Ethiopia’s P.M. Abiy Denounced as “War Criminal” by Tigrayans at U.N. Protest

Fighting for justice and end to embargo

Tigrayan protests outside United Nations. Photos: Black Star News.

About 1,000 people who hail from Ethiopia’s Tigray region braved the New York chilly temperature to converge on the United Nations Thursday to denounce the invasion of their region by federal troops, which occurred  about 100 days ago. 

They gathered across from U.N. headquarters at Dag Hammarskjold Plaza in Manhattan. 

The protest, billed as “100 Days of Genocide,” brought Tigrayans from allover the U.S., with some flying in from California. While most demonstrators delivered denunciations against Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, and his ally Eritrean President Isaias Afwerki, others drove a convoy of cars draped in Tigrayan colors, in New York’s streets. The drivers blared horns while repeatedly “Stand With Tigray,” and calling Abiy and Afwerki “murderers.” 

Abiy has laid siege on Tigray, cutting off communications, including a total internet shutdown as well as transportation stoppage. Agricultural production has been disrupted in the region due to the war, which reportedly including bombing of civilians by the Ethiopian air force. Without food shipments, there are reports of ongoing mass starvation deaths, including of children. As many as 4.5 million people could face starvation if the blockade doesn’t end, demonstrators said. Tigrayans make up about six million of Ethiopia’s 112 million population. 

The demonstrators’ demands include: the immediate creation of a humanitarian corridor to shipment of food, water, other relief supplies, and physicians into the cordoned off war zone; withdrawal of Eritrean troops that have intervened to support Abiy; and, an investigation by the International Criminal Court (ICC) of alleged crimes against humanity by the federal Ethiopian soldiers, and the Eritreans.

There have been widespread reports of atrocities, including weaponizing rape, the use of starvation to punish people in the Tigray region, and the indiscriminate killing of unarmed civilians by federal soldiers, and the Eritrean military. There are also reports of targeted infrastructure damage, including attacks on ancient churches and mosques. 

Ethiopia and Eritrea once fought a very bloody, bitter war, over disputed boundaries. The two nations were then in a state of cold war for decades, with borders closed. When Abiy was appointed interim prime minister in April 2018, he surprised many people by opening up the political space in Ethiopia and reaching out to Eritrea’s ruler Isaias Afwerki to normalize relations. As a result of his trailblazing ways Abiy was awarded the nobel peace prize in 2019. Many of his critics now believe the prime minister repaired relations with Eritrea knowing all along that he’d need them to side with him in an attack against Tigray that he’d long planned. Some are now demanding that the nobel prize award be rescinded. 

Many demonstrators held placards emblazoned with photos of Afwerki, with the words “Wanted—War Criminal.” Other posters read, “Stop War On Tigray,” “#Tigray Genocide,” “Stop Killing Innocent People,” “Stop Tigray Genocide,” “Time To Arrest Abiy Ahmed.”

The Eritreans have also built alliances with local activists. Hawk Newsome, the co-founder of the Greater New York chapter of Black Lives Matter, was a speaker and denounced the international communities silence. He said if the victims of the mass killings and rapes were white, there would have been an intervention by now. 

A spokesperson for Americans who are former Peace Corps volunteers in Ethiopia also denounced the blockade and called for humanitarian aid to be allowed.

A Tigrayan-born New Yorker, a design associate at an architectural firm, shared the reasons why he joined his compatriots at the protest. “We want Eritrea to get out of Tigray. We want our women not to be raped. We want our churches not to be bombed. We want them to be places of worship, and we want our mosques not to be bombed,” he said. 

Charlotte Phillips, an American activist with the organization Brooklyn For Peace, who held a sign that read “Abiy Ahmed: End the Tigray War, Famine, Killings, Looting,” denounced the invasion of Tigray. 

“What’s happening in Tigray is totally unacceptable. We want the Security Council to get the U.N. to stop it,” Phillips said. “The international press has not been allowed to go in to report. There has been no access to humanitarian aid and this also is unacceptable.”

“We’ve heard of murders, of rapes going on, of violence against civilians by the Ethiopian soldiers and Eritrean soldiers,” she added.

Charlotte Phillips.