Following a statement released by G7 Foreign Ministers on April 2nd, Eritrean troops have begun withdrawing from Tigray, Ethiopia. These troops were providing military support to the Ethiopian government but have been accused of carrying out massacres and human rights abuses in the country. Until last month, both the Ethiopian and Eritrean governments refused to admit Eritrean soldiers were stationed in Ethiopia, in spite of reports of human rights abuses from a number of international organizations. However, it is still difficult to determine how many Eritrean troops have left to date, and how quickly they will withdraw.
The government has not released any official statistics of causalities to date and denies that any exist, but according to the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission, more than 100 Ethiopians were killed in Tigray by Eritrean soldiers in November alone. The G7 response has been to call for “the end of violence and the establishment of a clear, inclusive political process that is acceptable to all Ethiopians, including those in Tigray.” Additionally, the UN and the U.S. have announced their intention to launch a joint investigation into the abuses that have occurred during the conflict. The crisis has also been gaining widespread media attention thanks to celebrities like The Weeknd, who recently donated $1 million to Ethiopians involved in the conflict.
While individual countries, like United States, have been calling for violence to cease since January, the statement released by all G7 members displays solidarity in their stance. Ethiopia has long been viewed as a strategic military ally to several G7 states, hence it is somewhat surprising to see these countries take such a hardline stance and risk damaging their relationship with the Ethiopian government. However, it is likely that stronger repercussions, such as trade embargos, may follow, should Ethiopia choose not to cooperate with investigations.
The current conflict began in November 2020, when Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed accused the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), who was the ruling party at the time, of attacking a military base and stealing weapons from there, leading him to launch an offensive against the TPLF. Eritrean soldiers were brought into the country to assist with hunting down their forces, but in addition to doing so, they have become involved with killing and committing violence against civilians. Tensions between Abiy and the TPLF have existed since 2018, however, when he came to power, disrupting almost 3 decades of TPLF rule. His regime brought many changes which made him unpopular with the old government, one of which was normalizing relations with Eritrea, which had been a long-time rival.
The International Crisis Group (ICG) has cautioned that the current conflict is at risk of continuing for many months, or even years. Already, according to the UN, around 60,000 Ethiopians have migrated across the border to Sudan due to the conflict. This could be potentially damaging for future relations between Ethiopia and its neighbors, as more Ethiopian asylum seekers look to settle in nearby countries. Therefore, action needs to be taken now, and the first step is to ensure all Eritrean troops are withdrawn from the country as soon as possible.