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The War in Tigray and the Challenges Faced by the United Nations

1. Introduction

The war in Tigray and the consequent humanitarian catastrophe are being closely followed by important global news outlets. According to the United Nations the lives of 4.5 million Tigrayans (Tegaru) are already endangered by this war and the dislocation it has caused. UN representatives, aid agencies and states have repeatedly urged the Government of Ethiopia to restore the supply of electricity and other public services and to establish a humanitarian corridor for the delivery of aid. The response of the Ethiopian Government has not been encouraging. Many fear that a genocide is already underway, probably on an even larger scale than that seen in Rwanda in 1994, since Tigray has been deliberately cut off from the outside world for more than one hundred days. UN offices and officials have highlighted the magnitude of this crisis time and again. Unfortunately, the political response, especially from the Security Council, has so far been disappointing, to say the least. This study shines a light on the nature of this war, how it is now perceived by others and what the challenges facing the United Nations are.

Tigray is one of the eight states of Ethiopia. It is surrounded by Eritrea to the north, Sudan to the west, and the Ethiopian states of Amhara and Afar to the south and east, respectively. Around 97% of Tigrayans are adherents of Coptic Christian Orthodox religion.  Tigrayans are also, more or less, united by a common language (Tigrigna), culture, tradition and psychological make-up, very much like most European nations. Their territory is heavy with history, and considered by the inhabitants as the sacred ground of their ancestors, better known as the Axumites. Prior to the expansion of Islam, the Christian Kingdom of Axum was one of the four great powers of the world. Its army has not only subdued Arabia Felix, across the Red Sea, but would also march all the way north to the borders of Egypt, when necessary. It was this Axumite power, and the common interest to defend Christianity, which made the kings of Axum and the Roman Emperors, such as,  Constantine and Justinian, allies against Persia.

Leaving history behind, from 1991 until the Ethiopian Federal troops occupied the capital of Tigray, Mekelle, at the end of November 2020, this State was ruled by the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF). This front had also occupied a dominant position in the Federal Government led by the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF), from 1991 until 2018. Thereafter, the country was led by a new Prime Minister, Abiy Ahmed Ali (hereafter referred to as Abiy, Abiy Ahmed or Mr. Ahmed). Mr. Ahmed changed the ruling method used previously by EPRDF by his own political party, known as the Prosperity Party. The TPLF refused to join, leaving Tigray as unrepresented in the current Government.

Abiy Ahmed justified the present ‘military operation’ in Tigray in response to the TPLF’s attack of November 4 on the Federal Government’s Northern Defense Forces which was stationed on the border of Tigray facing Eritrea. The aim was to ensure law and order by bringing those responsible for the attack to justice. He clarified this, on November 12, by stating:

“The Federal Government had every right to deploy Federal Security Forces and use force in order to apprehend those implicated in massive corruption and gross human rights violation”. (1)

Yet, it is well known for all that relations between the Central Government and the TPLF Government had been deteriorating throughout 2019, especially after Ahmed postponed the national election by using the Covid-19 pandemic as a pretext. Those who are familiar with the history of this region know too well that this conflict has also deeper historical roots, including the political rivalry between the Amhara and Tigrayan political leaders (and their supporters) and the past cycle of wars, dominance, repression, and retribution.

From the beginning, this military offensive was directed at both military and civilian targets by resorting to systematic and deliberate bombardment of churches, hydroelectric dam, factories, plundering and civilian atrocities. Later, the occupying army broadened the kinds of atrocities that were committed by expanding the robbery, rape and looting of homes, shops, hospitals, clinics, pharmacies and the distant  monasteries. Even after the Federal Government formally declared that the military operation was over, on 28 November, these atrocities only intensified. They were systematic in that they are widespread while revealing similar pattern as if they are well designed. The occupying force is composed of Eritrean soldiers, Amhara militias and members of Federal Army. The latter was expected to protect the civilians from harm. Yet, the Government either does not fully acknowledge that these atrocities were and are committed or belittles them when the evidence is circulated. Even the presence of Eritrean soldiers is still not officially admitted, although increasing numbers of senior Ethiopian military and administrative officials are now speaking about it and as raising serious problems.

Like many other human rights organizations, the Human Rights Watch has followed what is happening in Tigray very closely, including by registering the crimes that were and are committed, the times and places and who is responsible for the crime. In recently days it has released reports which were prepared after conducting interviews and assessing the available satellite imagery, photographs and videos, and reports of forensic experts, journalists and aid workers. These reports list the cities where civilians were killed and injured in violation of the rules governing military operations. One of them mention the places where the Ethiopian forces have “fired artillery into Tigray’s urban areas in an apparently indiscriminate manner that was bound to cause civilian casualties and property damage”, displacing “thousands of people.” The cities that were attacked included, Mekelle, Humera, Shire and Axum. This report states further that “[M]any of the artillery attacks did not appear aimed at specific military targets but struck generalized populated areas” One of the consequences of this kind of indiscriminate attack is that “200,000 people are internally displaced, while tens of thousands have also fled to neighboring Sudan”. Compounding the problem facing those who remained in their homes is the lack of “adequate access to food, fuel, water, and medicines … [and the] widespread abuses, including apparent extrajudicial killings, pillage, and arbitrary detention by Ethiopian federal forces and special forces and youth militia known as ‘Fano’ from the neighboring Amhara region” as well as by Eritrean forces. (2)

The present humanitarian catastrophe is directly linked to the deliberate destruction of farms and factories, the collapse of markets, the disruption of electricity and water supplies, banking and other services, the absence of employment, or pay for services given and the overall fear and insecurity that prevails. “The situation is extremely grave in Tigray” stated the February 5 update of the United Nations  Secretary General, “and hundreds of thousands of people need life-saving assistance.” (3)

The United Nations and other international aid agencies have shown the eagerness and readiness to save life in Tigray by delivering the desperately needed humanitarian assistance. Unfortunately,  the Ethiopian Government was not cooperating for several months. “Three months into the conflict in Tigray in northern Ethiopia the humanitarian response remains severely constrained and inadequate”, explained the above report of the UN Secretary General, “and the main reason for that is simply that we cannot reach the people in deed and also that we have not received the clearances yet to move the necessary staff into Tigray in the first place.”(4)

As expected, in times like these, it is members of vulnerable groups, such as, infants, the elderly, those with illness, pregnant women, refugees and persons with disability that are seriously affected initially. The report of UNICEF, dated 12 February, titled “Children in Tigray in acute need of protection and assistance”, described the “troubling picture” which was seen early on, revealing “severe and ongoing harm to children”. The UNCEF team, which was allowed to visit Shire and a few other cities, observed bank services that were not operational, “damaged or looted” clinics, halted immunization programs, damaged stock of vaccines due to power cuts, and “severe acute malnutrition – which is potentially life-threatening”. They saw internally displaced people sheltering in schools that were not equipped with drinking water supplies, showers or properly functioning toilets. They also found unaccompanied children, separated from their families, many showing symptoms of deep psychosocial distress. “The very real risk of disease outbreak, coupled with poor access of water, sanitation, hygiene and health services, rising food insecurity and inflation in food prices,” concluded this report, “poses grave threats for malnourished children.”(5)

The gender-based sexual violence is so widespread even senior Ethiopian military officers are now speaking out openly about the seriousness of this problem. In one of the meetings held in the capital, which was aired live on the Ethiopian state channel (EBC) one of the senior officers is seen expressing his anger by asking “Why does a woman get raped in Mekelle city? It wouldn’t be shocking if it happened during the war … But women were raped yesterday and today when the local police and federal police are around”.(6)

The UN Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Sexual Violence in Conflict, Pramila Pattern expressed her abhorrence about the nature of sexual violence which Tigrayan girls and women are exposed to. In particular, she singled out the “disturbing reports of individuals allegedly forced to rape members of their own family, under threats of imminent violence”, the practices of soldiers who demand “to have sex in exchange for basic commodities …{and} sexual violence against women and girls in a number of refugee camps.”. Ms. Pattern, underscored the importance of extending to these victims medical and psychosocial assistance, including “emergency contraception and testing for sexually transmitted infections (STIs)… to ensure that those who have been forced from their homes due to violence are not placed at further risk of sexual violence within the camps” and to help those “sleeping in an open field with no water or food.”(7)

The 96,000 Eritrean refugees that were sheltered in the four UN administered refugee camps earlier, i.e., in Mai Aini, Adi Harush, Shimelba and Hitsats, were not just trapped in the war, but directly targeted by the occupying Eritrean soldiers. UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Filippo Grand classified what is seen in these camps as a serious violation of international law. The Commissioner has repeatedly urged the Ethiopian Government to protect these refugees and to enable his office to visit the four refugee camps so that they may receive humanitarian assistance, but all in vain. In his statement of January 14, the Commissioner reiterated his previous concerns by underscoring that he was “extremely troubled by the humanitarian situation in the Tigray (and) …very worried for the safety and well-being of Eritrean refugees.” Mr. Grandi was also alarmed by the reports his office was receiving concerning the “ongoing insecurity and allegations of grave and distressing human rights abuses, including killings, targeted abductions and forced return of refugees to Eritrea … satellite imagery showing new fires burning and other fresh signs of destruction at the two camps … [all revealing] major violations of international law.”(8)

This concern was also echoed by UN Secretary General, who was alarmed by the attacks on the refugee camps. He denounced the forceful abduction the refugees, and the claims that some of them are sent back to Eritrea by the Eritrean soldiers stationed around their camps. The Secretary General also raised concerns by claims that some of refugees that have escaped from the camps “have resorted to eating leaves because there was no other food available.”(9)

The legal cover used to disguise the atrocities that are committed by the soldiers against civilians is the state of emergency which the Ethiopian Federal Government declared when the war broke out. This law suspended basic the human rights and freedoms that are guaranteed by international human rights law and the Ethiopian Constitution and permitting its agents to take measures that would not be allowed under normal conditions. Using this cover, soldiers stop and search any person, anywhere. They enter homes they wish to search and do whatever they wanted once inside. The 6 p.m. curfew exposes everyone to soldiers and militiamen who enter their homes under the pretext of ‘searching for weapons or persons of interest’. Reports tell similar stories of how these soldiers enter homes to abuse those living inside and to steal anything they find: jewelry, clothes, computers and phones. The refusal to comply can lead to execution on the spot.

Robbery is so widespread there are even reports that claim to see televisions, cooking stoves and refrigerators being loaded on to cars parked outside homes, and pictures that show tanks and camels carrying all kinds of stolen private properties. When car thefts multiply some owners started to let down the tires of their cars to make it difficult for the robbers to move them. Young girls and women are regularly raped inside their homes and in the most despicable ways. The interviews which are broadcasted by some foreign media include accounts of husbands being forced to keel and watch as their wives are raped by several soldiers, and of family members being told to rape their family members. One of the girls that was interviewed stated that she was shot several times for refusing to comply with an order to have sex with her grandfather. The latter too was shot to die, but survived later. The fact that these kinds of atrocities are widely committed in different cities suggests that rape is systematically perpetrated to achieve political goals, i.e. to destroy the minds of civilians.

In the latest press release the United States State Department issued made it clear that:

“The United States is gravely concerned by reported atrocities and the overall deteriorating situation in the Tigray region of Ethiopia.  We strongly condemn the killings, forced removals and displacements, sexual assaults, and other extremely serious human rights violations and abuses by several parties that multiple organizations have reported in Tigray.  We are also deeply concerned by the worsening humanitarian crisis.”(10)

After visiting Ethiopia, Finland’s Foreign Minister, Pekka Haavisto, who was sent by the European Union on a fact-finding mission for EU foreign policy concluded that the situation in Tigray is now “militarily and human rights-wise, humanitarian-wise very out of control”, a situation where “we do not see the end”.(11) This strengthens the fears the European Union had about the dangers posed by this conflict and its concern over “the humanitarian situation, as well as allegations of human rights violations and ethnic targeting.”(12)

2. The Public Outrage Over the War

What is particularly worrisome for those who are following this tragic war from far away is that this is not ‘a policing operation’ linked to just one incident on the Ethio-Eritrean border on November 4 as the Ethiopian Government claimed: i.e., to arrest individuals to ensure law and order for attacking the Ethiopian Defense Forces. The outside world has no doubt that what is going on is a big war, rather than ‘a policing operation’, and one that has targeted civilians. This is why Grahman Romanes, an Australian scholar with a very long record of working for humanitarian agencies called it “nothing short of genocide.”(13)

Similar views were expressed during the debate of the British House of Lords, only three weeks after Abiy Ahmed launched the military operation. Lord Triesman was convinced that what the Tigrayans face is “ethnic purges which may be on the edge of genocide”. Lord Alton of Liverpool, who shared this position, asked what the plans of the British Government was to discharge its “duties under the Genocide Convention to prevent, to protect and to punish” those responsible, in order “to avert yet more death, more carnage, more instability, and more refugees”.(14) Underscoring the urgency of taking measures Lord Viscount Waverly wondered how the political world would respond to what is taking place. “My Lords,” he said, “is the world going to stand by, yet again, knowing that mayhem is seemingly set to unfold, do nothing and having to then deal with the added consequences of regional instability?(15)

Speaking before the European Parliament, Irish representative Mick Wallace called the Ethiopian leader, Abiy Ahmed “a war criminal” who should be charged by the International Criminal Court since his government “has done everything under its power to prevent humanitarian aid reaching the people of Tigray… used hunger as a weapon… deliberately burn[ed] fields of crops in Tigray [and]…caused[ing] suffering and death on its citizens”.(16)

Belgian representative Assita Kanko also asked fellow European Parliamentarians to consider why millions of Tigrayan civilians had been driven from their homes, lost their harvests to arson and are forced to abandon their fields. “It seems that the Ethiopian government is deliberately withholding food in order to starve people”, she concluded “central and eastern Tigray are on the brink of famine … There are continued reports of violations of international humanitarian law, such as the deliberate shelling of civilian targets, extra judicial executions and widespread looting.” She advised the Ethiopian leader to return the Peace Prize which he received from the Norwegian Peace Committee since such a prestigious prize was not meant for a person like him.(17)

Professor Martin Plaut, a South African expert on the Horn of Africa at London University expert on Horn of Africa, had difficulties in understanding the “intolerable suffering that people are required to put up with … the destruction …the looting, the discretion, the removal of religious artifacts”.(18) Helen Clark, the former Prime Minister of New Zealand described what is taking place inside Tigray as “shocking”, where all kinds of human rights abuses are in full display, “including accounts of rape & other forms of torture and inhumane & degrading treatment; arbitrary execution; destruction of health & other facilities.”(19)

The executive director of the World Peace Foundation, Professor Alex de Waal, had no doubt that the people of Tigray is facing now “unspeakable tragedy” with “uncounted numbers of people in Tigray who are in mourning for their loved ones, including many friends and family who perished in war, of hunger and disease or at the hands of cold-hearted killers”, those who do not know what is coming tomorrow. (20) This is also why four former American Ambassadors of the United States to Ethiopia, namely, Ambassador Aurelia Brazeal, David Shinn, Vicki Huddleston and Patricia Haslach, were forced to write an open letter to the Ethiopian leader expressing concern over what is going on Tigray. They wrote:

“We have watched the conflict in Tigray with gave unease as, according to the United Nations, nearly 60,000 refugees have fled to Sudan, 2.2 million people have been displaced, 4.5 million people need emergency assistance, many of whom are without adequate food. We are also worried about the reported presence of Eritrean troops in Tigray, which could jeopardize Ethiopia’s territorial integrity”. (21)

As if anticipating what is coming, Pope Francis of the Vatican too asked the world to pray for Tigray as far back as November 27.(22) On January 26 the Vatican News reiterated the same concern, by appealing “for comfort for the ordinary citizens of Tigray who are paying with their lives, isolated from the world in a situation of anguish, threatened by violence and terror”. The report expresses fears that “lack of communication may be screening ongoing atrocities”. Particularly disturbing to the Vatican are the news which reveal the “possible murder of 750 people in an assault on the Orthodox Church of St Mary of Zion in Aksum last November… a series of killings and attacks on innocent people in many parts of Tigray … shops, schools, churches, convents and homes … looted and destroyed …two million … displaced … some 60,000 fleeing to Sudan …others (are) reportedly seeking refuge in remote areas in the mountains, without water or access to food”.(23)

Church leaders in Africa have also raised their concern by condemning what is taking place in Tigray. As the press release of the South African Anglican Church Archbishop, Thabo Makgoba, on 23 February, 2021, stated:

“The plight of the Tigrayan people in northern Ethiopia tears at my heart. Over and above the coronavirus which threatens us all in Africa, tens of thousands of people in the region have been forced from their homes, millions need humanitarian aid and there are shocking reports of war crimes in the form of attacks against civilians… indiscriminate shelling of urban areas, striking homes, hospitals, schools, and markets…The level of ethnic hatred which has emerged on social media around this conflict is deeply disturbing. … What is happening in Tigray must not be allowed to deteriorate even further…Pray for justice and peace for the people of Tigray”. (24)

Sad as it may sound, it is rare to see street protests against this war inside Ethiopia. Even the religious leaders (outside Tigray) have not denounced the war when monasteries, churches and mosques are damaged and religious leaders are murdered in large numbers. As if he was concerned about this, Kjetil Tronvoll, a Norwegian Professor and an expert on Ethiopian politics, felt sad to see tragedies of this magnitude ignored at the time when local solidarity matters most. He wished more and more people have stood up in the defense of higher causes of morality:

“To fight for humanity, to stand for humanity and to stand for that whoever is the victim is the victim of all of us; that it should not be segregated into that victim belongs to that group so that I don’t need to care about. Any people killed in Ethiopia today is a loss to all of Ethiopia, and I see that sentiment is not coming to the surface sufficiently enough, and that I think is very sad.” (25)

A handful Ethiopian opposition politicians are now seen expressing concern over this war and showing sympathy for the victims. After all, the latter are traumatised citizens who are neither fighters nor armed buy merely targeted civilians by militias and soldiers, including foreign ones, who commit egregious crimes. Mr. Ledetu Ayelew, the leader of the opposition Ethiopian Democratic Party,  and a few Oromo opposition political leaders are examples of this. There are also a few journalists who are now seen taking risks in uncovering the kinds of horrific crimes that are committed against citizens, e.g., Awlo Media and Ethio Forum, including by identifying the failure of the Government to protect women, children and properties. The Oromo and Eritrean diaspora have been seen in large number denouncing the war from the outset. In particular, the latter continue to show up in large numbers when Tigrayans march in Western streets protesting the war and in denouncing the Eritrean involvement. As more and more people oppose this genocidal war, the domestic public opinion is bound to swing from supporting Abiy Ahmed to calling for an end to this war. Until this happens, Abiy Ahmed will only intensify what he has been during the past months.

3. The Nature of the War and its Outcomes

3.1. The key actors

Prior to the military operation in Tigray four political actors were seen manoeuvring to shape the political course of the Ethiopian state, broadly speaking, and that of Tigray, in particular. In Addis Ababa, Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed was struggling to consolidate his power by discrediting the TPLF and its supporters. The political leaders in the Amhara state, in Gondar, were preparing their own militia forces and pressuring Abiy Ahmed to use force against the TPLF as soon as possible. This was also the position of the Eritrean President, in Asmara. Ever since his enemy was defeated in the 1998 and 2000 border war by the TPLF dominated Ethiopian Government of EPDRF the Eritrean President was undermining the TPLF including by providing military training to its opponents. The TPLF, which was encircled by these political actors, was mobilizing the other Ethiopian groups under the banner of protecting the Federalist system and constitutions. Before this goal was achieved the adversaries of the TPLF were able to forge their alliance and move faster to destroy the TPLF and the state it was administering.

This, in short, is why we still see four key distinct military forces operating in the theatre of war inside Tigray: the forces of the Federal Government, the Eritrean army, the militia (and police) force of the Ethiopian state of Amhara and the Tigrayan Defense Force. The former two use their military capacity in full with their mechanized forces and air forces. Tigray relies on its militia force. The State of Amhara, which has its own territorial claims with Tigray, has intervened with two militia forces, known as the Fano and Fotta Lebash.  The Federal Government also secured additional militia forces from the Ethiopian States of Afar and Oromia. Besides Eritrea, two other foreign actors are also said to have intervened, namely the United Arab Emirates (UAE) with drones and Somalia which is believed to have sent between 3000 or 4000 soldiers, or perhaps even more. The latter sent this contribution to Eritrea for training for deployment later in the war zones of Tigray.

The Ethiopian Government categorically denies that it has invited any external actor for this war. This could be because admitting to the presence of foreign forces would reveal the military weakness of the Federal Army and/or because inviting foreign forces violates the country’s constitution and international law. Yet, this foreign involvement is now widely reported in the media. The head of the newly appointed Provisional Administration of Tigray has even confessed that the Federal Army does not have the power to force Eritrean soldiers to leave. Not surprisingly, The United States too has informed the Eritrean government to withdraw its forces immediately.

3.2. The war theatre

The zones of operation used by the above forces can be, more or less, identified. Eritrean soldier have occupied the disputed border regions during the country’s 1998 – 2000 war. This is fully recognized by Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed. However, reports and after reports indicate that they are also stationed in and around the cities, larger villages and around the four refugee camps where 96,000 Eritrean refugees were sheltered prior to the war.

The Amhara militia forces now control western and southern Tigray, but are also seen making occasional forays into other areas. The Federal army claims to be in charge of the whole of this State and to know what is taking place in the regions controlled by the Amhara militias and the Amhara police force. Tigrayan sources claim that the Federal soldiers watches in silence when the Amhara and Eritrean soldiers are engaged in looting. But in any case, they are accused of doing the same. Despite this partition of areas of interest, these forces also band together when they are threatened by the Tigrayan forces.

The forces of Tigray are believed to be all around the countryside, although this is denied by the Ethiopian Government. Although the latter claims its Provisional Administrative Authority in Tigray is in control of all of Tigray, some of the officials in this Administration admit experiencing problems in enforcing  decisions at the local level. In a recording of a phone call which was sent to online platform Ethio-Forum, and aired on February 4, some of the senior officials of this Authority are heard confessing their inability to control even half of Tigray. This Administration has also stated recently that it is unable to trace the whereabout of one million Tigrayans from western Tigray alone, and has called for the departure of Eritrean soldiers and the Amhara militia from Tigray.

3.3. The nature of the war

The Ethiopian Federal Government has consistently denied that there is a war or civil war in Tigray. Instead, it refers to what is taking place as a military or ‘policing’ operation, whose aim is to arrest the leaders of the TPLF for the attack on the Northern Defense Forces on November 4. For their part, the leaders of the state of Tigray consider what is taken place as a genocidal war which is aimed at obliterating Tigray and its people. In their view, this war has nothing to do with the incident of November 4. Long before that, the Federal Government and the state of neighboring Amhara were engaged in acts aimed at starving the people of Tigray, including by using road-blocs to prevent goods, supplies and food from reaching Tigray. The Federal Government has even refused to release the budget of Tigray and has refused to assist in combatting Covid-19 (e.g., by providing face masks) and the locust swarms. In defense of the latter claim reference is made to the discriminatory practies used when it comes to sending the spray planes to the region by excluding Tigray, and its refusal to allow Tigray use the drones sent by Tigrayan diaspora from Israel for this purpose.

If the position of the Federal Government is right in considering the military operation as being merely ‘policing’ measures, one wonders how it was possible for the forces of the Federal Government, Eritrea, the Amhara militias and the drones of the United Arab Emirates to converge and rain in Tigray simultaneously without adequate preparation and coordination. What are Eritrean soldiers doing now in the major cities of Tigray after the Federal Government has proclaimed that the military operation was completed on November 28? And how did western and southern Tigray end up being inside the Amhara state? More importantly, why are the economic enterprises of Tigray, churches, monastries and farms plundered and destroyed and why are women raped daily? The truth is that the statement of Abiy Ahmed has obviously distorted the reality since what is taking place in Tigray is not only a major war but an internationalized one.

In the opinion of this writer, even if the Northern Defence Forces were not attacked on November 4 by the TPLF, this preparation that was already in progress to unleash this war could not have been stopped. Long before the military operation it was launched, the Tigrayan and Federal political leaders have denounced each other as illegitimate, after the national election was postponed by Abiy Ahmed and the TPLF defied this decision by arranging its own election.  The Eritrean leader too was heard, time and again, on Eritrean TV that his country will not be passive when Abiy Ahmed is challenged by the TPLF.  On November 2 Abiy asked the Sudanese military head, Lt-General Abdel Fattah Abdelrahman Burhan, the favor of ensuring that their border is protected in times of conflict. That same day the President of the state of Tigray, Debretsion Gebremichael, has also informed his people of Tigray to expect military attack because the Ethiopian and Eritrean armies were placed on a standby for military operation. This is why, he regarded the November 4 incident as a response to the military activities seen at the time, and as self-defense since the Federal army was already on the move elsewhere.

The character and features of this war are covered in greater details in the reports of human rights organizations, such as, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch. Some of the major Western medias, such as, The New York Times, CNN and Washington Post too provide coverage of serious human rights abuses. Tigray Media House offers daily update on what is happening. The Governments of the United States, the United Kingdom and the European Union also issue statements about the developments in Tigray by relying on credible reports, when they denounce the serious violations of human rights and humanitarian laws.

If what is reported by these and many other sources are true, and most of them come from credible sources and complement one another, what is taking place in Tigray can only be described as a total war. The governments of Ethiopia and Eritrea appear to be using their full military force. What is attacked is definitely not confined to military sites, installations and the forces of the TPLF. Monasteries, churches, farms,  industries, universities and hospitals were and are also targeted. The killing of innocent civilians, rape and abuses in streets are all too common. The leaders of three Tigrayan political parties (Baitona, Third Woyane and Tigray Independence) claim that 52,000 civilians have already been killed, 4.8 million livestock were looted or killed and crops are constantly plundered or set ablaze in many parts of Tigray. According to their estimate, the lives of 8.6 million people is now endangered. The United Nations maintains that 4.5 million people are in need of humanitarian assistance.

The occupying soldiers claim that their fight is against the TPLF (or Woyane). Since 2.7 Tigrayans have voted in support of this Front at the last state election, this raises the number of the enemy to millions. Even TPLF veterans are not exempt, as the arrest of Sebhat Nega, the 87 year old veteran of the TPLF, who now faces charges before court in Addis Ababa shows. Added to this is also the family members of the TPLF supporters who are targeted either out of revenge or in the pretext of obtaining information relating to the whereabout of the enemy or to know what they owned or possessed earlier. When all this is taken into consideration the number of the victimized civilian population balloons to well over 5 million. This speaks a lot about the genocidal features of the war, as one which has been brutalizing and is destroying a people, in part or wholly. The crimes against humanity, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and aggression which are being reported are the means used to that end.

Even if the international community manages to save 3 million out of the 4.5 million endangered people, the final body-count could be more than double the numbers of lives lost in the genocide in Rwanda. It is important to note that this is still a raging war, and that the Ethiopian government continues to drag its feet in restoring electricity, phones and water supplies or in facilitating the delivery of humanitarian assistance freely where it is needed most. Electricity was restored in few areas only to be disrupted again and again. The limited humanitarian aid that reached Tigray after months of delays is said to have been largely looted by the soldiers or diverted to the Amhara state.

The kinds of atrocities that are reported by the media, human rights organizations, the Tigrayan sources (such as Tigray Media House) and by Eritrean opposition medias (e.g., Assena TV) are horrific. They include accounts of wanton destruction of farms, refugee camps and villages (e.g. the 508 homes in Gijet) and widespread civilian massacre in both the urban and rural places. Examples include the killing of around 1,000 killed in Mai Kadra, around 300 in Wukro, nearly 800 church followers in Mariam Tsion church, 164 in Maria Denelt church, and 45 in the town of Edi Arbi. According to one interview which Assena TV held with one priest by phone from inside Tigray only recently 162 church followers were executed in the town of Bora, around 100 in the village of Samre mi woyni, 20 kids in Adi Gudem, 10 in Edaga Hamus and 30 Maichew. This priest also mentioned the presence of widespread looting and abuses of the villagers as routine practices.(26) Children, it is said, are killed in large numbers inside their own homes in front of their parents, and in streets, even from moving cars. There are even reports of dead bodies being dragged by cars in Western Tigray, people that are prevented from burying decomposing corpses of family members and soldiers bragging that they are given instruction not to kill kids below 7 years of age as if killing 8 year old kids is a sign of civilized behavior.

Women are clearly targeted in this operation. This is why rape is rampant. The soldiers use rape to demoralize the Tigrayan society, as a means of entertainment and as revenge when they are attacked by the Tigrayan forces.  The wives of the TPLF members are their favored targets, although there are soldiers who do not spare any women or girls on their sight, including children. These soldiers leave behind traumatized victims, most likely infected with venereal diseases and possibly also with covid-19 virus, and with no possibility of getting medical attention. Even going to a clinic, hospital or pharmacy is risky because it is not uncommon for girls to be abducted from streets.

Robbery, by the armed forces and Amhara militias, is very common and committed and used to demand money, jewelry, mobile phones, computers and other private belongings. These crimes are committed on streets, at homes, in shops or outside banks. According to one Tigrayan girl who managed to leave the country because of her foreign citizenship, her home was visited at four different times by soldiers, who demanded money or other valuables. In short the prevailing political disorder under occupation is best described as barbarism or utmost savagery. Having said this, it is equally important to underscore the point that there should be independent investigation to determine clearly whether all these allegations are true or not, and if they are, to establish who did what, where and when.

3.4. Outcomes and other effects

The State of Tigray is the obvious loser, for now, since it is totally devastated. However, wars have many rounds, and what looks like a loss at one point can end up being an important gain later. A case in point is the sympathy which the victimized civilians are now getting from the outside world, which can easily be exploited for political gains. This said, there is no doubt that the military strength of Tigray has been degraded considerably. During the initial phase of the military operation alone, the drones of the UAE were said to have neutralized the tanks, missiles, rocket launchers, heavy artilleries and fuel storages of the Tigrayan Defense forces.

Since the first week of November, the people of Tigray have lived under total darkness and a reign of terror. Although the military conflict was not inside the urban areas, the city-dwellers have been constantly abused by the invading soldiers in streets, public offices and inside their own homes. ‘Normal day’ in Tigray now is a day without electricity, the internet, phone services and the endless stories of execution, rape and abuses by soldiers and militiamen and properties that are looted or destroyed here and there. It is already apparent to the people now that the occupying soldiers are not there to protect civilian life, property or political order. Their responsibility is to those that have sent them to Tigray, to undermine the latter. This is why its western and southern arm and leg are amputated and its economic infrastructure deliberately destroyed.

When the invading troops entered the cities and villages of Tigray hundreds of thousands supporters of the TPLF left their homes, families, neighbors and friends in search of safety in the countryside. There, they had to beg for food and shelter or ended up staying in abandoned structures, churches, monasteries or inside school compounds. The ‘shelters’ which they occupied are ill-equipped to handle proper accommodation, with rooms, kitchens, water, beds, mattresses, blankets, clothing, functioning showers, toilets, etc. Survival under these unhealthy, primitive or sub-human conditions has posed a serious challenge, especially to those that are vulnerable, such as infants, pregnant women and persons with disability. No one knows, for sure, how many people are seriously ill, injured, killed or are dying due to hunger, disease, shortages of medicines and other problems.

The economic fabrics of the State, which were radiating around the 5,000 or so enterprises (commercial, banking, industrial, agricultural and other business activities), are shattered. As stated earlier farms, factories, hospitals, pharmacies and universities are destroyed or plundered. Schools are, by and large, still closed and some of them are used for shelter to the internally displayed people (IDP). From western Tigray alone close to one million have arrived to cities such as Mekelle and Shire. The challenges facing these IDP is not just about how to make it for the day and beyond but also how to overcome the painful traumatic experience of the past months without any professional help. Dismayed by what is happening and the fear of what tomorrow brings, the Tigrayan youth is now forced to choose between leaving the cities to join the fighters or to remain in the cities where they could be killed or abused any day.

This dire situation has clearly strengthened the drive to struggle for survival and for higher cause. This is why the insurgency is gaining momentum. There is no shortage of recruits. The Tigrayan force appears to have recuperated, and is even said to be in a position to harass the occupying forces by resorting to guerilla fighting. Most of the country-side is already under their control. Since this fight is in their own homeland and they have the full local support, However, it is also obvious that it is their adversaries that are able to benefit from the external military, economic and logistic support and from controlling the roads, vehicles, tanks, ambulances, hospitals and planes.  The longer this war drags on, the more the civilians will suffer in the hands their abusers and that more additional property will be looted by the soldiers, in the end emptying Tigray itself. If this is to be prevented, the liberation struggle has to be intensified as much as possible.

The Amhara State is a clear winner, so far. Although most of the Amhara political leaders were on record in denouncing the ethnic-based Federation of the country which was used by the TPLF dominated EPRDF for 27 years, their state ended up incorporating western and southern Tigray into their own state by invoking the ethnic factor. This also means the rural farms, with their tractors, cattle, crops, homes and private cars, as well as the urban businesses, shops and other economically beneficial enterprises now belong to new Amhara owners and users. The only exception to this is the property arrangement that was made to enable the Federal Government to take over or administer the enterprises and properties that formerly belonged to the State of Tigray. The official language (for schools, courts, the administration, etc.) has changed from Tigrigna to Amharic. It is even said that the Amhara authorities have come to terms with the Eritrean Government on the demarcation of their northern borders. The fact that the Federal Government did not react to all these development shows that Abiy Ahmed is their man and protects their interests in this war.

The Amhara state has also extended its jurisdiction over the Tigrayan religious entities and properties in the annexed territories. This is a sensitive matter for economic, social and historical reasons. Leaving aside what these monasteries and churches owned, their land and surrounding environment have always been protected from economic exploitation and social pressure in the past. What kind of changes will be introduced here is to be seen. These religious establishments have also served historically as custodians for the ancient treasures, religious writings, big crosses (golden, copper or silver), important gifts from political and religious leaders, etc. Because of this, Tigrayans view this the extension of the Amhara jurisdiction over these establishments as a move which is aimed at plundering religious properties and historical robbery by claiming the Axumite (Tigrayan) treasures as Amhara treasures. Some of the religious figures which are interviewed by Tigray Media House as a religious war and strengthen this view by reference to the number of churches and monasteries that were bombed in the past few months, the spiritual leaders and church followers that were murdered and the expulsion of monks from monasteries without regard to the difficulties they will face in the cities after living in monasteries for decades.

Placing these religious establishments of Tigray under the authority of the Amhara spiritual leaders can serve as a means of ensuring social control inside Tigray since the decisions which are made by the higher religious authorities has to be followed at the lower level. For instance if the TPLF is classified by the Amhara religious leaders, in Gondar, as anti-religion or sinful organization, joining or supporting this front will have religious consequences, such as the prohibition of providing religious services such as for weddings, baptism and funerals to the members.

There is one other important political achievement which should be mentioned since it is openly celebrated in the Amhara state and by Amhara nationalists. This is the removal of the TPLF from power, the ethnic cleansing of Tigrayans from government offices and the military and weakening Tigray economically. This is why it is rare to see opposition to the war in Tigray inside the Amhara state or in the Amhara circles in the diaspora. The Amhara political elites have always been vocal in denouncing the Tigrayan dominance of the Ethiopian politics for nearly three decades. It is interesting to note that although this has ended way back in the middle of 2018, the mobilization against them continues to this day. This shows that the present war is more about vendetta, by destroying Tigray and preventing Tigrayans from rising up again than by any other purpose. This is also why their property is plundered and all kinds of crimes are perpetrated against their women and the youth. The Amhara authorities now claim that order and justice has already been restored in the newly acquired regions and that life is back to normal. All that remains, according to them, to sanction legally what is gained by amending the constitution.

The Eritrean Government has still not admitted that it has intervened in this war. This could be because it is illegal to invade and occupy the territory of a neighboring state and to brutalize its citizens. The TPLF did launch its first missile to Asmara on 14 November which raises the question of whether self-defense was implicit. However, this was not done, probably because the missile was launched several days after the Eritrean army has attacked Tigray. Invoking self-defense would also not be believable when this is the second time the Eritrean President has sent his army to Tigray, the first one being in 1998 in the pretext of border dispute. When he was asked at the time if he is willing to withdraw his force from the occupied border areas, he responded by saying that to expect this is very much like expecting that the sun will not set. President Isaias Afeworki has also made it clear, in his televised interview on Eritrean Television, on February 8, 2020 and February 17, 2021, that the TPLF is an enemy that should be dealt with once and for all. 

In these interviews, the Eritrean President gave two main reasons to justify why measures should be taken against the TPLF. The first was the obstacles which it has created in resolving the past border dispute (1998-200) with Eritrea. The other one was the ethnic-based federal formula which the TPLF used to govern Ethiopia to ensure its own political dominance by applying the system of divide and rule. This policy bothered him because it has spillover effect on Eritrea. The TPLF was also described as a poisonous political organization which continues to undermine the authority of the new Ethiopian leader. This, he said, leaves him with no other choice other than to defend and strengthen Abiy Ahmed. Failure to do this or to postpone it would only enable the TPLF to take power in Ethiopia again and threaten Eritrea. In effect, Isaias Afeworki is here acting very much like a concerned Ethiopian nationalist who is both willing and ready to make sacrifices to preserve the national unity of the Ethiopian state. This is why he said it is already “game over” for the TPLF, eight months before Abiy Ahmed launched his military operation, and before using this kind of expression.(27)

Although both the Ethiopian and Eritrean Governments have denied the Eritrean intervention militarily, this far, Western powers and the UN have no doubt about this, which is why they have requested the Eritrean Government to withdraw its force from Tigray immediately. According to them, the evidence for this intervention is overwhelming. The interviews which were conducted by journalists and NGOs with some of the local witnesses also indicate that Eritrean soldiers are not only seen in cities, such as, Adwa, Humera, Adigrat, Axum, Zelambassa and even Mekelle, but that in some of cities, e.g., in Adwa, they remained there for more than two months. The leaders of the Baitona party, one of the Tigrayan political parties, have gone further by stating that the dominance of the Eritrean army is so obvious even the senior Federal military officers take order from Eritrean generals. This suggests that the Eritrean Government is not just exercising power but even sovereignty (temporarily) since it is the Ethiopian authorities that are subordinated to the Eritrean generals rather than the other way around.

If the Eritrean State was not invited by Abiy Ahmed and the Eritrean army has occupied Tigray as mentioned above, then the norm of non-use of force in international relations (Article 2 Paragraph 4 of the UN Charter) has been violated by the Government of Isaias Afeworki, making Eritrea an aggressor. It follows, from this, that Eritrea is liable to compensate the victims for the damages caused by its army in the illegally occupied neighboring territory. The dominance role which the Eritrean President plays in Tigray also boosts his political posture since it gives the impression that he is above Abiy Ahmed when it comes to how the political developments in Tigray are shaped.

The Eritrean President certainly sees this war as one of vindication. For one the TPLF, his enemy for more than two decades, has been removed from power, punished militarily and bankrupted economically. Its supporters have been dispersed in the countryside because of fears of being arrested or killed. Even the Tigrayan society at large  has been collectively punished, by a reign of terror. Isaias Afeworki has achieved his aim of assisting and strengthening the Amhara state politically, socially and economically by making sure that western and southern Tigray is under its control. The army of Isaias has also punished the 96,000 Eritrean refugees that were sheltered inside the four UN administered refugee camps for having escaped to Tigray illegally. Their camps were largely destroyed or plundered. The destruction was so widespread two of them were rendered unfit for shelter and permanently closed. The refugees that were vocal earlier for being critical of the government were executed on the spot and thousands more were taken back to Eritrea by force for punishment. The rest of the Eritrean refugees who live in Addis Ababa and other cities, numbering well over one hundred thousand, are now closely monitored, harassed and some are rounded up by the Government of Abiy Ahmed, probably for deportation back to Eritrea to please Isaias Afeworki.

If the information which is circulating in the Ethiopian and Eritrean opposition media circles is to be believed Isaias Afeworki has also benefited a lot economically. These reports claim that Abiy Ahmed has promised to pay Isaias US $1 billion, in cash and in kind, for the military cooperation, other than promising not to hinder his soldiers from plundering Tigray. Added to this, is the assurance given to Isaias to enable him take the contested border areas along the frontiers of Tigray. Since these promises, if true, were not in written forms, they can easily be contested by the future Ethiopian rulers once Abiy leaves office.

The benefits which the Eritrean President secured from this war are not benefited the Eritrean society or their country. The manner in which Isaias promoted the political, economic and social interests of the Amhara state at the expense of Tigray and by sacrificing Eritrean soldiers is a case in point. After all, the independence of Eritrea is defended by the Tigrayan political leaders and not their Amhara counter-parts. One of the reasons why the latter want to see the TPLF severely punished is because of role it played in facilitating and recognizing the separation of Eritrea from Ethiopia. They still openly call for the return of Eritrea back to Ethiopia and appear to be confident that Isaias will transform this dream to reality.

Eritreans are also seen mourning the loss of their soldiers in this dirty war. Since the Eritrean Government denies being involved in this war, it does not inform its own citizens how many soldiers were killed, injured or captured in this war. The death of a long list of senior military leaders has been mentioned over the Eritrean TV but this is always attributed to ‘health’ issues.

Eritreans also resent the fact that the Eritrean refugees that were sheltered in the UN refugee camps inside Tigray have been victimized and that those that live in the different cities of Ethiopia are now harassed and insecure. Since the Ethiopian and Eritrean Governments are allies and see these refugees as security risk, their these refugees are seen appealing to the Eritrean diaspora to try to help them including by urging the UNHCR to transfer them to other countries. The family members and relatives of these refugees are also asking their friends and relatives abroad to speed up this process before they are sent back to Eritrea and punished or sent to the war zones in Tigray.

The destruction of the Tigrayan monasteries and worshiping places and the massacre of the religious leaders are also viewed by many Eritreans as if they were done inside Eritrea. The religious bond between the two Tigrigna speaking communities is strong even if the people are separated to please the political leaders. Last, but not least, Eritreans do not like to hear Eritrean soldiers implicated in the kind of horrific crimes that are committed in Tigray. This is not only because rape, murder and vandalism are strongly denounced under the religious and cultural norms of Eritrea, or because the victimized mothers, girls, children and elderly are the Tigrigna speakers of Ethiopia, but also because those who commit such crimes regularly will do the same when they return back home.  It is because of all these reasons that the Eritrean diaspora is seen joining hands with Tigrayans when protests are held in the Western cities demanding an end to this on-going madness. As they see it, this war is not only aimed at the destruction of Tigray and Tigrayans, but even Eritreans and their state. The longer this war continues the more Eritrea too will be vulnerable. Eritreans are killed and injured in this war, its economy and military are weakened and country is damaged politically.

It is true that these Eritrean concerns are not openly expressed inside Eritrea in the form of street protests or in the media. This is because there is neither independent media nor any tolerance for expressing concerns or opposition. Every since the country became independent in 1993 it has been governed by a despotic and repressive political system. This was why those who opposed the 1998 ‘border war’, or those who called for the use of constitutional system of government in the 1990s, or expressed concerns against the human rights abuses inside Eritrea are all either in jail or their whereabout is unknown. If Eritreans are unable to speak out against the repression at home, they cannot speak out against what their government is doing in Tigray? Even the Eritrean soldiers who are fighting inside Tigray are themselves sent against their wish. If they fail to obey orders they could pay a very hard price. Thus, when Tigrayans are heard saying ‘why are these Eritrean soldiers cruel towards us when we speak the same language, cultures and religion’ some Eritreans respond by saying “Sorry to see how you are also victimized like us, but this is what these soldiers do inside their own country and why they are not showing compassion towards the 96,000 Eritrean refugees inside Tigray.”

The Federal Government has benefited from this war in a number of ways. Since this is a new  administration was established in the middle of 2018 and lacked competence, experience, vision, policy and programmes to move the country forward, it relied on the rhetoric of anti-TPLF and ‘the Tigrayan dominance’ slogans to divert political attention from its own failures to the problems posed by Tigrayans. The statements which Abiy Ahmed was making before his parliament and what was aired in the tightly controlled media, including by preparing ‘documentary programs’ were effectively used to galvanize public support for the war in Tigray. This is why even three months after this war was launched street protests against it is unheard of.

Abiy Ahmed has personally benefited from this since it has led to the removal of the TPLF from power and brought about a new Provisional Administration which Abiy himself controls. In the last election of Tigray, which was arranged in defiance of the postponed national election, the TPLF was able to secure around 97% of the Tigrayan vote. This means Abiy would have been unable to get much support in Tigray if the election was not postponed in the pretext of Covid-19. Further, since the TPLF and its allies were in power in the central Government of EPDRF for more than a quarter of a century, this Front would have been posed a serious challenge to Abiy Ahmed in the nation-wide election as well. In light of this removing the TPLF by force would no doubt help Abiy to promote his own interest.

Whether Abiy Ahmed would last long is now an open question since this same war in Tigray has discredited him now in the region as well as globally. His description of the conflict in Tigray as  a ‘military operation’ launched to ensure law and order is no longer taken seriously even by most Ethiopians. If that was the case, many ask now, why is Abiy not making those that are committing serious atrocities in Tigray or destroying religious sites, factories and hospitals accountable? The Ethiopian public knows too well that Tigray, which was the most stable and peaceful state in the country prior to this war, is now lawless and totally destabilized. Those who claim that this war has all the marks of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity are even calling for Abiy Ahmed to step down and account for the international crimes which he is responsible for. If he is tried by a UN tribunal or by the International Criminal Court, there may not be many Ethiopians who would vote for him in the upcoming national election in June. If that happens, all the political gains which Abiy Ahmed personally secured by launching the war in Tigray would easily be washed away.

The claim that the Federal Government has full control of the territory of Tigray after it has defeated the TPLF, on November 28, and that it is closely monitoring the activities of the Amhara militias in western and southern Tigray, have obvious legal implications. If these claims are true, then the regime of Abiy Ahmed is fully responsible for what the Amhara militias and police forces have done or are doing there. After all, the Ethiopian constitution makes the government responsible to protect life and property, to punish criminal conduct and to give justice to the victims. If the country is serious about respect for law and order and there are courts to apply laws, the victimized Tigrayans should be compensated for their losses and sufferings. This is also required by international human rights instruments which the Ethiopian state has ratified, such as the covenant on civil and political rights, the convention on the elimination of discrimination against women and the convention against torture, cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment. The fact that the government is taking ‘military or policing operations’ does not entitle militias to murder and dislocate civilians or loot and destroy their properties. Nor does this operation relieve the government itself from discharging its responsibilities to combat such kinds of activities. Even if the military operation was to be formally acknowledged as war, which is not, the rules of international humanitarian law prohibit the killing of civilians, ethnic cleansing and vandalism.

The same can be said regarding the responsibility of the Federal Government in relation to the wrongful conduct of the Eritrean soldiers, even their presence is not formally admitted. However, reports after reports claim that the Federal and Eritrean soldiers are seen operating side by side making it impossible for the Ethiopian State to distance itself from the conducts of the Eritrean soldiers. Senior Ethiopian authorities have even blamed Eritrean soldiers for looting of property and for the atrocities they have committed on civilians including widespread executions. The Federal Government should have prevented all these acts or end these acts when it this is known. By not doing this the Federal Government acted as an accomplice. The international law rules relating the “Responsibility of States for internationally wrongful acts”, as recognized in article 16 of UN General Assembly resolution 56/83 of January 28, 2002 maintains that:

“A State which aids or assists another State in the commission of an internationally wrongful act by the latter is internationally responsible for doing so if: (a) That State does so with knowledge of the circumstances of the internationally wrongful act; and (b) The act would be internationally wrongful if committed by that State.”

This does not relieve these soldiers from accountability for their own roles. This principle also applies to the members of the Amhara militia, Federal army or the Tigrayan force. Leaving these questions relating to legal responsibility aside, there is no doubt that the Ethiopian nation as such is a loser in this war, since it has been damaged militarily, economically, socially and politically. The day Abiy Ahmed justified the military offensive, on November 4, by claiming that the TPLF has attacked the Northern Defense Forces he acknowledged that this attack enabled the TPLF to control more than half of the Ethiopian military hardware. The day he announced the defeat of the TPLF, on November 28, he stated that the Federal Forces have destroyed 99% of the military targets of the TPLF. If both these claims are true, the Ethiopian military must now be very weak. This is even without considering the military damages sustained after December on both sides. It is no wonder the Sudanese army was able to take more than 40 kilometers of the rich agricultural border land facing the Amhara state which was in dispute between the two countries for decades. This is also why the Ethiopian Government is still seeking  diplomatic solution to the dispute with Sudan when its sovereignty is challenged militarily. Apparently, the country is too weak militarily to face the Sudanese army since its army finds itself in quagmire in Tigray.

The above military and political weakness of the Ethiopian Government and the cruel and immoral policy it is pursuing in Tigray including by allowing neighboring Eritrea to destroy its own citizens has damaged the country diplomatically, especially in the Horn of Africa. Relation with Kenya is the lowest it has even been. The African Union is seen constantly moving its meetings from its headquarter in Addis Ababa to other parts of Africa often in the pretext of Covid-19. Inside Ethiopia too, social relation is now poisoned with hate speech and political division in support and against the war in Tigray moving from the fringes to center stage. This war is also conducive for promoting political disorder elsewhere inside Ethiopia especially in the state of Oromia when the government itself is seen clearly violating the constitution, undermining political order and tolerating immoral conducts by soldiers such as rape, murder and destruction. Respect for the rule of law has already been damaged as is the confidence on the regime to protect the interests of the citizens. When this happens each region or ethnic group has to devise the necessary formula for protecting its own interest, and this leads to rivalry, suspicion and tension.

The war in Tigray is also unsustainable economically since it depletes the badly needed resources and finances which could have been used for progress and development. Foreign investment has now decreased, military expenditures have increased, the government is getting less and less revenues from taxes now that the economic fabrics of Tigray are shattered and there is shortage of foreign currency is. Even before this war, Ethiopia ranked 173rd out of 189 States under the human development Index used by the United Nations Development Programme.

4. The United Nations

According to the preambles of the Charter of the United Nations, this organization was established, in 1945, “to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war … to reaffirm faith in fundamental human rights, in the dignity and worth of the human person …[and] to establish conditions under which justice and respect for the obligations arising from treaties and other sources of international law can be maintained.” Its purposes, as stipulated in Article 1 Paragraph 3 of this Charter include achieving “international co-operation in solving international problems of …humanitarian character, and in promoting and encouraging respect for human rights and for fundamental freedoms for all without distinction as to race, sex, language, or religion”.  Paragraph 2 of this Article underscores further that the U.N. is committed to the development of “friendly relations among nations based on respect for the principle of equal rights and self-determination of peoples, and to take other appropriate measures to strengthen universal peace”.

The crisis in Tigray provides a classical example of the type of situation which the UN was created to address. Successive generations of Tigrayans have been exposed to the scourge of war, the last one being the genocidal war which the Ethiopian regime of Mengistu Haile Mariam pursued in the 1970s and 1980s This regime was also known for carrying out mass murder (the Derg) and abuses on human dignity and worth throughout its rule. However, the atrocities which the regime of Abiy Ahmed is committing are much more serious and systematic and are carried out in persistent ways. As the reports which are circulating widely reveal widespread mass executions, attacks on civilian properties, violence against women, children, refugees and the exposure to inhuman and degrading treatment is basically the order of the day. The Derg was evil and ruthless but it did not engage in practices which require human corpse to be eaten by hyenas or women to be raped by their families and foreign objects to be placed on the womb of women. There are many other disturbing crimes which this regime is blamed for which are very disturbing to mention here. The Derg also used hunger as a weapon, but not by disrupting electricity, water and phones for several months.

There were observers who have anticipated that Abiy Ahmed would most likely resort to the use of force in response to the defiance of the Tigrayan administration to proceed with its own state election when the national election was postponed on the grounds of Covid 19. This defiance was defended on constitutional grounds since the Federal Constitution recognizes the right of the people of Tigray to self-determination (Article 39) and makes them, like other peoples, sovereign (Paragraph 1 of Article 8). Be that as it may, it is difficult to accept the claims of the Ethiopian government the ‘military operation’ which it has launched is ‘a policing operation’ or that it is prompted by the November 4 attack of the Northern Defense Forces by the TPLF. Nor is this simply a punishment for the defiance shown by the TPLF to Abiy’s decision not to hold state election. If that was the case why are western and southern Tigray taken by the Amhara state and why are Eritrean soldiers in control of many of the cities of Tigray?

The fact remains that what is now seen in Tigray is a total war which was well designed and coordinated, with the help of external actors. The timing used to launch the military operation too was carefully chosen to fit the Presidential election in the United States to minimize media coverage. This was why Tigray was cut off from the world for several months, why electricity, water, phone and the internet were discontinued, why humanitarian agencies were prevented from delivering food and medicine and foreign journalists forbidden from entering and why the Ethiopian Prime Minister is opposed to the establishment of an independent investigating body to examine if serious international crimes were committed. He knows too well that this is a genocidal war which reveals the features of serious international crimes.

Genocide, war crimes, crime against humanity and aggression are all prohibited and punishable crimes under the statute of the International Criminal Court. Genocide is defined in Article 6 as acts that are committed with “an intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group”, such as, by killing or inflicting deliberately “on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part.” Examples of the crimes against humanity which are mentioned in this Statute include, the “widespread or systematic attack directed against any civilian population”, murder, rape and enforced disappearance of persons. Added to this is “the deprivation of access to food and medicine, calculated to bring about the destruction of part of a population” (art. 7). War crimes, according to this instrument include, intentional killing, the “extensive destruction and appropriation of property “attacks against civilian objects” bombarding towns, villages, dwellings, the “deportation or transfer of all or parts of the population of the occupied territory within or outside this territory”, deliberate “attacks against buildings dedicated to religion, education, art … historic monuments, hospitals” rape, …and any other form of sexual violence”. (art. 8). The forcible transfer of population from their territories (ethnic cleansing) falls under the categories of both crime against humanity (art. 7(1)) and war crime [art. 8(2)(a)(viii)]. Aggression is defined in article 9 of this Statute and includes:

“(a) The invasion or attack by the armed forces of a State of the territory of another State, or any military occupation, however temporary …

(b) Bombardment by the armed forces of a State against the territory of another State

(e) The use of armed forces of one State which are within the territory of another State with the agreement of the receiving State, in contravention of the conditions provided …

(f) The action of a State in allowing its territory, which it has placed at the disposal of another State, to be used by that other State for perpetrating an act of aggression against a third State.”

Judging from the reports that are now circulating, most of the aforementioned crimes were committed and continue to be committed in this war as explained in section 3.3. This is why the Governments of the United States, the United Kingdom and the European Union have called for an end to this war, and demanded the Government of Eritrea to withdraw its forces from Tigray “immediately”. The latter demand suggests an acknowledgement of the presence of an illegal intervention and an aggression since the Ethiopian Government has not formally asked for Eritrean support. This makes the Eritrean use of force a violation of Paragraph 4 of Article 2 of the UN Charter. Further, the American, British and EU authorities, like human rights organizations and UN officials have also denounced the cycle of plundering and destructions of civilian properties, the rapes and other attacks on civilian properties such as churches, monasteries and clinics, since they are all prohibited by international humanitarian rules.

As stated in their open letter to Abiy Ahmed, four former American Ambassadors to Ethiopia have expressed concern over the fact that “2.2 million people have been displaced, and 4.5 million people need emergency assistance, many of whom are without adequate food.” (28) This is a staggering figure, considering that the population of Tigray is around 8 million. It means the majority of the population is exposed to hunger in less than four months. It is true that food supplies in Tigray were already at risk before the start of the war, as a result of locust plague. However, the fact remains that this problem is now exacerbated by the deliberate policy of the regime of Abiy Ahmed to starve the people as a strategy for achieving his political goals. Weaponizing hunger is considered by the international community as a serious crime.

There are many reasons for claiming that hunger is weaponized in this case. The first is based on the Ethiopian Government’s refusal to open its borders to enable international humanitarian organizations to deliver emergency food aid. This refusal is justified on the grounds of protecting the country’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. Yet, the same government is invited neighboring Eritrea to violate its territorial integrity and to attack its own Tigrayan population. Giving access to aid agencies to feed dying people cannot be viewed as a threat to sovereignty. It is attack of Tigrayan civilians by the foreign troops which violates national sovereignty. These foreign forces are not seen now promoting security, law and order, or protecting the people or their property. What they are doing is the exact opposite.

Second, the regime of Abiy Ahmed knows too well that hunger will follow from disrupting electricity, water and bank services for several months, from destroying farms, when markets collapse, when shops, clinics, hospitals and pharmacies are looted, and people are not paid for three months. Yet, there is hardly any thing the Federal Government had done during the past months other than blaming the TPLF for everything when it is officially claimed that the TPLF was defeated at the end of November. It is open for all to note that the Federal Government is also unable to control what the Eritrean soldiers and the Amhara militias are doing.

The third reason for suspecting that the regime is weaponizing hunger is the selection of November 4 as the date for launching the military operation in Tigray. Most Tigrayans rely on teff, a fine grain, for their daily food. The harvest of wheat, barley and teff “expected to start in the last week of October, while the harvest of sorghum, finger millet and maize (the latter being of minor significance) is expected to take place from November through January.” (29)

The destruction of crops and disruption of the market at the early days created serious problems for the population in the months that follow. It is legitimate to ask whether it was sheer coincidence that military operations were launched at the start of the teff harvest, or whether this decision was taken intentionally, in order to disrupt the harvest.

If the military operation had been delayed by one or two months, the farmers would have been able to harvest their crops and earn an income by selling their produce. Traders would have earned money. Those who bought these farm products would have the food stored to tide them over during the war. By launching the war before the harvest, the Government of Abiy Ahmed wrecked these flows of food and income, exposing the population to hunger.

The fourth reason for suspecting an intent to weaponize hunger is the government’s own reluctance to come to the rescue of the farmers of Tigray devastated by swarms of locusts in the weeks prior to the war. This is in stark contrast to the prompt assistance provided to those affected farmers in neighboring states. Moreover, drones donated by the Tigrayan diaspora to combat the locust invasion, and the helicopter which one person donated were confiscated on security grounds. This was probable done knowing that the military operation is about to start. Taking all this evidence together, there are compelling reasons for suspecting that the Government of Abiy Ahmed is weaponizing hunger in the present war in Tigray.(30) The intention appears to be to starve the population into submission. The fact that the National Bank of the country has frozen all the bank accounts inside Tigray too shows the intention to prevent even those who had savings from using their money for their survival when the banks were open, before they were closed.

When 8 or so million people face serious problems of the kind described above and their government has not been willing or unable to protect them the UN should have stepped in and protect them. The UN Secretary General was expected to “bring to the attention of the Security Council any matter which in his opinion may threaten the maintenance of international peace and security” much earlier as expected by Article 99 (emphasis added). Operative Paragraph 11 of Security Council resolution 2417 required the Secretary General “to provide information on the humanitarian situation and response” so that the Council will be able to take measures including by considering “sanction measures” against “individuals or entities obstructing the delivery of humanitarian assistance, or access to, or distribution of, humanitarian assistance” (Operative Paragraph 9). Two months after Antonio Guterres chose to proceed by cooperating with the Ethiopian Government the latter is still seen dragging his feet. 

Antonio Guterres was getting information about the dangerous humanitarian crisis from the different humanitarian organizations and UN offices and did express his concerns about this matter early on. He knew that this humanitarian crisis is linked to the disruption of normal life, especially due to power shortage and the difficulties of accessing clean water, banking, marketing and medical services. Yet, when it was obvious that Ethiopian government was hindering humanitarian agencies from delivering assistance by provide humanitarian corridor and that it was weaponizing hunger, the Secretary General chose to proceed by urging Abiy Ahmed to cooperate than pressuring him. He did this because it was much better “to establish with the Ethiopian Government a functional relationship.”(31)

When Secretary General Antonio Guterres was asked about the Eritrean involvement in this civil war, by threatening international peace and security, Guterres bushed off this claim. “We have no proof of the presence of Eritrean troops inside Ethiopia” he said and that he was assured by the Ethiopian Prime Minister that this not the case.(32) If Abiy has assured the Secretary General that Eritrean troops were not invited, and there are serious allegations accusing the Eritrean Government for being involved militarily, the Secretary General should have raised this matter before the Security Council, or should have investigated this matter since this reveals the presence of external aggression which violated the international principle of state sovereignty. 

This is not to discredit the UN Secretary General but to confront the truth. The UN deserves credit for its achievements and should be criticized when mistakes are made.  Clearly, this organization deserves praise for having developed human rights instruments as well as the mechanisms for monitoring on how states are complying with the instruments they have ratified. Examples of this include the use of country rapporteurs, thematic rapporteurs, working groups (such as those who examine situations revealing massive and systematic violations of human rights) and the Universal Periodic Review of the Human Rights Council. Another important milestone in this respect was the decision in 2005 to adopt the doctrine known as “International Responsibility to Protect.”  As summed up by the Office on Genocide Prevention and the Responsibility to Protect::

“The responsibility to protect embodies a political commitment to end the worst forms of violence and persecution. It seeks to narrow the gap between Member States’ pre-existing obligations under international humanitarian and human rights law and the reality faced by populations at risk of genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity.”(33)

The adoption of resolution 2417 by Security Council was a significant achievement made for protecting civilians in times of armed conflicts. This resolution condemns “the unlawful denial of such access and depriving civilians of objects indispensable to their survival — including willfully impeding relief supply and access for responses to conflict.”  According to operative paragraph 4 of this resolution the parties to armed conflicts are required to respect the obligations recognized under international humanitarian law and “to cooperate fully with the United Nations Humanitarian Coordinator and United Nations agencies in providing such access”. If they fail to do so the matter should be brought to the attention of the Security Council since this amounts to “a threat to international peace and security” deserving the adoption of “appropriate steps”. The Government of Abiy Ahmed has shown its defiance, for several months, to the calls by the different UN agencies, such as OCHA, UNICEF, UNHCR and WFP to provide unfettered humanitarian corridor.

Which way the UN will proceed in the days to come remains to be unclear. The hope that is placed on the Security Council is that it will call for cease-fire, send a peacekeeping force to ensure this and the delivery of humanitarian assistance, to establish an investigating body for the alleged violations of international crimes and to make sure that those that have committed crimes are accountable for what they did. There are promising signs that this tract will be followed. The Biden Administration appears to be unwilling to accept the military gains made by committing serious international crimes. This is implicit from its recent Press Release which has called for:

“The immediate withdrawal of Eritrean forces and Amhara regional forces from Tigray are essential first steps.  They should be accompanied by unilateral declarations of cessation of hostilities by all parties to the conflict and a commitment to permit unhindered delivery of assistance to those in Tigray. The United States is committed to working with the international community to achieve these goals.” (34)

The challenges ahead for the UN are by no means easy. This organization cannot proceed by disregarding its values and purposes which are mentioned in its Charter – i.e., democracy, human rights, law and order, and the principle of self-determination. These values are also affirmed in the Ethiopian Constitution. Because the present humanitarian crisis is man-made, it will be difficult to provide effective humanitarian assistance without first arranging cease-fire. That will, in turn, require sending a UN peacekeeping force to monitor the cease-fire and protect the delivery of the humanitarian assistance. The cease-fire should be linked to the immediate withdrawal the occupying forces. If not, these forces will frustrate the efforts which the international community makes to save life. As a result,  expelling the occupying foreign Eritrean force and the Amhara militias would be an obvious pre-requisite for ensuring the delivery of the urgently needed humanitarian assistance. The failure to expel these forces will also amount to endorsing the ethnic cleansing in western and southern Tigray and the Eritrean aggression elsewhere.

If the ethnic cleansing which took place in western and southern Tigray is challenged, this will be denounced by the Amhara political establishment as meddling in internal matters. According to them, these regions were incorporated into Tigray by force in 1991. Prior to that, they argue, these regions belonged to the Amhara people. One way of resolving this controversy would be to allow the inhabitants to have a say in choosing between the states of Amhara or Tigray. However, even this can also be criticized for being illegitimate, since this matter was settled formally when the Federal Constitution was approved in 1994.

One major stumbling block would be the demand which calls for the withdrawal of the Federal Army, police and current Provisional Administration and their replacement by the TPLF administration, militia and police force. If the UN fails to do this this will signal that it is proceeding by rejecting democracy and the Ethiopian Federal Constitution. After all, the present Provisional Administering Authority was not elected by the people of Tigray. Nor is Abiy Ahmed himself, for that matter. The TPLF Government which the Tigrayans chose has been removed militarily. Since the Federal Constitution protects the sovereignty of the people of Tigray, the UN cannot tell this people to accept the current Provisional Administration which is imposed on Tigray and which is not even working. Nor can the UN ask this people to choose another government when they have already chosen one.

Clearly, there will be states that will defend the Government of Abiy Ahmed, by calling for respect for state sovereignty and non-intervention in internal affairs. After all, States, especially the major powers, have important economic, political and other interests in Ethiopia. Yet, to say that Abiy Ahmed Ali should be left alone to complete his genocidal policies would be morally and politically damaging to those who support this. Legally too it is difficult to defend the ‘internal affairs’ clause when serious international crimes such as genocide and ethnic cleansing are pursued. As stated above, the Ethiopian Constitution, in Paragraph 1 of Article 8 makes  “the peoples of Ethiopia” sovereign  and guarantees them theunconditional right to self- determination, including the right to secession” [Article 39 (1)]. Put differently, if the rules governing sovereignty and territorial integrity are to be invoked they actually strengthen the case of Tigray.

What is now clear is that the pattern of human rights abuses that were/are committed inside Tigray, the violations of international humanitarian norms and the humanitarian problems which this war has brought have now created a situation which should be addressed by the UN. This organization has a long record of confronting these kinds of situations by disregarding the clause on ‘internal matters’ and using its 1503 procedure and Security Council resolution 2417 of 2018. The situation inside Tigray reveals an internationalized the conflict and has now brought about a political question, namely how to resolve “the question of Tigray”.

Under these conditions it will be difficult for Abiy Ahmed to convince States to protect his country by relaying on sovereignty, national unity and territorial integrity’ while, at the same time, inviting foreign states to terrorize the sovereign people of Tigray and undermine its territorial integrity and pursue the policy of ethnic cleansing and genocide. Abiy Ahmed Ali cannot have it both ways: to see to it that the people of Tigray is destroyed while at the same time wanting to control its territory nominally. He should choose between behaving or loosing this state.

Sovereignty shields a state from ‘external intervention’ only when it conducts itself in accordance with the norms of international law. According to Paragraph seven of Principle Five of the UN Declaration on Friendly Relations (General Assembly resolution 2625 (XXV) of 1970) this implies being “possessed of a government representing the whole people belonging to the territory without distinction”. The people of Tigray are not represented in the Ethiopian Government. As Mick Wallace notes only from the military 17,000 Tigrayans have been removed in the past few months alone. (35) The figure from the Federal Administration is said to be much bigger. Nor are Tigrayans represented in the Ethiopian Parliament. The electoral board has even declared that elections will not be held in Tigray this summer when others are allowed to choose their representation. This means that Tigray will be excluded from parliamentary representation for another five years. In light of this, the defense of Abiy Ahmed based on sovereignty and national unity stands on shaky grounds, when Tigrayans are not even treated as part of the Ethiopian nation. Further, when the territory of Tigray is occupied and administered by the neighboring Government of Eritrea it will be absurd to invoke ‘territorial integrity’.

There is one other important question which they UN cannot afford to neglect. This concerns accountability for the international crimes that were committed. The UN Security Council should either establish a special tribunal or refer the matter to the International Criminal Court. This would be in line with its earlier practices as seen from the special tribunals that were set up to prosecute the crimes committed in the former Yugoslav Federation and Rwanda.

If Tigray was inside Europe, NATO would have resolved the current political and humanitarian crisis as done for Kosovo, by protecting the people and then facilitating the roadmap for its independence. Likewise, if neighboring Sudan was as powerful as India and interested in protecting the people of Tigray, it would have intervened militarily and brought about the independence of Tigray as India did for Bangladesh. Unfortunately, Tigray is lonely and surrounded by neighbors that are determined to crush it militarily even if it takes years. The more the war continues, the more atrocities will be committed and the louder the voice which calls for the establishment of see separate state will be, whether this state is called Tigray (Northern Ethiopia, Axum, Habesha or Ag’azi). Meanwhile, the UN will be forced to confront the thorny issues surrounding this case, including by urging the parties to this conflict to resolve their differences peacefully.

If the UN Security Council takes this case, the approach which was used to resolve the earlier North-South conflict in Sudan, based on the 2005 Nairobi Comprehensive Peace Agreement, could serve as a model for going forward. In that case, the principle of self-determination was deemed to be necessary for strengthening peace although the constitution of Sudan did not even recognize such a right. Any attempt to resolve the question of Tigray outside the framework of the principle of self-determination would be unjust and a violation of Article 39 of the Ethiopian Constitution. This would also disregard the UN Charter purpose on respect for the principle of “equal rights and self-determination of peoples” (Paragraph 2 of Article 1, emphasis added). If the UN imposes its own political solution this too will be impractical and violate the UN Charter requirement set in Paragraph 7 of Article 2 of the UN Charter prohibiting this organization from intervening “in matters which are essentially within the domestic jurisdiction of any state.” This makes the reliance on the Ethiopian Constitution and the UN Charter on self-determination as the only just way of resolving the question.

*About the author and this work

Eyassu Gayim, Juris Doctor, Docent in international law.

The last tenure position which this author held was at the School of Global Studies at the University of Gothenburg, in Sweden (as an Associate Professor). Prior to that he worked for different universities in Finland, Sweden and in Southern California. Currently, he is affiliated with the University of California in Los Angeles (UCLA) and San Diego State University (SDSU).

The reader of this paper might get the impression that this work was probably written by a person from Tigray or commissioned by the Tigrayan People’s Liberation Front (TPLF). Neither is the case. The author was born in Addis Ababa and lived there until 1977. Since then, he was in the Horn of Africa only once, and for about one month in the middle of the 1990s. He has never had any affiliation whatsoever with the TPLF, and never lived in Tigray or even saw that state, regrettably, other than the bus routes between the Ethiopian and Eritrean capitals. What motivated this paper is simply the calls of humanity, the refusal to look the other way around when horrendous crimes like the ones seen today in Tigray are committed against millions of human beings in the pretext of ensuring ‘law and order’.

Endnotes

1. AFP News Agency, November 12, 2020 in Ethiopian PM Abiy Ahmed justifies Tigray military operation | AFP – YouTube

2. Human Rights Watch, 11 February 2021, https://www.hrw.org/news/2021/02/11/ethiopia-unlawful-shelling-tigray-urban-areas  See further Tigray Media House February 27, 2021, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N3Gchbap5kA; Asena TV February 25, 2021, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ougTZaHOUzs; Ethio Forum Febuary 5, 2021, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7U9vuN43-zs; Awlo Media, February 19, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J4FylsbjGv4; and Andafta Media. Feb 2, 2021, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=teffLbw7ISc   See further note 26.

3. United Nations TV, Tigray Update, February 5, 2021, GENEVA / TIGRAY UPDATE | United Nations UN Audiovisual Library (unmultimedia.org).

4. Ibid.

5. UNICEF, “Children in Tigray in acute need of protection and assistance” 12 February, 2021 in https://www.unicef.org/press-releases/children-tigray-acute-need-protection-and-assistance.

6. Ethiopian Forces Admitting Rape in the Tigray Capital, Mekelle, 9 January, Ethiopian Forces Admitting Rape in the Tigray Capital, Mekele. – YouTube

7. United Nations Office of the Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Sexual Violence in Conflict, in United Nations Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Sexual Violence in Conflict, Ms. Pramila Patten, urges all parties to prohibit the use of sexual violence and cease hostilities in the Tigray region of Ethiopia – ; and also Michael Georgy, Reuters, “’Choose – I kill you or rape you’: abuse accusations surge in Ethiopia’s war.

8. Statement attributed to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Filippo Grandi on the situation of Eritrean Refugees in Ethiopian’s Tigray Region, 14 January 2021, in UNHCR – Statement attributable to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi on the situation of Eritrean refugees in Ethiopia’s Tigray region.

9. United Nations TV, Tigray Update, February 5, 2021, GENEVA / TIGRAY UPDATE | United Nations UN Audiovisual Library (unmultimedia.org).

10. Press release, Department of State, February 27, 2021, https://www.state.gov/atrocities-in-ethiopias-tigray-region/

11. “EU envoy warns Ethiopia Tigray crisis ‘out of control’, com with AFP, February 23, 2021, https://www.euractiv.com/section/global-europe/news/eu-envoy-warns-ethiopia-tigray-crisis-out-of-control/

12. Ethiopia: Declaration by the High Representative on behalf of the European Union, https://www.consilium.europa.eu/en/press/press-releases/2020/12/25/ethiopia-declaration-by-the-high-representative-on-behalf-of-the-european-union/

13. Memorial service 01-23-2021, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sNZJUqumDj0

14. Lords raise concerns over conflict in Tigray | House of Lords | 24 November 2020 – Bing video

15. Ibid.

16. Mick Wallace on Twitter: “#Ethiopian Government is accused of War Crimes in #Tigray, using Hunger as a weapon, + continues to blatantly lie about involvement of #Eritrean troops in Tigray cannot be trusted to deliver relief to Tigray… https://t.co/twxwVllCC6” / Twitter

17.  Assita Kanko MEP on Twitter: “Live #EPlenary speaking about Ethiopian conflict. We strongly condemn the violence in the Tigray region. We support international calls for swift and unconditional access to the whole region for humanitarian aid, independent human rights monitors, and the media. Urgent. https://t.co/Jr3UK5niNZ” / Twitter

18. Memorial service 01-23-2021, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sNZJUqumDj0

19.  https://twitter.com/HelenClarkNZ/status/1361272289325506562

20. Memorial service 01-23-2021, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sNZJUqumDj0

21. “Open Letter to Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed from retired U.S. Ambassadors to Ethiopia, January 21, 2021”, Staff Reporter, The Reporter, 26 January 2021, https://www.thereporterethiopia.com/article/retired-us-ambassadors-ethiopia-write-open-letter-prime-minister-abiy

22. Pope Francis asks for prayer for Ethiopia’s embattled Tigray region”. Pope Francis asks for prayer for Ethiopia’s embattled Tigray region (catholicnewsagency.com).

23. Staff reporter, “Aid to the Church in Need”: possible atrocities in Tigray – Vatican News, The Vatican News, January 26, 2021.

24. Archbishop Thabo Makgoba: Archbishop Thabo Makgoba pleads for the people of Tigray, Ethiopia (anglicanchurchsa.org).

25. Memorial. See also note 20 supra.

26. Asena Television ATV 25 February 2021, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ougTZaHOUzs For more detail surrounding these atrocities consult, Ethio Forum 25 February,  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RFLX2ud5c8M; Ethio Forum and February 5 in https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7U9vuN43-zs; and Awlo Media, 19 February 2021, in https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J4FylsbjGv4

27. See the interview given by Eritrean Television to President Isaias Afeworki on February 8, 2020 (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dThEx-eztHQ) and February 17, 2021 (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EOG-HMKTNXI); See further, Alex Dewaal, “Who Will Call Out Eritrea’s War Crimes in Tigray?”, World Peace Foundation, December 23, 2020, in Who Will Call Out Eritrea’s War Crimes in Tigray? – Reinventing PeaceReinventing Peace (tufts.edu); the interview given to Dr. Aregawi Berhe, Andafta Media. Feb 2, 2021, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=teffLbw7ISc; the interview with the leaders of the Tigrayan Biatona party, in Awlo Media, February 19, 2020  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J4FylsbjGv4

28. “Open Letter to Prime Minister… note 21 supra.

29. Joachim D. Ahrens and Yves Guinand, “Agroproduction in Tigray and Wollo”, African Studies Center of the University of Pennsylvania, September, 1998, available in https://www.africa.upenn.edu/Hornet/meher98.html

30. “Famine crimes Ethiopia’s government appears to be wielding hunger as a weapon”, Economist January 23, 2021 in https://www.economist.com/leaders/2021/01/23/ethiopias-government-appears-to-be-wielding-hunger-as-a-weapon

31. “Ethiopia: Immediate Priority is the well-being of the people of Tigray” Press Conference, 10 December 2020, reproduced in, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tB_h-NfjesI

32. Ibid.

33. Accessible on the website: https://www.un.org/en/genocideprevention/about-responsibility-to-protect.shtml

34. US Department of State, Press Statement, note 10 supra.

35. Mick Wallace on Twitter, see note 16.

J. Alcamo & J.E. Olesen (eds.), Life in Europe Under Climate Change (West Sussex & Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell, 2012)

 

Overview:

Professors Joseph Alcamo and Jørgen E. Olesen collaborate to offer a single voice on the climate change phenomenon, which is scientifically revised in order to bridge the gap between laypersons wondering what all the fuss is about and climate scientists who create the fuss.

The main purpose of Life in Europe Under Climate Change is to establish climate science in a ‘less complicated’ way in order to encourage awareness of the risks of future climate change in Europe. Climate science is made available in a less sophisticated way so that European citizens, policymakers and other civil actors know what to expect and how best to deal with these changes.

The book is grounded in factual data, an extensive literature review, and recommendations that have been accumulated by Professors Alcamo and Olesen while working with other climate scientists to produce the ‘Europe’ chapter of the Fourth Assessment Report on climate impacts for the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). Professor Alcamo is based at the University of Kassel, Germany, as well as being Chief Scientist at the United Nations Environmental Programme in Nairobi, Kenya. Professor Olesen is based at the Aarhus University in Tjele, Denmark.

 

Structure and argument:

Life in Europe Under Climate Change comprises a foreword, a preface, an introduction, several chapters on various social and environmental fields of climate change, a conclusion, and an extensive list of recommendations. The foreword is an endorsement of the book by Connie Hedegaard, EU Commissioner for Climate Action, who says it does well to emphasise the danger of not taking climate change seriously enough, and goes on to sum: ‘the earlier we act, the less this process of adaptation will cost.’ Hedegaard also endorses the book as a guide to what will happen if the EU does not continue along its path of intense carbon emissions mitigation.

The preface by the authors, on the contrary, appeals epistemologically rather than politically. Indeed there is an ethical dimension when understanding climate change, but the authors are mostly aware that the public nowadays seek to comprehend the key facts themselves, which is why the book goes to some effort to provide answers without boggling the minds of its readers. Ten chapters help with delivering the simple message: firstly they focus on the different types of effects climate change has on society and the environment, next the authors summarise the effects, and finally they recommend ways to deal with them.

Overall, the book is as interesting as it is engaging. Its attempt to bring climate science to a wider audience is successful in the sense that less sophisticated climate science talk is employed so that more useful information can be practically applied. The complicated graphics and illustrated tables of data are not relegated to an appendix but are neatly contained in boxes beside the main text for more talented buffs; catchy examples of practical ways of seeing and dealing with climate change are foregrounded; and an extensive review of scientific literature is drawn upon to provide a balanced and convincing argument.

 

Criticism:

What catches the reader’s attention initially is not the title of the book, Life in Europe Under Climate Change; instead the book’s cover tells a striking tale of its own, which portrays a blunt image of a catastrophe: flooding streets and helpless bystanders. Since the title similarly sounds ominous the overall impression of the book is indeed catchy, but creatively draws on the fears of its potential reader. Is this bluntness really the intention of the authors? If so, the book could have been designed differently in order to seem less intimidating and a little more tactful.

Furthermore, despite the possible advantages of a focus on Europe, the book only offers some scope for applying the findings for non-Europeans because many examples used in the text (e.g. rivers Po, Rhine, Loire, Danube, etc.) are local. Those wishing to access the type of information noted in the book for another region must look elsewhere. This is admittedly no proper reason to criticise the book, as the authors are very clear about who their audience should be, but this is a notable limitation.

Due to the  temporal nature of climate change, social awareness and policymaking, the results of efforts like Life in Europe Under Climate Change are yet to be seen in the years to come. However, the book is an example of tailoring science to meet the needs of practical common understanding, which can then be transferred to policymaking. Thus, despite not knowing the extent to which Professors Alcamo and Olesen have assisted in European efforts to combat future climate change, the authors seem to succeed in popularising climate change adaptation to meet the demands of a new generation of environmentally concerned consumers.

Viorella Manolache (ed.), Centru si margine la Marea Mediterana. Filosofie politica si realitate internationala (Bucharest: Editura ISPRI, 2009)

This journal has proven a wide opening to a great diversity of recurrent themes present now within political sciences. Certain “marginal” areas of interdisciplinary investigation are also present, included in this same broad philosophical view. The volume maintains precisely this type of innovative ambitions and the manner of relating to contemporary tendencies as the journal, hence approaching through its several original studies select newer theoretical concepts adequate to the complexities associated with the research of the chosen theme. These studies are coming from different scientific areas. Estimating the present geo-political research of the Mediterranean community, it endeavours to enter into a dialogue within the Mediterranean scientific community. Center-Margin at the Mediterranean Sea (Political Philosophy and International Reality) accesses scientific contributions from seven countries (Romania, Morocco, Tunisia, Turkey, Brazil, USA, Italy) providing a rich mix of theoretical and philosophical comparative, international and transnational issues, addressed to all who are interested in the contemporary political Mediterranean phenomena. The three constant investigated dimensions are placed into a dynamic formula described by the three parts of the volume: Political philosophy of Mediterranean Centre and Margin; Cultural approaches on the Mediterranean Margin and International Reality at the Mediterranean Sea.

 

The volume is integrated within a theoretical landscape and is justified by the anticipative answer offered by the authors to a series of variables with which the imperative of the current European politics operates, of the “maps projecting the macro regions” – a decentralized space of cooperation. The volume anticipates the conclusions of the European Council (June 24, 2011) which counts especially on the coincidence of culture and creative industries, on the capitalization of historical, linguistic and, in general, cultural diversity, and also on the application of a macro-regional strategy. All these dimensions illustrate the potential of catalyst of the “Union for the Mediterranean area”.

 

The volume’s approach indicates significant insights, pre-figurations of the European imperatives correlated with the analysed theme, with a double effect: the analysis of the international implications of the Mediterranean space and of the considerations concerning soft power; and a withdrawal within the philosophical, theoretical and political framework that configure the dimensions of this profile. The approach is explained in the introductory chapter – Political Philosophy of Mediterranean Centre and Margin.

 

According to Abderrazzak Essrhir, the idea of the centre is the indicative of the systematic invention of a peripheral space – racial, geographical, religious, cultural – resulting in a binary opposition that is the outcome of reciprocal experiences between the centre and its assumed periphery. It is in this very context that the relations between the East and the West can rightly be appreciated to have always been conducted, marked by conquest, demystification, subjection, or colonial confinement. The centre assumes in this perspective a position wherein it perceives itself as the nucleus of authority and power, the source of emanation of knowledge, the cradle of high culture and civilisation. The margin, as a consequence, turns out to be a mere indication of that “positioning is best defined in terms of the limitations of a subject’s access to power.” It is, in this respect, perceived, and indeed made to be, as the consumer, the dependent, the subaltern, or the anarchic space. This type of centre-margin binary opposition is multi-dimensional in the sense that the centre, conscious of its identity, systematically locates and confines its margin by devising a set of strategic practices such as othering, ethnic categorisation, subjugation, and discrimination (Abderrazzak Essrhir).

 

For Abdenbi Sarroukh, the question that arises is whether the new U.N partnership will contribute to the blossoming of at least a positive Mediterranean pluralism that goes beyond the borders of the nationalism that is still recast in ethnic identities, so as to reshape them to conform to the new cultural exigencies. The author refers to the universal values that tend to homogenise specificities and the spirit of communities that are irreducible and resist being explained away by the power of discourse from the point of view of the dominating centre.

 

The historical registration appears as architecture and even as a film of the Mediterranean space diving into the discourse of postmodernity as post-tradition, either rebuilding the cultural referential of the marginal discourse of the Mediterranean space – a system of indexes, emblems, constituents of a typical language that asks for deciphering, first and foremost politically speaking, in order to deserve to be termed of a Mediterranean polis  (Viorella Manolache), or the investigation of the communicational ethical and political implications of this fascination of the interlocutor via Richard Rorty, Jean Baudrillard or Simon Critchley (Henrieta ?erban).

 

The chapter Cultural Approaches on the Mediterranean Margin reaffirms the dependence of the imaginary on the mise-en-place of a very special Mediterranean syntax. The relationships between the “full and signifying forms” and the “determinations” of symbolical images, conferring them a “particularizing function” are emphasized (Gheorghe Manolache), within an analysis that employs essential (proto)types (present in the works of Eugen Lovinescu, Anton Naum – e.g. the Don Juanic character, Ulysses –, or Vasco da Gama). These profiles express the metaphoric idea that the waters of the Mediterranean space have a vocation of refrain: they are always the ones which bring boats, and invite the analyst to imagine Ulysses abandoned on the rocky shores of Portugal in distress; one sees Vasco da Gama directing his ships and people on the warm and quiet waters of the Mediterranean Sea, with an impact on the symbolic-cultural map of the countries washed by the Mediterranean waters. What remains behind is precisely what should happen: a silent revolt of the water and then, the numerous endless tides, the tides which charmed the sovereigns and awarded gold and glory, the waters of the bereaved bride named melancholy (Diana Adamek).

 

The philosophical and metaphorical level is completed by a more investigative and practical level in International Reality at the Mediterranean Sea that assesses the Mediterranean space as one of the important geopolitical and geostrategic pivots in world history. The geopolitical and geostrategic significance of the Mediterranean realm is not quite constant along the entire history of the region. For a while, the geopolitical and geostrategic significance of the Mediterranean decreased, because the “center” of the world gradually glided to the Atlantic. But, starting with the opening stages of the Cold War, the geostrategic importance of the Mediterranean realm grew again, a trend which is still maintained to a certain extent nowadays as well, in the context of the so-called ‘clash of civilizations’ and of the global war against terror. Other important events, connected with the war in the Caucasus region, prove again – similarly to the era of the Cold War – how important is for the West to control the Mediterranean Sea, and how ambitious post-communist Russia already is on the international arena (Florin Diaconu).

 

In this analytical key, the international realities operating in the Mediterranean space raise the question of how culture and identity contribute to the lasting peace, facing the geopolitical context and the efforts of a generation of intellectuals who have implemented this idea by building a unique and successful structure such as the European Union. It is thus important to examine the possibility of designing a community of security in the Mediterranean region through economic growth, with the contribution of this regional culture, without which any construction will be only short-lived and deprived of depth (Lucian Jora).

 

Beyond this snapshot of the main dimensions of the volume Center-Margin at the Mediterranean Sea (Political Philosophy and International Reality), one can easily identify the need to re-evaluate in a more complex light the Mediterranean space, accepting a cultural and reconciliatory mental map – a matrix where the Mediterranean space does not cease to provide to an equal extent, both philosophies and realities.