The Humanitarian Crisis in Tigray, Ethiopia, and the Need for Balance
by Aklog Birara (Dr)
- Ethiopia is a founding member of the UN and a major contributor to peacekeeping operations. It hosts the African Union and numerous UN specialized agencies.
- For decades, Ethiopia stood out as a pillar of stability, a promising model for sustainable and equitable development in Africa.
- Ethiopia’s reform process over the past 3 years was poised to establish multi-party democracy through free and fair elections; and restore public confidence in Government officials at all levels of government after almost 30 years of corrupt governance. The reform process was marred by the defection of the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) that sponsored at least 133 ethnic conflicts in the past 12 months alone.
- The TPLF committed treason and heinous crimes against humanity in its selective murders of non-Tigrean military officers and soldiers affiliated with Ethiopia’s Northern Command in Tigray; followed by its wholesale massacres of Amhara at the village of Mai Kadra where 1,200 innocent people, including day laborers were slaughtered.
- The international community failed to hold the TPLF and its allies accountable for the numerous reported and unreported Mai Kadra like killings throughout Ethiopia. Reversing the matter and accusing the victims as responsible for crimes they never committed is unprecedented in the annals of recent history. This undermines the moral high ground and authority of international institutions including the UN and the AU.
- Over the 27 years of brutal governance, the TPLF promulgated draconian civil society and anti-terrorist laws; killed tens of thousands of Oromo, Somali, Annuak, Amhara and other nationalities, most of them young; stole, siphoned off and illicitly moved out of Ethiopia an estimated $40 billion that it is currently using to lobby, conduct cyberwarfare, disseminate disinformation, and finance the resurgence of the TPLF.
- The TPLF must be designated as a terrorist organization. It committed heinous crimes and treason. It is also determined to make Ethiopia another Syria, Somalia and or Yemen. This is hardly in the interest of Africa or the world community.
- A unified, stable, and prosperous Ethiopia is in the interest of the international community. This is where the community of nations must focus.
- Tragically, TPLF resurgence is being orchestrated in cohort with Ethiopia’s traditional enemies including Egypt and Sudan. The recent invasion of Ethiopia by Sudan, the annexation of Ethiopian sovereign territory by Sudan, the Defense pact signed by Egypt and Sudan and the stalled tripartite negotiation concerning the filling and operation of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (the GERD) all pose imminent danger for Ethiopia and the entire Horn of Africa.
- Tripartite negotiation on the GERD must continue under the auspices of the African Union. Further involvement by the UN, the European Union, the United States, and the World Bank in this African matter will undercut and severely impair the role of the African Union. The UN Security Council must refrain from entertaining Egypt’s demand.
- The Ethiopian people need peace. Ethiopia needs national reconciliation and consensus, and not more internal conflicts and proxy wars. The war in Tigray caused incalculable damage estimated at billions of Ethiopian Birr. The humanitarian crisis and the scars of war require long-term investment by the Government of Ethiopia and its international partners. Ethiopian society needs to heal. This is where the UN Security Council and the African Union can help.
- Sanctioning Ethiopia will do the exact opposite. Economic and other sanctions against Ethiopia will inflame the situation further. It will be unprecedented. This option must not even be contemplated by the UN. Such a move will in fact embolden extremist, jihadist, terrorist, and other dangerous forces in the Horn of Africa.
To be relevant, the UN Security Council Must be Fair and Impartial
From the League of Nations up to now, Ethiopia, as a country, has been committed to collective security. It is committed to the foundational principle in the UN Charter of non-interference of any state or organization in the domestic affairs of any other nation.
- Article 2.7 of the Charter provides that – “Nothing contained in the present Charter shall authorize the United Nations to intervene in matters which are essentially within the domestic jurisdiction of any state or shall require the Members to submit such matters to settlement under the present.” Ethiopia deserves respect.
- The war in Tigray and the ensuing humanitarian crisis, including hunger, displacement, any type of killing or rape or any other abuse of citizens is tragic. Equally tragic is the fact that the international community has thus far failed to report that the Government of Ethiopia is engaged in mitigating the crisis by providing 70 percent of the entire humanitarian assistance in Tigray. The Government of Ethiopia did not start the war,
- It saddens those of us who are committed to inclusive governance in Ethiopia and who mobilize and channel funds constantly to support humanitarian causes in Ethiopia regardless of ethnic affiliation that the UN Security Council accepted an unverified report concerning large scale killings in the historic town of Aksum by Ethiopian and Eritrean forces.
- Collateral damage in a war like environment is inevitable. There is no credible and corroborated evidence to support large scale killing in Aksum. TPLF cadres are reported to have shot at some innocent civilians with the intent of blaming it on Ethiopian and Eritrean troops.
- Insiders report that church services at Aksum, one of Ethiopia’s most sacred places of worship took place without incident. The TPLF attacked Eritrea and cities in Ethiopia’s heartland with rockets. So, why did the UN Security Council fail to recognize this criminal act and the fabricated dissemination of narratives by the TPLF?
- Insiders confirm that innocent civilians have been killed. Denial is therefore not credible. Scale matters too. The wholesale and ethnically targeted massacre that deserves international scrutiny is the one that took place in Mai Kadra. Why is that missing then?
- “Why did the UN Security Council fail to demand accountability for the genocide perpetrated by the TPLF’s youth wing, Samri, in Mai Kadra where more than 1,200 innocent lives were slaughtered?” Amnesty International and the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights had reported this genocidal act by the TPLF. However, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights who had expressed outrage then did not follow through with action. Why the neglect? Is this deliberate?
- In Wolkait, Tegede, Telemt, Raya in the North (the Amhara region) and in Metekel, Beni- Shangul Gumuz region and in Oromia hundreds of innocent civilians most of them Amhara were massacred. There is no guarantee that more ethnically targeted murders will not take place.
- In Beni-Shangul Gumuz, innocent farmers were killed with arrows and or hacked with machetes. Hundreds killed were hauled and dumped into a mass grave. This dehumanization undermines Ethiopian renowned burial ceremony of burying the dead with utmost care and respect. Further, reports by independent entities and communities reveal mass graves in Setit-Humera, in the Amhara region and in Tigray, all committed by the TPLF. Mass graves are a standard practice of the TPLF.
- Over 40 years, the TPLF evicted tens of thousands of indigenous people; expelled hundreds of thousands from their homes and properties and forced them to seek refugee status in neighboring nations. This occurred throughout the Amhara region. Why is the UN system silent on this human tragedy?
- Rape by any person or group is abominable. The UN must understand that it was standard practice for Tigrean men to maim or kill Amhara husbands and marry their grieving spouses. It was a norm for the Amhara population in occupied lands to be denied the right to speak their language or to practice their culture. The demographic changes that took place in lands annexed by the TPLF are underreported or not reported by the UN. Why is that?
- Despite these atrocities over 40 plus years, the Ethiopian people treated Tigrean- Ethiopians with dignity and respect during the TPLF initiated war. Wounded and sick Tigrean-Ethiopians were given health care in hospitals in Gondar, the Amhara region. Ethiopians Defense Forces made sure that leaders of the TPLF including Sebhat Nega and others were treated with dignity and humanity, a hallmark of the Ethiopian people. Ethiopian Defense Forces have an established track record for avoiding revengeful acts.
- Contrary to what is reported to it by hired hands and lobbyists, the UN Security Council has an obligation to understand that non-Tigrean Ethiopians did not carry out revengeful actions such as rape in Tigray or in the liberated lands. This is especially true regarding Ethiopia’s celebrated National Defense Forces.
In the light of the above set of facts, the draft proposal by Ireland for the Security Council is misguided, precedent setting and a disservice to Black Africa. It must not be repeated.
- To their credit, China, India, and Russia did the right thing by vetoing the proposal.
- The term “violence in Tigray” is unprecedented and dangerous. The TPLF committed treason. It caused the current humanitarian crisis. It normalized state and extrajudicial violence in Ethiopia. In a single year, more than 133 ethnic-based conflicts took place, most initiated by the TPLF.
- The Government of Ethiopia has the sole responsibility to ensure peace and security in Ethiopia. Tigray cannot be an exception to this.
- Tigray is not an independent state. It is an integral part of Ethiopia. It is the heart of Ethiopia. The UN Security Council and Western democracies have an obligation to treat Ethiopia’s sovereignty; acknowledge its authority over the country’s diverse population; and refrain from undue interference in line with the UN Charter. The Security Council must not be a bully.
- The Tigray crisis is purely a domestic matter. It is Ethiopia’s own business. The UN Security Council must therefore refrain from taking sides.
- The international community, including the UN must assist the Government of Ethiopia in dealing with the massive humanitarian crisis not only in Tigray but also in Beni- Shangul Gumuz, where more than 400,000 innocent civilians are displaced.
- There is no doubt that innocent lives have been lost. The Government of Ethiopia must do due diligence by establishing an independent commission to investigate all crimes against humanity, crimes of war and genocide in Ethiopia, including Tigray.
- This requires funding. The UN Security Council can discuss and empower UN specialized agencies and others to avail funds. The Government of Ethiopia must be encouraged to hire international experts to assist the commission.
- The UN Security Council must refrain from repeating the same mistake.
- In this regard, the UN Security Council might benefit from a measured and relatively balanced draft resolution in the U.S. Senate introduced on March 5, 2021. This draft contains the following:
- Calls on the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) and the Government of Ethiopia to protect the human rights of all Ethiopians and allow full humanitarian assistance and allow full access to affected parts of the Tigray Region.
- Demands accountability for the November 9, 2021 massacre of an estimated 1,200 innocent civilians in Mai Kadra by the TPLF. This heinous crime was reported and vetted by Amnesty International, the UN High Commission for Human Rights, the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission, and the Ethiopian Human Rights Council.
- Implores the Ethiopian Government to allow for independent and transparent investigations into all alleged human rights abuses committed.
- Acknowledges that the Tigray conflict is occurring alongside other humanitarian crises in Ethiopia, including recurring ethnic-based massacres in Beni Shangul- Gumuz and Oromia where the primary targets are Amhara, Agaw, etc.
- Chronicles the escalatory provocations leading up to the conflict in Tigray: the TPLF holding a regional election in defiance of the Federal Government’s postponement due to the Pandemic; the TPLF’s confession of perpetrating the unprovoked attack of Ethiopia’s Northern Command, a key component of the Ethiopian National Defense Forces (ENDF) in the early hours of November 4, 2020.
- Urges an end to the hostilities as soon as possible.
- Calls on the Government of Ethiopia to apprehend remnants of the TPLF leadership in hiding with minimum military force and avoiding civilian casualties.
- Urges the Government of Ethiopia to release opposition party leaders; stop the Prosperity Party’s undue interference by curtailing freedom of movement, assembly & free expression, allow unfettered political participation and cease the use of threatening and inflammatory languages against targeted and specific opposition groups.
In summary, the most encouraging part of the draft resolution by the U. S. Senate that most Ethiopians at home and abroad appreciate and share is the call for national dialogue for peace and national reconciliation among all Ethiopian stakeholders: representatives of all nonviolent and non-extremist political parties, ethnic communities, religious groups, and civil society organizations (CEOs). This is where the UN system must invest heavily to help Ethiopia.
Ethiopian society deserves genuine multiparty democracy. This can occur only through national consensus, peace, personal security for citizens and reconciliation.
The international community has a moral obligation to help achieve this by refraining from undue interference in Ethiopia’s domestic affairs.
To be constructive, the international community must empower Ethiopian stakeholders. It must avoid, always, not fall into the temptation of leveraging aid as an instrument of public policy. That will only be punishing the poor.
Aklog Birara, Ph.D. served in various capacities for 30 years with the World Bank, the latest as Senior Senior Advisor. He has written 6 books since retiring. He writes commentaries on the political economy of Africa.
He can be reached at [email protected]
March 9, 2021