It is now the 675th day of the war on Tigray declared by Ethiopian prime minister Abiy Ahmed whom the Nobel Committee saw fit to reward with the Peace Prize in 2018 for making peace with Eritrea.
The Peace treaty was in fact a war pact with the mercurial leader of Eritrea, Issayas Afeworki, one of Africa’s and one of the world’s most repressive dictators today. The two found common cause in their hostility to the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) the governing party in that region of Ethiopia.
Following a year-long military planning and preparation, and taking a page out of the Powell Doctrine of using overwhelming and decisive force, Abiy and Issayas launched the invasion of Tigray on Nov 4, 2020 using the bulk of the armed forces of both countries supported by Amhara Special Forces and armed militia. The result was anything but decisive, and having failed in their military objective they turned their fury on the defenseless civilian population of Tigray.
The world was aghast as reports of the atrocities started coming out–crimes against humanity and war crimes. They ranged from massacres, gang rapes of women irrespective of age, killing of men and boys on sight, to setting fire to farmlands, looting of private and public properties and systematic destruction of the region’s industrial base. Air strikes and artillery shelling targeted schools, health facilities, houses of worship and cultural heritage sites.
“A future without genocide and mass atrocities, a world that does not stand idly by while civilian populations are being attacked simply because of what they are,” says the vision statement of Jewish World Watch. On its website are these sobering numbers about the toll in Tigray: six million people in need of aid, 500,000 killed, 120,000 experienced extreme sexual violence, thousands held in concentration camps.
Thanks to the relentless efforts of Raphael Lemkin, the United Nations General Assembly labelled genocide a crime in 1946. This was followed by the adoption of the Treaty for the Prevention and Punishment of Genocide commonly known as the Genocide Convention in 1948. Ethiopia was among the earliest signatories. It must be noted that the United States did not ratify the treaty until 1988.
The Genocide Convention however did not deter Ethiopia from committing genocide; the federal government under Abiy continues to snub its nose at the international community, showing its contempt for the Genocide Convention. Officials of the United Nations, the United States and its European allies made loud noises in the initial phases of the Tigray war, decrying the war crimes and crimes against humanity by Eritrean, Ethiopian and Amhara troops in Tigray. Secretary of State Blinken charged on March 20, 2021 that ethnic cleansing in Western Tigray had been committed and demanded the immediate withdrawal of Ethiopian, Eritrean and Amhara troops from the region.
Abiy Ahmed chose to ignore this demand, thus calling America’s bluff.
Ethiopian PM Abiy Ahmed after receiving Nobel Peace Prize.
He put his government propaganda machine into high gear, instead accusing the Tigray Defense Forces (TDF) formed after the invasion to defend the population, of committing unsubstantiated war crimes. Abiy’s PR campaign accused TDF of committing the very atrocities his government was carrying out. It was not long before his Western sponsors began to draw a moral equivalence, adopting the mantra “crimes were committed on both sides” tossing aside reports from international news agencies, MSF and other humanitarian organizations. Abiy’s supporters even ignored the unprecedented joint report of Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch chronicling, in horrific detail, the war crimes and crimes against humanity by Amhara militia, and Eritrean and government troops in Western Tigray.
The stifling siege of Tigray–blocking access to food, fuel and medicine–has created the worst humanitarian crisis today. Internet, electricity and banking services remain cut off for close to two years now. Researchers at Ghent University in Belgium estimate half a million may have died as a result of starvation, lack of medicine and effects of war.
The genocidal war and the continued blockade of Tigray does not seem to be a pressing issue any longer to Abiy Ahmed’s sponsors in the West. After all, what is a half a million lives worth in some remote African region? Maintaining their protégé in power to implement the neoliberal economic policy the IMF dictates and to keep the geopolitical interest of NATO/Africom in the region, was too important to be distracted by the suffering of people of Tigray. The U.S. seriously considered military intervention to save Abiy as Tigray Defense Forces forces at one point advanced within 100 miles of Addis Ababa according to the investigative report of The Progressive Magazine.
The governments of Ethiopia and Eritrea who suffered humiliating military defeat in their first offensive used the five-month long lull in fighting following a ceasefire agreement in March of this year to allow humanitarian aid to Tigray, to rebuild their decimated militaries. PM Abiy went on a shopping spree for drones and heavy weapons from Turkey, Russia, China and last week Algeria.
The carnage continues with increased intensity since a third offensive was launched two weeks ago. The blockade of Tigray remains in full force. The PM of Ethiopia, prone to mythomania, continues to deceive his Western sponsors. Are they really being deceived or are they willing partners in these crimes? They seem to have taken the stance “see no evil, hear no evil and speak no evil” while at the same time the genociders in Addis Ababa and Asmara, the Eritrean capital, continue their crimes unencumbered by any restraints.
The U.S. is playing the “good cop” to Abiy’s bad cop by showing the now tired “expression of concern” and threat of sanctions. The silence in the halls of the UN, the White House and Congress on the still ongoing genocide is deafening. The Ethiopia Peace, Stabilization and Democracy Act (HR 6600 and S3199) in Congress, threatening sanctions for the crimes, have not made it past their respective committees.
Karim Khan, the International Criminal Court’s Chief Prosecutor, addressing the Ukraine Accountablity Conference in The Hague last month shortly after three children and 17 adults died from a Russian missile strike stated the obvious: “In all situations across the world where international crimes are committed, we should feel the same urgency for action and for cooperation.”
Referring to Europe and the West’s “lavish attention on Ukraine”, the Guardian asks, “But why is the same, or at least similar, treatment not extended to the Tigrayans? Do they somehow deserve any less? Are they less human? What makes their lives worth less, in the eyes of the Global North, than the lives of Ukrainians? After all, Ethiopia has a population of 120 million and is more of a threat in relation to the seven million Tigrayans than Russia (140 million) is to 40 million strong Ukraine” Dr. Tedros Adhanom, the director general of the World Health Organization (WHO) expressed similar sentiment, tossing diplomatic niceties aside when he said ‘the lack of response to the worst disaster of earth is the color of the skin of the people of Tigray…”
It all boils down to assigning hierarchy of value on human lives or, as the late Edward Herman, the brilliant MIT economist, political analyst and media scholar who co-authored Manufacturing Consent with Noam Chomsky, put it “worthy” versus “unworthy” victims. Worthy victims whose lives matter were American GIs exposed to Agent Orange in the Vietnam war or GIs suffering from effects of exposure to burn pits in Iraq and Afghanistan as opposed to the Iraqis, Afghans and Vietnamese whose lives don’t matter.
Accountability for the Tigray genocide understandably falls on Ethiopian and Eritrean perpetrators but also includes all those who stood idly by; that includes officials of the United Nations and the United States. Abiy’s allies and enablers bear responsibility. This includes the African Union (AU) which has made itself irrelevant especially under its current chairman Musa Faki whose support for the genocidal PM of Ethiopia makes him directly complicit.
There will be a reckoning no doubt sooner or later. It is also a wakeup call for African Civil Society in the continent and the Diaspora to fill the glaring vacuum in the area of political mediation and peace making.
The struggle for human dignity and equality ought to be a global one for “my humanity is tied to your humanity so we can only be human together” as the late Rev. Desmond Tutu used to say.
Dr. Mohammed Nurhussein is a retired physcian.