Simon Ateba is Chief White House Correspondent for Today News Africa. Simon covers the U.S. government, the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank and other financial and international institutions in Washington D.C. He can be reached on [email protected]
The Eritrean government said on Wednesday that it “strongly rejects” a May 31 story published by Today News Africa detailing some of the atrocities its troops have been accused of committing in Ethiopia.
“This “journalist” from Today News Africa, Noah Pitcher, presents an article deluged with outlandish lies and irresponsible accusations against Eritrean Defense Force without any evidential value whatsoever,” the Eritrean Embassy in Washington DC said in a statement. “The intent of these unfounded allegations is to soil the reputation of Eritrean Defense Force and hence Eritrea, in alignment with the manufactured narrative being relentlessly created to dismantle the promising future of the Horn of Africa.”
The government of Eritrea claimed that Today News Africa reporter, Noah Pitcher, “is another tool in this diatribe to succumb Eritrea to her knees in an attempt to further their evil destabilizing agenda in the Horn of Africa.”
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In a statement to Today News Africa on Sunday, the Oromo Liberation Front accused the Eritrean troops of committing ongoing and widespread human rights abuses against civilians in Oromia and Benishangul-Gumuz regions of Ethiopia.
“As per the secret agreement made between Ethiopian ruling group and the Eritrean regime, the Eritrea forces have been deployed to Oromia and Benishangul-Gumuz regions and repeating the same atrocities on civilians as that of the Northern part of the country,” said the statement.
The OLF said Eritrean soldiers have been beating civilians, confiscating mobile phones, and arbitrarily detaining civilians in recent months in Oromia.
“The atrocities, that were proved in Tigray operations and evidenced by the international community investigations, are observed in similar fashion in Oromia,” asserted the Oromo Liberation Front.
With parts of Ethiopia inaccessible to journalists and the world despite many pleas from the United States, the United Nations and others, Today News Africa has heavily relied on statements and credible reports from governments, human rights organizations, activists, and associations, as well as non conventional interviews, and other challenging methods to shine light on the ongoing crisis in the country.
Calls by the United States to the Ethiopian and Eritrean governments to allow humanitarian access to the region have been rebuffed.
Human rights organizations and various government agencies trying to help also have employed non conventional methods to reach people cut off from the rest of the world in Ethiopia.
For instance, without access to the region, Amnesty International last February relied on non conventional methods, interviews and satellite imagery analysis by the organization’s Crisis Evidence Lab to corroborate reports of indiscriminate shelling and mass looting by Eritrean forces, as well as to identify signs of new mass burials near two of Axum’s churches.
The human rights organization concluded that “Eritrean troops fighting in Ethiopia’s Tigray state systematically killed hundreds of unarmed civilians in the northern city of Axum on November 28-29, 2020, opening fire in the streets and conducting house-to-house raids in a massacre that may amount to a crime against humanity.”
Back then, like now, the Eritrean government disputed the report, although Amnesty International had spoken to 41 survivors and witnesses – including in-person interviews with Ethiopian refugees in eastern Sudan and phone interviews with people in Axum – as well as 20 others with knowledge of the events.
They consistently described extrajudicial executions, indiscriminate shelling and widespread looting after Ethiopian and Eritrean troops led an offensive to take control of the city amid the conflict with the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) in mid-November, the organization said.
“The evidence is compelling and points to a chilling conclusion. Ethiopian and Eritrean troops carried out multiple war crimes in their offensive to take control of Axum. Above and beyond that, Eritrean troops went on a rampage and systematically killed hundreds of civilians in cold blood, which appears to constitute crimes against humanity,” said Deprose Muchena, Amnesty International’s Director for East and Southern Africa. “This atrocity ranks among the worst documented so far in this conflict. Besides the soaring death toll, Axum’s residents were plunged into days of collective trauma amid violence, mourning and mass burials.”
The organization said “the mass killings came just before the annual celebration at Axum Tsion Mariam, a major Ethiopian Orthodox Christian festival on November 30, compounding the trauma by casting a pall over an annual event that typically draws many pilgrims and tourists to the sacred city.”
The prolonged continuation of Eritrean military occupation in Ethiopia is believed by many to be a compromise of Ethiopian sovereignty and the ongoing disrespect for human lives has caused much controversy and has garnered condemnation from prominent players in the international community, including the United States.
On May 27, U.S. President Joseph R. Biden Jr. said he was “deeply concerned by the escalating violence and the hardening of regional and ethnic divisions in multiple parts of Ethiopia.”
In a personal statement, the American leader said “large-scale human rights abuses taking place in Tigray, including widespread sexual violence, are unacceptable and must end.”
He urged Ethiopian leaders and institutions to “promote reconciliation, human rights, and respect for pluralism.”
He wrote: “I am deeply concerned by the escalating violence and the hardening of regional and ethnic divisions in multiple parts of Ethiopia. The large-scale human rights abuses taking place in Tigray, including widespread sexual violence, are unacceptable and must end.
“Families of every background and ethnic heritage deserve to live in peace and security in their country. Political wounds cannot be healed through force of arms. Belligerents in the Tigray region should declare and adhere to a ceasefire, and Eritrean and Amhara forces should withdraw.
“Earlier this week, the UN Office of Humanitarian Affairs warned that Ethiopia could experience its first famine since the 1980s because of this protracted conflict. All parties, in particular the Ethiopian and Eritrean forces, must allow immediate, unimpeded humanitarian access to the region in order to prevent widespread famine.
“The United States urges Ethiopia’s leaders and institutions to promote reconciliation, human rights, and respect for pluralism. Doing so will preserve the unity and territorial integrity of the state, and ensure the protection of the Ethiopian people and the delivery of urgently needed assistance.
“The Government of Ethiopia and other stakeholders across the political spectrum should commit to an inclusive dialogue. Working together, the people of Ethiopia can build a shared vision for the country’s political future and lay the foundation for sustainable and equitable economic growth and prosperity.
“The United States is committed to helping Ethiopia address these challenges, building on the longstanding ties between our two nations and working with the African Union, United Nations, and other international partners. U.S. Special Envoy for the Horn of Africa Jeff Feltman is leading a renewed U.S. diplomatic effort to help peacefully resolve the interlinked conflicts across the region, including a resolution of the dispute over the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam that meets the needs of all parties.
“Special Envoy Feltman will return to the region next week and keep me apprised of his progress. America’s diplomacy will reflect our values: defending freedom, upholding universal rights, respecting the rule of law, and treating every person with dignity.”
On May 26, the United States government mourned a USAID partner killed, reportedly by Eritrean and Ethiopian soldiers in Ethiopia’s Tigray region. The government did not identify the victim but said “the deceased was a partner with USAID in providing desperately needed aid to the people of the region.”
In a statement, USAID Administrator Samantha Power expressed “heartfelt condolences to the family of an aid worker who was killed, reportedly by Eritrean and Ethiopian soldiers in Ethiopia’s Tigray region.”
Ms Power said since the onset of conflict in Tigray in November 2020, at least seven humanitarian workers are confirmed to have been killed while delivering assistance to those suffering in the region.
Last week, the United States Representative to the U.N. Linda Thomas-Greenfield said the Biden administration is continuously working to take diplomatic actions to help bring about an end to the crisis in Ethiopia’s Tigray region.
Ambassador Thomas-Greenfield recapped the diplomatic steps that the United States has taken toward addressing the conflict in Tigray, saying at a briefing, “President Biden sent his own emissary to Ethiopia; Senator Coons went out to meet with and try to engage with the government on this situation.”
“Jeff Feltman has just completed a visit to Ethiopia, and I have been actively engaged on this issue here in New York, insisting that it be put on the agenda of the Security Council and successfully getting a statement out of the Security Council,” she continued.
However, all those efforts by the United States, the African Union and others, have been fruitless for months as Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed has ignored pleas.
With diplomatic efforts failing, last week, the Biden administration expressed what it described as “deepening concerns” about the ongoing crisis in Ethiopia’s Tigray region “as well as other threats to the sovereignty, national unity, and territorial integrity of Ethiopia,” and announced a visa restriction for current and former Ethiopian and Eritrean government officials.
“Today, I am announcing a visa restriction policy under Section 212(a)(3)(C) of the Immigration and Nationality Act on the issuance of visas for any current or former Ethiopian or Eritrean government officials, members of the security forces, or other individuals—to include Amhara regional and irregular forces and members of the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF)—responsible for, or complicit in, undermining resolution of the crisis in Tigray,” U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a statement.
“This includes those who have conducted wrongful violence or other abuses against people in the Tigray region of Ethiopia, as well as those who have hindered access of humanitarian assistance to those in the region. Immediate family members of such persons may also be subject to these restrictions. Should those responsible for undermining a resolution of the crisis in Tigray fail to reverse course, they should anticipate further actions from the United States and the international community. We call on other governments to join us in taking these actions.
“Additionally, we have imposed wide-ranging restrictions on economic and security assistance to Ethiopia and will bring our defense trade control policy in line with them. We will continue humanitarian assistance and certain other critical aid to Ethiopia in areas such as health, food security, basic education, support for women and girls, human rights and democracy, good governance, and conflict mitigation, consistent with available authorities. The United States will continue its existing broad restrictions on assistance to Eritrea,” Blinken added.
Opposition members and activists have told Today News Africa that only a true dialogue and reconciliation can bring about peace and stability in Ethiopia.