Wheaponized Sexual and Gender-Based Violence in Tigray

What Is Sexual And Gender Based Violence?
  • Sexual and Gender Based Violence (SGBV) is an act that is perpetrated against an individual’s will and is based on gender norms and unequal power relationships. It includes physical, emotional or psychological and sexual violence. It is a severe violation of human rights.
  • At times of war, SGBV is often intended to terrorize the populace. It can be used as a weapon of war.
  • SGBV aims to physically and pyschologically torture its survivors, allowing perpetrators to exercise power and dominance, and undermine the social fabric of society.
  • The United Nations has declared that SGBV is not “inevitable by-product of war, but constitutes a crime that is preventable and punishable under International Human Rights Law, International Humanitarian Law and International Criminal Law.”
The Impact Of SGBV On Its Survivors
  • SGBV could cause severe physical and psychological trauma. Studies have shown widespread psychological problems among women are Weaponized SGBV survivors, including anxiety disorder, PTSD, somatic symptoms, depression, insomnia, social dysfunction, and substance abuse. Survivors are also at risk for sexually transmitted diseases.
  • SGBV could undermine the social fabrics of society. Conflict-related rape survivors could suffer from loss of identity, social isolation, loss of hope for the future, and survivor guilt.
  • The systematic dehumanization and humiliation that SGBV survivors endur could shatter their fundamental beliefs, negatively impacting their lives and their society.
Weaponized SGBV During The War On Tigray
  • Since the Ethiopian and Eritrean governments waged war on the Ethiopian regional state Tigray on November 4, 2020, there been countless reports about the high numbers of rape and sexual violence committed on Tigrayan girls and women by Ethiopian and Eritrean forces.
  • Although the Ethiopian government labeled the war on Tigray as a “law and order operation” to disband the elected Tigray regional government, many reports have revealed that over 60,000 Tigrayans have fled to Sudan seeking asylum due to bombing, killing, and rape by the Ethiopian and Eritrean troops. Women and children are bearing the brunt of the war.
  • The impacts of the war have been exacerbated by telecommunication and internet blackout in most of Tigray, blockage of humanitarian assistance to most of Tigray, disconnections to electricity and water, and severely limited access to financial services.
  • The Ethiopian government has also refused mediation efforts, blocked international media coverage of the war on Tigray, suspended the licenses of BBC and Reuters from Ethiopia.
Evidence Of SGBV During The War On Tigray
  • Families of SGBV survivors, international aid/medical workers in Tigray, Tigrayan medical workers, doctors in refugee camps in Sudan, and Ethiopian military officials have confirmed the increasing number of SGBV survivors in Tigray. Reports of these allegations from Tigray are coming from the capital city of Mekelle, where some telecommunication has been restored.
    • Hospitals and aid agencies operating out of Tigray estimate thousands of women have been raped by Eritrean and Ethiopian soldiers.
    • Doctors in Sudan treating Tigrayan refugee women have recounted harrowing stories from survivors of SGBV. Hundreds of women who fled to refugee camps in Sudan when the conflict broke out have reported being raped by invading forces prior to fleeing their hometowns or on their way to refugee camps in Sudan.
  • Most of these women have confessed about being forced to choose between rape or death. Others were raped in exchange for basic commodities, such as water and food.
  • A 25 year old woman who was given a harrowing choice of rape of life by a soldier, ended up being raped with a gun held to her head. International and national aid workers have told of receiving similar reports of abuse in Tigray (Choose – I Kill You or Rape you: Abuse Accusations Surge in Ethiopia’s War) — Reuters, January, 22 2021
  • “In Shire, Eritrean soldiers raped and killed a 20-year old autistic woman, killed her 14-year old sister, and raped their 60-year old mother. When the mother asked them to kill her too, they responded: no, we want you to cry.” — Interview with survivors’ family
Ethiopian Government Response To SGBV In Tigray
  • Military officers and appointed interim Tigray officials have acknowledged the issue on national TV.
    • January 9, 2021: Ethiopian national TV showed a military officer admitting to rape allegations in Mekelle, after the Ethiopian and Eritrean soldiers took control. He went on to say that rape is expected to occur in conflict.
  • Ethiopia’s Ministry of Women, Children, and Youth seems to have turned a blind eye on SGBV in Tigray. In fact, they are “investigating” the legitimacy of these SGBV claims without any urgency.
    • January 26, 2021: The Ministry denied SGBV allegations on local radio, saying the claims were unfounded. — Ahadu Radio, Ethiopia
    • January 29, 2021: In a Twitter post, Minister Filsan Abdullahi Ahmed announced the Ministry’s plans to investigate sexual violence allegations “in the northern region” through a special Task Force, without acknowledging SGBV in Tigray: “The task force will be on a fact finding mission to investigate and ascertain facts on the ground.”
International Response To SGBV In Tigray
  • The European External Programme with Africa (EEPA) reported “countless number of women and survivors of physical and sexual abuse and rape, including gang rape and other forms of violence and brutality” –Situation Report EEPA Horn No. 42-2 January, 2021
  • The UN Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict, Ms. Pramila Patten said that she was “greatly concerned by serious allegations including ‘a high number of alleged rapes in the Tigrayan capital Mekelle. There are also disturbing reports of individuals allegedly forced to rape members of their own family, under threats of imminent violence. Some women also reportedly been forced by military elements to have sex in exchange for basic commodities” — January 21, 2021
Urgent Call To Action
  • The Ethiopian and Eritrean governments are weaponizing rape and endangering the lives of women and girls in Tigray.
  • Although the United Nations’ recognition of SGBV crimes in Tigray is a significant step forward, it is not enough to ensure the protection of millions of women and girls who are at risk of SGBV.
  • We are calling for an immediate stop to the crimes being committed on Tigrayan girls and women during this war. In order to put an end to these crimes, the international community must:
    • Demand an immediate ceasefire and the withdrawal Eritrean military forces from all of Tigray;
    • Demand the opening of humanitarian corridors and provide emergency aid workers unfettered access to the millions of Tigrayans in need of emergency assistance, including survivors of SGBV;
    • Demand the restoration of all forms of communication in Tigray;
    • Demand unrestricted media access to all of Tigray;
    • Demand independent investigations into all SGBV crimes in Tigray so that perpetrators are prosecuted for their offenses
Urgent Call To Action (Continued)
  • Please join Omna Tigray in its SGBV international campaign during the week of February 2, 2021 to demand immediate action from the international community.
    • Join our SGBV Twitter Campaign to pressure the international community to intervene and hold the perpetrators accountable;
    • Sign SGBV Petition available on OmnaTigray.org;
    • Spread international awareness by sharing this post;
    • Write your government representatives and voice our demands;
    • Contact local stakeholders focused on SGBV, such as NGOs, and tell them what is happening in Tigray and ask them to champion our demands.