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Ethiopia – Tigray: Calls to stop fighting as Tigrayan forces inch closer to Addis Ababa

By Jaysim Hanspal
Posted on Thursday, 4 November 2021 17:35

Ethiopia Tigray Crisis
Captured Ethiopian government soldiers and allied militia members line up after being paraded by Tigray forces through the streets in open-top trucks, as they arrived to be taken to a detention center in Mekele, the capital of the Tigray region of northern Ethiopia Friday, Oct. 22, 2021. (AP Photo)

In the wake of a damning report by the UN on the atrocities committed by both sides in the year-old war, and as Tigrayan forces advance on the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa, calls for a stop to the fighting are growing louder regionally and internationally.

On Wednesday, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) released its report on the Tigray conflict, citing horrific consequences of the war on both sides, including deliberate attacks on innocent civilians and extrajudicial killings. According to the report, violence against women has increased with “rape and other forms of sexual violence have been used to degrade and dehumanise the victims”.

The report covers the period from 3 November 2020, when the armed conflict began between the Ethiopian National Defence Force (ENDF), the Eritrean Defence Force (EDF) and the Tigrayan Special Forces (TSF), until 28 June 2021, when the Ethiopian government declared a ceasefire.

Reactions to UN report

In partnership with the government-created Ethiopian Human Rights Commission (EHRC), the report has faced criticism for its potential for bias. The investigation, for example, did not visit all key locations, such as Axum in Tigray, where in November 2020, hundreds of unarmed civilians were massacred, according to Amnesty International.

Humanitarian groups such as Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International are currently barred from Tigray, making this report the only official source of information on atrocities of the ongoing war.

Omna Tigray, a non-profit collective of international Tigrayan professionals, denounced the “profoundly flawed” report. They said: “It is important that the joint report is rejected as at best, an incomplete and at worst, dangerously inaccurate depiction of the atrocious events of the last year of the war on Tigray.”

Key advisor to the President of Tigray, Getachew K Reda, said in a tweet on Tuesday that “hardly any effort was made to reach out to the #GovernmentofTigray”. While he commended the efforts of the UN to investigate the crimes, he criticised the “faulty methodology” of the report.

The US special envoy for the Horn of Africa, Jeffrey Feltman is due in Addis Ababa today (4 November), the anniversary of the conflict, to discuss efforts to quell the conflict with the government and avoid any potential attacks on the city by the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF). The country is currently under a state of emergency after the TPLF said they had gained ground.

Forces advancing onto Addis

Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed was criticised on Sunday after his Facebook post called on citizens to take up arms against Tigray forces as they advance on the capital.

In the post, the PM wrote the Tigray were “pushing the country to its demise.” He asked citizens to “organise and march through [any] legal manner with every weapon and power… to prevent, reverse and bury the terrorist TPLF”.

Facebook, which recently faced criticism after leaked documents revealed that armed groups used the platform to instigate violence against ethnic minorities, responded to the continued criticism of their role in the conflict.

It said: “We were made aware of a post by Ethiopia’s Prime Minister and removed this for violating our policies against inciting and supporting violence.”

Meanwhile, the mass arrest of Tigrayans in Addis Ababa continues, with online reports suggesting people are rushing to the airport to avoid the impending violence. One Twitter user said: “They’re conducting house-to-house searches. Thousands of Tigrayans are being arrested and put into concentration camps because of their identity in midst of [the] pandemic.”

Call to stop fighting

There have been international calls to stop the fighting in Ethiopia as violence from both sides continues to escalate. In a statement issued by Kenya’s President Uhuru Kenyatta, he urged for peace and de-escalation in the region.

“The origins of the crisis, bitter and unacceptable as they might appear, can no longer be used as a justification for the continued suffering, killings and the extended open warfare that now engulfs the nation,” wrote Kenyatta.

Uganda’s President Yoweri Museveni has also called for an East African leaders summit on 16 November to discuss the conflict. He said the lack of dialogue between the opposing sides has been “particularly disturbing”.

Brink of famine and starvation

The year-long conflict has pushed the Tigray population into starvation and famine, as the Ethiopian government continues its blockade on the region, stopping aid and farming equipment from reaching both civilians and rebels. According to a list obtained by The Associated Press, humanitarian workers boarding rare flights to the region are banned from bringing can openers, multivitamins, and medicines with them – “even personal ones”.

A joint statement from the European Commission following a roundtable on the situation in Tigray said the crisis was “pushing 400,000 innocent people to the brink of famine and loss of life.”

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