Torture and turmoil in Ethiopia’s Tigray conflict

Now over a year into the Tigray war that has rocked the northern regions of Ethiopia, a fresh UN report paints a troubling picture.

On the 3rd of November, a combined investigation by the UN Human Rights Office and the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission (EHRC) identified executions, torture, rape, and attacks against refugees. The 156-page review, partially based on 269 interviews, found that both sides had “committed violations of international human rights, humanitarian and refugee law, some of which may amount to war crimes and crimes against humanity.”

On the 4th November 2020, Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed ordered an offensive against the dominant regional party, the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF). Founded on a contested government report that the TPLF had raided a military base, the northern offensive initially yielded success.

However, in a growing conflict that has seen previous enemies of the TPLF, the Oromo Liberation Army (OLA), join the fight against the government, the tide has turned. In late October, insurgent forces claimed control of Dessie and Kombolcha, strategic cities on a major road to Ethiopia’s capital Addis Ababa.

Before the publishing of the report, concerns had been raised about the quality of an investigation by the UN. Humanitarian aid has been blocked since the 28th October, journalists banned, and the internet subject to a blackout. In order to gain access to this tightly controlled area, the UN had to work with the EHRC, connected to the Ethiopian government.

Yet, the findings are as damning for the Government’s ENDF and allies as it is for the TPLF and OLA on the other side. The UN high commissioner for human rights, Michelle Bachelet, noted from the report that ‘the majority of the violations’ in the early period of the conflict were conducted by Ethiopian forces and the supporting Eritrean troops as they moved into the Tigray region.

Notably in a foreign country, Eritrean soldiers have kidnapped thousands of Eritrean refugees, fleeing from strict military service and persecution, whilst committing multiple rapes and mutilations. Eritrea refused to participate in investigations.

Investigating organisations have called on governments to conduct internal investigations. In all the uncertainty, the Ethiopian Prime Minister perhaps has greater concerns. He has announced a nationwide state of emergency- calling on Addis Ababa residents to defend the city.

As the instability continues, one thing is for certain. Humanitarian crisis, involving thousands killed, is likely to get worse before it gets better.

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Hamish Davis

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July 2022
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