Ethiopia Refutes Ethnic Cleansing Allegations

Ethiopia rejects US allegations of ‘ethnic cleansing’ in Tigray

Among the international, Tigrayan conflict-induced tensions, Ethiopia’s relationship with the United States was further complicated on Saturday after Ethiopia’s Ministry of Foreign affairs denied the U.S. allegations of performing ethnic cleansing in the Tigray region. The sharp reply came three days after the U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken had asserted that “ethnic cleansing has happened in western Tigray” on Wednesday, 10 March, according to the Associated Press. Calling Blinken’s allegation a “completely unfounded and spurious verdict,” the statement ardently denied any ethnic cleansing. Now, after criticisms regarding the validity and accuracy of an Ethiopian internal investigation into the treatment of Tigrayans, the Ethiopian government appears open to a probe “featuring outside groups,” according to the Associated Press and The Washington Post. As of Wednesday, 17 March, the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission (EHRC) has requested joint investigation with the UN. The UN Human Rights Chief Michelle Bachelet has agreed and there is a current plan for investigation being developed between the two bodies, according to Jonathan Fowler, the spokesman for the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights.

Ethiopia’s denial of ethnic cleansing, rather than subduing suspicions, appears to have sparked further international interest. In a briefing published on 12 March 2021, the UN Humanitarian Office maintains that the “humanitarian situation in Tigray remains extremely concerning.” UN Human Rights Chief Michelle Bachelet, while currently working with the EHRC to develop a joint investigation, expressed concerns for the “possible war crimes” inflicted on the Tigrayan people. As The Africa Report chillingly summarizes, “This is arguably, Africa’s hidden world war.”

The joint investigation being developed by the UN Human Rights Office and the EHRC is an essential first step towards halting the suffering of this hidden war. However, it is imperative that any investigation be completely thorough, an action that may be hampered when working directly with the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission. Not only must the commission allow for complete access to the Tigray region, but to all relevant governmental bodies. Eritrea’s probable military presence in November 2020, which will be touched upon later in this article, must also be investigated. To understand the full extent of violence and possible war crimes, both Ethiopia and Eritrea need to be scrutinized during this investigation. 

This combative conflict between Ethiopia’s federal government and the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), a northern regional government, began in early November 2020 after Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed ordered government troops into Tigray, citing an alleged Tigrayan attack on the federal, Northern Command. Years of tension caused by Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s rise to power in 2018, replacing the previous government which the TPLF had great influence in, constitute the grounds for the current combative conflict. Among the violence that has persisted since November 2020, an Amnesty International report describes the brutal massacre in the city of Axum by Eritrean forces. Between 19 and 29, hundreds of citizens were killed. With men and boys being executed, fleeing citizens being shot, and looting done in an already food-insecure area, the event is a clear violation of human rights. However, even currently, there are conflicting statements regarding the use of Eritrean forces with some high ranking officials denying their presence and others confirming it. Both Ethiopia and Eritrea officially refute the force’s presence, contradicting the many witnesses and victims as Amnesty International’s report reveals. Their conflicting statements dangerously obscures the violence of November while also casting doubt on Ethiopia’s denial regarding allegations of ethnic cleansing. 

Ethiopia’s denial of ethnic cleansing was sharp and clear, yet provided little concrete assurance. While the findings of the UN and EHRC joint investigation will be most illuminating regarding the honesty of the Ethiopian government on the Tigray conflict, there already exists doubt in the government’s actions. With years of tension and conflict constituting this violence’s backdrop, it would appear that Ethiopia will continue to have internal, ethnic struggles in the coming years. The UN’s involvement, however, will potentially serve to quell the worst of the violence. While the investigation is underway, it is imperative to still remain vigilant and responsive to the sufferings caused by this conflict.