On November 4, 2020, Ethiopia’s unelected Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed mobilized the Ethiopian National Defense Forces (ENDF), the Eritrean Defense Forces (EDF), the Amhara Special Forces, and Afar Special Forces to launch a war against the 7 million people of the region of Tigray, the northernmost region of the Ethiopian federation. In a statement shared on Twitter while much of the world was focused on the outcome of the American elections, the 2019 Nobel Peace Prize winner declared a war that has unleashed the worst humanitarian crisis in recent memory. Despite the Ethiopian regime’s repeated assertions that this is a “domestic” operation directed against a political entity, the ongoing involvement of Eritrean troops, the reported use of armed drones, the atrocious human rights abuses, and escalating humanitarian crisis in Tigray clearly show that this is an all-out war being waged against the people of Tigray.
In the 200+ days since the declaration of war, there have been verified reports of widespread civilian massacres, extra-judicial executions, sexual and gender-based violence, weaponized starvation, looting, destruction of health care facilities, and forced displacement of millions of Tigrayans. The picture emerging from these seven months of war—albeit incomplete due to a telecommunications blockade affecting large swaths of the region—provides a glimpse into the level of devastation in Tigray. According to the latest figures, over 70,000 civilians have been killed in Tigray , while 70,000 have been forced to seek refuge in Sudan , and 2.2 million more people have been internally displaced . Of the region’s 7 million residents, more than 91% or 5.2 million people are in dire need of emergency food assistance - 2.3 million of them are children .
In addition to attacks against the safety and security of Tigrayan civilians, the Ethiopian, Eritrean, and Amhara forces have also undertaken the wholesale destruction of essential infrastructure and services in the region. Over 80% of healthcare facilities and over 99% of ambulances have been looted, vandalized, or destroyed, exacerbating the already dire humanitarian conditions . Moreover, 75% of state and private universities have been destroyed while countless sacred and religious institutions have been desecrated . These facts and figures paint a vivid picture of the reality on the ground: far from being a ‘domestic law and order’ operation, this is a genocidal war waged by the Eritrean and Ethiopian regimes to annihilate the history and culture, political existence, and future of the people of Tigray.
Under the leadership of Abiy Ahmed—in consort with the dictator of Eritrea, Isaias Afewerki— this war has been waged in the dark, making it impossible to obtain up-to-date information on the true extent of destruction in the region. Despite urgent calls by the international community, the Ethiopian government has refused to provide unhindered access to aid organizations or international journalists. As such, the figures mentioned above do not reflect the true magnitude of the destruction caused by the genocidal war in Tigray.
In her witness testimony before the U.S. Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, Ms. Sarah Charles of USAID stated, “the severity of abuse is among the absolute worst I have seen in my nearly two decades of humanitarian work.” This statement indicates the extent of the atrocities that have been committed against the people of Tigray for over two hundred days now. International Organizations, aid agencies, journalists, and political actors have confirmed that what is happening in Tigray amounts to war crimes and crimes against humanity. Levels of hitherto unseen violence and brutality have been inflicted on the most vulnerable populations through widespread massacres, sexual violence, and weaponized starvation. It is evident that the Ethiopian, Eritrean, and Amhara troops have been and continue to undertake systematic attempts to destroy families and completely dismantle Tigrayan society. These facts are even more alarming given that communication blackouts have been widespread in the region, which means that existing reports do not capture the full scale of the atrocities. A full picture of the extent of the war crimes, crimes against humanity, and acts of genocide will only be revealed through independent international investigations.
As such, it is more important than ever for the international community to move beyond expressions of concern and take tangible actions to mitigate the worsening humanitarian crisis in Tigray and hold perpetrators accountable.