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Stick to Principles: Law enforcement action required to spare Tigrayan civilians

Stick to Principles: Law enforcement action required to spare Tigrayan civilians.


Haki Reteie 06/01/21


The international community must adhere to just moral and legal principles and take more robust and swift action against the Eritrean, Ethiopian and Amhara leaders/forces, including coercive law enforcement measures, to spare over 5 million Tigray’s civilian population, irrespective of their bogus sovereignty claims and foolish threats.


US sanctions commendable but won’t stop atrocities.


On 23 May, the US Secretary of State, Antony Blinken, announced visa and economic sanctions on Ethiopia and Ethiopian, Eritrean and Amhara officials and leaders following their rejection of a peaceful resolution of the Tigray war, and because of the mass crimes, infrastructure destruction and looting, and deliberate hinderance of aid distribution in Tigray. The visa restriction may be extended to immediate family members of such officials.


The United States must be commended for demonstrating leadership in commencing appropriate action on the two criminal regimes and their Amhara cronies.


Surprisingly, the US’s action has also mentioned members of the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), a ruling party in the Tigray regional State. 


While the US has called upon the international community to do the same and contain the Tigray humanitarian catastrophe, the Ethiopian and Eritrean regimes along with their Amhara partners have intensified their offences against Tigrayan civilians.  


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The Telegraph revealed a credible report supported by video and photo evidence that the Ethiopian/Eritrean forces have used chemical agents, more specifically, white phosphorous or other incendiary weapons, against civilian targets. The UN has called a full inquiry into these reports.


Moreover, the Ethiopian and Eritrean forces have begun abducting hundreds of Tigrayan youth from the Shire Internally Displaced Persons  (IDP) camps in violation of humanitarian norms. Family members of the abductees have appealed to the UN office in the city, but the whereabouts of the victims is not known. Several of them sustained grave torture and all forms of physical abuse. As always, the Eritrean and Ethiopian regimes have rejected these credible claims of abductions as false and as enemy propaganda.


There are also reliable reports that the Eritrean and Ethiopian forces have continued killing, and raping civilians, and hindering humanitarian assistance and agricultural activities in Tigray. There are also trustworthy reports that the Amhara leaders have begun resettling Amhara in western Tigray as part of their ethnic cleansing project.


The extreme abuses and ill-treatment against Tigrayans outside Tigray are also continuing unabated. For example, military and police officers detained in several camps across Ethiopia are being tortured, killed and denied basic necessities. The former Speaker of the Ethiopian House of Federation, Mrs Keriya Ibrahim, who has also been unlawfully held in solitary confinement for months, has been coerced under suspected extreme duress to testify in court against her comrades and TPLF veterans.  This is despite the regime’s account a few months ago that she was freed from any charges.  


All these atrocities are part of the ethnic cleansing, crimes against humanity, and genocide that are being committed against the people of Tigray. These abhorrent acts flagrantly disregard International Law and human decency. However, without a robust, swift, and principled response from the international community, evidence indicates that the killings and brutality will continue.


Abuse of sovereignty & anti-colonialist slogans


The Abiy Ahmed regime and its cliques have taken a bold position on the legitimate calls made to end the misery of the Tigray people –they are literally saying ‘leave us alone to continue committing international offences against Tigrayans’.


The US and other democracies must reenforce their pressure on the Eritrean, Ethiopian and Amhara political, military and security leaders, irrespective of the insults, ignorant statements, and threats of revisiting ties made by ‘state’ officials.


The Ethiopian regime is abusing the sovereignty card and the history of Ethiopia’s struggle for justice during colonisation. What the international community is saying is pure and simple — stop killing, raping, starving, forcibly displacing innocent civilians. This has nothing to do with violating Ethiopia’s sovereignty.


In fact, it is the Ethiopian regime that is breaching Ethiopia’s sovereignty. It has allowed, and is closely working with, the Eritrean regime to perpetrate atrocities, destroy and loot property, and hider relief for political purposes. This is well-documented and verified by aid and UN workers.


The Eritrean involvement has now been extended to the Oromia and Benshangul-Gumuz regions of the country –the Eritrean army is deployed to crackdown dissent there and several accusations of civilian abuses by that merciless army have been made by the Oromo community.


Ethiopia’s history of fighting colonisation was against foreign aggression and subjugation, the use of gas in warfare and the likes. Working with a foreign dictatorial regime of Eritrea against your own people reverses that history and makes any argument of non-intervention artificial. 


Stick to principles: focus on aggressors & repressors


The international community should not be destructed for a split second by the politically orchestrated pro-government rallies where pro-Putin and Xi and against US slogans and photographs deceitfully flaunted—it has to stick to a set of principles.


The first principle must be that so long as the two criminal regimes do not comply with legitimate demands: that the Eritrean army and Amhara forces leave Tigray immediately, humanitarian access be given without any obstacle, civilians and their property be honoured, crimes investigated independently, and that the violent conflict must end, the stance of the international community must be toughened by the day. 


The second principle is that actions and measures must target the offenders –it is an open secret that the Eritrean, federal and Amhara forces have been implicated in serous mass crimes in Tigray. The people of Tigray, including their political leaders, scholars, priests, teachers and the youth and women have been targeted as part of their ethnic cleansing and genocidal concerted campaign.  


This includes the TPLF as a political organisation and its members. Being a current or former member of the organisation is an unwritten (and written) crime in current Ethiopia—as the Eritrean and Ethiopian armies are engaged in Tigray abusing, killing torturing former members, their families and even disabled veterans.  


It must be emphasised that people who are subjected to serious international crimes such as crimes against humanity, ethnic cleansing and  genocide have a natural right to arm and defend themselves from tyrannical and criminal states and non-state groups. Indeed, communities that have been subjected to extermination and destruction must be rescued protected by the international community, not the other way round.


On these bases, hence, including the TPLF in the US visa restrictions is morally and legally wrong. Why? The TPLF might have political responsibility for its contribution to bringing about the current mess and human and material loss in Tigray, but it is the Isaias, Abiy and Amhara forces who are perpetrating mass killings, sexual violence, evictions and starvation, not the TPLF. The people of Tigray blame the TPLF for not predicting the current situation and failing to prepare the population for it—not as a violator of their human rights and dignity. 


Furthermore, the TPLF has expressed readiness to negotiate and stop the violence; in contrast, the Abiy regime and others have rejected any prospect of negotiated settlement of the conflict.


The TPLF has time and again expressed its willingness to cooperate on investigating the universal crimes being committed in Tigray against Tigrayans, including the Mi-Kadra massacre; in contrast, the Abiy and Isaias regimes are threatening victims, witnesses, and are using their entire state apparatus to denounce and downplay the mass crimes they have committed. They are also using their law enforcement agencies, such as the attorney general and federal police offices to obstruct justice in Tigray.


Most importantly, the people of Tigray’s struggle against foreign subjugation and internal repression cannot be characterised as an act of the TPLF. The entire population inside or outside the region is fighting back for its survival. It is thus wrong to target them for political expediency or other geo-political reasons.


Thirdly, regimes that don’t play by the rules of international law and humanity are not trusted partners in the fight against terrorism and regional security. Therefore, the fake threats of withdrawing their collaboration to fight Al-shabab and others should be ignored as long as they continue with their crimes and war effort in Tigray and elsewhere in Ethiopia.


Finally, don’t expect democracy from tyrannical and criminal regimes; supporting the bogus election in one way or the other is therefore wrong and not helpful to the country and its people. The democracy exception made relating to the economic sanctions imposed by the US on Ethiopian must therefore be re-visited by the Biden Administration.  The Ethiopian regime has incarcerated hundreds and thousands of people, including political leaders. Their sham election exercise must therefore be totally rejected by responsible countries.


The need for immediate law enforcement action


Since the introduction of the visa and economic sanctions by the US relating to Tigray, the two regimes and their cronies have intensified their crimes, including against IDPs, aid workers and protected sites such as hospitals. They have used white phosphorous in built-up civilian areas, and children and women have sustained disfiguring burns. They are also telling Tigrayans We'll see if America will save you now!’ when exercising their extreme repression.  If one adds the widespread rapes, killings, looting and destruction and forced eviction to this, and the looming mass famine, it is high time to consider more actions, including:


1.   Deploying UN or like-minded countries’ forces to protect the civilian population, victims and survivors of crimes, aid workers and IDPs from the aggressor and repressor forces; this must be the priority of the international community and responsible powers before it is too late;

2.   Considering military action or a threat against certain key figures of the Eritrean, Ethiopian and Amhara forces/leaders who are coordinating the crimes against Tigrayan civilians and their property, relief workers, UN personnel and journalists. 

3.   Arms embargoes on the Ethiopian and Eritrean regimes, so that they won’t sustain their war effort;

4.   Considering additional sanctions and measures against those who try to derail of the efforts of the international community to stop the war and humanitarian disaster; 

5.   Dropping aid from airplanes in areas outside the control of the two regimes and the Amhara forces;

6.   Re-visiting the policy of joint criminal investigation with the Ethiopian regime, undertake a UN-sponsored criminal investigation and hold perpetrators to account.

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