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Hiding behind the Sovereignty Skirt: Ethiopia’s Foreign Ministry Statement

Hiding behind the Sovereignty Skirt: Ethiopia’s Foreign Ministry Statement


Fitih Ashenafi 05-21-21


On 17 May, the Ethiopian regime has issued a spurious statement on what it calls ‘the unfair and unwarranted accusations levelled against Ethiopia’ in connection with the Tigray armed violence.  The regime, through its foreign ministry, accuses the international community of being ‘counterproductive and exacerbating situations’ by giving statements, propagating fake news and speculations. This note probes the position of the regime factually, politically and legally with respect to the sovereignty card the regime is trying to play.   


The regime pronounces that an ‘attempt to meddle in Ethiopia’s internal affairs’ is not acceptable. The main reason for this is the call by the US (and other) government for the withdrawal of Amhara forces from Tigray’s territories.  The statement refers to the constitution of Ethiopia, if there is one, and the sovereign right of the regime to use its security forces when it deems it necessary.


This position is flawed for many reasons:


First, requesting and pressuring to halt grave war crimes, crimes against humanity and potential genocide, through the removal of the notorious Amhara forces from the Tigray region, is, in fact, an entitlement and a duty of the international community.


Article 48 of the International Law Commission’s articles on State Responsibility made it clear that ‘Any State other than an injured State is entitled to invoke the responsibility of another State’ when ‘the obligation breached is owed to the international community as a whole’. 


The well-documented mass atrocity crimes being committed by the Amhara paramilitaries, militia and the Ethiopian Janjaweed called ‘Fano’ have committed, and continued to commit, countless atrocities, rape, eviction of hundreds of thousands and property looting and expropriation in western and southern Tigray.

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They are also part of the project of starving the Tigray population by hindering humanitarian relief in coordination with the Eritrean ruthless regime.


Third states are therefore entitled to request the Ethiopian regime to halt the crimes, provide assurances and guarantees of non-repetition of the gross wrong doings by the Amhara forces. The Ethiopian regime is duty-bound to comply with such demands as what is happening in Tigray offends human conscious.


However, third states are also obliged to cooperate ‘to bring to an end’ such serious breaches of international law as per Article 41 of the Commission’s articles. As rightly used against the Ghaddafi regime in Libya by the United Nations Security Council in 2011, furthermore, the international community has the responsibility to protect the Tigray people from the Amhara, Eritrea and Abiy criminal alliance.


On this basis, therefore, what the US, European states and others are saying does not amount to interference into the affairs of Ethiopia- rather they are beginning to undertake their obligation under international law. If they are going to be blamed, it should be for their delay and, in some cases, for their collusion with, and aiding and abetting, the Ethiopian regime’s criminal project in Tigray. In this regard, western and other powers, notably the Trump administration, have to be blamed for taking (direct and indirect) part in the Tigray mass crimes.


Secondly, the current Ethiopian regime has lost the moral and legal ground to act as the guardian of the country’s sovereignty. This is primarily because the regime has waged a full-scale war against its own people in coordination with a known foreign dictatorial regime of Isaias Afewerki. For political expediency and power grape reasons, the Abiy’s regime and Amhara leaders have openly and cruelly compromised on Ethiopia’s sovereignty.


If one adds the involvement of the Arabs in the Tigray conflict and the occupation of some controversial territories by Sudan and the submission of the regime on such events, they won’t take the foreign statement’s reference to non-intervention seriously.


Thirdly, if the Abiy regime is serious about the Ethiopian constitution and the protection of Tigrayan civilians, it should not have allowed the Amhara forces to enter Tigrayan territories. The reasons for this are threefold:


a) the occupation of Tigrayan territories by the Amhara forces through the use of force and with the assistance of the federal and Eritrean forces is a violation of the territorial boundaries of regional states set out in the 1995 Ethiopian constitution.


 b) deploying the forces with full knowledge of their hatred and preparedness to committ atrocities against Tigrayans amounts to a full participation in the crimes they have committed; c) deploying regional forces to another regional state has no legal basis under the constitution; and


c) recognising or condoning what they have done is outrageously unconstitutional.


For these reasons, the reference made to the Ethiopian constitution in the statement is fake and should not be take seriously. In fact, it is the federal regime, in collaboration with the Amhara leaders trashed the constitution into a dirt bin.


Finally, the regime reiterates that its action in Tigray is a ‘law and order operation’ while it has deployed almost the entire defence forces of the country, along the Eritrean and Amhara forces –supported by Arab drones. No one, other than their diehard supporters, buy this claim. Everyone in the international community knows that there is a protracted war going on in Tigray.


It goes without saying that any internal or international war is not an internal matter anymore –particularly if serious breaches of the law are involved. What is abundantly clear from the denial of the existence of war in Tigray by the regime is that the regime was not, and still not, prepared to play by the rules of humanitarian and human rights laws. It seems to be stuck in its project of ‘law and order operation’ to avert responsibility and hide under the sovereignty skirt.


In sum, the attempt of the regime to utilise the sovereignty card does not hold water. In the 21st century global order, sovereignty is responsibility. When a regime fails to protect its own people from grave crimes, including extrajudicial killings, sexual violence, starvation, forced displacement and destruction of their livelihoods, either by being part of the crimes or condoning the behaviour of others, the international community must step in. It is high time, hence, that responsible powers must take the much-delayed decisive action to stop ethnic cleansing and genocide in Tigray, irrespective of the Amhara elite’s unwarranted noises and the ill-advised threat of the regime to re-visit its policy of engagement with the west. The attempt of the regime to hide under the sovereignty skirt must be met with principled and timely responses by the international community – this is the right and best way to protect the interest of humanity and superpowers.    


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