State-Sponsored Cover-Up of the War on Tigray
Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s administration continues to deny the ongoing genocide, weaponized rape, systematic killings, and the deliberate denial of basic needs that have occured since November 2020. Such denial, which is characteristic of perpetrators of genocide, as well as the complete blackout imposed on Tigray has made it nearly impossible to accurately report the impact of the genocidal war and the true severity humanitarian crisis in Tigray. His efforts to cover-up the atrocities in Tigray have exacerbated the suffering of Tigrayans.
Since the war began, the Ethiopian government has restricted the use of the internet and cut off telephone services, mainly to prevent communication with and within Tigray. Such a blackout has prevented the international community from fully understanding the extent of the crimes being committed in Tigray and acting to stop atrocities and prevent more from taking place.
To make the situation worse, throughout the war the Ethiopian government has denied humanitarian agencies access to Tigray, hindering the distribution of much needed food and emergency assistance. Since June 28, 2021, the blockade has worsened and remaining food stocks ran out, as Tigray has been under siege. As a result, there have been 150 famine related deaths in August, and over 900,000 people in Tigray are facing fatal famine conditions. In addition, the Prime Minister has gone to great lengths to obscure the truth and facts from humanitarian agencies as he prevents aid, focusing on the fact that security is a “priority that cannot be compromised.” The Ethiopian government has continued to restrict access to ground and air aid routes as a tool of genocide.
Even with deliberate efforts by the Ethiopian government, in collaboration with the Eritrean government, to commit and deny war crimes and crimes against humanity since the war began, the world is slowly coming to realize the brutal reality in Tigray.
However, efforts to cover-up atrocities in Tigray have worked in delaying the international community’s response to the crimes being committed in Tigray. For instance, the Abiy administration’s lack of acknowledgment of rape as a weapon of war in Tigray has impacted the work of United Nations (UN) offices on the ground. Country office UN officials have “downplayed some instances of reports of rape as sensationalized ‘media hype’,” by suggesting there was a lack of evidence to support numerous sexual violence claims, even with substantial evidence provided. The UN’s decision making is clearly constrained by the Ethiopian government, and as such its response has been based on the Ethiopian government’s persistent downplay of the crisis.
Abiy’s administration is fully committed to making sure their war crimes go unnoticed by the local and international community. Abiy has gone as far as censoring journalists that may report on the crimes committed in Tigray. Tigrayan journalists, activists, and translators have endured various attacks, abuses, killings, and kidnapping with no status updates on their well-being or whereabouts. In Mekelle, Tigrayan AFP journalists Fitsum Berhane, Financial Times journalist Alula Akalu, and BBC journalist Girmay Gebru, were all detained without disclosed cause.
According to Amnesty International, several journalists and media workers have been arrested with no form of due process. On June 30, “police arrested 11 journalists and media workers from Awlo Media and Ethio Forum,” who had been reporting on human rights violations and current political situations on their YouTube channel.
By restricting access to Tigray and arresting prominent local journalists, Abiy has been able to cover-up the atrocities in Tigray. These arrests without disclosed cause attest to the fact that they were deliberately targeted because of their reporting on a genocidal war waged in the dark.
Accountability and Justice
Regardless of the amount of evidence, news press, and reports presented by numerous human rights organizations and international officials, there have not been any comprehensive independent investigations or any progress towards seeking justice for Tigrayan civilians who have endured countless atrocities, war crimes, and human rights violations.
The neglect and cover-up of crimes by Abiy’s administration, along with the United Nations’ inability to take any consequential action in response to the atrocities being committed in Tigray, are delaying accountability and justice for Tigrayans. It is merely impossible to move towards peace and reconciliation without a path towards accountability and justice.
International intervention must take place to stop any investigation that might be led by the Ethiopian Attorney General, Federal Police, or Ethiopian government, who are implicitly responsible for crimes against humanity in Tigray. By allowing the Ethiopian Attorney General and Federal Police to lead any investigation, perpetrators of acts of genocide would be investigating their own crimes and would be sure to cover them up.
The UN Security Council must work in conjunction with other international institutions and human rights organizations, such as Amnesty International to organize and lead an impartial international inquiry on the crimes committed in Tigray. To apprehend any perpetrator responsible for crimes against humanity, war crimes, and/or acts of genocide, an unbiased, independent investigation needs to occur.
Omna Tigray Contributor, September 2021