International attention grows on Ethiopia’s Tigray region as U.S. Secretary of State Blinken and Doctors Without Borders condemn violations of human rights

The Tigray region has been embroiled in an armed conflict between state security forces and the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF). Just this week, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken called for the deployment of an international peacekeeping force after describing human rights abuses occurring in Tigray during a congressional testimony, “A force that will not abuse the human rights of the people of Tigray or commit acts of ethnic cleansing, which we’ve seen in western Tigray. That has to stop.”

Secretary of State Antony Blinken delivers remarks to employees at the U.S. Department of State in Washington, D.C., on January 27, 2021. [State Department Photo by Ron Przysucha/ Public Domain] 
Secretary of State Antony Blinken delivers remarks to employees at the U.S. Department of State in Washington, D.C., on January 27, 2021. [State Department Photo by Ron Przysucha/ Public Domain]

Blinken’s statement is the first from a major international figure to describe the events as “ethnic cleansing.”

The government of Ethiopia denies these claims in a statement from Ethiopia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, “Nothing during or after the end of the main law enforcement operation in Tigray can be identified or defined by any standards as a targeted, intentional ethnic cleansing against anyone in the region.” Ethiopia’s Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed received the Nobel peace prize in 2019 but now stands accused of committing horrific acts against a minority population.

During his Nobel peace prize acceptance speech in 2019, the Prime Minister posited that, “war creates savage men.” That same year, an Amnesty International report detailed the horrific rape, extrajudicial executions, and arson committed by Ethiopian police forces.

The attacks on medical facilities have devastated an already grueling effort to provide medical care in the combatted region. MSF says that out “of 106 health facilities visited by MSF teams between mid-December 2020 and early March 2021, nearly 70% had been looted, and more than 30% had been damaged; just 13% were functioning normally.”

While some of the looting has been opportunistic, most of the attacks were committed with the intention of blocking access to care. In the North-West Tigray region, MSF found “destroyed equipment, smashed doors and windows, and medicine and patient files scattered across floors. Similarly, in central Tigray, the Adwa hospital saw expensive equipment, such as ultrasound machines and monitors, deliberately destroyed.

MSF and other medical facilities are not the only social services harmed by the conflict. The United Nations Humanitarian Office warns of a growing number of starving people, disruptions in electricity and communication, and mass displacement happening in the Tigray region. In addition, the latest violence interrupts the region’s harvest season, potentially causing unforetold economic loses and famines for the region’s poorest farmers.

The culmination of these factors has led to a truly disastrous journey for Tigray and Ethiopia as a whole.

The East African nation’s unique political system was previously praised for its decentralized approach to governance. However, recent events have shown how this same decentralization can lead to the local militarization currently rocking the nation.

The recent statement by Secretary Blinken and press generated from the MSF statement will surely contribute to finally bringing international attention to the Tigray region.

Building a durable peace in the region will require relationship building, reconciliation, and mediation. The current question of who or how this peace will be delivered will be determined by the timing and intensity of the international response. 

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