The Ethiopian Government’s Mass Arrest of Tigrayans Fuels Ethnic Drift in Conflict | International


Young men walk alongside an abandoned Tigrayan rebel tank near Mehoni, in the Ethiopian region of Tigray, on December 11, 2020.
Young men walk alongside an abandoned Tigrayan rebel tank near Mehoni, in the Ethiopian region of Tigray, on December 11, 2020.EDUARDO SOTERAS (AFP)

Thousands of deaths directly due to the conflict or in massacres of civilians committed by both sides, two million people displaced from their homes, at least a thousand detainees based on their ethnic origin, more than 200 children died of malnutrition and 400,000 people threatened of famine. The devastation caused by the war in Ethiopia for just over a year is fueling a serious human crisis and threatens to destabilize the entire region. At the same time that mediation attempts are redoubled, the signs that the conflict may escalate are multiplying: the United States has urged its citizens to leave the country as soon as possible.

About 1,000 people, mostly ethnic Tigrayana, were detained last week by law enforcement in different cities in Ethiopia, the United Nations reported on Tuesday. These arbitrary arrests based on ethnicity have also been denounced by Amnesty International (AI), which adds that many of them are carried out without specific charges and without the possibility of access to a lawyer. “Detainees, including officials, Orthodox priests and a lawyer are locked up in youth centers and other informal places of detention throughout Addis Ababa because police stations are already overcrowded,” AI says.

Although the arrests of Tigrayan citizens began at the beginning of this year 2021, as denounced at the time by the Ethiopian Commission for Human Rights, assuring that there was evidence that they were detentions of an ethnic nature, the truth is that they have intensified to from the declaration of the state of emergency on November 2. The decree then approved allows the security forces to detain any citizen if there is a “reasonable suspicion of cooperation with terrorist groups” and without being protected by the usual judicial guarantees. Both the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) and the Oromo Liberation Army (OLA) were declared terrorists by the Ethiopian Government.

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In a recent interview with Al Jazeera, Redwan Hussien, the Ethiopian Foreign Minister, admitted the arrests but denied that they were ethnic in character. “This is not a systematic attack (against the Tigrayans),” he said, contradicting the version of AI and the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission. In addition, he stated that once it was determined that there was no evidence against them, the police proceeded to release them.

On the other hand, a report prepared by doctors and researchers from the University of Mekele revealed this week that some 200 children have died of hunger in the Tigray region, under control of the TPLF and subjected to a blockade by the Ethiopian Government for months. , according to the United Nations. This study, published by the agency France Press, reveals that malnutrition has skyrocketed after the start of the conflict. “We have counted more than 186 deaths of children under the age of five due to severe malnutrition,” said Hagos Godefay, former director of health services in the region, in an interview with the aforementioned agency.

The study, which was carried out in 14 hospitals in Tigray, reveals that 29% of children suffer from acute malnutrition, while before the war this figure was 9%, and that 7.1% suffer from severe acute malnutrition. when a year ago it was 1.3%. It also reveals that only 14% of households have access to sufficient food compared to 60% in the absence of war. However, the investigation was unable to access many areas of the region precisely due to the conflict. “In such areas we can only imagine how many children are starving. They live in isolated areas where there is no water, no communication, and no health structures. If we go to these isolated places the figure would be double, that’s for sure ”, added Godefay.

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Since mid-July, less than 15% of the aid needed to help the population of Tigray has been able to reach its destination, according to the UN, which claims that some 400,000 people are on the brink of famine. The Ethiopian Government and the TPLF blame each other for the problem of accessing humanitarian aid to Tigray.

The conflict has experienced in recent days a kind of impasse after the advance of the coalition of rebel forces led by the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) and the OLA, which two weeks ago managed to place the war front some 300 kilometers from the capital and with the clear threat of advance on it. The visit to Ethiopia of the special envoy of the African Union (AU), the Nigerian Olusegun Obasanjo, who met last week with both the federal authorities and the TPLF rebels, has opened the door to the path of negotiation although, for the moment, both parties remain entrenched in their demands.

The Ethiopian government demands that the rebels stop their counteroffensive, the withdrawal of the TPLF from the Amhara and Afar regions and the recognition of the legitimacy of the federal Executive. For their part, the Tigriyan rebels demand that Addis Ababa lift the blockade on humanitarian aid so that it can enter Tigray. In any case, Obasanjo said after meeting the leaders of both sides that he felt “optimistic about the possibility of finding a common ground for a peaceful resolution of the conflict,” according to a statement published on Sunday. To do this, he demanded a ceasefire from both parties and the cessation of all military offensive.

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The President of neighboring Kenya, Uhuru Kenyatta, also paid a visit to Addis Ababa on Sunday and met with Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, after which he again called for a ceasefire. “No one can do it instead. No intervention or attempt at persuasion will work if they do not have the political will to end this crisis on their own, ”he said. The US Secretary of State, Antony Blinken, is on an African tour this week and his first destination has been precisely Kenya. “The failure of the negotiations,” he commented, “would lead to the implosion of Ethiopia, which would have an impact on other countries in the region.”

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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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