On June 3rd, 2021, The Ethiopian Government released a statement defending its presence and actions within its northern Tigray province. The statement was released by Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s office and “condemned the acts that put life and dignity of civilians in danger.” In the past months, the Ethiopian National Defense Forces (ENDF), have been at war with the Tigray Peoples Liberation Front (TPLF), the leading party of the Tigray region.
The conflict began in November 2020 following the postponement of a general election to an undetermined date, causing conflict to arise between the two fronts when the TPLF ran an unauthorized election defying an order by Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, who has ruled Ethiopia since 2018. This in combination with deep ethnic and political divides within the region led to the outbreak of a violent and devastating war.
The Ethiopian government has faced mass scrutiny for its response to the violence as millions of Tigray citizens were believed to have been killed by ENDF forces when Prime Minister Ahmed launched an attack against the region’s ruling party. Further, CNN has reported that Eritrean soldiers, who are working with the TPLF, have been blocking routes that are used to provide aid to the area. The Ethiopian forces were intended to leave the area a month before this was discovered, highlighting the continued damaging presence within the area. This prompted an investigation by the United Nations, who denounced the acts. Further, in response to the investigation by CNN, the United States Government Secretary Antony Blinken commanded for Ethiopia and Eritrea to “take all necessary steps to ensure that their forces in Tigray cease this reprehensible conduct.”
The statement released by the Ethiopian government condemned critics of their forces stating that their criticism was an “orchestrated attack that is condescending in nature; often patronising in tone; belligerent in approach and destructive in the outcome.” The spokesperson for the government, Billene Seyoum Woldeyes, highlighted the state’s goal of the Ethiopian government stating that “While these efforts may have been marred by various challenges given the complexity of any armed engagement, these efforts nevertheless have been underway and centered on enabling the return of normalcy for our people in Tigray.”
Thousands of civilians are believed to have been killed by Eritrean and Ethiopian forces and many more have been exposed to sexual violence and other forms of abuse. In a state-appointed Human Rights investigation, a commission found “preliminary evidence that more than 100 people in Axum were killed by Eritrean soldiers in November 2020.” This confirmed reports that were produced by Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch organizations.
The statement provided by Prime Minister Ahmed stated that “any soldier found responsible for committing atrocities in Tigray” would be held accountable. This highlights the significance of violence committed by both Ethiopian and Eritrean troops. While this is a step toward justice, the continued defense of action toward critics highlights the work that must still be done to provide justice for the people of Tigray and Ethiopia.
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