The seven-month conflict in Ethiopia’s Tigray region has devolved into a humanitarian crisis, with ominous signs that atrocities there could escalate. The U.S. and other countries are finally raising the alarm, but Tigray needs action now.
Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed was praised as a great reformer when he assumed office in 2018. He won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2019 for a peace deal that ended a two-decade war between Ethiopia and Eritrea. But today, he is presiding over a civil war that has escalated out of control, with reports of mass atrocities committed by Ethiopian forces, and no end in sight.
The Ethiopian military was initially dispatched to Tigray in November 2020, to crush what Ahmed said was a mutiny. The government forces were joined by Eritrean forces. While there have been allegations of atrocities on all sides, there have been credible eyewitness reports of widespread extrajudicial killings, looting and destruction of property, mass executions, arbitrary arrests, rape, deliberate starvation and forced displacement of populations by the Ethiopian and Eritrean military.
These horrific conditions have caused tens of thousands of children and adults to flee their homes and to seek refuge in Sudan, under deplorable conditions. Some 4.5 million of a population of 6 million people are in immediate need of humanitarian assistance. Between 2.5 and 5 million people in the region will experience severe food insecurity at least through September. We must stop this spiral; Tigrayans need concrete action now to prevent worse humanitarian catastrophe to come.
Six distinguished leaders recently joined me in outlining steps that could bring an end to the atrocities in Tigray: former U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, former President of Finland Tarja Halonen, former U.N. and Arab League Special Envoy for Syria Lakhdar Brahimi, Emeritus Bishop of Oslo and former vice chair of the Nobel Committee Gunnar Stålsett, former President of Slovenia and former U.N. Assistant Secretary General and President of the World Leadership Alliance Danilo Turk and former U.N. Under Secretary General and Special Envoy for the Prevention of Genocide Adama Dieng.
Together we urge Prime Minister Ahmed to take the following steps without delay in order to save the lives of the people he was elected to serve, and to resolve this humanitarian crisis. We also urge the United States to use its formidable influence in the region to encourage these steps. We implore Prime Minister Ahmed to act swiftly to end the suffering of Ethiopians afflicted by war in Tigray by taking the following actions:
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1) Lead calls for a cessation of hostilities by all actors, announce your willingness to do so, and encourage other parties to commit to ending the fighting immediately;
2) Press for the immediate and verifiable withdrawal of Eritrean and Amhara regional forces from the Tigray region;
3) Facilitate the work of international humanitarian staff including by issuing long-duration visas, expediting the process for the importation and use of satellite communication technology by humanitarian organizations and instructing your military and allied forces to establish a civil-military coordination cell to facilitate the work of humanitarian organizations on the ground;
4) Issue orders to protect all civilians in Tigray and throughout Ethiopia regardless of their ethnicity, including refugees and internally displaced persons, and particularly women in the light of widespread reports of sexual and gender-based violence;
5) Continue your support for investigations into human rights abuses and violations of international human rights law and humanitarian law by all actors in Tigray. We welcomed your support of the joint investigation by the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission and the U.N. Office of the High Commissioner on Human Rights. We encourage you to ensure other human rights organizations are provided access to document independently ongoing reports of human rights abuses and violations in Tigray; and
6) Open credible and inclusive talks with political and civil society actors in Tigray with the goal of charting a consensual way forward for the region’s future governance.
Military means will never resolve the political dispute that led to the Tigray crisis. They will only increase the suffering of the civilians in the region, which has already been far too great. As Ahmed himself said in his Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech two years ago, “There are those who have never seen war, but glorify and romanticize it. They have not seen the fear. They have not seen the fatigue. They have not seen the destruction or heartbreak, nor have they felt the mournful emptiness of war after the carnage.”
For the good of Tigray, Ethiopia, the East Africa region and the world, we ask the prime minister to work toward a political solution as fast as possible. We and others in the international community stand ready to support the effort to achieve lasting peace in Ethiopia, and help Tigray start healing.