Over 400,000 people in Ethiopia’s Tigray now in famine
United Nations officials warned the Security Council that more than 400,000 people in Ethiopia's Tigray were now in famine and that millions more may be at risk. The UN Security Council, slow to act as it has become the norm in recent decades, held its first public meeting on the Ethiopia war since fighting broke out in November. The war is between government forces, backed by troops from neighboring Eritrea, and TPLF fighters with Tigray's former ruling party.
Acting U.N. aid chief Ramesh Rajasingham told the council that the humanitarian situation in Tigray had "worsened dramatically" over the past few weeks as some 50,000 additional people were suffering from the famine. "More than 400,000 people are estimated to have crossed the threshold into famine and another 1.8 million people are on the brink of famine. Some are suggesting that the numbers are even higher. 33,000 children are severely malnourished." Adding to the crisis, aid workers are openly being targeted by armed groups, including, Ethiopian troops. At least 12 aid workers have now been killed since the conflict began.
What about the ceasefire?
The Ethiopian government declared a unilateral ceasefire on Monday, which the TPLF dismissed as a joke. There are reports of continued clashes in some places as pressure builds internationally for all sides to pull back. Ethiopia's government on Monday, June 29, declared an immediate, unilateral ceasefire in its Tigray region after nearly eight months of fighting after Tigray forces recaptured the regional capital of Mek'ele. Soldiers retreated and hundreds of thousands of people continue to face the world's worst famine crisis in a decade. Mek'ele residents cheered the return of Tigray forces, meanwhile, Tigray forces captured the airport and other key positions in Mekele and broadcast a message telling residents to stop celebrating and go home. The ceasefire comes as the country awaits the results of national elections. Ethiopia's government said the ceasefire will be upheld until the end of the crucial planting season in Tigray, which ends in September.
What did UN officials think about the ceasefire?
U.N. political and peacebuilding affairs chief Rosemary DiCarlo said Eritrean forces had withdrawn to areas adjacent to the border and that forces from the neighboring region of Amhara remained in areas of western Tigray that they had seized. "In short, there is potential for more confrontations and a swift deterioration in the security situation, which is extremely concerning," she told the council, urging the TPLF to endorse the ceasefire and for Eritrean troops to fully withdraw.
Do Russia and China back the Ethiopian government?
Russia and China backed the Ethiopian government's message that there was no need for foreign interference and that the conflict is an internal affair for Ethiopia. Russia's U.N. Ambassador said: "We believe that interference by the Security Council in solving it is counterproductive." Russia and China are both council veto-powers who regularly back countries that violate human rights or are in the process of committing mass murder.
How did the war start?
Tensions spiraled out of control 2020 after the election was postponed by Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, with the approval of Parliament, due to COVID-19 concern. Many accused Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed of an illegal power grab, including the TPLF. The Tigray region decided to hold elections in September in an act of defiance. Abiy’s government declared those elections illegal. Ethiopia’s Parliament then voted to cut funds from the regional Tigrayan government, a move the TPLF said violated the law and was “tantamount to a declaration of war.” In late October, the TPLF blocked an Ethiopian general from taking up a post in Tigray and a few days later, the TPLF attacked a federal military facility in Tigray in what it claimed was so-called “preemptive self-defense.”
Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed chose to escalate the situation by declaring “The last red line had been crossed,” and sending a heavy military force, accompanied by airstrikes into Tigray. The Ethiopian government launched what it called a “law enforcement operation” in response, a justification for a full-scale military invasion. Tigrayan defense forces are fighting against the Ethiopian National Defense Force. The ENDF is allied to its longtime enemy and Eritrea and other militias within Ethiopia, specifically Amhara forces.
Human rights abuses rampant
The situation has since turned into a protracted conflict over power and political influence with horrifying humanitarian implications, especially to women and children. An internal United States government report assessed that the Ethiopian military and their allies were “deliberately and efficiently rendering Western Tigray ethnically homogeneous through the organized use of force and intimidation.” Eritrean forces have been accused of mass looting, pillaging, and wanton destruction of everything from banks to crops to hospitals. There have been massacres and mass executions. Researchers from the University of Ghent have compiled a detailed list of 1,900 Tigrayans killed in more than 150 mass killings since the start of the conflict.
When the Eritrean or Ethiopian forces lose a battle, they take revenge on civilians in the surrounding areas. Rape has been used as a weapon of war; a USAID report includes testimony from a woman who recalled her rapist saying he was “cleansing the blood lines” of Tigrayan women. Hundreds of women and girls in Tigray have reported being subjected to horrific sexual violence and rape with levels of cruelty beyond comprehension by Ethiopian and allied Eritrean soldiers and militias. At least 829 cases of sexual assault and rape by Ethiopian and allied forces have been reported at hospitals in Tigray, there are many more that have gone unreported. Doctors say cases of rape, gang rape, and extreme sexual violence are being reported every day and they believe rape is being used systematically as collective punishment on Tigray.
Most of the reported atrocities point to Eritrean, Ethiopian, and Amhara forces, though Tigray People’s Liberation Front-linked groups have also been linked to at least one mass killing. In March, Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed acknowledged that reports “indicate that atrocities have been committed in Tigray region.” He said those responsible should be held accountable, though he also claimed all criticisms and reports were “propaganda of exaggeration.” As a result, the United States has declared sanctions for Ethiopia and its leadership.