instituted various reforms. He settled a decades-old conflict with neighboring Eritrea and attempted to limit the TPLF's power.
Soon after, Abiy formed the new “Prosperity Party“, which was joined by all of the former EPRDF factions – with the exception of the TPLF, which opposed the government and refused to accept its loss of power. When Ethiopia's national elections were postponed due to the Corona pandemic, Tigray held a regional election, which Abiy declared illegal. He then accused the TPLF of attacking a key federal military base and launched a massive offensive to suppress the group. In the process, he received the support of Eritrea, whose dictator Isaias Afwerki is a longtime enemy of the TPLF. In addition to soldiers from the neighboring country, militias are also active in Tigray alongside the government forces.
Mukesh Kapila, a former UN official in Sudan and an expert on crisis and conflict management, warned in the Daily Telegraph, “If you look at the pattern of killings and other incidents including sexual violence, use of starvation – there is a pattern of genocidal events. They’re taking place in close juxtaposition to each other. That points to a degree of orchestration.“
Kapila is not alone in his assessment. Many other observers, such as Tsedale Lemma, an Ethiopian journalist of the news magazine, Addis Standard, warn that the human rights violations in Tigray are partly genocidal in nature. Addis Ababa rejects most of the accusations. However, Abiy also stated in March, “We know the destruction that this war has caused. Regardless of the TPLF propaganda of exaggeration, any soldier responsible for raping our women and looting communities in the region will be held accountable, as their mission is to protect.“
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