The launch of Amnesty International’s annual report on the global situation of human rights this Tuesday (28), in Paris, recalled one of the most violent conflicts of 2022: the civil war in Ethiopia, which ended on November 2, two days before the age of two. “The deadliest conflict in 2022 was in Ethiopia,” but it remained far from “global attention,” AI Secretary General Agnès Callamard said.
The civil war would have killed, according to AI estimates, “hundreds of thousands of people, making it one of the deadliest conflicts in recent memory”. According to the report, “much of this carnage was concealed, distributed in a largely invisible campaign of ethnic cleansing against Tigris in Western Tigray. [região etíope]”.
Origins of the conflict
Abiy Ahmed took over as Ethiopia’s prime minister in 2018, ousting the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) party from the center of power, where it had been for nearly three decades. Although the country achieved stability and prosperity at that time, as reported by the BBC, there was discontent with democracy and human rights in the country, which led to demonstrations against the government and the appointment of Ahmed as prime minister.
Ahmed, in promoting reforms, encountered resistance from the TPLF, who saw them as attempts to centralize power, generating a political crisis. In September 2020, Tigre defied the central government by proposing its own regional elections. Both sides considered themselves “illegitimate”.
In the following October, the government cut transfers and relations with the region. Ahmed stated that Tigré had crossed the line. “The federal government is therefore forced into a military confrontation,” he said.
The conflict began on November 4, 2020, when the Prime Minister ordered a military offensive against regional forces in the Tigray region, and lasted for almost two years practically out of the eyes of the world.
According to Amnesty International’s report, since the beginning of the conflict in 2020, the government has imposed restrictions on humanitarian aid to Tigray. According to the UN’s international commission of human rights experts in Ethiopia, the government has also used starvation as a method of warfare. “And the closure of banking and communications services has exacerbated the humanitarian crisis,” the AI document highlighted.
Tens of thousands of people fled, seeking refuge in other countries. In Sudan, in 2022 alone, there were 59,800 people. According to AI, “Saudi Arabia ‘forcibly returned’ tens of thousands of Ethiopian migrants after arbitrarily detaining them in inhumane conditions because they did not have valid residence documents, subjecting them to torture and other ill-treatment”.
A joint report by Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, released in April 2022, after a year of work, concluded that authorities in the Western Tigray and Amhara regions were “responsible for a campaign of ethnic cleansing, through crimes against humanity and war crimes,” targeting civilian Tigers in Western Tigray since the beginning of the conflict.
According to Amnesty International, there were mass arrests in 2022, targeting Tigrins (an ethnicity of about 7% of the Ethiopian population) in various parts of the country. “Thousands were arrested in official and clandestine places without judicial oversight over their arrests and without access to lawyers,” noted an excerpt from the report. Killings of civilians, including mass murders, by security forces and armed groups have also been reported. “A video that circulated on social media showed three people being burned alive,” the report said.
The AI document, which talks about 2022, even mentioned rape and sexual violence perpetrated by Tigraine forces in the Afar region as part of the conflict, with victims being abandoned by their husbands and being stigmatized by society. And at least 29 journalists and media professionals working in the Tigray region were arrested last year for “collaborating with the enemy”, the document noted.
The agreement, signed on November 2, 2022, put an end to the two-year conflict on November 4. In addition to calling for an immediate cessation of fighting, the parties committed themselves to an unimpeded flow of humanitarian aid.
“The peace agreement has improved the situation, allowing humanitarian agencies to deliver more aid to areas difficult to access during hostilities. This means more people in northern Ethiopia can access critical services now and [serem] accompanied in search of solutions,” said the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Filippo Grandi, on a three-day visit to Ethiopia in February.
The agreement also set out a blueprint for the relationship between Tigray and the federal government, which would suspend the TPLF’s designation as a terrorist group, and an interim Tigray administration – which, as of September 2020, had established its own regional government, – is expected to govern the region until elections are held.
On March 20, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken announced that the United States had concluded that war crimes and crimes against humanity had been committed by both sides during the conflict.
“Formal recognition of atrocities by all parties is an essential step towards achieving sustainable peace. Those most responsible for these atrocities must be held accountable, including those in command positions,” said Blinken, who was in Addis Ababa, the capital of Ethiopia, where he “celebrated the ‘significant’ reduction in human rights violations thanks to the peace agreement signed between the Ethiopian government and the northern Tigray region,” a pact backed by Washington, reported EFE.
On March 23 of this year, while the eyes of the West continued to be focused on the latest developments in the war in Ukraine, the first steps were taken towards the implementation of a peace agreement between the Tigray rebels and the central government of Ethiopia, with the first -minister installing an interim government in Tigray, led by a TPLF leader, Getachew Reda.
“The designated interim president of Tigray has been given the responsibility of forming an inclusive cabinet that ensures representation of the various political forces operating in the region,” the prime minister’s office said in a statement. The day before, the country’s parliament approved the withdrawal of the designation of a terrorist group from the TPLF.
In addition to the consequences of the civil war, the Ethiopian people are experiencing a period of drought caused by the La Niña phenomenon and worsened by climate change, reported The Economist magazine.
According to UN estimates, 20 million people were food insecure in Ethiopia last year. The drought in the region mainly affects Somalia, where about 43,000 people died in 2022 (half of them children), in addition to Djibouti, Ethiopia and Kenya. It is the longest dry spell in the Horn of Africa region in 40 years.
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