The Detrimental Effects of Genocide

The Detrimental Effects of Genocide

Tigrayans around the world exchanged phone calls, hugs, and sighs of relief as news circulated that the Tigray Defense Forces regained control of the capital city, Mekelle on June 28th, 2021. Nevertheless, the elation was brief, as realization dawned that the 8-month long genocidal war on Tigray was not quite over. The region is still under a telecommunication blackout, the humanitarian corridor is blocked and restricted, there is no access to banks, and 900,000 people remain at high risk of famine. Moreover, war crimes and violations of international law by Ethiopian and Eritrean military forces and Amhara militia must be investigated. So, while recapturing Mekelle is significant, the genocide continues to bring immeasurable suffering and lifelong scars to millions of civilians.

Similar to the long-lasting, multigenerational impact of bombing campaigns and man-made famine committed against Tigrayans by the Ethiopian government in the 1940s and 1980s, the current genocidal campaign will have detrimental biological, psychological, and socio-economic effects on survivors. Researchers found suggestive evidence that children affected by the 1984 famine in Tigray were significantly shorter than their unaffected counterparts, less likely to have completed primary school, and more likely to have an income loss of at least 5% per year over their lifetime. 

It is clear that severe nutritional shock on a large scale such as famine has long-lasting effects, especially on children in a critical period of development. In June 2021, the United Nations Children Fund (UNICEF) warned that 140,000 children in Tigray are malnourished and at risk of dying unless there is unrestricted access to humanitarian aid. Officials from agencies such as the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) expressed frustration about the electricity and communication blackouts imposed on Tigray, making it difficult for life-saving aid to be delivered. 

Furthermore, the Tekeze River bridge that is crucial for aid-routes leading to Tigray has been destroyed. Such catastrophic conditions combined with a deliberately interrupted farming schedule will have dangerous impacts on nearly every person in the region; if crops are not planted and food assistance is not provided, the man-made famine occurring in Tigray will quickly worsen.

Along with weaponized starvation, weaponized sexual violence against women and young girls has been rampant during the Tigray genocide. Gang rape and spreading HIV as a form of biological warfare are part of the ethnic cleansing campaign to forcefully remove the Tigrayan population and prevent births from occurring. Not only does this sexual violence affect survivors, it inevitably takes a detrimental toll on survirvors’ children. Evidence shows that in Rwanda and Darfur, children born of rape have demonstrated a higher risk of abandonment, abuse, and malnutrition. Mothers who are rape survivors are also likely to become isolated from society. Additionally, maternal depression and mental instability negatively impact infant outcomes.

Children of abused women face obstacles that have long-term adverse effects on their biological and psychological well-being such as behavioral and posttraumatic stress disorders. Rape survivors in Tigray have already attempted debilitating unsafe abortions, indicating severe maternal distress. Tending to maternal mental and physical health is crucial in diminishing the intergenerational effects of rape and unwanted pregnancy, but the healthcare system in Tigray has collapsed due to attacks by armed forces, making it impossible to receive treatment. It is imperative that this intergenerational trauma is addressed to alleviate these preventable consequences of genocide.

The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that a significant percentage of people who live through armed conflicts will suffer from serious mental health problems and develop harmful behavior that will hinder their ability to live a healthy life. The damage caused by violence and war crimes on Tigrayans under the Derg regime (1974 – 1991) is evident even decades later. The consequences of the Tigray genocide must effectively be managed to support another generation of people with trauma. 

Tigrayans that were once leading healthy, normal, and successful lives have now faced devastating fatal losses, displacement from their homes, and subjection to brutal sexual violence. Doctors-turned-refugees, such as Dr. Tewodros Tefera, are saving lives while fighting for their own survival. Like in the past, the world is witnessing Tigrayans abruptly lose their livelihoods. Business owners, professors, trade workers, and others who would have led comfortable lives with ample education opportunities for their children will now have to start from scratch. As exhibited in the diaspora, first-generation children of refugees are at a disadvantage when compared to their peers; not only does the Tigray genocide affect the primary victims, it will impact generations to come.

The world still has a chance to mitigate the implications of the genocidal campaign on Tigray. With every passing minute, the crisis worsens as disease and famine become increasingly widespread and the healthcare system remains non-functional. While it is impossible to alter past events, the opportunity remains to prevent further damage and loss. Failure to intervene on the mass atrocities being committed against Tigrayans only undermines the United Nations’ promise of “Never Again” after past genocides, but the immediate enforcement of Responsibility to Protect (R2P) will make all the difference in the extent of intragenerational and intergenerational trauma inflicted on survivors and their children.

Omna Tigray Contributor, July 2021