Massacres behind closed doors in Ethiopia’s Tigray region

English translation of story broadcasted by the main French radio chain, France Inter 22 February 2021 (in French):

The operation carried out by the Ethiopian Federal Army since November in the “rebel” province of Tigray turns into a humanitarian catastrophe, and a regional crisis with the presence of Eritrean troops.

It is now a classic story, governments that make dirty moves start by cutting off the Internet and blocking access to journalists. This has been happening for the past three months in the Tigray region of northern Ethiopia; since the government of Addis Ababa sent the federal army to put back in step a local executive breaking with the central government.

After a fortnight, the government proclaimed its victory and replaced the Tigray executive with more docile representatives. But that was not the end of the story. Three months later, the testimonies coming out of the Tigray, by refugees, humanitarians, or videos of individuals, give another image: that of a large-scale humanitarian catastrophe, massacres, never-ending violence.

According to the United Nations, some 60,000 Tigrayans have fled Ethiopia to neighbouring Sudan; two million others are “displaced persons” within their region; and three-quarters of the five million Tigrayans are now in need of humanitarian assistance. The number of victims of this conflict is estimated at around 50,000 deaths, which is considerable.

Several testimonies and reports of massacres of civilians, videos show scenes of brutality against Tigray villagers, the remission is brutal.

But above all there is the troubling participation of troops from neighbouring Eritrea to assist the Ethiopian army. In addition, they settle some historical accounts with the Tigrayans, that are rooted in the period when Eritrea was still occupied by Ethiopia. The presence of Eritreans is not official, but there is little doubt.

Last week, the Associated Press accused Eritrean soldiers of committing a mass killing in late November in the historic town of Axum, famous for its medieval churches. According to a priest quoted by the news agency, 800 people were killed – Ethiopia and Eritrea denied it.

To say the least, the international response is not up to the scale of the catastrophe in Tigray. On the one hand, it reflects the failures of global governance, which means that human rights violations in Syria, Burma or the fate of China’s Uighurs are confronted with the rivalries of powers.

But it is also the ambiguity of Abiy Ahmed, the Ethiopian prime minister, who was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2019 for making peace with Eritrea – and who is now at war with one of its provinces with the help of Eritrea. Abiy Ahmed had an image of a liberal modernist, who seduced even [French president] Emmanuel Macron; but in managing the delicate ethnic and political balances of the former Ethiopian empire, he proved to have an iron fist.

It is becoming difficult to turn a blind eye to what is happening in Tigray: Ethiopia’s partners, Europe, the United States or the African Union, which is based in Addis Ababa, cannot hide behind respect for internal affairs when human rights violations are committed on such a scale.

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