Follow-up (01 April 2021) regarding the appeal on humanitarian disaster in north Ethiopia

Dear friend,

As a signatory of the Appeal by concerned scientists and development professionals, we continue updating you on the humanitarian situation in Tigray.

So many developments with regard to the Tigray War over the last ten days! We’ll address the diplomatic situation, but on the ground little has changed, and massacres, sexual violence and displacement continue! Hence, this newsletter will first bring the news on the dire humanitarian situation, and also present some important new works: a list of massacres in the Tigray war, and the report of the Horn of Africa Civil Society Forum.

  1. Two bright girls who give hope  – refugees

I will start with two sad stories. Two young girls who fled the war and the massacres and who suffer enormously. Listen to their suffering, but also their wisdom:

This is the new generation. I hope that they will be strong in these difficult conditions, for themselves, their family and their community! These clever, educated and brave girls give us hope for the future and for the reconstruction of Tigray.

  1. Grizana, another massacre

The new edition of the “Atlas of the Humanitarian Situation” includes a list of 151 massacres in Tigray since the beginning of the war. In order to illustrate the type of terror and atrocities that is widespread all over Tigray, we narrate the massacre that occurred in Grizana, half way between Samre and Finerwa, some 80 km SW of Mekelle. On Wednesday 24 March, Eritrean soldiers entered the village, and at a certain moment, they missed one of their comrades. The soldiers then dragged farmers out of their house asking them about their lost comrade, which the farmers didn’t know about. Farmer Adhana Dimtsu (55) was already shot dead in revenge, when the missing soldier appeared from nowhere.

In the evening of that same day, in the same village, Eritrean soldiers were asking children (at gunpoint) to show them the houses of militiamen. Among several houses, the children showed the soldiers the house of one militiaman, where they found his wife (Gidey Teweldu). She was asked “where is your husband”? She didn’t say “he went to the mountains” but rather said that he is in a friend’s house (presumably to avoid further attention). The soldiers forced her to take them there. She had nowhere to take them but pretended to be checking on the neighborhood. That’s when they started shooting door to door. The wife was killed with her two kids as well as ten other people in that same neighborhood. Victims include Hagos Abrha (53), his wife (45) and his brothers Tesfakiros (45) and Hailu (38), Adugna Gebrehana (29), Gebremeskel Getahun (58), Gebreyohannes Hailemariam (33), Gidey Tsegay (35), Gidey Teweldu (45) and her two kids Hadas Mruts (15) and Hailu Mruts (2). In that same incident alone, nine men, two women and two children were killed. At least five additional corpses were found in the surroundings that had been partly devoured by hyenas, and these are not identified among the villagers, presumably they were from other villages and shot while fleeing to the mountains.

After this, people left the villages and moved to areas controlled by the TDF. Grizana has become another ghost town in Tigray.

In our previous newsletter, we elaborated on PM Abiy’s discourses, in which he twice justified/downplayed massacres in comparison to military losses. In other parts of his discourse to Parliament, he nonetheless promised to bring anyone who committed atrocities to justice. It seems that in these battlefields around Samre and Gijet the soldiers have not heard this part or they do not believe that this might occur, or no ‘order from above’ has been given. In the meantime, more massacres are perpetrated.

  1. Update of the Atlas of the Humanitarian Situation

As mentioned, the Tigray “Atlas of the Humanitarian Situation” has been updated. The update includes

  • a new section on status of telecommunication and banking services, with map
  • a new map on food security outcomes up to September 2021
  • updated maps of civilian victims (‘fully documented’ as well as ‘reported’) and massacres
  • in annex a list of 151 massacres in Tigray since the beginning of the war. A massacre is understood as at least five civilians killed at the same place and in the same day.

The maps can also be interactively consulted in this web application

We have been interviewed by the Belgian newspaper De Morgen (30 March) about the preparation of this Atlas: ‘Tieners vermoord om te vermijden dat ze later wraak nemen’: Gentse geografen monitoren burgeroorlog in Ethiopië [in Dutch]; English translation: ‘Teenagers killed to avoid revenge later’: Ghent geographers monitor civil war in Ethiopia

  1. The Horn of Africa Civil Society Forum Report on Tigray

Just out! You may download the Report on Tigray by the Horn of Africa Civil Society Forum. It holds an awful amount of details on the war crimes in Tigray and also requests for ceasefire, inquiries and peacekeeping. Furthermore, it is important to notice that a large number of human rights associations, from all over the wider Horn (including Rwanda) support this document.

  1. “No Eritrean forces, no massacres” becomes “They will leave soon”

By the end of March, the Ethiopian PM Lt. Col. Abiy Ahmed briefly made headlines by suddenly admitting that Eritrea is involved in the Tigray war and that massacres had been committed, while he had denied these facts since 5 months, even in private conversation with António Guterres, the UN Secretary General. Trying to save face after such earlier blatant lies, he travelled to Asmara and came up with a communiqué that the Eritrean forces were going to leave soon from the border areas. In the meantime, there are reports of fresh Eritrean troops being transported into Tigray, and also conscript mobilisation in Eritrea, as of the age of 16. Below is a large set of related articles, which I summarise as a set of reflections:

  1. Eritrea itself does not mention the withdrawal, which undermines the credibility of the Ethiopian statement.
  2. Ethiopia lied about the Eritrean presence, it might be the same with regard to withdrawal?
  3. Abiy equated, even justified rape and massacres by the fact that his soldiers died. On the ground, massacres continue, such as in Grizana (see section 2) and near Negash (as reported by MSF)
  4. There is reason to fear that the Ethiopian and Eritrean armed forces are trying to buy time, conceding “something on the border”, and still plan to win this war by “another push”
  5. The common spirit in Tigray: “Why does the world only come with endless deeply concerned statements?”
  6. Reliable diplomatic sources mention that sanctions against the Ethiopian and Eritrean governments are under way – the evidence of severe human rights infringements by these regimes is all too overwhelming

Related articles in international media:

  1. Opinion pieces
  1. Other news

Follow up communication compiled by Prof. Dr. Jan Nyssen.

Jan Nyssen is full professor of geography at Ghent University (Belgium). Besides numerous scientific publications mostly related to Ethiopia, he published two books: “ካብ ሓረስቶት ደጉዓ ተምቤን እንታይ ንስምዕ”? “What do we hear from the farmers in Dogu’a Tembien”? [in Tigrinya] (2016), and “Geo Trekking in Ethiopia’s Tropical Mountains, the Dogu’a Tembien District”. Springer GeoGuide (2019).

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