It has almost been a year since a civil war outbroke in Ethiopia’s northernmost region of Tigray. The conflict, which initially began in November 2020, has resulted in thousands deaths and displacement of millions more. A deep humanitarian crisis has developed with the proliferation of war crimes.
The origin of the conflict in Tigray is complex and stems from years of political corruption and power struggles. In 2018, tension started rapidly building when Prime Minister Abiy Amed came into power and ended the Tigray People’s Liberation Front’s (TPLF) 30 years of power. When Amed became prime minister, he sought to keep democratic peace and prevent war at all costs. He even made amends with Eritrea, a neighbouring country that was previously in conflict with the TPLF’s government. The TPLF clearly began to feel marginalized. Hence, when Amed’s government postponed elections in March 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the TPLF saw it as Amed’s way of holding onto power. In response, the region of Tigray held parliamentary elections anyway, as an act of opposition. Thus, both the TPLF and Amed felt that the opposing government was illegitimate. The TPLF claimed that Amed’s power had gone untested for too long, while he cited that the TPLF’s election was held illegally. The conflict heightened on an early morning on November 4, when TPLF forces attacked a government military base. Amed sent troops to counter this attack, and civil war blew up from there.
Last April, the United Nations Security Council released a statement that expressed their deep concerns about allegations of human right abuses and violations. However, governments on both sides have completely disregarded this statement. The government of Ethiopia has enforced a blockade on the one road leading to the Tigray region, which has completely barred them from receiving any humanitarian aids. By doing this, the Ethiopian government has cut off food to over four million people and deliberately used hunger and starvation as a weapon of war, despite denying all claims.
The TPLF has also regularly recruited child soldiers to create human waves with the intent of overwhelming Ethiopian forces. Since Ethiopian forces will not shoot directly at children, the TPLF have even developed a corrupt strategy to use these children as human shields. Ann Fitz-Gerald, a political science professor at WLU, has stated that “the use of children to support any element of armed conflict constitutes a war crime.” Further, war crimes like rape and mass killings have repeatedly occurred on both sides of the civil war. A massacre in the town Mai Kadra last November left hundreds of innocent civilians mercilessly hacked to death. According to Al Jazeera, hundreds of women have reported accounts of rape since the beginning of the conflict. Despite war crimes being committed under broad daylight, a specific tally of these incidents is impossible, as media coverage and information is incomplete and impaired by heavy battles.
While the complete halt of fighting is unlikely, the international community must do better to prevent further war crimes. The priority of governments should be to keep the fighting away from citizens, and to resume media coverage into the effects of the war. The violence in Tigray has created an immeasurable humanitarian impact, and calls for an end must be made swiftly.