After an eight-month conflict killing thousands, displacing two million, and pushing roughly 350,000 people toward famine, Ethiopia’s government has declared a ceasefire in its northern Tigray region. On Monday 28 June, residents in Tigray’s capital Mekelle sighted the region’s former governing party, the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), returning to the city for the first time since fighting began in November 2020. Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, who previously dismissed international appeals to stop the fighting in Tigray, has agreed that the unilateral ceasefire will last until the end of farming season in September.
According to state-affiliated Fana Broadcasting Corporate, Tigray’s federal government-appointed interim administration initiated talks of ceasefire with the hopes that desperately needed aid could be delivered. While the interim administration fled the region, United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres echoed their sentiments, “[I]t is essential that civilians are protected, humanitarian aid reaches the people in need, and a political solution is found.”
Pressure on Ethiopia to call a ceasefire had been rising internationally, particularly amid growing violence. Estimates suggest 64 people were killed and another 180 injured in an airstrike on a market in Togoga, a town 18 miles (30km) north-west of Mekelle. The airstrike became regarded as the “deadliest single incident of the eight-month civil war” by Simon Marks and Abdi Latif Dahir of The New York Times. It was supposedly executed by Ethiopian forces following the TPLF’s brief but strategic occupation of Adigrat and the recent heated election.
22 June’s attack prompted U.K. minister for Africa James Duddridge to restate their demand for a ceasefire, adding that the federal government should adhere to international humanitarian law. The United States and European Union both condemned the devastating airstrike, and have, alongside the United Nations, called for investigations into the attack. This move represents a shift in the U.S approach to Ethiopia’s conflict. President Joe Biden and other American officials were hesitant to reprimand Prime Minister Abiy’s actions, despite a report obtained by The New York Times rendering the conflict in Ethiopia as ethnic cleansing.
Initially fearing the U.S. would risk their decades-long ties with Ethiopia, the state department has since urged Ethiopian authorities to “ensure full and unhindered medical access to the victims immediately.” This reveals a deeper issue stemming from humanitarian crisis. The inaccessibility of medical assistance and humanitarian aid has been an ongoing concern since attacks began in November. Prime Minister Abiy then ordered that communications to the Tigray region be severed alongside transportation routes. At the time, the UN estimated that only 20 percent of the region could be reached by aid groups as a result of government-imposed restrictions.
This trend has been alarming throughout the eight-month conflict, as evidenced by last week’s display of violence. Around 20 health workers in six ambulances were held at a checkpoint for over an hour, preventing them from attending to the wounded at Togoga. Military spokesperson Col Getnet Adane told Jason Burke of The Guardian that the TPLF were known for faking injuries, continuing that the doctors quoted by the media were not “real” practitioners.
Col Getnet Adane went so far as to deny the attack on Togoga targeted civilians, suggesting to AFP that those injured or killed were fighters “in civilian clothes.” However, indiscriminate shelling of cities in Tigray by Ethiopian officials has reportedly been responsible for the deaths of many. In March, staff from Doctors Without Borders witnessed Ethiopian soldiers killing “at least four” civilians while traveling from Mekelle to Adigrat.
Although Monday’s ceasefire is a notable first step, ending this deadly conflict will require both an acknowledgement of the lives lost at the hands of authorities and increased guaranteed access to much needed humanitarian aid. According to the UN, two million people need assistance, alongside 45,000 others who fled to Sudan. Not only has this conflict caused so much destruction, it has direct repercussions for the country’s future. Human Rights Watch has documented attacks on school, disrupting children’s ability to receive an education and necessitating psychological and mental health support for over 48,500 teachers. The regional and federal governments must address both the overt and underlying impacts of their actions, as well as cooperate with international bodies to provide support to their people. Only then, will there be an end to this conflict.
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