The United Nations Security Council (UNSC) reconvened amidst escalating violence in Ethiopia, advocating in a statement for “an end to hostilities and the negotiation of a lasting ceasefire.” The statement was delivered a day after the first year anniversary of the start of the conflict in Ethiopia’s Tigray region. The armed dispute has left thousands dead, over two million displaced, and fueled dire humanitarian crises. This including the world’s worst hunger crises in a decade, ethnic cleansing, gang rape, and mass executions, among other horrific human rights violations. The UN did conclude whether or not genocide was committed. However, an internal report by the United States concluded that forces allied with Ethiopia’s government “deliberately and efficiently” rendered Western Tigray “ethnically homogeneous through the organized use of force and intimidation.”
Fears continue to grow that the conflict will reach the nation’s capital, Addis Adaba, as the armed wing of the Tigray People’s Liberation Front, or TPLF, announce their intentions to overthrow it. Already, the government has tightened restrictions throughout the country in preparation for attacks, imposing a six-month national state of emergency and mandating all civilians to carry identification with them at all times. The provision also allows for “the conscription of citizens who own firearms and are of age for military service, roadblocks, communication outages” and “the search and arrest of people deemed cooperating with “terrorist groups.” Hundreds have reportedly been detained after being accused of supporting Tigrayan forces.
The capital’s security is becoming increasingly jeopardized and the international community more vocal demanding a ceasefire. Ethiopian Prime Minister and former Nobel Peace Prize recipient, Abiy Ahmed, urged citizens to mobilize, rise up, and “bury” Tigrayan forces. Ahmed asserted that “[T]he obligation to die for Ethiopia belongs to all of us, by holding any weapon or capacity.” Facebook, much to the displeasure of the Ethiopian government, removed the post, saying it violated policies against inciting violence.
This is not the first time the government has used hateful rhetoric regarding rebel forces. Another recent post compared Tigrayan forces to “a rat that strays far from its hole” and declared that the country is close to “burying the evil forces.” Previous posts have referred to Tigrayan forces as “cancer” and “weeds.”
In an August address towards the UNSC, United Nations Secretary-General warned “[I]nflammatory rhetoric and ethnic profiling are tearing apart the social fabric of the country.” The UN special adviser on the prevention of genocide, Alice Wairimu Nderitu, released a statement on the matter, explaining that “dehumanizing speech” in Ethiopia is “of extreme concern.” She warned of increasingly likely risks that the war will “spill across borders” and become “something completely unmanageable.”
Already, Ndetiru’s fears have amounted to reality. The conflict has spilled out of the Tigray region and into the neighboring Amhara and Afar regions. Kenya, with which Ethiopia shares a border, has also shared concerns about the conflict affecting the region at large, tightening border security and warning civilians to remain vigilant.
Overwhelmingly, the international community has called for a ceasefire. The UNSC’s recent statement implores all forces to work towards the “creation of conditions for the start of an inclusive Ethiopian national dialogue to resolve the crisis.” Further, the statement advocates for “unhindered humanitarian access” and “the re-establishment of public services.” Both of these must be central priorities in international and domestic endeavors to address the catastrophic humanitarian consequences resulting from the escalating conflict.
It is important to consider that Ethiopia was plagued with ethnic, political, and economic instability before the current dispute between the TPLF and Ethiopian government. As such, efforts to reinstate dialogue between warring groups should be inclusive of representatives from each of Ethiopia’s ethnic groups, in hopes of reaching shared understandings and perhaps, compromise. Additionally, the international community should continue to condemn the usage of hateful rhetoric, which will impede efforts to generate peace and deepen animosity. Social media sites should remain vigilant for inflammatory language, taking down harmful posts swiftly.
In the event that forces refuse to lay down their arms, the international community must continue to refrain from military intervention. Vulnerable communities will be increasingly threatened by further military presence, and the subsequent escalation of conflict. An “end” to the conflict resulting only from the pressure of international military presence is likely to result in impermanent peace or the country’s separation. Instead, worried states should continue to impose carefully targeted sanctions on both the Ethiopian and Eritrean military forces, careful to avoid inadvertently obstructing humanitarian aid from reaching those who need it most.
Addressing the humanitarian consequences of this conflict must remain of utmost priority. The international community should continue engaging with Ahmed’s government- appealing for the safe passage of humanitarian aid workers to the Tigray region, and emphasizing the importance of preventing Ethiopia from fracturing. These problems inevitably result in regional instability, an overwhelming refugee crises, and widespread human suffering of incomprehensible proportions.
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