Humanitarian situation in Tigray (27 September 2022)

On 11 September, the Ethiopian new year 2015 has started, again under dire conditions. Almost two years of war, and the necessary time lag is already there for international investigations – expectedly, as they have been exposed, the Ethiopian government rejected the outcomes of the ICHREE investigations (section 1). Further, this digest stresses the siege and starvation (section 2), as well as the ways in which Ethiopian universities are funding the war on Tigray (section 3). For the war situation itself (and an emerging peace movement), we refer to press articles (section 5). We also give attention to the attempts of  the Eritrean dictatorship to continue controlling the refugees that have fled that very country, and the increasing resistance to this (section 7). There are also some new scientific publications (section 8), as well as opinion pieces about the ongoing humanitarian catastrophe (section 9).

Source: Ethiopia Food Cluster (14 September 2022) – note that in the woredas along the Eritrean border, only the southern part could be accessed

  1. Human rights and massacres in Tigray and Ethiopia

Report of the International Commission of Human Rights Experts on Ethiopia (ICHREE) (19 September 2021)

(It may be downloaded from: https://www.ohchr.org/sites/default/files/documents/hrbodies/hrcouncil/regularsession/session51/2022-09-19/A_HRC_51_46_AdvanceUneditedVersion.docx)

Summary: In the present report, submitted pursuant to Human Rights Council resolution S-33/1, the International Commission of Human Rights Experts on Ethiopia presents its initial findings. The report concludes that there are reasonable grounds to believe that violations, such as extrajudicial killings, rape, sexual violence, and starvation of the civilian population as a method of warfare have been committed in Ethiopia since 3 November 2020. The Commission finds reasonable grounds to believe that, in several instances, these violations amount to war crimes and crimes against humanity. The report provides an assessment of transitional justice developments and makes urgent recommendations.

Totally in line with the Tigray War database, as well as our Atlas of the Humanitarian Situation in Tigray, the ICHREE writes:

101. Credible information indicates large-scale killings committed by EDF and ENDF forces between November 2020 and June 2021, including the killing of hundreds of people in Axum and the killing of scores of people in Maryam Dengelat in November 2020. Large-scale killings also seem to have occurred in Mai Kadra, Adigrat and surrounding areas from November 2020; Bora and Mahbere Dego in January 2021; and Kola Tembien in February 2021. In most cases, the ENDF or EDF appeared to target Tigrayan men and boys perceived to be of fighting age. Community and religious leaders who were men also appear to have been targeted.

102. Witnesses strongly implicate the EDF in these atrocities. The Commission has identified several EDF members who were present during attacks or were reported to be giving orders. Survivors of killings in Zalambessa say they are unable to return home because of EDF troops in the town, as well as landmine contamination. The Commission recommends further investigation into the EDF’s conduct during its ongoing presence in Ethiopia.

(EDF = Eritrean army; ENDF = Ethiopian army)

One of the core issues that hindered the investigation is that UN offices in Addis Ababa are largely supportive of Abiy Ahmed. As the ICHREE writes: “Requests to various UN entities operating in Ethiopia to share documents and materials of interest were largely deflected, or responded to after an inordinate delay.”

On 3 September, Arte TV reported on the Mahbere Dego massacre in Tigray, that happened in January 2021. Journalists Charles Emptaz and Olivier Jobard have met relatives of the victims and soldiers who were part of the death squad: Ethiopie : un massacre ordinaire [in French and Amharic]. See also our database: https://www.ethiopiatigraywar.com/incident.php?id=I00469

It might be good to remind the readers also that the restrictions imposed by the Ethiopian government on journalists (we don’t even speak about press in Eritrea…), resulted in the news of the Aksum massacre reaching the international media only in February 2021, thanks to an article by Cara Anna of the AP news agency. Just after that, the Ethiopian Ambassador in Brussels, Hirut Zemene, arrogantly replied to a VRT journalist that the Aksum massacre had not happened; she said that just making an allusion to the Aksum massacre is “a very, very crazy idea”. https://twitter.com/tvbempt/status/1396004979689787394

The Ethiopian government has rejected the ICHREE report; the Tigray government invited ICHREE to carry out field investigations.

Further reading

  1. Siege and starvation

The humanitarian assistance has continued in accessible areas with the stockpiles in the Afar, Amhara, and Tigray regions, despite the resumption of fighting.

In Tigray, between September 1 and 7, 1.5 million people received assistance in the form of almost 25,000 tonnes of food. Priority has been given to distributing food to accessible areas with a large concentration of IDPs and those locations where the previous distribution (Round 3 of 2021!) occurred months ago.

A significant portion of the food supply was delivered to the woredas in early September thanks to the fuel that had arrived in August. Food partners had around 93,000 liters of fuel left as of September 13; this was only enough to transport 7,600 tonnes of food to 450,000 people.

An additional 250,000 liters of fuel are needed to maintain ongoing food distribution and shipment. Around 17,000 tonnes of food cannot be transported without this extra fuel, and roughly a million people would be left without food aid.

On 26 September, the Ethiopian government stated that international aid organisations should not work in areas where they carry out military operations, such as in Tigray, further confirming their ‘Biafra’ strategy.

Sources: Ethiopia Food Cluster (14 September 2022); OCHA Ethiopia Situation Report (19 September 2022); https://twitter.com/tvbempt/status/1574464210771349553.

Further reading:

  1. Ethiopian universities are funding the war on Tigray

A thorny and unsolved problem is that of communicating vessels between cooperation in university development, Ethiopian universities and the Ethiopian army. On September 21, the Ethiopian Ministry of Education proudly announced that the ministry, its sectors and Ethiopia’s public universities had donated 211 million Birr “to the victorious Ethiopian Defense Forces.” (https://tweetstamp.org/1572554841440022528)

Whereas the substitution of aid funds permits, for instance, World Bank financing to be covertly channeled to warfare, the overt budget transfer from the educational sector to the military leaves budget gaps that would then be covered with funds from international projects.

Economist Patrick Heinisch of Helaba Bank (Germany) refers to this as “a very sensitive topic. The European Union is not directly funding Ethiopian government budgets due to the war. The question is to what extent the EU is indirectly freeing up resources in Ethiopian ministries for military purposes. EU funds projects in health and education totalling €81.5 million”. (https://twitter.com/PatrickHeinisc1/status/1573209016880209922)

Hence, in this case, the substitution of aid funds happens very openly and is directed to the military. One can’t look past it. Embassies and international universities’ foreign departments are alerted: how to explain to taxpayers that the University Development Cooperation financially supports Ethiopian universities, when these universities transfer money to the army?

See alsoDatabase: the Ethiopian public universities during the Tigray war

With regard to substitution of aid funds to Ethiopia, or fungibility as it is called in public finance management jargon, see the recent podcast by the International Crisis Group, and particularly William Davison’s statement at around 39:30 into the podcast.

  1. The “International” Conference of Ethiopian Studies (ICES21) at Addis Ababa University

The 21st International Conference of Ethiopian Studies, which will take place at Addis Ababa University (AAU) from September 28 to October 1, will be a setback for its organizers. At the ICES20 in Mekelle (2018), there were around 600 presentations. At ICES21, there will only be a little over 200. The symposium would only be international in name because practically all foreign scholars, including the most renowned, declined to attend (https://twitter.com/rene_renelefort/status/1572988266244079622). In addition to the overall situation of the country, a major reason for this setback of ICES21 is the involvement of AAU in the Tigray war. AAU has indeed  threatened to revoke academic degrees based on political opinion; the university is also a safe place for genocidal hate preachers Taye Bogale and Dagnachew Assefa. At least two AAU professors of Tigrayan origin were arrested, without reaction of the university. AAU also sent 100 medical staff to the war fronts, and donated 60 million birr to the Ethiopian army.

  1. War

In the meantime the war is ongoing, with Tigray being attacked from all sides, villages shelled, and drone bombings on the towns, and on transportation (including a WFP truck).

  1. Some signs of fraternity

There have again been demonstrations for peace in Addis Ababa. And in Tigray, people are confronted with large numbers of Ethiopian and Eritrean prisoners of war.

Abeba Gebresillasie owns a small stationary shop in Mekelle. She was president of the women entrepreneurs of the town.  A colleague knows her well and visited her during each stay in Mekelle.  In this video, she speaks in Amharic in front of ENDF prisoners of war, who sometimes applaud her!  Excerpts:

“Thank God that you are still alive here…

All the harm you have done to the Tigrayans, we think about it all the time because we are moms…

Your moms are also worried about you…

You too will always think of all the harm you have done to us… some of you have raped women, even raped married women…

How could you follow people who wanted to exterminate us, the people of Tigray?

We have nothing to eat, but we give you food and drink because it is our custom…

You wanted to exterminate us while we thought we were part of Ethiopia… “

And she ends by saying “excuse me and thank you”

“ለትግራይ ህዝብ የበደልነው በደል ይቅር በለን ብላችሁ ፀልዩ” ወ/ሮ አበባ ገብረስላሴ – YouTube

Further reading:

  1. Eritrea, tentacular dictatorship

There has been strong opposition this summer to the numerous “festivals” in Europe arranged by the Eritrean regime and its supporters in diaspora, that are part of a sprawling system to control all its nationals all over the world. As these “festivals” are intended to raise funds for the war, it is worth mentioning the massive opposition of Eritrean refugees, sometimes joined by Tigrayans. The authorities have often cancelled these festivals, as in Sweden, Norway, Switzerland, Germany or the Netherlands.

For more information on the Eritrean opposition, it is recommended to follow these online resources:

Further reading:

  1. Scientific publications
  1. Opinion pieces

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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