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Ethiopia: UN alleges war crimes in Tigray

The Ethiopian government says the reports are politically motivated, as the conflict with Tigray escalates and the TPLF calls on civilians to take up arms
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REUTERS/TIKSA NEGERI  -   The Prime Minister of Ethiopia, Abiy Ahmed

Peace negotiations in Ethiopia, which seemed close just a few weeks ago, are now not even an option. Faced with offensives by the Ethiopian and Eritrean army in Tigray, the Tigray People's Liberation Front (TPLF) has been forced to call the civilian population to arms in the face of what they consider "a genocidal war". A card that the Ethiopian army has already played in November last year, when it called on the civilian population to take up arms against the Tigrayans.

"Given the existential challenge we face, more than ever the full participation of each and every Tigrayan is required. The TPLF calls on you to be fully available for the all-out war we are waging to thwart the dreams and aspirations of our enemies to the peoples of Ethiopia", reads a statement released by the Tigray Foreign Ministry.

In addition to the people of Tigray, the statement targeted all those harmed by the conflict. The TPLF referred to the people of Amhara and Afar, regions that since the civil war began have shown sympathy with Tigray's struggle for equal independence for their ethnic groups. They have been implored to intensify their efforts to get out of "the trap set by the fascist government".

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AP/BEN CURTIS - Ethiopian authorities on 24 August 2022 accused Tigray rebels of launching a new offensive against federal forces in the north of the country

It also reminded the Ethiopian people that their children "have been pitted against their brothers and have been used as cannon fodder", and reminded the Eritrean army that "the people of Tigray do not renounce what is rightfully theirs, nor do they covet what is not theirs", and that their aspirations are for "peace and development", not destruction. The letter was written shortly after TPLF spokesman Getachew Reda announced that Eritrean forces had launched a multi-pronged attack on Tigray.

However, it is not only military offensives that are intensifying the conflict. Recent UN investigations have called into question the actions of Abiy Ahmed's government, whose army is being denounced for possible war crimes and crimes against humanity

"There are reasonable grounds to believe that violations such as extrajudicial killings, rape, sexual violence and starvation of civilians as a means of warfare have been committed in Ethiopia since 3 November 2020," states the report of the UN International Commission of Human Rights Experts.

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PHOTO/ARCHIVO - Salesian missionaries deliver food and supplies to Ethiopians

According to the report, Ethiopian army soldiers are responsible for massacres such as the January 2020 killing of 60 civilians in a drone strike and for the overwhelming scale of rapes of women and girls, who "were taken as sex slaves, and repeatedly raped, often in front of their children or family members". They also hold Tigray's forces responsible, especially when they occupied areas near the capital Addis Ababa.

The communiqué also denounced the federal government for systematically depriving Tigray of food and services essential for their survival. Humanitarian aid organisations have also complained on several occasions that their trucks carrying food and hygiene products are being denied access to the region.

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PHOTO/HAKON MOSLOVD LARSEN/NTB - Ethiopia's Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed Ali poses after receiving the 2019 Nobel Peace Prize medallion during the ceremony at Oslo City Hall

As expected, however, the UN's accusations have not been welcomed by the Ethiopian government. "The report on human rights violations in post-conflict Ethiopia in the north of the country is pre-planned, politically motivated and does not serve the purpose of holding perpetrators accountable," said Zenebe Kebede, Ethiopia's UN ambassador in Geneva, who called for the report to be rejected and for the resignation of the UN panel of experts.

Kebede also pointed out that the UN uses human rights as a weapon for political pressure, which closes "all doors for cooperation with the Ethiopian government". This is something to be avoided and which Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed is already working towards, with several trips and meetings, such as the visit to Algiers and the Algerian president, Abdelmadjib Tebboune, or the recent meeting on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly in New York between the Ethiopian Foreign Minister, Demeke Mekonnen, and his Chinese counterpart, Wang Yi.