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]
Ethiopia, Africa’s second most populous nation is resilient, powerful and filled with smart people, and will one day overcome its current challenges, but for Tigrayans, everyday life under Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed Ali seems a bit like being in hell.
This does not mean Ethiopia is going to hell any time soon. The East African nation has seen greater challenges in the past and has been able to over come them.
But, the status quo in Tigray, northern Ethiopia, and the escalating conflict there, at a time the United Nations says hundreds of thousands of people are at greater risk of unprecedented famine, remain a big concern.
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At her press briefing on Friday, July 16, Jalina Porter, Principal Deputy Spokesperson at the United States Department of State said the Biden administration remains “gravely concerned by reports of ongoing hostilities in Tigray, and evidence of escalating military confluence – conflict in Tigray’s western and southern zones.”
“There is, of course, significant risk that such conflict may expand outside of that region,” she said.
Ms. Porter called on all parties “to end the hostilities and pursue a negotiated ceasefire immediately,” asserting that “escalating fire will only undermine critical ongoing efforts to deliver much-needed humanitarian relief to the famine-affected populations in Tigray.”
A large number of eyewitnesses and international organizations have reported severe human rights abuses. According to the United Nations (OCHA), the situation in Tigray has deteriorated dramatically in recent weeks. Specifically, some 400,000 people have crossed the threshold into famine.
Germany recently made available an additional 15 million euro for humanitarian assistance in Ethiopia. The funds are being disbursed to, among others, the World Food Program.
In its Friday statement, Germany called for a “safe, unhindered and permanent humanitarian access” into Ethiopia’s Tigray, warning that “there is the danger of a renewed increase in severe violence between different population groups.”
“The latest reports out of Ethiopia are worrying: in Tigray, we are witnessing a further deterioration of the humanitarian situation; there have been clashes again, and there is the danger of a renewed increase in severe violence between different population groups. These developments must be stopped while that is still possible,” read a statement by a Federal Foreign Office Spokesperson. “We call on everyone involved to agree and adhere to an immediate ceasefire. It is completely clear that all foreign troops must immediately and fully withdraw from the region, and that we need a transparent investigation into the human rights violations. Any redrawing of borders through armed force or by other unconstitutional means is unacceptable.”
Germany said “safe, unhindered and permanent humanitarian access to Tigray must now be the top priority. Those who have fled because of the conflict must be able to return safely to their homes.”
The latest call by Germany came only a day after Chancellor Angela Merkel met with President Joseph R. Biden Jr. at the White House in Washington D.C.
The Biden administration has been vocal in calling for a quick resolution to the conflict in Tigray. However, the armed conflict in the Tigray region in northern Ethiopia since November 2020 has continued to pose a major threat to the civilian population and has resulted in substantial flows of migrants towards the Sudan.
More worrisome, beyond famine and death, the government of Abiy Ahmed Ali has begun detaining Tigrayans across the country, according to rights groups.
The disturbing new trend prompted Amnesty International on Thursday to ask the government of Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed Ali to immediately end the “arbitrary detentions of Tigrayans, activists and journalists in Addis Ababa and reveal the whereabouts of unaccounted detainees.”
The international human rights organization asserted that police in Addis Ababa have arbitrarily arrested and detained dozens of Tigrayans without due process, following the recapture on June 28 of the Tigray region’s capital, Mekelle, by forces from the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) that also calls itself Tigray Defence Forces (TDF).
Amnesty International said the arrests “appear to be ethnically motivated”, with former detainees, witnesses and lawyers describing how police checked identity documents before arresting people and taking them to detention centers.
It said during its investigation, it remotely interviewed 14 people in Addis Ababa, including former detainees, eyewitnesses to arrests, and relatives and lawyers of those still in detention.
“Following the withdrawal of the Ethiopian National Defense Force from parts of Tigray and the announcement of a unilateral ceasefire by the Federal government on 28 June, for the last two weeks Tigrayans in Addis Ababa have been arbitrarily arrested and detained. Former detainees told us that police stations are filled with people speaking Tigrinya, and that authorities had conducted sweeping mass arrests of Tigrayans,” said Deprose Muchena, Amnesty International’s Director for East and Southern Africa. “Amnesty International urges the Ethiopian government to end this wave of arbitrary arrests, and to ensure that all detainees are either promptly charged with internationally recognized crimes and given fair trials, or immediately and unconditionally released. The government must also inform families of the whereabouts of those detained and ensure that they have access to lawyers and their relatives.”
The human rights group said while some people have been released on bail, approximately hundreds of others remain in detention, and their whereabouts unknown, noting that it is not aware of any internationally recognizable criminal charges against those still in detention who were arrested in these cases documented by the organization.
“Ethiopian law requires police to present detainees in court within 48 hours of arrest to review the grounds for arrest. Promptly bringing detainees before a judicial authority is an important safeguard against torture, ill-treatment and enforced disappearance,”Amnesty International said.
Observers now believe that as things continue to worsen, beyond statements and warnings, for ordinary people in Tigray, everyday life remains as hard as hell, and will remain that way until concrete action is taken or proper pressure is applied by the international community, especially the United States of America, to see a real change on the ground.
That change will include a functioning regional government, access to food and medication, access to school and a complete rebuilding of what was destroyed during the war. And finally, those who committed human rights abuses would have to be held accountable.