As a Tigrayan, My Heart Bleeds for Palestine

I was lying in bed recovering from a brief bout of COVID when my phone loudly dinged in the early hours of the morning.

“Check the news,” my mother texted.

Fearing yet another story of unrestrained terror on Tigray, I frantically went to my Twitter page. My feed was filled with sprawling, angry black letters that read, “Israel attacked.” I watched in despair as Hamas swept into Israel on paragliders. Cognizant of the countless Palestinian lives that had been victim to an oppressive apartheid Israeli state, my heart broke for the innocent Israeli civilians whose lives were prematurely snatched away by Hamas. But my heart also broke that day for the Palestinian people because I knew what would ensue: Israel launching a ruthless military campaign in the Gaza Strip. The Palestinian’s fate was sealed for the coming months and even years; I had no doubt there would be severe casualties, but never did I anticipate what would transpire in the following months after the attack.

Shortly after the surprise incursion from Hamas, Israel announced their unwavering determination to root out every last member of Hamas from Gaza. Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu made premonitory statements, declaring that the retaliatory air strikes from the Israeli Defense Forces “was only the beginning.” Undeterred by backlash from neighboring Middle Eastern countries and humanitarian organizations around the world, Netayanyu doubled down on his efforts, declaring that Palestinians had 24 hours to evacuate to the Southern tip of the Gaza Strip. 

These vitriolic calls for vengeance, characterized by hate speech and dehumanization, struck a deeply traumatic chord within me. I have been all too well-acquainted with the faces of evil. They come in all shapes and sizes, yet simultaneously merge into an indistinguishable mob that speaks in one voice, fixed in their resolve to corrode the hearts and minds of people and spread hate speech.

As Tigrayans, we are well-practiced in recognizing dog-whistle rhetoric and fear-mongering tactics of those who have made it their mission to deny the genocide. With the recent onslaught in the Gaza Strip, the Israeli government has lauded itself as weeding out terrorists despite their indiscriminate aerial attacks on innocent civilians. Conflating criticism of the Israeli government and Zionist ideals with antisemitism has been used to circumvent the shifting narrative by political pundits like Ben Shapiro. In the past few weeks those who have ardently called for protecting the fundamental human rights of the Palestinian people have been assigned unforgiving labels of ‘terrorist’ with troubling speed. This phenomenon bears striking resemblance to the Ethiopian government’s efforts to designate anyone who advocated for Tigray as a ‘TPLF terrorist’ or ‘junta.’

Fast-forward almost seven months into the conflict–which many experts have labeled as genocide–the death toll has reached 35,000. Despite the International Court of Justice trial, spearheaded by the South African government, Israel has ignored calls for a ceasefire, sending an endless barrage of missiles into the 25-mile strip of land, resulting in even more deaths. In their case against Israel, the South African government has cited that “entire generations [of Palestinians] have been wiped out.”

Israel’s Human Rights Record

One only has to look at Israel’s human rights record since its inception to reach the incontestable conclusion that it was only a matter of time before their crimes against Palestinians would be brought to the world stage. The creation of Israel in 1948 was quickly followed by the Nakba, during which 700,000 Palestinians were violently dispossessed of their land—an event still fresh in the collective memory of both young and old. The Nakba marked the beginning of seventy years of state-sanctioned apartheid that has been largely defined by illegal Israeli settlements in the West Bank, imprisonment of thousands of Palestinians without due process, and scores of bloody massacres carried out by the Israel Defense Forces (IDF). The gradual encroachment of Palestinian land by Israeli citizens is analogous to the continued occupation of Eritrean and Amhara forces in Western Tigray and Tigrayan lands bordering Eritrea. 

It is no secret that Israel has aroused the hostility of not only Palestine but numerous countries around the world. Just last year Israel was sending armaments to back the Azerbaijani government in recapturing Nagorno-Karabakh, resulting in an ethnic cleansing campaign of Armenians in the region–not to mention Israel’s role in supplying drones to the Ethiopian government led by Abiy Ahmed, utterly devastating the Tigray region. The duplicity of the Israeli government does not end there, but extends to the treatment of their citizens–namely Mizrahi and Ethiopian Jews who have faced decades-long systematic discrimination. Israel has worked tirelessly to conceal their involvement in cases like the Yemenite Children Affair and the forced sterilization of Ethiopian women. Since October 2023, the Israeli government has killed approximately 35,000 people, 14,000 of them children, and has razed Gaza to the ground, causing mass displacement of Palestinians as they try to salvage what is left of their homes and communities. Israel has employed the same tactics used by the Ethiopian government during the Tigray genocide, such as imposing a telecommunication blackout and a humanitarian blockade, both governments vehemently denying their role in enacting genocide.

The atrocities inflicted on Tigray by the Ethiopian and Eritrean governments in the last four years have provided me with unshakeable clarity that there is no middle ground when it comes to genocide. The vapid remarks of senior US officials, such as Secretary of State Anthony Blinken, on Gaza carry the same tenor as those made for Tigray. Both Tigray and Palestine are historical underdogs who have always managed to resist occupation and regimes that have threatened their autonomy but always at a great cost.

It Takes a Country to Commit Genocide

Who is responsible for genocide? This question has persisted throughout history and has flummoxed academics, politicians, and average-day citizens alike in search of concrete answers. Nazi Germany is often utilized as a case study in pursuit of this question. Although the Nuremberg Trials did not adequately punish all Nazis involved in the Holocaust, in modern discourse, this event is cited as an exemplary model of what should happen to prominent enactors of genocide. But aside from the powerful leaders, what about the paper pushers who were simply following orders or the patriotic citizens who attended numerous rallies? Where do they fall on the barometer of responsibility?

Historical narratives have a propensity to hyperfocus on leaders who are responsible for mass atrocities. This paints a portrait of infamous despots like Hitler, Stalin, and Pol Pot operating on their own initiatives. However, this could be further from the truth and detracts from broader systemic and structural issues at play. Genocides don’t just happen. Hitler had a visceral hatred towards Jews, but antisemitism had been an undercurrent of European society for centuries. Genocides require cunning, meticulous planning, and above all, an eager populace willing to carry out their leader’s demands.

Videos and images from both Tigray and the Gaza Strip reveal the dark truth of soldierly conduct: it seldom exists in times of war. Some examples include footage of an Ethiopian IDF soldier performing eskista (a traditional Ethiopian dance) in a demolished home, a gleeful smile etched on his face as he overlooks the ruins his government caused. A clip of IDF soldiers rummaging through lingerie accompanied by raucous laughter in an abandoned home was also uploaded to different social media platforms. Another video shows Israelis jumping on trucks carrying humanitarian aid in a frenzied attempt to obstruct food supplies from going into the Gaza Strip. Similarly, numerous videos from Tigray came to light on social media, though some long after the fact due to the telecommunications blackout, of atrocity crimes committed against Tigrayans–including footage of soldiers massacring Tigrayan civilians and throwing them off a cliff. Tigrayans also watched in horror as Ethiopian soldiers released footage of burning a Tigrayan man alive, proclaiming that his flesh should be eaten with injera. For decades, both Israelis and Ethiopians have engaged in various methods of popular justice. The key difference today is the widespread viewership of these often brutal acts through social media, amplifying the sheer depravity that has overtaken both countries.

Abiy Ahmed, Isaias Afwerki, and Benjamin Netanyahu may join the ranks of historical villains; however, let us never forget the people’s complicity.

Hopeful for the Future

The political discourse surrounding Israel has reached a critical juncture. Though it should not have taken this level of death and destruction, the world has finally come to the dawning clarity that Israel wields its position as a superpower to continually violate the basic human rights of the Palestinian people. Albeit pro-Israel interest groups pushing false accounts of what is occurring on the ground, more and more prominent figures in politics have begun to question the legitimacy of the Israeli government’s claims to eradicate Hamas. The argument that criticism directed against the Israeli government is equivalent to antisemitism has driven away even the most ardent supporters of Israel. As the IDF encroaches upon Rafah, global outcry has only increased, a testament to Israel’s rapidly deteriorating reputation. Beneath the thin veneer of supposed moral authority, Israel has exposed itself for what it truly is: a colonial power resolute in disenfranchising Palestinians. The genocides in the Gaza Strip and Tigray have proven that the phrase “Never Again” has become a meaningless platitude, and it does not apply to beleaguered groups still under the foot of settler colonialism and imperialism. Tigrayans and Palestinians are bound by their mutual desire for self-determination and freedom, united in their struggle against oppression. 

Amid Israel’s brutal seizure of Gaza, Palestinians have displayed exceptional fortitude, mirroring the steadfastness shown by Tigrayans during the height of the genocide in 2021. We are intimately acquainted with the keening wails of mothers cradling their lifeless children and the anguish of waking to the news of yet another loved one lost to senseless violence. Above all, we understand that while the oppressor may strip away our families, homes, and even our lives, they can never extinguish the flame of hope within us.

Mahlet A – Omna Tigray External Contributor, June 2024

 

Ginbot 20, the Fall of the Derg, and its historical and contemporary significance

Introduction 

May 28, 2024, also known as Ginbot 20, marks the 33rd anniversary of the fall of the Derg regime. Marking a pivotal moment in Ethiopian history, in May 1991, the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF), a coalition of various Ethiopian liberation fronts, defeated the Derg army and took control of the capital Addis Ababa. The day symbolizes the triumph of the people over the oppressive Derg military dictatorship led by Mengistu Haile Mariam that ruled Ethiopia with an iron fist for 17 years. The overthrow of the Derg led to the establishment of a new government that promised democratic reforms and national reconstruction.

The commemoration of Ginbot 20 serves as a reminder of the sacrifices made by countless Tigrayans and other Ethiopians in their struggle for freedom and justice. It is a day to honor those who lost their lives and to reflect on the progress made since the regime’s downfall. For many, it also serves as a call to remain vigilant in safeguarding the freedoms and rights that were hard-won through decades of struggle. 

Though freedoms and human rights were violated under the EPRDF leadership as it moved away from its founding principles, the lessons learned from the state violence perpetrated by the Derg have been lost completely under the Abiy Ahmed administration. Since April 2018, the country has been once again ruled by an authoritarian leader who centralized power and is waging war in multiple regions of the country, among which has been a genocidal war on Tigray. Therefore, this Ginbot 20 commemoration is as important as ever in reminding us what it is that Ethiopia’s nations, nationalities, and peoples have long fought for and points to the need to establish inclusive, robust, and resilient governance systems. 

What the struggle that preceded Ginbot 20 was about 

The liberation fronts that constituted the EPRDF were united in their struggle against the Derg’s totalitarian and brutal rule, which caused the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people across Ethiopia. The Derg era was characterized by numerous atrocities, including the Red Terror (1976-1978), a violent campaign of terror unleashed against the Derg’s political opponents, most notably the members of the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Party (EPRP). Tens of thousands of people were killed during the Red Terror, most of them the country’s youth and intelligentsia, often in gruesome and public ways. Additionally, the Derg instituted a policy of resettlement and villagization that forcefully displaced thousands of people from their homes. Human suffering grew worse in the 1980s when a devastating famine struck northern Ethiopia, especially the Tigray and Amhara regions. This famine was not only caused by drought and failed harvests but precipitated by the Derg’s mismanagement of the economy and its policies that prevented aid from reaching those affected by the famine. In the wake of this famine, an estimated one million people died. 

The Derg’s failed policies, authoritarianism, and brutality towards political dissidents fuelled mass mobilization of various nationally based nascent liberation fronts, including the Oromo Liberation Front (OLF),  and especially the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) and the various Eritrean fronts, such as the Eritrean Liberation Front (ELF) and Eritrean People’s Liberation Front (EPLF). These groups took up arms to fight against the Derg’s tyrannical rule and bring about national liberation for the various groups in the Ethiopian state. Throughout the 1970s and even more so in the 1980s, the various liberation fronts, and especially the TPLF fought numerous fierce battles against Derg forces, registering important victories. 

Main battles and establishment of a transitional government  

The fall of the Derg in 1991 was marked by a series of strategic battles and events that culminated in the takeover of Addis Ababa and the establishment of a transitional government.

The strategic battles that ultimately led to the fall of the Derg included the Battle of Shire in 1989, where the TPLF decisively defeated government forces, and the Battle of Afabet in 1988, where the EPLF dealt a significant blow to government troops. These battles weakened the Derg’s hold on power and paved the way for further advances by opposition forces.

In 1991, as opposition forces closed in on Addis Ababa, the Derg’s grip on power began to slip. On May 28, 1991, opposition forces, including the TPLF as part of EPRDF, entered the capital, marking the end of the Derg’s rule. Mengistu Haile Mariam fled the country, and a transitional government was established, led by Meles Zenawi, the leader of the TPLF.

The takeover of Addis Ababa and the establishment of the transitional government marked a turning point in Ethiopian history. In July 1991, the Transitional Charter was officially adopted. This transitional charter introduced a series of political and economic reforms. The Charter established 14 administrative regions based on ethnic, language, and settlement patterns in Ethiopia (which was later revised to 11). This Charter stipulated the rights of nations and nationalities to self-determination, a principle that is echoed in the 1995 EPRDF constitution. Similarly, the EPRDF coalition also passed important economic reforms upon seizing power, among them limited liberalization of the Ethiopian economy. While under the Derg regime, peasants were forced to sell their produce to a state agency at a set price, following the 1991 Charter, they were allowed to sell their products on the market. These governance and economic reforms laid the foundation for the modern Ethiopian state and set the stage for the country’s transition to a more decentralized and inclusive system of government. 

The place of Ginbot 20  in Tigrayan history

Ginbot 20 holds a special place in Tigrayan history for several different reasons. First, and most importantly, it marked the end of the Derg’s brutal reign. This reign was characterized by countless atrocities against various peoples across the country but was especially bloody in Tigray, where the Derg targeted civilians in its attempt to stifle the people’s resistance. In particular, the latter years of the Derg reign brought death and destruction to many parts of Tigray, as the civilian populations suffered the brunt of the regime’s military activities. Ginbot 20, and the overthrow of the Derg government, brought an immediate end to these atrocities, freeing the people of Tigray and of Ethiopia more broadly. Especially among those who lived through the Derg years, saw and experienced its atrocities, or were forced to flee Tigray, Gibot 20 signaled the end of immense suffering. 

Another reason Ginbot 20 occupies a special place in Tigrayan history is because of the indispensable role that Tigrayan fighters played in toppling the Derg government. The Tigrayan resistance, and in particular, the TPLF, played the most important role in leading and directing the military missions that undermined and eventually defeated Derg, culminating in the takeover of Addis Ababa in May 1991. Tigrayan fighters, families, and communities paid the highest cost in these missions, sacrificing everything to ensure liberation for themselves and other oppressed nations in Ethiopia. Estimates are that between 67,000 and 70,000 TPLF fighters made the ultimate sacrifice. Making alliances with other armed groups under the auspices of the EPRDF, Tigrayan fighters led the charge in removing the Derg from the Ethiopian political arena. In so doing, Tigrayans were continuing their long tradition of resistance to subjugation that has characterized their history. Just as Tigrayans rose up in arms to resist imperial subjugation and oppression during the First Woyane uprising in 1943, another generation of Tigrayan fighters arose to fight the Derg’s military dictatorship, culminating in Ginbot 20. 

Finally, as highlighted above, Ginbot 20 ushered in a new era in Ethiopian politics, one in which the rights of the various nations and nationalities living in the country were written into law. For the first time in the country’s history, the rights of nations and nationalities to full self-administration were formally articulated. While the implementation of this system has faced significant challenges, the protection of nations and nationalities’ right to self-determination was a hard-won victory for Tigrayans and other nations within Ethiopia. In all, Tigrayans celebrate Ginbot 20 not only to commemorate the removal of a brutal regime but also to remember the immense sacrifices of those who fought against an oppressive regime and sought to establish a freer, more open, and more inclusive future for Ethiopia.

Ginbot 20 and the Tigray Genocide 

Tigray bore the brunt of the Derg regime’s violence and death outside of Addis Ababa, given the threat the TPLF posed to the regime. In fact, specifically referencing the TPLF and Tigray, Mengistu once said, “’To kill the fish, drain the pond.”  Therefore, as the genocidal war on Tigray erupted after Tigray was invaded on November 4, 2020, parallels began to emerge between the rhetoric of the Derg era and the hate speech and atrocities that were unleashed on Tigray after 2020, though the latter was on a much larger scale and a more systematic manner. The atrocity crimes committed by Ethiopian, Eritrean, and Amhara forces during the genocidal war – which included massacres, weaponized sexual violence, famine, and wholesale destruction – were reminiscent of the Derg era when such tactics were employed by the Derg, the most notable mass atrocities being the Hawzien and Abi Adi massacres. Moreover,  the ethnic profiling and targeting of Tigrayans in all parts of Ethiopia echoed the ethnic profiling campaign of the Derg era. 

Unfortunately, the lessons learned from this very violent period of Ethiopian history, in which 10,000-20,000  young people were killed during the Red Terror and hundreds of thousands were killed by weaponized starvation, were not well enough documented and incorporated into the country’s political and social fabric. The pain and trauma of that era faded with a generation lost to death and displacement. As the genocidal war on Tigray raged on, the Abiy administration and his allies unleashed countless atrocities with public support, some of which included people who yearned for Ethiopia to return to the “glory days” of the Derg and even imperial Ethiopia. Ethiopia’s population is a very young one, of which 40% is under the age of 15 and 67% is under 65. Without documentation and efforts to embed lessons learned in the group psyche, such atrocities are bound to repeat themselves. Unfortunately, this has been the case in Abiy Ahmed’s Ethiopia. Emblematic of the disconnect between Ethiopia’s generation and the degradation of what the Derg era meant for Ethiopians was the shattered glass of the Red Terror’s Martyr Museum in Addis Ababa, destroyed amidst police clashes in May 2022.  

Connections to Ethiopia’s history and memorialization of mass atrocities are important pieces of the puzzle to ensure long-term peace and stability, as is justice and accountability for crimes committed, which has largely remained elusive for the victims of the Derg as Mengistu remains free in Zimbabwe. Therefore, as we commemorate this Ginbot 20 in 2024, we honor and remember all those martyred in a struggle for freedom and against oppression, whether that be during the Derg era or today, as Tigray continues to face a silent genocide and human rights abuses take place across the country. As we remember what Ginbot 20 signifies, it is a time of hope for peace and freedom from oppression for all of Ethiopia’s nations and nationalities.  

Omna Tigray Contributor, May 2024

 

Amplifying the Voices of the Tigrayan Irob Community: The Failure of the Algiers Agreement

Introduction:

Nestled within the intricate fabric of the Eritrea-Ethiopia conflict are the Tigrayan Irob  community, whose historical presence and cultural heritage are deeply intertwined with the landscapes of the Tigray region. Despite their enduring resilience and contributions to the region, these indigenous peoples have often been marginalized and sidelined in discussions of peace and stability. The signing of the Algiers Agreement in 2000, heralded as a watershed moment in resolving the 1998 to 2000 Ethio-Eritrean Border War, was expected to bring an end to decades of hostility and usher in a new era of peace. However, for Tigray’s indigenous minorities, especially the Irob, the promises of peace and security have remained elusive, overshadowed by ongoing insecurity, displacement, and marginalization. This article seeks to delve deeper into the experiences, perspectives, and aspirations of the Irob in the aftermath of the Algiers Agreement, shedding light on the systemic challenges they continue to face. 

Historical Context:

To understand the significance of the Algiers Agreement from the perspective of the Tigrayan Irob, one must delve into the historical tapestry that has shaped their existence. For centuries, these indigenous peoples have inhabited the rugged landscapes of Tigray, their lives intertwined with the land, their culture, and their rich history of resilience in the face of adversity. For example, the Irob were a part of the resistance against the Italian colonizers in the late 1800s, utilizing their mountainous landscapes to fend off the invaders.

However, their presence in the region has been fraught with challenges, as geopolitical forces have redrawn boundaries, asserted control, and imposed external narratives that often overlook or disregard their rights and aspirations. Despite their deep roots in the region, their voices have too often been silenced in discussions of peace and conflict resolution.

Analysis of the Algiers Agreement:

1. Disregard for Indigenous Rights:

The 2000 Algiers Agreement, negotiated primarily by the governments of Eritrea and Ethiopia, paid scant regard to the rights and interests of indigenous peoples like the Irob. While discussions centered on political boundaries and territorial disputes, the voices of these marginalized communities were conspicuously absent from the negotiating table. As a result, the agreement failed to address the unique challenges and aspirations of indigenous peoples, perpetuating a cycle of marginalization and erasure. The failure to recognize the distinct identities and rights of the Irob within the framework of the Algiers Agreement further entrenched their marginalization, denying them the opportunity to shape their own destinies and participate meaningfully in the peace process. While the Eritrean occupation of about 60% of Irob continues today as part of the genocidal war on Tigray, the Irob continue to be marginalized as the 2022 Pretoria Agreement, which stipulates the withdrawal of all non-federal Ethiopian forces from Tigray, is still not implemented as intended, and the occupation of Irob is often left out of the broader discussion on peace. 

2. Continued Border Disputes and Insecurity:

Despite the delineation of borders outlined in the Algiers Agreement, the Irob continue to grapple with insecurity, displacement, and the specter of violence having not yet recovered from the border war when Ethiopia and Eritrea launched their genocidal war on Tigray in November 2020. Border disputes, fueled by competing claims over territory and resources, have persisted, exacerbating tensions and perpetuating a cycle of fear and uncertainty. The arbitrary delimitation of borders, devoid of meaningful consultation with affected communities, has only served to deepen divisions and sow the seeds of future conflict. The lack of recognition of the historical and cultural significance of the borderlands to the Irob has further exacerbated tensions, as their traditional livelihoods and access to resources are threatened by the imposition of external boundaries. The Irob have long maintained that the division of Irob land into two countries as stipulated per the Algiers Agreement poses an existential threat. 

Most recently, at the end of April 2024, Eritrea once again reiterated that the lands it occupies in Tigray were awarded to it as part of the Algiers Agreement and subsequent 2002 UN Border Commission. However, the Tigrayan land Eritrea currently brutally occupies goes beyond what was awarded to it, almost double the area. The extent of the occupation makes the forceful annexation of all the land Eritrea occupies illegal and against the spirit of the Algiers Agreement–which neither Eritrean or Ethiopia have ever practically implemented on the ground. The Eritrean government with the support of the Ethiopian federal government has weaponized the Algiers Agreement to enact its next phase in dismantling the Tigrayan region and its identity, including that of its minorities.   

3. Human Rights Violations and Displacement:

The legacy of the 1998 to 2000 Eritrea-Ethiopia Border War and the Algiers Agreement’s failure to address its underlying causes have had dire consequences for the Irob. 

During the 1998 to 2000 Ethio-Eritrean border conflict, a tragic chapter unfolded. The invasion of Irob land resulted in severe human rights abuses that were largely overlooked by the media at the time. Reports from journalists like Mimi Sebhatu and accounts from Irob communities detail atrocities committed by Eritrean armed forces, including forced citizenship, expulsion from homes, imprisonment, harassment, beatings, killings, rape, and looting of churches and properties. Civilians, including the elderly, disabled, women, and children, were subjected to harsh conditions without shelter or food, while their properties and livelihoods were destroyed. The systematic erasure of Irob culture and resources, including landmines placed in villages, further exacerbated the suffering and made resettlement difficult. The lack of accountability for past atrocities and the absence of mechanisms for redress have compounded the suffering of the Irob, leaving them vulnerable to further exploitation and abuse. The risk of further crimes became a reality as the genocidal war on Tigray was initiated and Eritrea accompanied by Ethiopia once again implemented similar tactics on a larger scale throughout the Tigray region.

Consequent to the genocidal war since November 2000, human rights violations, including arbitrary detention, forced conscription, and land confiscation, have been perpetrated against indigenous peoples with impunity. Many have been forcibly displaced from their ancestral lands, their livelihoods destroyed, and their cultural heritage threatened by the ravages of war and displacement. As it stands today, most of Irob’s population is displaced and violations continue after the signing of the 2022 Cessation of Hostilities Agreement. 

In April 2024, a disturbing video clip emerged from the violently occupied Irob district offering a glimpse into the plight of the indigenous Irob minority population, who find themselves forcibly subjected to a false Eritrean identity. The regime’s systematic denial of aid and essential services, coupled with coercive measures aimed at enforcing compliance with Eritrea’s compulsory national military service, constitutes a grave violation of human rights and international law. The scenes captured in the video, depicting the dire conditions within the Alakalo locality of the Masi-Dage area, serve as a stark reminder of the urgent need for international intervention and accountability. It is imperative that the international community stand in solidarity with the oppressed and work tirelessly to ensure that justice is served and the rights of all individuals, regardless of ethnicity or nationality, are upheld and protected.

4. Lack of Reconciliation and Healing:

Perhaps the most profound impact of the Algiers Agreement has been its failure to engender reconciliation and healing in the hearts and minds of the Irob. The wounds of war run deep, tearing apart the social fabric and eroding trust between neighbors. Without meaningful dialogue, truth-telling, and justice, the path to reconciliation remains elusive, perpetuating cycles of resentment and division that undermine efforts to build a more inclusive and peaceful future. The lack of acknowledgment of past injustices and the absence of efforts to promote healing and reconciliation have hindered efforts to build trust and foster social cohesion within and between communities.

Implications for Sustainable Peace:

For the Irob and other indigenous communities like the Kunama, sustainable peace in the Horn of Africa can only be achieved through the recognition of their rights, meaningful inclusion in decision-making processes, and the addressing of historical grievances. The Algiers Agreement, with its top-down approach and neglect of indigenous voices, represents a missed opportunity for genuine peace. Moving forward, any meaningful peace efforts, including today’s efforts to completely end the genocidal war on Tigray, must prioritize the participation of affected communities, promote dialogue and reconciliation, and address the root causes of conflict to forge a path towards a more just and equitable future for all. The inclusion of the Irob and other border communities, including the Kunama, in peacebuilding and reconciliation processes is essential to addressing the underlying drivers of conflict and building a sustainable peace that respects the rights and aspirations of all.

Conclusion:

As we reflect on the legacy of the Algiers Agreement, it is imperative that we center the voices and experiences of indigenous peoples like the Irob in our collective efforts to build a more peaceful and inclusive Horn of Africa. Their resilience, wisdom, and aspirations for justice offer invaluable insights into the complexities of conflict and the possibilities for peace. By amplifying their voices, acknowledging their rights, and working in genuine partnership with indigenous communities, we can chart a course towards a future where peace, dignity, and equality prevail for all. Only through genuine dialogue, reconciliation, and respect for diversity can we hope to build a more just and sustainable peace in the Horn of Africa—one that honors the rights and aspirations of all its peoples, including the Tigrayan Irob and Kunama communities.

Batseba Seifu – Omna Tigray External Contributor, May 2024

 

The Urgent Need for the Kampala Convention in Tigray

A Crossroads of Aspiration and Uncertainty

The Tigray region has been ravaged by a genocidal war since November 2020, uprooting about two million people from their homes and leaving them displaced within and outside the region within Ethiopia and in neighboring countries. According to a December 2023 United Nations report, nearly a million people in Tigray remain internally displaced. This humanitarian crisis demands urgent solutions as Tigrayans continue to be displaced from occupied areas. One promising path towards mitigating these circumstances lies in the Kampala Convention, a treaty designed to protect the rights of internally displaced persons (IDPs) across Africa. By adhering to the principles enshrined in this convention, the Ethiopian Federal government, in collaboration with Tigray’s Interim Administration, can begin the long road to healing and ensure the safety and well-being of citizens.

The Kampala Convention

The Convention for the Protection and Assistance of Internally Displaced Persons in Africa, also known as the Kampala Convention offers a vital framework for safeguarding the rights of IDPs. Adopted by the African Union in 2009, this treaty compels member states to prioritise preventative measures to curb displacement while also mandating signatory states to both protect IDPs and provide them with essential assistance.

Ethiopia ratified the Kampala Convention in 2020. However, implementation is lacking, particularly in the genocide-torn Tigray region. The ongoing genocide has displaced millions of Tigrayans within Ethiopia’s borders, highlighting the urgent need to translate the principles enshrined in the Kampala Convention into concrete action on the ground.

Security, Justice, and the Long Road to Peace in Tigray

The brutal genocide in Tigray, tragically exposes the critical need for a multifaceted approach to achieving lasting peace. While immediate security measures are essential to quell the violence, true stability requires a foundation built on justice and addressing the root causes that ignited the flames of genocide.

The Kampala Convention on the Protection and Assistance of Internally Displaced Persons provides a valuable roadmap for navigating this complex situation. This international treaty mandates action on multiple fronts, all essential for restoring security, preventing future displacement, and the safe return of IDPs. 

Return of IDPs

The Convention compels states to confront the root causes of displacement. In the case of Tigray, this necessitates tackling issues like the forceful and illegal occupation of Tigrayan territories by Amhara and Eritrean forces, and the accompanying human rights violations, crimes against humanity, ethnic cleansing, and genocide. Only by confronting these underlying problems can we ensure the safe return of IDPs. 

The Kampala Convention outlines: “States Parties shall seek lasting solutions to the problem of displacement by promoting and creating satisfactory conditions for voluntary return, local integration or relocation on a sustainable basis and in circumstances of safety and dignity.” Further, it states “States Parties shall enable internally displaced persons to make a free and informed choice on whether to return, integrate locally or relocate by consulting them on these and other options and ensuring their participation in finding sustainable solutions.” Tigrayans who are internally displaced have unequivocally expressed their choice to return and repeatedly called for their government to facilitate this. However, this is not being pursued by the Ethiopian government. The Abiy administration has not facilitated the withdrawal of non-federal and foreign forces from Tigrayan territories–which would allow for the safe return of IDPs. 

Firstly, Amhara forces still occupy Western Tigray, as the zone is illegally under the administration of the Amhara regional government that is conducting ethnic cleansing. In a statement in November 2023, the Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed proposed a referendum to determine the future of Western Tigray, which raises serious concerns for the future of Western Tigray and IDPs ability to return home. Some see this move as an attempt to deflect criticism of his handling of the genocide. Abiy may be attempting to divert attention from these allegations and portray himself as a leader dedicated to peace and democracy. Alternatively, the proposal could be seen as an effort to regain international support. Abiy was previously lauded by the international community for promoting peace and democracy, but his actions over the last several years have severely tarnished his image. By proposing a referendum, he might be aiming to win back the international community’s favour by projecting an image of continued commitment to democratic principles.

However, as I have previously outlined, in reality, his proposal is a thinly veiled attempt to annex the territory to the Amhara region after the area has been cleansed of Tigrayans by Amhara forces, as well as a maneuver aimed at diverting attention from his government’s consistent and widespread human rights abuses. Calling for a referendum after ethnic cleansing and wrongly claiming most Tigrayan IDPs have returned home is ultimately another step in the ethnic cleansing and annexation of historically Tigrayan lands, evident in the  language, religion, and cultural practices. 

Secondly, Eritrea continues to occupy Tigrayan territories with impunity as human rights violations, including sexual violence and enforced disappearances, are daily occurrences. Though the Eritrean government claims their forces are on Eritrean land based on the 2002 Border Commission Decision, per Irob Anina Civil Society, they occupy double the amount of land they were awarded in the decision. Furthermore, ensuring a successful resolution requires moving beyond the 2000 Algiers Agreement and subsequent 2002 Border Commission Decision since Eritrea’s invasion of Tigray as part of its genocidal campaign nullifies the agreement and was a blatant violation of Ethiopia’s sovereignty. As such, neither the Ethiopian government nor the international community should use this agreement as a reference point.

Pursuant to the November 2022 Cessation of Hostilities Agreement between the Ethiopian government and the Tigray People’s Liberation Front, the Ethiopian government has the responsibility of ensuring all non-Ethiopian federal forces withdraw from Tigray. Yet, 16 months since the CoHA, the Ethiopian government has done nothing to ensure the withdrawal of these forces, leaving IDPs unable to return home due to the ongoing occupations.

Protecting Vulnerable Groups in the Wake of Genocide: The Case of Tigray

The ongoing genocide in Tigray has highlighted the critical need for robust measures to protect vulnerable groups, including IDPs. Article 9 of the Kampala Convention recognizes the specific vulnerabilities faced by women, children, and the elderly during displacement. In the context of Tigray, translating these principles into concrete action is paramount to ensure a just and sustainable recovery.

Women in Tigray are particularly exposed to various forms of violence, including sexual assault and gender-based violence. This is ongoing in the lands forcefully occupied by Eritrean and Amhara Forces. Targeted measures are crucial to guarantee their safety and well-being. This could involve establishing safe spaces for women within displacement camps, ensuring access to female healthcare providers, and implementing robust reporting mechanisms for abuse. Children are another highly vulnerable group during displacement. Disrupted education, malnutrition, and psychological trauma are just some of the challenges they face. Ethiopia has an obligation to prioritize access to quality education for displaced children, provide adequate nutrition programs, and offer specialized services to address the psychological impact of genocide. The elderly within IDP camps often face unique challenges. Limited mobility, chronic health conditions, and social isolation can leave them particularly vulnerable. Targeted interventions are needed, such as ensuring accessible sanitation facilities, providing healthcare services catering to their specific needs, and fostering a sense of community within the camps.

Beyond these specific groups, it is crucial to recognize the intersectionality of vulnerabilities. For instance, a displaced elderly woman might face compounded risks of violence and health concerns. A holistic approach that considers the unique needs of each individual is essential.The Ethiopian government has an obligation to not only protect these populations, but the entire community. This requires sustained commitment to ensuring the safety and well-being of all vulnerable IDPs. Independent monitoring mechanisms are also crucial to ensure transparency and accountability.

The genocide on Tigray serves as a stark reminder of the devastating impact of internal displacement on vulnerable populations. Prioritizing their protection and implementing targeted interventions is essential.

Uprooted Yet Unbroken: Education and Livelihoods for Tigray’s IDPs

While IDPs in Tigray wait to be able to return home, their human rights should be upheld by the Ethiopian government. IDPs face a multitude of challenges, with the rights to education and livelihood hanging precariously in the balance. The international legal framework, embodied in the Kampala Convention on the Protection and Assistance of Internally Displaced Persons, provides a powerful roadmap for addressing these issues.

Education is the cornerstone of a brighter future. Disrupted schooling not only hinders academic progress but also disrupts the crucial social and emotional development of children. And this is exactly what’s happening in Tigray. The Convention guarantees IDPs the right to education on equal footing with the host community. In Tigray, where educational institutions have been deliberately targeted and attacked by invading forces, restoring access to education must be a top priority. This entails repairing damaged schools, providing psychosocial support to traumatized students, and ensuring a safe learning environment. Initiatives offering accelerated learning programs can help displaced children bridge the gap in their education.

Livelihoods are equally important for IDPs’ dignity and well-being. Uprooted from their homes and occupations, many struggle to meet basic needs. The Convention encourages support for income-generating activities, empowering IDPs to rebuild their lives. This can take various forms, such as microloans for small businesses, vocational training programs, and facilitating access to markets for locally produced goods.

The Federal government has a responsibility to protect and assist IDPs. It should provide funding, expertise, and logistical support for initiatives addressing education and livelihood needs. Additionally, it is essential to create safe spaces for IDPs to participate in decision-making regarding their education and economic opportunities.  

Rebuilding education and livelihoods in Tigray is more than just reconstruction; it is about fostering resilience and hope. By upholding the principles enshrined in the Convention, the international community can empower IDPs to not only survive but also thrive. Investing in their education equips them with the knowledge and skills to navigate the challenges of displacement and contribute meaningfully to society. Supporting livelihood opportunities fosters self-reliance and a sense of agency, allowing IDPs to regain control of their lives.

Rebuilding Tigray: Addressing Basic Needs and Long-Term Solutions

The genocide on Tigray has caused a severe humanitarian crisis. The region urgently requires solutions that address both immediate basic needs and long-term recovery. The principles enshrined in the Kampala Convention offer a valuable framework for this critical task.

The Convention rightly emphasizes the importance of fulfilling fundamental human needs during conflict. Food insecurity, water scarcity, inadequate shelter, and a lack of access to healthcare have become pervasive issues in Tigray. Unimpeded humanitarian access is paramount for ensuring the delivery of life-saving aid. However, the Ethiopian government has yet to ensure humanitarian access and adequate aid, instead actively hindering the response. Bureaucratic hurdles and security concerns are not addressed to allow aid organizations to reach all affected populations efficiently, while funding for the response remains grossly inadequate.

Addressing immediate needs is only the first step. The Kampala Convention goes beyond emergency relief highlighting the necessity of long-term solutions. Rebuilding Tigray requires a multifaceted approach. Reconstruction efforts are crucial for restoring basic infrastructure like roads, bridges, and communication networks. This will facilitate the movement of people and goods, enabling economic activity to fully resume. Livelihood development is another critical long-term solution. The genocide has disrupted agricultural production and destroyed businesses, leaving many Tigrayans without a source of income. Supporting farmers with seeds, tools, and training will help them get back on their feet. Similarly, providing microloans and vocational training can empower entrepreneurs and create new job opportunities. Psychosocial support is also often-overlooked yet crucial long-term need. The trauma inflicted by the genocide has lasting psychological consequences. Providing counselling and mental health services will be essential for fostering healing and promoting a sense of well-being within the Tigrayan community.

The success of these efforts hinges on the active participation of the Tigrayan people. Locally-driven initiatives and community ownership are vital for ensuring that reconstruction and development projects are sustainable and meet the specific needs of the population. Addressing the crisis in Tigray necessitates a comprehensive approach guided by the principles of the Kampala Convention. From ensuring unhindered access to basic necessities to fostering long-term recovery through infrastructure rebuilding, livelihood development, and psychosocial support, the road to rebuilding Tigray is a long one. However, by prioritizing both immediate needs and long-term solutions, with the active involvement of the affected communities, a brighter future for Tigray can be secured.

Central to the Convention’s principles is also the investigation of human rights abuses. Lack of accountability for atrocities and violent acts fosters resentment and erodes the rule of law. Independent and impartial investigations are crucial for holding perpetrators accountable, deterring future violations, and offering a path towards healing for victims. Justice, accountability, and redress are key to long-term peace and stability.

Conclusion: A Call to Action

The genocide on Tigray demands a unified global response. The Ethiopian government must be held accountable for failing to uphold its obligations under the Kampala Convention. The international community, including the African Union, needs to exert significant pressure to ensure:

  1. Unimpeded Humanitarian Access: Life-saving aid must reach all affected populations in Tigray without bureaucratic hurdles or security concerns.
  2. Independent Investigations and Accountability: A thorough investigation into human rights abuses is essential to deter future atrocities and offer a path to healing.
  3. Addressing Root Causes: The issues of forced occupation and ethnic cleansing  must be addressed to prevent future displacement.
  4. Long-Term Solutions: Reconstruction efforts, livelihood development programs, and psychosocial support are crucial for sustainable recovery in Tigray. Prioritizing education opportunities will empower IDPs to contribute to their communities.

The situation in Tigray is a critical test for the international community’s commitment to protecting the rights of IDPs. By working together and applying the principles enshrined in the Kampala Convention, a brighter future for Tigray can be secured. The time for action is now.

Batseba Seifu – Omna Tigray External Contributor, March 2024

 

Transitional Justice in Ethiopia: Will Tigray Pay the Price for Peace?

In late December 2023, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) and the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission (EHRC) published a report with their findings on transitional justice (TJ) from victim consultations across Ethiopia. They conducted 15 consultations in the Afar, Amhara, Harari, Oromia, Somali, and Tigray regions and in the Dire Dawa city administration with a total of 805 participants representing victims and victims’ families and other community members.

The report ultimately shows that victims and survivors across the country have similar abstract needs, among them peace, security, justice, and non-recurrence. However, in this particular instance, the details are incredibly important as they showcase conflicting desires amongst communities. In moving forward with what works for the majority, we are likely to see pain and suffering invoked for the minority, as justice and accountability are delicate issues that require sensitive and nuanced solutions. I continue to have serious concerns about a domestic-led transitional justice mechanism being the sole justice and accountability effort for Tigray, and this report heightened those concerns.

In this article, I dive deeper into these concerns, highlighting the diversity of needs and preferences among victims across the country, making it challenging to find one solution that will satisfy all. I will explore the challenges and limitations of a domestic-led criminal accountability approach, particularly in addressing the specific needs of Tigray, as well as various regions’ views on truth-seeking, reparations, and traditional mechanisms of conflict resolution.

Criminal accountability: domestic vs international mechanisms

Generally, it seems there are two main desires in criminal accountability mechanisms, (1) a new, impartial, and independent body to be established domestically or (2) an international mechanism–with states often preferring the national option.

Expanding the transitional justice mechanism to the entire country requires deep nuance; a blanket approach is not going to work with respect to the multitude of ethnic groups and atrocities committed against the countless peoples, nations, and nationalities of Ethiopia. In Tigray’s case, the consultations show that the population overwhelmingly still prefers an internationally-led mechanism, but I fear that justice will be denied in pursuit of what the majority of Ethiopians want. The Ethiopian government is also very much against an international option, mainly because it wants to control the narrative, cover up its crimes, and lessen the gravity of them. Tigray requires an international criminal justice mechanism for reasons that significantly differ from other regions, particularly in:

  1. Eritrea’s role as one of the main perpetrators in the genocide against Tigray and domestic Ethiopian institutions not having the ability to meaningfully hold them accountable; and
  2. Tigrayans’ deep mistrust of the wider Ethiopian population, considering many civil society organizations, religious leaders, and national institutions supported, or at the very least were complicit in, the war effort. The other option of establishing a newly independent, domestic body with members from across society is not going to be as independent in this instance.

With this considered, the question becomes: how will Tigray’s needs be met, or are we sweeping these needs under the rug in support of the needs of the wider Ethiopian society? We cannot simply forget that at least 800,000 people died in Tigray due to the war, nearly 14% of Tigray’s total population.

Domestic limitations in recognizing crimes against humanity and torture 

A domestic mechanism will also lack in its ability to properly name and prosecute certain crimes. As noted in the OHCHR-EHRC’s report regarding findings of community consultations on transitional justice report, “The Ethiopian legal framework including the Constitution and the 2004 Criminal Code proscribes international crimes. However, the domestic legal framework presents limitations when it comes to effectively addressing, for example, crimes against humanity and torture.”

The criminal code does include genocide but is not clear on whether it addresses crimes against humanity and torture–something debated amongst Ethiopian legal scholars and in the courts for decades. A clear example of this limitation, and likely the pain it caused victims, is during Abiy Ahmed’s 2018-2019 justice efforts, where the report mentions “it was reported that most of the violations the suspects were charged with met the elements of crimes against humanity and torture, but were charged for less serious crimes such as abuse of power.”

If in fact crimes against humanity and torture cannot be prosecuted, there is an immense gap not only for Tigray but for other regions where victims faced one or both of these crimes. How will this be remedied, if not through an international mechanism?

A need for significant reform in the Ethiopian criminal justice system

Now, it is also important to note that, across all regions consulted, most victims were against utilizing the current Ethiopian criminal justice system, as there is an overwhelming mistrust and grievances that are deeply rooted and systemic. However, it is likely that a newly established independent body will intersect with at least some parts of the current justice system. In the past, we have seen incremental legal and justice-related changes, but systemic changes require political will, which we have yet to see in Ethiopia. Two critical questions come to mind:

  • Does the Ethiopian government have the political will to drive these changes? Does the international community have the political will to hold them accountable?
  • Operationally, how are we to ensure these systems will be meaningfully reformed, and how long will this process take? 

The reform required to meet victims’ needs is significant, and we have not yet seen the Ethiopian government make sweeping changes in this way. Over the past five years alone, many mechanisms and working groups created to implement reform measures have been closed down as they did not have a clear mandate nor was the political will there. As mentioned in the report, the Ethiopian Reconciliation Commission is a great example of an institution created only to be closed nearly a year and a half later before starting the implementation of its main responsibilities. I would certainly applaud a meaningful start to significant reform, but it is likely this process will take time, and as the saying goes, justice delayed is justice denied. A better process might be to have, in parallel, a path to justice and accountability through international mechanisms, pursuing relatively shorter-term legal actions such as universal jurisdiction cases or holding corporations involved in the war accountable to international standards, while the country reforms its justice system to take on lesser crimes.

Truth-seeking, reparations, and traditional mechanisms of conflict resolution

In terms of truth-seeking, most other regions in Ethiopia preferred involving the society at large to help establish the facts, but in the case of Tigray, again, most prefer an international or United Nations-led process due to the lack of trust in and credibility of the wider Ethiopian community. Tigrayans’ willingness to share and participate in these forums is also tied to the need to have an institution established at the international level. So if international options are not proposed, what does that mean for justice and accountability for Tigrayans? 

On reparations, essentially all groups want a sincere apology and recognition of crimes, in addition to humanitarian assistance to meet their aid needs and for internally displaced peoples (IDPs) to return home. This generally speaks to how basic human rights are foundational to any talks of peace and justice and how these rights have yet to be met. With great humanitarian needs across the country, it is important that the international community support and strengthen the work of aid organizations like the World Food Programme and USAID through additional disbursement of funds while also financially and operationally supporting local organizations driving meaningful aid relief on the ground.

Lastly, on Traditional Mechanisms of Conflict Resolution (TMCR), many regions supported this option, and while it largely can support lesser crimes (such as property/land disputes or lighter interpersonal conflicts, not complex political disputes), in the case of Tigray, it needs to be complemented with international justice and accountability mechanisms considering the scale of the war (e.g. the atrocities, all of the domestic and international players involved) and the size of its impact (~6M+ people in Tigray, 800K+ killed). This need for international justice mechanisms is further strengthened in the example provided in the report, which mentions, “Regarding experiences in the use of TMCR, a participant explained that elders from the Tigray region travelled to the Sudan border to stop the displacement from Western Tigray during the conflict but that they were not successful.” Western Tigray continues to be occupied by Amhara forces, and considering the complex inter-ethnic conflict at play here and the involvement of external actors, despite historical context, TMCR is not a valid option for Tigray.

A question of timeline

Additionally, one significant gap in the report is that we do not have a clear understanding of victims’ preferences in terms of a starting time point for atrocities to be covered in this accountability process. How far back are we going? The timeframe itself can cause significant grievances–if too narrow, it may exclude important atrocities to victims; if too far back, it may be beyond the capacity of any domestic institution.

All in all, the OHCHR-EHRC report on victim consultations sheds light on the need for a nuanced approach when it comes to justice and accountability–one that respects diverse perspectives while remaining committed to the principles of fairness, transparency, and genuine accountability. Simply ignoring calls for international involvement, dismissing Tigrayan concerns, or reforming processes only at the surface will only fuel the fires of injustice and may trigger more conflict. As we all await for the final transitional justice plan to be shared, given the signs displayed so far by the Ethiopian government, I deeply fear that Tigrayans will be given the short end of the stick despite the massive scale of atrocities.

Bserat – Omna Tigray Contributor, March 2024

 

Navigating the Uncharted Waters: Tigray’s Quest for Self-Determination

A Crossroads of Aspiration and Uncertainty

The yearning for independence in Tigray ignites a potent mix of hope and apprehension. The desire for self-determination burns bright, fueled by a long history of marginalization and a recent genocide that has further fractured relations with the Ethiopian state. There are also legal mechanisms for independence, both international and Ethiopian. 

However, the path forward remains shrouded in uncertainty. The internal political landscape is fractured, with varying degrees of support for independence and potential for internal conflict. Externally, the international community faces a delicate balancing act, recognizing Tigray’s aspirations while maintaining regional stability. 

Navigating this complex landscape requires a multifaceted approach: a nuanced understanding of Tigrayan’s motivations and grievances, a clear-eyed assessment of the political and economic opportunities and obstacles, and a strategic roadmap for navigating the uncharted waters of sovereignty. Only through careful consideration and commitment can Tigray navigate this critical juncture and chart a course towards a brighter future.

The Seeds of Aspiration

Tigray’s desire for independence stems from an interplay of historical, political, and cultural factors. For centuries, Tigrayans have been marginalized and excluded from Ethiopia’s political and economic structures, despite the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) coming to power in the 1990s as part of the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF). This marginalisation has resulted in a genocide, and fueled a deep-seated yearning for self-determination and freedom from oppression. Despite centuries of oppression, many Tigrayans in modern-day Ethiopia were part of the Ethiopian community and felt Ethiopian for the most part, with some exceptions. However, the genocidal war that ensued after November 2020 ripped away this sense of belonging, replacing it with a longing for a Tigrayan nation-state. Now, there is a burning desire for a future where Tigrayans are the architects of our own destiny, unconstrained by external forces, and free to build a society that reflects our unique values and aspirations. This dream of an independent Tigray should motivate and unite our people, driving our unwavering pursuit of self-governance.

The fertile lands of Tigray hold immense potential for agricultural development, capable of not only feeding her own population but also generating surplus for export. Rich in natural resources like minerals and water, Tigray possesses the raw ingredients for a thriving economy. However, under the current system, these resources remain largely untapped, their potential unrealized.

Tigray’s cultural landscape is a tapestry woven with vibrant threads of unique languages, traditions, and customs. Yet, even Tigrayan culture was targeted as part of the genocide that started in November 2020. Independence for Tigray presents a crucial opportunity to preserve this rich heritage, ensuring its continued vitality and fostering a sense of belonging, cultural pride, and a distinct Tigrayan voice on the world stage. It allows for the creation of a space where Tigrayan culture can flourish, free from external pressures and with the freedom to express its unique identity. This cultural autonomy will empower our Tigrayan people to share our traditions and perspectives with the world, enriching the global cultural landscape and fostering understanding and appreciation for Tigray’s unique identity. 

The aspiration and yearning for self-determination and independence fueled the resistance during the height of the genocidal war and was used by the Tigrayan leadership as a rallying call; yet after the Cessation of Hostilities Agreement between TPLF and the Ethiopian Federal government, the flames were largely quenched as aspirations for self-governance became a victim of the agreement and the dire humanitarian situation in Tigray. Where we stand today with famine engulfing the region and almost 40% of Tigray illegally occupied, however, the Ethiopian government nor the international community has held up its end of the deal. Discussions of independence are perhaps more relevant today than previously as Tigray’s needs are far from being met and an existential threat looms large.

Legal Mechanisms: International Law and the Ethiopian Constitution

The aspiration for self-determination within Tigray could have grounds in both international law and domestic laws prescribed in the 1995 Ethiopian Constitution.

ICCPR: Independence Forged in Freedom’s Crucible

On the international stage, several human rights instruments, including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), recognize the right of self-determination for all peoples. This principle allows for the possibility of secession under certain circumstances including oppression, providing a legal framework for Tigray’s claim to independence. The ICCPR also raises an unyielding shield against external aggression, a bulwark against those who seek to extinguish the flame of hard-won independence. Its provisions against the use of force and threats to territorial integrity offer newly independent nations a sanctuary, allowing them to chart their own course without the shadow of foreign intervention looming over their shoulders.

Arguments for Tigrayan independence based on the Ethiopian Constitution of 1995

Article 39.1 of the Ethiopian Constitution recognizes the “unconditional right to self-determination including the right to secession” for “every nation, nationality, and people in Ethiopia.” Tigray constitutes a distinct nation with our own language, history, and culture, granting us the right to secede. The constitution further establishes a federal system where regions, including Tigray, have significant autonomy in areas like language, education, and internal security. This is a stepping stone towards eventual independence. However, since the establishment of the Constitution, a region has yet to acquire independence through this Article. Furthermore, the current Abiy Ahmed administration has tried to remove and repress the autonomy of the regions, as it has centralised power. 

Nonetheless the Constitution remains in place, and Ethiopian government has violated it by interfering in Tigrayan affairs, limiting our autonomy, and committing genocide. This justifies our pursuit of independence.

Internal Challenges

Despite the legal frameworks, the path to self-determination is not without its internal hurdles. Building a united front within the diverse landscape of Tigrayan society is critical. This requires addressing historical grievances, promoting inclusive dialogue, and ensuring all voices are represented in the decision-making process. This requires the equal participation of all political parties and the independence of civic and civil society organizations.

Achieving a truly meaningful independence for Tigray further requires strong institutions that transcend mere words on paper. Robust structures equipped to manage resources efficiently, deliver essential services reliably, and uphold the rule of law are fundamental. Currently, this is not the case in Tigray. Without them, independence could feel hollow, its promises unfulfilled. Transparency, accountability, and expertise must be the cornerstones of these institutions, ensuring that the fruits of independence are not just tasted by a select few, but nourish all Tigrayans. Only then can independence truly blossom into a reality that benefits every citizen. Competent, capable, concerned individuals; systems that are fair and transparent; as well as institutions that are governed by the rule of law are indispensable. 

Tigray, etched with the scars of recent and currently evolving genocide, faces a monumental task of rebuilding. Our economy lies in tatters. Infrastructure stands in ruins, and communities fractured by trauma yearn for healing. To rise from the ashes, Tigray must be rebuilt. Diversifying beyond our agricultural roots is crucial. Fostering new industries, nurturing entrepreneurship, and attracting investment will inject lifeblood into the local economy. Jobs, the seeds of hope, must blossom across the region, empowering communities to reclaim their lives and build a sustainable future. This requires the initiative of all Tigrayans as well as a government that prioritizes Tigray.

External Pressures: Weathering the Storm

Tigray’s path to independence, already fraught with internal complexities, also faces an external hurdle: the Ethiopian government’s opposition. This will undoubtedly cast a long shadow over Tigray’s aspirations for international recognition and political legitimacy. 

Securing acceptance from the international community and building a viable diplomatic standing will require navigating a delicate dance, maneuvering through the Ethiopian government’s objections while garnering support from other countries. It is a precarious tightrope walk, demanding both unwavering commitment to Tigray’s self-determination and a shrewd understanding of the intricate geopolitical landscape.

The intricate geopolitical tapestry of the Horn of Africa, characterized by a complex web of competing interests and shifting alliances, presents potential challenges for any international response to Tigray’s aspirations. Navigating this intricate landscape necessitates a nuanced approach that prioritizes building alliances and forging common ground with key regional actors. Only through such diplomatic efforts can Tigray secure the necessary international support and foster a conducive environment. 

 Sailing Towards a Prosperous Future

The quest for Tigrayan independence, though fraught with difficulties, also brims with promise. To solidify this future, Tigray needs to build a firm foundation from within. This demands an inclusive political process that incorporates diverse voices and fosters unity as Tigrayans. Robust institutions, free from corruption and upholding the rule of law, are crucial for stability and attracting investment. Finally, a diversified economy, not solely reliant on agriculture, will empower Tigray and bolster our self-sufficiency. By nurturing these pillars, Tigray can set the stage for a prosperous and independent future, laying the groundwork for international engagement and recognition.

Tigray’s quest for independence faces a complex international landscape, where navigating competing interests and building support requires strategic finesse. To garner international backing, Tigray must leverage effective diplomacy, advocating for our right to self-determination through a clear, consistent message that resonates with the global community. Tigray’s location in the Horn of Africa, in proximity to the Red Sea, makes it a strategic partner in stabilising the Horn of Africa. Building strategic alliances can amplify our message and present a united front on the international stage. By showcasing a vision for a stable, democratic future, Tigray can potentially win over key international partners and secure the support needed to navigate this critical juncture in our journey. However, navigating the international arena also requires understanding the intricate web of regional alliances and competing geopolitical interests. 

Despite the complexities surrounding our future, Tigray’s rich tapestry of cultural heritage holds immense potential for both internal empowerment and international engagement. Nurturing this legacy through initiatives that revitalise Tigrayan language education, celebrate vibrant arts and music, and promoting international cultural exchange programs can serve two crucial purposes. Internally, these efforts can solidify Tigray’s unique identity, fostering a sense of shared history and belonging that strengthens our communities. Externally, showcasing this rich cultural heritage fosters a deeper understanding of Tigray on the international stage. By actively preserving and celebrating our cultural heritage, Tigrayans can not only solidify our own identity but also forge vital connections with the world beyond the borders.

Tigray’s journey towards self-determination is a complex and challenging one, yet the potential rewards are immense. By seizing opportunities, addressing internal and external challenges, and embracing the principles of inclusivity, democracy, justice, and sustainable development, Tigray can navigate independence and build a prosperous and peaceful future for our people.

Batseba Seifu – Omna Tigray External Contributor, February 2024

 

Ethiopia’s Transitional Justice Mechanism: Designed for All, Serving None

In November 2023, Foreign Affairs published an article titled “Can Justice Bring Peace to Ethiopia? How to Heal Divisions After Decades of War.” In this article, a few researchers and academics discuss their findings from a nationwide survey of over 6,600 adult Ethiopians conducted in June and July 2023 to examine people’s “needs and attitudes” regarding peace and justice. Since then, this article has gone far and wide, circulating around The Hill and even being mentioned in the latest House Foreign Affairs Committee’s Ethiopia Hearing.

The article raised several questions for me, particularly about how I should evaluate their findings and conclusions; it should also be noted that the survey methodology and full report have not yet been publicized. The following shares my thinking, and for the purpose of this exercise, I will focus on the larger framing of the article rather than the specific details.

Before diving deep into the article, one question is front of mind–who is transitional justice meant to serve

There is no doubt that with decades and centuries worth of history, it is likely that every community in Ethiopia deserves justice. This transitional justice discussion, however, coincides largely with the end of the active armed conflict in Tigray in November 2022. There are also various United Nations, European Union, and United States officials often discussing transitional justice as a form of justice and accountability in connection to the grave crimes committed in Tigray. 

One would assume, then, that post-war in Tigray, the primary focus for a transitional justice mechanism would be Tigray, as the topic only came about following the war. Further, it is embedded into the Cessation of Hostilities Agreement signed between the Ethiopian government and the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF). If we take this assumption as true, then we are seeing the Ethiopian government expand a mechanism meant to serve a specific population to the entire country, diluting justice and accountability not only for that population but for the greater Ethiopian population it claims to serve.

With this in mind, the researchers conducted a nationwide survey where, if we take the data as is, we learned a few important statistics–one being that “90% of Ethiopians said it would be unacceptable to move forward without truth-seeking, trials, or reparations.” Once you expand a transitional justice mechanism to serve the rest of the population, this makes sense. It also makes sense that you will have a lot more complexity–including with the timeframe of crimes committed and whether accountability should occur at a domestic or international level, among other considerations. With the research conducted having a national scope, I think the authors do an adequate job of illustrating the difficulties in implementing a transitional justice mechanism that satisfies all, but the question I keep coming back to is–who is this mechanism meant to serve

Justice for the violence in other regions should not be diminished, yet the grave crimes in Tigray should not be brushed aside in the larger context due to the region’s smaller population. It is deeply concerning that only 2% of those in Tigray accept a domestic transitional justice mechanism, in comparison to 41% of the larger Ethiopian population favoring existing domestic courts, as pursuing this form of accountability will likely mean victims will not get the justice they desire and deserve. 

The war in Tigray had unique elements that justify Tigrayan’s lack of support for a domestic solution. These include: the role of the Eritrean forces (and their invitation by the Ethiopian government), the state-sponsored genocide with perpetrators still in senior levels of country leadership, and the lack of trust in Ethiopian institutions and civil society organizations considering their alignment to the Ethiopian government amidst the war, shown through hate speech, calls to action, reductionist telling of events and more. These elements may not be as important to an Ethiopian outside of Tigray when considering a domestic transitional justice mechanism. The 41% statistic makes sense, again when you expand the scope to the greater population.

Lastly, there are cases where transitional justice and other forms of domestic accountability mechanisms (e.g., in Rwanda) were accepted, but they were only pursued once there was a change in government. It is different in Ethiopia, as the perpetrators are still in power. The authors of the Foreign Affairs article point out that juxtaposition here: “In theory, many victims in Ethiopia want perpetrators dealt with by domestic courts and traditional processes. But they also deeply distrust the government.”

All in all, as per the findings, I can see how transitional justice may work for the broader Ethiopian population (I cannot really speak on the views of the other regions), but when focused on Tigray specifically, it is likely that transitional justice will not work for many of the reasons mentioned in the article; and if it is pursued, justice for the extensive war crimes and crimes against humanity committed in Tigray, many of which continue today, would be diluted in the broader context. The framing of the article could have been more nuanced to bring forward these points, but really, I mostly blame an Ethiopian government that is intentionally designing a transitional justice policy for all but in actuality, will serve none. Given that the Ethiopian government has also deliberately sabotaged prior justice and accountability efforts, this domestic mechanism is once again being depicted to be monumental yet vague and simply stands as a more favorable means for the regime to control and own the process with limited intervention from the international community. It is, therefore, difficult to critique articles or findings related to the transitional justice mechanism when there is confusion at the root of it all–who the transitional justice policy is meant to serve and for what purpose. 

In late October 2023, the Chairperson of the International Commission of Human Rights Experts on Ethiopia (ICHREE), Mohamed Chande Othman, addressed the 78th session of the UN General Assembly’s Third Committee, providing an update on Ethiopia’s human rights situation. In this update, the transitional justice process proposed by the Ethiopian government is criticized for lacking transparency and victims’ confidence: 

“In sum, the Ethiopian Government’s actions with regard to international and regional monitoring show all the hallmarks of a strategy that has been termed “quasi-compliance”. By this we mean a deliberate effort to evade regional and international scrutiny through the creation of flawed domestic mechanisms and instrumentalization of other institutions. These mechanisms ostensibly advance accountability but in practice aim to alleviate international pressure. Such strategies often come at the expense of victims’ rights to truth, justice, reparations, and non-recurrence and pose a serious threat to the entire international human rights system.”

The transitional justice process is intentionally designed to be so expansive that it is vague and nearly impossible to be sufficient as a form of justice for all communities involved. It is imperative that the international community be open and willing to support other forms of justice and accountability because as the authors of the Foreign Affairs article mention, “Done incorrectly, transitional justice processes can set a country back, reinforcing a sense of social and political exclusion among certain groups.” The reignition of conflict is a plausible consequence and must be mitigated by centering victim needs in a nuanced and intentional way.

Bserat – Omna Tigray Contributor, January 2024

 

Reflection on Three Years of Tigray Genocide

Today marks three years of the Tigray Genocide. Three years that the world has remained silent, and has watched the gross violations of international human rights. Why has the world remained silent? Why have investigations into obvious war crimes and crimes against humanity stopped? Does the world not care?  Do African lives mean less?

For three years, the Tigrayan community has been not only enraged but also saddened by the lack of any action towards ending this genocide. The people of Tigray have lost everything at the hands of the armed forces of the Ethiopian and Eritrean regimes, as well as Amhara regional forces and militias. 

It is estimated that up to a million Tigrayans have died. Over 100,000 women have experienced genocidal sexual and gender based violence. Hospitals, schools, farms, and homes have been bombed and destroyed beyond recognition. People have been displaced from their homes and are living in internal displacement camps with no food, no water, and no healthcare. Seven million people are experiencing mass starvation facilitated by complicit international actors. 

The last three years have not happened in secret. The overwhelming evidence is undeniable and one thing seems abundantly clear: the intentional community has chosen willful ignorance and complicity in genocide. 

Tigray deserves your attention and Tigray deserves your help. By watching and staying silent, you have chosen to be complicit in a genocide of the 21st century. The people of Tigray who are suffering are our aunts, uncles, cousins, and friends. The people of Tigray are our brothers and sisters. They are human beings. Stand on the right side of history. Enough is enough. 

To the African Union, the United Nations, the European Union, and the United States of America, shame on you. Your silence and indifference have been loud. The signing of “the cessation of hostility” has allowed you to wash your hands clean of genocide, but know that this agreement has not improved the lives of Tigrayans nor has it granted proper investigations into war crimes and crimes against humanity committed by the Ethiopian and Eritrean government. Genocide survivors continue to live under military occupation and are dying every day.  

To the people of the world who have ignored what has happened in Tigray. Take action now. Care about what is happening in the world. Complacency is no excuse when hundreds of people are dying everyday.  Educate yourself and educate others. Your voices and actions matter. 

To fellow Tegaru, do not stop now. Continue to fight, to donate, and to advocate. We cannot stop until every hospital and school is rebuilt, until our people are no longer hungry, and until every criminal is held accountable for their actions. It is our duty to serve our families and our home. We must be a voice to the voiceless and silenced. We may mourn, but we cannot stop fighting. Above all, we must continue to have hope. 

Eternal glory to our martyrs. Free Tigray.

Hiab – Omna Tigray Contributor, November 2023

 

Crimes Against Humanity in Tigray: Unveiling Atrocities and Pursuing Accountability

The genocidal  war on Tigray, declared on November 4, 2020, has revealed the grim reality of the worst forms of crimes against humanity, war crimes, and human rights violations. This article seeks to discuss the atrocities committed, the actors involved, and the need for international justice mechanisms–specifically the United Nations-mandated International Commission of Human Rights Experts on Ethiopia (ICHREE). Beyond the Ethiopian context, the renewal of the ICHREE mandate is an opportunity for the international community to uphold shared moral and legal values concerning war crimes, crimes against humanity, crimes of genocide, and international justice and accountability.     

Defining War Crimes

War crimes refer to acts committed during armed conflict that violate established humanitarian norms and principles. These crimes encompass a range of actions, including deliberate targeting of civilians or civilian objects, torture, rape, forced displacement, and the use of prohibited weapons. The gravity of war crimes is reflected in their classification as a prosecutable offence under international criminal law. Numerous legal instruments have been developed to address war crimes, such as the Geneva Conventions and the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court.

Defining Crimes Against Humanity

Crimes against humanity refer to a category of offences that are universally condemned and deemed as the most severe violations of human rights. These heinous acts, committed either in times of peace or armed conflict, encompass a range of actions such as murder, torture, enslavement, persecution, and enforced disappearances. What sets crimes against humanity apart from other crimes is their systematic nature and scale, often targeting a specific civilian population based on their race, religion, nationality, political affiliation or social status. Perpetrators exhibit an alarming disregard for human life and dignity while inflicting widespread suffering on a massive scale. The gravity of these crimes necessitated the establishment of legal mechanisms to hold individuals accountable for such acts; the earliest recognition came with the Nuremberg Trials following World War II. Today, international courts like the International Criminal Court strive to prosecute those responsible for these horrific acts, aiming to achieve justice for victims and deter future perpetrators.

Defining Genocide

The United Nations Genocide Convention, adopted by the General Assembly on December 9, 1948, represents a landmark in international human rights law. It defines genocide as acts committed with the intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnic, racial or religious group by killing its members; causing serious bodily or mental harm; imposing measures to prevent births; forcibly transferring children from the group; or deliberately inflicting conditions that will lead to their physical destruction. 

The Convention not only provides a legal framework for states to prevent and punish genocide but also obliges them to take necessary measures to protect individuals and communities at risk. Since its adoption, it has been ratified by over 150 countries and has played a critical role in raising awareness about the gravity of such crimes against humanity. 

The International Commission of Human Rights on Ethiopia (ICHREE)

As a mechanism to investigate reported atrocity crimes, determine the types of crimes committed, and lay the groundwork for justice and accountability for crimes committed in Ethiopia, an international and independent probe, ICHREE, was established at a special session of the Human Rights Council (HRC) in December 2021. ICHREE, based in Entebbe, Uganda and led by a Chair and two other high-level experts appointed by the HRC President, was given the task of conducting a thorough and impartial investigation into human rights violations that have occurred in Ethiopia since November 3, 2020. This investigation has looked into violations of international human rights law, international humanitarian law, and international refugee law, with a focus on any potential gender-related aspects of these violations. The Commission’s goal has been to establish the facts and circumstances of these abuses, collect and preserve evidence, identify those responsible, and make this information accessible for accountability efforts.

Crimes Against Humanity and War Crimes in Tigray

The ongoing war on Tigray has witnessed numerous atrocity crimes deemed war crimes and crimes against humanity committed against the civilian population by human rights groups and ICHREE. Reports from multiple sources indicate that these crimes include extrajudicial killings, widespread sexual violence, forced displacement, and targeted attacks. The Ethiopian government’s military intervention, followed by a complete siege and de facto humanitarian blockade, has resulted in a dire humanitarian situation with severe food shortages and lack of access to medical care for the affected population. Moreover, there has been widespread systematic looting and destruction of infrastructure by both state security forces and armed militias

Crimes against humanity and war crimes in Tigray have resulted in the deliberate destruction of infrastructure and cultural heritage sites. Important facilities like hospitals, schools, markets, and religious institutions have been targeted, causing a loss of vital services and erasing the local cultural identity. Over 80% of healthcare facilities and over 99% of ambulances have been looted, vandalised, or destroyed, worsening the already dire humanitarian conditions. Additionally, 75% of state and private universities have been destroyed, and numerous sacred and religious institutions have been desecrated. 

Despite numerous obstructions to their work, in both their first report and second report, ICHREE was able to establish that the Federal Government and its allied regional forces and militias committed crimes amounting to crimes against humanity given systematic and widespread nature of the atrocity crimes committed. The crimes against humanity committed described by the Commission include mass killings, sexual violence, starvation, inhumane acts, severe deprivation of liberty, and prosecution in the form of mass detention and torture. Further, in their 2023 report, ICHREE made sure to highlight ongoing crimes and the risk for future atrocities. 

Mass Killings and Ethnic Targeting

The Ethiopian National Defense Forces, Amhara Forces, and Eritrean Defense Forces have been implicated in mass killings and targeted violence against the Tigrayan people. The investigation identified multiple incidents of mass killings in different areas, specifically targeting Tigrayan civilian males. These crimes occurred during a siege where essential services and supplies were intentionally disrupted. Additionally, the Ethiopian government restricted humanitarian access, exacerbating the crisis and limiting medical assistance for survivors. 

The report further emphasises that the war on Tigray saw deliberate disruption of essential services by Ethiopian and Eritrean defence forces, including looting, pillaging, and destruction of civilian property. Humanitarian access was restricted, leaving survivors with limited access to medical and psychological support. Tigrayans faced arbitrary arrests and detentions, expulsion from certain areas, and were held in detention camps where they experienced poor conditions and violence. The government’s use of derogatory language and anti-TPLF narratives also contributed to discrimination and hostility against the Tigrayan population, spreading through social media. 

Sexual Violence and Gender-Based Crimes

ICHREE’s second report identifies crimes against humanity in Tigray involving the use of violence and gender-based crimes as tools of warfare. Women and girls have been subjected to sexual slavery, physical abuse, and other forms of violence. Multiple armed groups have been responsible for these acts, often collaborating with each other. Tigrayan women, predominantly those of reproductive age, have been targeted during home invasions and while searching for necessities. Survivors of these atrocities range in age, including pregnant women, and have experienced assaults in front of their children or family members. Further, human rights organisations such as Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and Physicians for Human Rights have documented these crimes against humanity, highlighting their gender-based nature and severe impact on the Tigrayan community.

Violence against women during armed conflict is considered a serious violation of international human rights law. The Geneva Conventions and their Additional Protocols condemn such violence, categorizing them as war crimes, crimes against humanity, and acts of genocide. International human rights instruments are supposed to protect women and girls from violence during armed conflict, and states have an obligation to provide appropriate treatment for survivors. Individual acts of violence can be prosecuted as criminal acts, and if they are part of a widespread or systematic attack against civilians, they can be prosecuted as crimes against humanity. Commanders and superiors can also be held responsible for crimes committed by their subordinates through the concept of command responsibility. Perpetrators of violence against women and girls in armed conflict should be held accountable.

Establishing Genocidal Intent

Examining the legal framework, specifically the United Nations’ Genocide Convention, we could ascertain if the atrocities in Tigray meet the criteria for genocide. The United Nations’ Genocide Convention serves as a powerful tool for promoting global unity against acts of genocide and ensuring that perpetrators are held accountable for their actions. Factors such as targeted killings, acts aimed at preventing births, severe mental or physical harm, and forcibly transferring children support the argument that genocide is taking place in Tigray Language accompanying atrocity crimes committed, especially presented as justification for sexual violence, speaks to intent, as does hate speech and language employed by Ethiopian federal and regional government officials. 

The investigations the Commision has been able to conduct only cover a fractions of the crimes committed in Tigray and therefore cannot portray the multi-faceted attack that was unleashed on the  people of Tigray. Among the facets yet to be investigated is the cultural and societal destruction, which are against international law based on the 1954 Hague Convention and  Geneva Convention.  Extending ICHREE’s mandate with the necessary resources would allow for the extent and scale of crimes committed in Tigray to be properly further investigated so as to have a more complete picture and more comprehensively establish the facts of the war on Tigray. 

Challenges in Implementing Transitional Justice in Tigray

The application of the Ethiopian government’s plan for transitional justice in Tigray would face significant challenges. The involvement of the Ethiopian government, whose genocidal leadership remains in power, and international actors in the war on Tigray necessitate an international justice mechanism. A domestic transitional justice process would not have the jurisdiction to hold international belligerents and perpetrators, mainly Eritrean forces, to account for crimes committed. Further, ongoing crimes against humanity and war crimes obstructs evidence collection, truth-seeking, and holding perpetrators accountable. Limited resources and political polarisation hinder the implementation of comprehensive transitional justice. The lack of a legal framework and institutional capacity further complicates the process. Further, continued crimes and resistance to a victim-centred approach to justice and accountability from the Ethiopian government perpetuates impunity and erodes trust in the state. 

Without accountability for perpetrators, victims and their families are discouraged from participating in  processes. When individuals face harm or injustice, it is crucial that they have confidence that those responsible will be held accountable for their actions. Without this assurance, victims may feel helpless and unable to trust the legal system. The lack of accountability can also perpetuate a cycle of violence or wrongdoing, as potential wrongdoers observe the absence of consequences and continue their harmful behavior. In turn, this discourages victims and their families from coming forward or reporting crimes, causing a decline in public safety overall. Accountability establishes faith in the justice system and serves as a powerful deterrent against future crimes by sending a clear message that misconduct will not go unpunished. Ultimately, without accountability, victims and their families are left feeling unsupported and marginalized, compounding their trauma while undermining societal stability and equal access to justice.

Need for International Justice

Rather, what could be labeled an ongoing silent genocide in Tigray stands as a harrowing testament to the urgency for international justice and accountability in the face of grave human rights violations and atrocities amounting to crimes against humanity. Crimes that could amount to genocide  demand the attention of the international community to ensure justice for the victims and prevent further human rights abuses. 

Ensuring accountability for those responsible for the war on Tigray is a vital step toward healing and fostering future peace. Establishing a credible and impartial investigative and accountability mechanism would guarantee that those responsible for the atrocities face justice. Such a mechanism should be empowered to investigate, prosecute, and try individuals involved in heinous crimes, irrespective of their positions or affiliations. This approach would send a clear message that impunity for gross human rights abuses will not be tolerated and definitely necessitates international justice.

The lack of accountability for atrocities committed during the war on Tigray poses a severe threat to global human rights and security. Impunity not only emboldens perpetrators to continue committing crimes but also erodes faith in the international justice system. By actively seeking justice for the victims, the international community can send a strong message that such acts will be met with swift and decisive action. Robust international accountability further acts as a deterrent against future human rights abuses by discouraging potential perpetrators.

The ongoing gross human rights violations require the international community to fulfil its legal and moral obligations. States are bound by international human rights treaties and conventions, ensuring the protection of individuals from egregious violations. In cases such as the war on Tigray, where the local judicial system lacks capacity and political will, international intervention becomes indispensable. Upholding international obligations by intervening and establishing justice mechanisms demonstrates a commitment to the principles of justice and human rights.

International justice mechanisms play a vital role in facilitating reconciliation processes in post-conflict societies. In the aftermath of the war on Tigray, fostering reconciliation is crucial to repairing fractured relationships and rebuilding trust. The pursuit of international justice can contribute to establishing the truth, acknowledging victims’ suffering, and fostering dialogue between communities. The myriad reasons driving the pursuit of international justice for war crimes and crimes against humanity underscore the significance of this endeavour. From uplifting and healing victims to deterring future violations and promoting global peace and reconciliation, international justice serves as the foundation upon which societies can address the egregious actions committed during times of armed conflict. By seeking international justice for Tigray and elsewhere where similar violations of international law take place, we strive towards a world characterised by accountability, respect for international humanitarian law, and a resolute dedication to moral and legal principles. For this reason, the UNHRC must extend the mandate of ICHREE. The extension of the mandate of ICHREE is indispensable to ensure accountability and international justice for the gross violations of human rights including war crimes and crimes against humanity committed in Tigray.

Batseba Seifu – Omna Tigray External Contributor, October 2023

 

Justice for Zewdu, Protection for Semhal

Zewdu Haftu, a promising young woman of 32 years of age, was brutally attacked by unidentified assailants on a bustling street at 6 p.m. on August 19, 2023, in Mekelle, Tigray’s capital. The attack, involving a vehicle without plates, led to her untimely and gruesome death. Zewdu, known for her kind heart and friendly disposition, was a beloved member of her community in Mekelle. Her sudden and shocking death has left her family and friends stunned, questioning how such a terrible act could happen to someone as genuine and well-liked as Zewdu.

Semhal Gebregziabiher, her friend who was walking with her at the time, witnessed Zewdu’s brutal murder. Semhal pleaded with people passing by to help find an ambulance to transport her friend to Ayder Hospital, ultimately succeeding. When the police came to Ayder Hospital, they took Semhal’s testimony and told her she would need to go to the police station to sign paperwork. Instead, the police arrested her immediately upon arrival. Not long after, Semhal had to be rushed to the hospital to get medical assistance for the physical and mental trauma she was experiencing because of the tragic incident. She was admitted to Ayder Hospital, where she received in-patient medical treatment while still in police custody for weeks. Semhal was diagnosed with physical illnesses and mental conditions resulting from the traumatic incident. Yet, on August 30, the police abruptly removed Semhal from the hospital and took her back to the police station without consulting the hospital or her doctors.      

Semhal, who had been in police custody for the past two weeks since the incident on August 19, finally made her first court appearance on September 1, 2023. Despite Semhal’s lawyer visiting her in jail and discussing the case with the investigative officers earlier that morning, she was abruptly taken to court without legal representation immediately after her lawyer left. Presenting their case in court, the police falsely claimed that Semhal was only brought to the station two days prior to her appearance in court, disregarding her previous multiple interrogations while she was in their custody and receiving medical care at Ayder Hospital. They insisted on the judge granting them a standard two-week interrogation period. With her lawyer absent from court, the judge granted the police an additional seven days for further investigations, and the court session was adjourned. 

In her second court appearance, on Friday, September 8, 2023, the judge granted the police the authority to detain Semhal for 17 days, surpassing the maximum allowable period of 14 days in a flagrant disregard for norms and court proceedings. 

Where is our moral and justice status?

The impact of these tragedies on our community cannot be understated. It raises concerns about our collective sense of morality and justice. 

First, it is truly disheartening to witness these perpetrators’ utter disregard for human life, as they callously subjected Zewdu to such a cruel and fatal act. It is absolutely appalling to realize that this heinous act occurred in broad daylight. Moreover, three weeks have passed without any word from our officials, highlighting a shocking lack of concern and speaking volumes about the state of our justice system and the urgent need for reform. The lack of accountability and the failure to address this tragedy in a timely manner only further erode our faith in the very institutions that are meant to protect us.

This deplorable incident serves as a stark reminder of the depths to which humanity can sink. The brazenness with which these men carried out their malicious acts is nothing short of horrifying. It is a chilling testament to the disregard for human life that exists, and it is a call to action for our society as a whole. In a world where justice should prevail, it is simply unacceptable that those responsible for such a heinous crime have not been swiftly brought to justice. 

Second, authorities holding Semhal in violation of her legal and human rights highlights a significant failure in our justice system. The judge granting the police the authority to detain Semhal for 17 days violates Article 59(1) of the criminal procedure code by exceeding the maximum allowable period of remand of 14 days. This means that Semhal will be unjustly held in police custody for over a month, from August 19th until September 26th, without authorities presenting credible evidence or legitimate grounds for her detainment. She was also denied her right to visitation and medical treatment.

It is essential to remember that every individual has the right to a fair trial and due process regardless of their situation. Denying someone these rights is not only unjust but also a violation of the principles of human rights and the rule of law. This begs the question: why is Semhal being held without the necessary legal procedures? Is it a case of abuse of power? The blatant disregard for Semhal’s rights and the deliberate attempt to deny her legal representation is also deeply concerning. The authorities must be held accountable for their actions, and justice must prevail.     

In recounting the events leading to and following the death of Zewdu, it becomes evident that this is not just an isolated incident or an individual tragedy. Rather, Zewdu and Semhal represent countless women in Tigray who face similar circumstances. Their story compels us to confront the uncomfortable truth about a multitude of harrowing injustices taking place in Tigray. 

Finally, the fact that these men dragged Zewdu behind their vehicle, which conspicuously did not have plates, demonstrates the current state of lawlessness in Tigray. There are reports of individuals bribing to drive without a car plate for status. This audacious act undermines the very foundation of the legal system, perpetuating a culture where those with money, connections, and power believe they are above the law. This flagrant violation serves as a stark reminder of the critical role a robust legal system plays in upholding societal order and safeguarding the well-being of its citizens. It is imperative that the authorities swiftly and decisively take action against individuals who exhibit such perilous behavior to deter others from contemplating engaging in similar acts of recklessness and lawlessness. 

In conclusion, we must demand answers, action, and justice for Zewdu and countless survivors of gender-based violence in Tigray and ensure there is due process for Semhal and consequences for any wrongdoing in her questioning and arrest. This matter cannot be swept under the rug or forgotten. It is a matter that demands our unwavering attention and a resolute commitment to ensuring that those responsible are held accountable for their despicable actions. Let us not allow this tragedy to fade into the background, overshadowed by the noise of everyday life. Let us stand together, united in our pursuit of justice, and let our voices be heard.

As deeply concerned community members, I strongly implore our broader community and authorities to persist in their efforts to investigate, locate, and apprehend the perpetrator or perpetrators. We must all demand justice for Zewdu’s untimely demise, urging authorities to efficiently conduct a thorough investigation into this heartbreaking incident. We must also urge any witnesses to step forward and provide crucial information, ensuring that justice is served. Her family and friends, mourning the loss of a young life robbed of its potential by heinous assailants, need justice for closure. However, justice can only be served if proper procedures are followed, chief among them being the right to due process; hence, I also demand for the protection of Semhal’s legal and human rights. We cannot rest until justice is served and until the memory of Zewdu is honored by a society that refuses to tolerate such callous acts of violence.

Omna Tigray External Contributor, September 2023