Sexual abuse and starvation are used as weapons in Ethiopia

English translation of an opinion piece by Swedish scholars published on Dagens ETC, May 28th 2021


A 15-year-old girl is raped in front of her brother in Shire in northern Ethiopia. Another girl resists and has her arm and leg shot off. Women are gang-raped for days by soldiers. Needles, stones and pieces of plastic are picked out from women’s genitals.

An Ethiopian woman who says she was gang-raped by armed men is seen during an interview with Reuters in a hospital in the town of Adigrat, Tigray region, Ethiopia, March 18, 2021. REUTERS/Baz Ratner

More and more testimonies point to the systematic use of sexual violence as a weapon in the ongoing fighting in Tigray in northern Ethiopia. The conflict began in November 2020 when the Ethiopian government sent troops to the region. In total, more than 136 rapes have been reported between December 2020 and January 2021 alone, according to the UN. The hidden statistics is considered to be many times greater and data from April point to more than 800 reported sexual assaults.

At the same time, starvation is also used as a weapon. Stockpiles are drained of food and other important food, cultivation fields are burned, water facilities are destroyed, and roads are closed to stop the influx of vital food. At present, at least 5.2 million out of 5.7 million people in Tigray need emergency assistance to prevent starvation, while UN military forces are blocking the ability to provide humanitarian aid to large parts of Tigray.

The use of sexual violence and starvation as weapons, as well as the deliberate destruction of cultural heritage and critical infrastructure such as hospitals and health centers, suggest that this is a collective punishment against the people of Tigray. US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken has described the situation in Tigray as ethnic cleansing. The patriarch of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church describes it as a genocide. The Director-General of the International Committee of the Red Cross has described the testimonies of Tigray as the most terrible in over two decades in the humanitarian field.

As citizens, we are proud of Sweden’s ambitions in foreign policy, where Sweden aims to be a global leader in promoting human rights, democracy and the rule of law. Sweden is also a significant player in development assistance globally and in Ethiopia and contributed SEK 528 million in development assistance to the country in 2020 alone.

But despite the numerous reports of war crimes committed in Tigray over the past six months, neither Sweden nor the international community has done enough to put an end to this enormous ongoing humanitarian catastrophe. The world has instead turned its gaze away.

Our call to the Swedish government is therefore to raise Sweden’s voice in Ethiopia and internationally, and to contribute to the formation of a coalition of influential countries that can put pressure on all parties involved to put an end to the conflict.

Specifically, we want Sweden to act as soon as possible:

1. Together with the international community, put an end to the violence, abuse and murder of civilians in Tigray;

2. Demand, together with the international community, the immediate and unhindered delivery of humanitarian aid to all parts of Tigray;

3. Review aid to Ethiopia to ensure that Swedish tax funds do not risk contributing to a deteriorating humanitarian situation and weakened human rights;

4. Call for the deployment of peacekeeping forces in the Tigray to protect civilians;

5. Ensure, together with the international community, the execution as soon as possible and independently of the investigations committed by the UN into war crimes in the region;

6. Work to establish a national dialogue in Ethiopia in order to achieve lasting peace.


Anna Nordén

Kristina Mohlin

Susanna Olai

Thomas Sterner

Sverker Jagers

Johan Boman

Rune Andersson

Christian Munthe

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