Open Letter to the Honorable Joseph R. Biden, President of the United States
Dear President Biden,
We, the signatories on this letter, are United States of America Professional Women with families in Tigray and Eritrea. We would like to take this opportunity to share the magnitude of the human rights violations that are costing thousands of lives every day, and causing destruction and distress to women, girls, and children of Tigray. We are proud to be part of the American dream and actively participate in the US democratic process. We know firsthand you understand women’s issues and have an unwavering stand on human rights at home and around the world. The purpose of this letter is therefore to bring to your knowledge the tragic massive ongoing human rights violations in Tigray, Northern Ethiopia and persuade you to take decisive action to protect their God-given human rights.
On March 25, 1998, President Bill Clinton expressed regret for failing to halt genocide in Rwanda which has claimed some 800,000 lives. He said he didn’t fully appreciate the depth and speed with which Rwandans were engulfed by the unimaginable terror. He warned “We must have global vigilance. And never again must we be shy in the face of the evidence”FP: President Clinton, to genocide survivors in Kigali, Rwanda, March 25, 1998.). But unfortunately, we are watching history repeat itself in Tigray. We want to put together the ongoing human rights violations causing massive loss of lives and trauma, so you have a fuller understanding of the depth of the tragedy.
Tigray’s six million people have been denied access to basic services, including medical, electricity, internet, and banking for over 23 months. Tigray is completely sealed off from the outside world. No access to basic services amounts to lives being lost every day that could have been saved due to lack of nutritious food, and medical services. The UN investigators report described “The widespread denial and obstruction of access to basic services, food, healthcare, and humanitarian assistance is having a devastating impact on the civilian population,” and warned that the government appeared to be “using starvation as a method of warfare”France24: UN report warns of crimes against humanity in Ethiopia. It is unimaginable the international community is allowing the Tigrayan people to be denied their inalienable rights to live.
The Tigray blockade makes it cruel and inhumane as Tigray’s health care system, transportation infrastructure and economic centers have been looted and destroyed when the war began in 2020 by Ethiopian and allied military forces. The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs reported about 70% of assessed hospitals and health centers in the region have either been partially or fully damagedDoctors without Borders: Widespread destruction of health facilities in Ethiopia’s Tigray region. UNICEF reports only 30 functional ambulances compared to the 280 which used to function in the region, the rest are either damaged or lootedNational Library of Medicine: The impact of war on the health system of the Tigray region in Ethiopia: an assessment. This means an overwhelming majority of Tigrayan mothers don’t have maternity healthcare service, and Tigrayan kids don’t have access to nutritious food and vaccination. Studies found Tigrayan babies are dying in their first month of life at four times the rate before the war, and maternal mortality is up from 186 to 840 deaths per 100,000 live births with over 80% dying outside health facilitiesAP News: Babies in Tigray dying at 4 times pre-war levels, study says. We watched heartbreaking cries for help from Tigrayan patients who needed dialysis, insulin for diabeticThe Guardian: ‘Humanitarian crime’: fighting cuts off insulin supply in Tigray, drugs for cancer patientsThe Guardia: Tigray cancer patients sent home to die for lack of drugs, and HIV treatmentsModern Ghana: Left to die: the fate of thousands of people living with HIV in Tigray.
The UN Commission found that rape and crimes of sexual violence had been perpetrated on a “staggering scale” with Tigrayan women and girls being targeted with violence and brutality by Ethiopian and Eritrean forces and regional militiasUNHCR : UN experts warn of potential for further atrocities amid resumption of conflict in Ethiopia. In many cases, rape and other forms of sexual violence were used “to degrade and dehumanize the victims”. Many had unwanted pregnancies and were infected with sexually transmitted diseasesThe Telegraph: Hundreds of women rush to Tigray hospitals as soldiers use rape as weapon of war. A study by Tigray Health Bureau and Mekelle University found more than 120,000 females aged between 15-49 have been rapedYouTube: Tigray Health Bureau claimed more than 120,000 girls and women have been raped by invading forces. The trauma of these victims will continue until those who are responsible for allowing it as well as those who committed the horrific crimes are held accountable. Unfortunately, the commission of experts mandated by the UNHCR to investigate these abuses has so far been denied access to Tigray where the crimes took place, by the Ethiopian government. How is justice going to be served under this circumstance! Victims of rape deserve justice and support, and at this time their voices are being silenced.
Over 50 drone and air strikes have been carried out in Tigray since June 2021 that have impacted civilians and infrastructuresUNHCR : UN experts warn of potential for further atrocities amid resumption of conflict in Ethiopia. The airstrikes are adding terror, death, and destruction especially to women and kids who are already devastated through blockade, rape, and forced displacement from their homes. It is not a coincidence strikes that killed and wounded several civilians happened during a major religious holiday “Meskel”The Hill: Airstrike in Ethiopia’s Tigray region kills civilians, the day Tigray commemorates its biggest civil war massacre ”Hawzen” during a busy marketOCHA Services: Airstrike on market kills 43 in Ethiopia’s Tigray region, camps which houses Internally displaced TigrayansHuman Rights Watch: Ethiopia: Airstrike on Camp for Displaced Likely War CrimeReuters: More than 50 killed in northern Ethiopia air strike -aid workers and Tigray forces, and a kindergartenAljazeera: UN condemns deadly air raid that ‘hit kindergarten’ in Tigray. We watched horrific videos where women and children are pulled from the rubble of homes destroyed though a strikeYouTube strike video: Victims of Adi Daero Airstrike. These represent only some of the strikes, and the acts are particularly cruel as they happen when Tigray doesn’t have medical infrastructure and drugs to save the life of the wounded. They are inflicting major psychological harm to women and kids. Why is the international community not stopping this level of cruel war crime?
Western Tigray has been the site of some of the worst atrocities committed in this conflict since Ethiopian forces and allied military forces gained control of the area in Nov 2020. They have carried out a brutal ethnic cleansing against Tigrayan communities through a series of human rights abuses including mass detention, sexual violence, extrajudicial killings, denial of humanitarian aid and forced expulsion of civilians from their homesHuman Rights Watch: Ethiopia’s Invisible Ethnic Cleansing. The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs reported 1.2 million people have been displaced from western Tigray, and about 60,000 fled to Sudan. U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken condemned acts of the ethnic cleansing in western Tigray in March 2021CNN: Blinken: Acts of ‘ethnic cleansing’ committed in Western Tigray. Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch’s report in May 2021 also concludes “security forces from Ethiopia’s Amhara region are responsible for a campaign of ethnic cleansing, carried out through crimes against humanity and war crimes”Human Rights Watch: Crimes against Humanity and Ethnic Cleansing in Ethiopia’s Western Tigray Zone. Acknowledging acts of ethnic cleansing is a first step to justice but bringing an end to the ethnic cleansing and ensuring Tigrayans quick return to their home is needed to stop the suffering.
Belgium’s Ghent University researchers led by Jan Nyssen say as many as 500,000 people died from war and famine in Tigray over a 16-month periodThe Globe and Mail: Tigray war has seen up to half a million dead from violence and starvation, say researchers. It has been over 6 months since this study was conducted and Tigray is still under siege and a large-scale war has erupted again on Aug 24, 2022Voice of America: Fighting Erupts Again in Ethiopia’s Northern Tigray Region ending a five-month cease-fire. Ethiopian and Eritrean soldiers are jointly attacking Tigray from all its borders and an estimated 1 million soldiers are mobilized in this warHeritage Foundation: General Tsadkan Gebretensae speaking to the Heritage Foundation think tank. Drone and air strikes are dropping bombs more frequently at residential homes, and camps for internally displaced Tigrayans. As a result, the war is causing more unprecedented death, destruction, and psychological harm to the people of Tigray. We hope the world does not stand idle and silent as these atrocities continue and more people die.
Eritreans won a 30 year bloody war to become an independent nation in 1993 through a UN sponsored referendum. But the government has refused to implement the constitution and shattered the dream of Eritreans building a prosperous and democratic nation. There is no free press, and there is no parliament where laws are discussed, and questions of national importance are debated. Eritrea youth flee the country through its borders despite its shoot-to-kill policy to avoid forced indefinite military conscription and repressionHuman Rights Watch: Service for Life: State Repression and Indefinite Conscription in Eritrea. Many become victims of human trafficking and perish in Sahara Desert and Mediterranean Sea. Mr. Steve Walker, former chief of mission at the U.S. embassy in Asmara, Eritrea, has described life in Eritrea in his article “Totalitarianism Is Still With Us” published in The Atlantic on Sep 5, 2022The Atlantic: Totalitarianism Is Still With Us. A UN Commission of Inquiry on human rights was established in June 2014 to investigate alleged violations of human rights in Eritrea. The commission reported crimes against humanity have been committed and urged referral to the International Criminal Court in October 2016UNHCR: Eritrea UN Commission has urged referral to the International Criminal Court. But sadly, no serious action has taken place and as a result the arrest, torture and mass exodus of Eritreans from their own country continues.
Eritrea is a major force driving the war in Tigray and this is complicating the peace process. The government of Eritrea has called up thousands of reservistsThe Economist: Eritrea has called up thousands of reservists to fight in Tigray and is forcibly rounding up Eritreans and sending them to a bloody war. Eritrean parents are locked out of their homes, and their cattle confiscated if their children are not foundBBC: Eritreans hunted down as military call-up intensifies over Ethiopia’s Tigray war. Eritrean and Tigrayan people have a shared history, culture and fought alongside for our freedom. We, the undersigned Eritrean Americans, strongly condemn the siege, drone attacks and the war that are taking lives of innocent Tigrayans. Eritrean youth and seniors are perishing in a senseless war. Eritreans should not interfere in the internal affairs of Ethiopia. Therefore, Mr. President, your government should put a special focus on Eritrea to stop the atrocities that are costing innocent Eritrean and Tigrayan lives.
We believe in the US unwavering stand for democracy and human rights. But in the last two years, the silence of the US in the face of horrific massive human rights violations in Tigray has shaken our conscience. Tigrayan mothers are dying due to lack of maternity service. Tigrayan kids are dying due to malnutrition. Tigrayan kids are not getting vaccination. No accountability and support for unprecedented numbers of Tigrayan women and girls victimized by rape. Tigrayan mothers and children are getting bombed with drones strikes frequently including in Internally Displaced camps. Tigrayan seniors are denied access to their hard-earned savings to buy basic needs. Tigrayan kids have not been to school for 3 years. We are watching devastation and death at a scale the world has not seen before. Why is this massive cruel human rights violation not getting the attention and priority it deserves?
We are grateful, Mr. President, for your legislative action by suspending Ethiopia from the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) to encourage Ethiopia to come to peace. We are grateful you assigned a special envoy to east Africa to coordinate peace. We are also grateful for the humanitarian services that you have provided under difficult circumstances. So far, the envoys that have been assigned to this role are unable to make progress towards peace. The war and drone strikes are continuing at a much larger scale. We see the Ethiopian government using peace talks as a tool to buy more time to inflict more damage on the Tigrayan people. It is not possible to bring peace through negotiation with those who have openly declared to exterminate one group of society, and are following it with their actions through war, drone strikes, and denying basic life-saving services such as food, medicine, and electricity as a tool of war. Thousands of Tigrayans are still detained in prisons under unsafe conditions throughout Ethiopia due to their ethnicityVoA: In Ethiopia’s Civil War, Thousands of Jailed Tigrayans Endured Squalor and DiseaseCNN: Men are marched out of prison camps. Then corpses float down the river. The Ethiopian government needs to understand the world sees their false peace talk tactics as means to appease the world as they continue exterminating Tigrayan people through various means.
Considering the overwhelming documented human rights violations, we urge the US government as the leading economic power to intervene on behalf of humanity to save Tigrayan mothers and children. We firmly believe, due to the weak reaction of the world to the unimaginable systematic atrocities in Tigray, the Ethiopian and Eritrean governments became emboldened and launched a more aggressive united war against the Tigrayan people on Aug 24, 2022CNN: Blinken: Acts of ‘ethnic cleansing’ committed in Western Tigray. Mr. President, your priority should be to get the siege removed and allow basic human services to the Tigrayan people. It will save innocent lives. Every day this is delayed, Tigrayan mothers and children are dying due to lack of food and medicine. Mr. President, we also kindly ask you to enforce a no-fly zone. Drone and air strikes are killing civilians including many in camps that are hosting Tigrayans forcibly displaced from their homes. Innocent civilians deserve protection. Mr. President, last but not least, we kindly ask you to support with action the UN council established to investigate human rights violations in Ethiopia. Those who are responsible for the heinous violent rape crimes of women and girls and are conducting ethnic cleansing should be held accountable. This will show the world that crimes against humanity will not go unpunished. If justice does not happen for Tigrayan women, what are we signaling to the world that we represent?
We, the undersigned Tigrayan fellow US citizens, have been watching helplessly the destruction of our families in Tigray. We have been under tremendous stress for the last two years. We are not able to talk to our families. We are not able to send money. We are waking up to news of horrific drone attacks that are killing many innocent people. We hear cries for medicine from people with chronic illnesses such as dialysis, cancer, and diabetes. We do not know whether our families are alive. A massive war is underway now throughout Tigray borders to capture Tigray cities yet again. The brutal images of massive gang rape of girls and women, youth killings, and priest killings that happened when the war began comes to our mind. Tigrayan youth are sacrificing their only life to protect the dignity of their sisters and mothers. We are devastated with so much death and destruction. This should be stopped. We hope you see us, you hear us, and you understand our pain. We are counting on you to make this a priority.
Mr. President, we kindly request urgent meaningful action to stop the death, and suffering that goes beyond statements of condemnation. African Union mediation has failed for two years and trying the same thing at the expense of Tigrayans, and Eritrean lives who are forced to join the war should be reconsidered. Eritrea should withdraw from Tigrayan land and the Ethiopian government should remove the siege immediately. We are seeing genocide on Tigray happening in the 21st century through various means by blacking out media. Time is of the essence. Save lives–human rights are God-given rights.
We appreciate you taking the time to read our letter and we hope it does give you a fuller, more complete picture of the heinous crimes against humanity in Tigray. We are counting on you to preserve American values and take urgent action to protect human lives.
Tigrayan and Eritrean Professional Women
Press Release, October 19, 2022