Abiy Ahmed’s Parliamentary Briefing on Tigray(ans): Fact and Reality check –Part I
This part looks at the extent to which Mr Ahmed has admitted gross crimes in Tigray.
Isaac M. 27.03.21
In his lengthy parliamentary address of 23 March 2021, on current national and regional issues, Abiy Ahmed of Ethiopia admitted atrocities and sexual violence committed by his army and the Eritrean forces in Tigray, and the ‘crossing’ of Eritrean forces into Tigray, Ethiopia. These and issues of withdrawal of the forces and accountability for mass abuses are Fact and Reality checked in two parts.
On civilian atrocities
1. Without answering serious questions about his earlier report to the very same House regarding ‘the no single civilian was killed’ claim in the Tigray conflict, he has now hesitantly admitted the fact that ‘atrocities have been documented’ in the operations.
The case of dreadful atrocities in Tigray is true. However, he downplayed the magnitude as exaggerated propaganda by the remnants of the ‘junta’. He did not mention the fact that atrocities are still going on in Tigray as a matter of coordinated policy. On the same day of his lecture, 21 civilians were murdered by his federal army in a placed called May Abagie close to Wikro and Adi-grat after troops stopped two civilian vehicles and separated male Tigrayans for purposes of mercilessly executing them. Medecins Sans Frontieres, or MSF has confirmed such a killing of 4 male civilians. His troops are killing civilians in Mekelle, Adwa and other cities of Tigray every day. Similar killings were committed in various parts of Tigray by Eritrean forces while he was briefing his parliament.
On mass rape and sexual violence
2. Abiy Ahmed accepted that Tigray women have been subjected to rape and sexual violence by his federal army and the Eritrean forces.
This is correct, but he downplayed the seriousness of the horrendous and callous abuses perpetrated by his forces against women:
(i)He did not recognise the scale and systemic nature of the assaults.
(ii) appallingly, he said that ‘Tigray women are raped by men, but federal soldiers were attacked by bayonets’ when suggesting that the case of rape in Tigray is exaggerated. He does not seem to know and understand, or he intentionally ignored that using rape as a weapon is very serious war crime from which healing is extremely difficult. CNN reported that the rape operation in Tigray is part of the on-going genocide against Tigrayans. According to UK Parliamentary debate held on 25 March more than 10,000 rapes have occurred in Tigray. His comparison of rape and assaults among armed men and women appears to justify his revenge against female Tigrayans because of what he claims to have happened against federal soldiers. And
(iii) the gang rapes and sexual violence against Tigrayan women have been accompanied by cruel and inhumane treatment of girls and mothers. This includes shooting at them, putting objects in to their body, inflicting bodily injury some of which reported by the UN and others. Some rape survivors who lost their legs and arms are receiving limited medical treatment in Tigray and thousands maybe suffering in their homes, bushes and rural and urban areas due to lack of security, medical facility and supply and due to cultural reasons.
Mr Ahmed’s admission of sexual violence is, hence, superficial, dishonest and unapologetic. He does not look he has daughters, let alone to show sympathy, humanity and leadership on the on-going widespread crimes against Tigray mothers and sisters.
On incidental damages
3. He attributed the widespread civilian harm and destruction in Tigray to collateral or incidental damages of war. He appallingly compared the Tigray catastrophe with Iraq and Afghanistan to suggest that what has happened is not too bad when matched with other conflict cases.
This is not true and amounts to a deliberate distortion of facts and events for the following reasons: A house-to-house, street-to-street and village-to-village civilian murder targeting the male population of Tigray cannot be considered as collateral damage by any standard. The deliberate and indiscrete shelling of Tigray cities, towns and villages, as widely documented by independent bodies including by his own commission, are not incidental consequence of war. In fact, we don’t know about all atrocities already committed, or continue to be committed, by his forces, the Eritrean army and the Amhara militia. Other than the Islamic State beheadings, their abuses of religious groups and the indiscriminate suicide bombings by the Taliban, such a colossal extrajudicial killings, systematic rape and intentional destruction of wealth has not been seen since Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia conflicts.
On comparison of the Tigray tragedy with other cases
4. Mr Ahmed compared the Tigray atrocities and associated crimes with that of the Metekel, Wolega and Afar killings and instability, and downplayed the noises against him.
His comparison of the dire Tigray situation with other internal crises is both factually and morally wrong. Any atrocity is evil and must be condemned. Yet you don’t say -shut-up because people are dying elsewhere. When he talks about these other atrocities and displacements, you don’t see a sense of sympathy to victims, families and community from him. Ethiopia got an extremely dangerous and cruel leader, sadly.
The comparison he has made between other internal crises and the Tigray situation is also factually wrong; what is happening in Tigray is not analogous to the tragedies that are unfolding somewhere else for several reasons:
(i) Mr Ahmed has deployed his entire federal army which embraces the ground and air forces, the entire Eritrean army, the Amhara forces and UAE drones; in doing so, he has almost totally destroyed Tigray’s infrastructure as reported by UN agencies and others; and has also exposed the people of Tigray to invading and merciless foreign forces.
(ii) He is committing state-sponsored war crimes and crimes against humanity against the people of Tigray in all forms and shapes ranging from taking innocent lives and assaulting women en mass to starving them to death and destroying their farmlands, plants, domestic animals, grains and houses.
On accusing and reenforcing his hate campaign against Tigrayans
5. He accused Tigrayans for protesting and crying for ending atrocities as remnants of the TPLF junta who are spending their ‘wealth amassed from corruption’ to lobby and mislead their UN and American connections.
His accusation of corrupting UN and US officials is not only baseless but also dangerous. He is, in fact, insulting the entire Tigray diaspora community and their friends who are standing for justice as corrupt and as remnants of his former mentors, the TPLF leaders. Such an insult and attack is also targeting rights and media groups, international organisations and governments who are saying stop the crimes. He is accusing them as corrupt and TPLF loyalists.
The continuous propaganda and name calling against Tigrayans as corrupt, as back stabbers, as killers of soldiers, as anti-Ethiopia, etc has been part of his ethnic cleansing and genocidal tactic. His genocidal code which includes ‘day-hyenas’ and now ‘junta’ have been effectively used to indiscriminately kill, maim, ethnically profile and abuse Tigrayans inside and outside Tigray. Such two-state sponsored crimes are only happening against Tigrayans.
The truth is that the war Mr Ahmed is waging in Tigray with Afewerki, and Amhara leaders is not, and has never been, against the TPLF. It is against the people of Tigray. What has been happening in the last five months in Tigray and against Tigrayans tell it all.
On holding those responsible accountable
6. Mr Ahmed has said for the first time since the start of the war that he is committed to hold those who have perpetrated atrocities and rape accountable. This includes federal, Amhara and Eritrean forces. Yet the Eritreans who have committed crimes would be tried in Eritrea, according to his speech.
There is no evidence to suggest that Mr Ahmed is either committed to justice or he changed his policy of stopping mass crimes in Tigray. His statement on this is therefore a mere propaganda. Why do we say he and his associates have no commitment to justice and the rule of law?
(i) The mass killings, rapes, eviction and property destruction appear to be designed by himself, Isaias Afewerki and Amhara leaders or deliberately tolerated for political purposes.
(ii)He and his associates in crime have been fireclay rejecting any atrocity until his parliamentary briefing let alone to investigate and condemn them. They accused and attacked Amnesty and Human Rights Watch for producing their reports. They have mobilised their embassies, ministries and diaspora backers to denounce the commission of atrocities and attack rights groups and independent media outlets. He and his partners in crime lied and misled the UN and others about the involvement of the Eritrean forces who are killing, looting and vandalising property as a matter of policy.
(iii) Mr Ahmed’s admission of grave crimes is full of assertions that downplay the scale of crimes as shown earlier. He did not mention other key crimes, such as the forced eviction of tens of thousands of citizens from western and southern Tigray. He did not express sympathy to the hundreds of thousands of Tigrayans most of whom women and children forced to live on streets, schools under difficult circumstance. He did not admit that millions of Tigrayans are at risk of hunger and dying as the UN and others are very concerned.
Why do we say he has not changed his policy of mass crimes and subjugation?
(i)The extrajudicial killings are continuing by all three forces. In fact, the avenge against the civilian population of Tigray continued even during his parliamentary session. His federal army executed 17 innocent civilians in front of foreign agencies.
(ii)He has not shown any sign of investigating the atrocities or acting upon some of the reports of grave offences in the last five months. In fact, he was denying them until the last minute –he called upon parliament to partially admit the obvious a few hours after Jo Biden’s special envoy left Addis Ababa.
(iii)The regime’s Human Rights Commission released its preliminary report on the Axum massacre a few hours following Mr Ahmed’s parliamentary briefing; was it prepared and withheld until official admission of atrocities and Eritrea’s involvement? Was it hastily prepared? Why did it take nearly five months to say the obvious? Why did the report say more than 100 people died while hundreds have been brutally massacred? Why did not mention the house-to-house execution of innocent Tigrayans?
(vi)Even if we give the benefit of the doubt to his Commission due to its hasty report on the Mai-Kadra massacre, the partial admission of crimes in Western Tigray and the apartheid policy of the regime executed in central Ethiopia against Tigrayans, Mr Ahmed’s regime did not act on them, other than its pre-occupation on making political points about the Mai-Kadra massacre. And
(v)His assertion that criminals from the Eritrean side will be tried in Eritrea in accordance with their laws is an insult to the tens of thousands who have been brutally killed, raped, and their livestock slaughtered, property looted, vandalised and burnt to ash by Esaias Afewerki’s army.
Conclusions & takeaways:
(i)Mr Ahmed’s ‘admission’ of massacres, rape and other offences in Tigray is disingenuous and insulting. This coincides with the US’s special envoy’s visit to Ethiopia and his demands.
(ii)His partial ‘admission’ is full of contractions, excuses and downplaying.
(ii)He did not show any sign of remorse, humanity, commitment to justice and halting the on-going atrocities. His speech and behaviour in the last five months strongly indicate that he is a dangerous liar from whom justice cannot be delivered.
(iii)His policy and tactic of exonerating the Eritrean butchers and looters from responsibility by upholding their sovereignty when it comes to criminal responsibility while allowing them to committee atrocities inside Ethiopian territories is further evidence that the leader can do anything to stay in power, including worsening his heinous crimes and genocide against Tigrayans and others.
(vi)Although his ‘admission’ of serious wrongdoings against ‘his own’ people must be celebrated by those who are demanding/standing for justice, his recent speech also affirm that the people of Tigray deserve justice and protection from neutral bodies without delay.
The second part is dedicated to fact and reality check of his assertions regarding Eritrean and Amhara ‘involvement’ and ‘withdrawal’ from factual, moral and legal angles.