To: Call to Action on Protection from GBV in Emergencies Partners
Re: Leaked Audio of UN Representatives and Chiefs of Mission in Ethiopia
In accordance with the stated commitment of Call to Action Partners to “foster accountability from the humanitarian system to address GBV from the earliest phases of a crisis”, we are writing to you at this time to ask for a response to the recently leaked audio recording of a meeting in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia discussing the widespread and horrific weaponization of rape in Tigray.
Attendees of this meeting which constituted of UN Representatives and Chief of Missions in Ethiopia, except for one participant are heard sanitizing, rationalizing, and discrediting the voices of survivors of the genocidal rape in Tigray. Although recorded on March 26, this leaked audio was made public a day after the release of the report by Amnesty International detailing gruesome and sadistic acts of sexual violence perpetrated with the stated aim of interfering with the fertility of survivors and exerting maximal physical, mental and emotional damage.
The Amnesty report, while the most comprehensive to date, is by no means the first that reveals the use of sexual violence as a weapon of war in Tigray. Despite these earlier reports and extensive media coverage [1, 2, 3], the UN Women Representative for Ethiopia, Letty Chiwara, IOM Chief of Mission to Ethiopia, Maureen Achieng, and UNFPA representative Dennia Gayle is heard expressing reluctance to believe anecdotal data and even go as far as to say there is no credible data. Even more striking, in a circumstance whereby the Ethiopian government is a party to the conflict at hand and as such directly accountable for these grave crimes against humanity and acts of genocide, these representatives declare the government needs to verify the data before they can begin to refer to it. In a clear dismissal of some of the most credible news agencies in the world that have delivered investigative reporting on the issue and the very important role of the free press in revealing and addressing breaches to human rights, participants in this meeting claim that media coverage is simply sensationalism and hype.
Representatives also go into the details of the reporting to discredit testimonies not only of survivors but also of service providers. Ms. Dennia Gayle blatantly denies the fact that the safe house was raided, while Efoyta Safehouse found in Mekelle was raided three times and one of the workers was detained for a few days. One phone call to the Women’s Association of Tigray would have confirmed this. Moreover, despite a number of requests, Ms. Dennia Gayle refused to stop by the safe house during her visit to Mekelle.
Resident Representative of UNDP, Alexio Musindo, IOM Chief of Mission to Ethiopia and Representative to the AU and ECA and others diversely cast doubt on either the veracity of information, data, and statistics, or stress the need for data from OHCHR or even the Ethiopian government.
For Tigrayans, the blanket assertion that the difficult testimony of our sisters and brothers as to the daily hell that they lived through including sexual enslavement, gang rape, anal rape, the insertion of foreign objects in sexual genitalia, emotional and physical torture, and more is nothing more than “media hype” is incredibly traumatic.
This callousness defies the humanitarian principles of humanity, neutrality, impartiality, and independence. It is a disgrace and antithetical to human decency that these are the men and women holding the highest positions in the UN in the name of humanitarian support. No survivor has a reason to lie and casting doubt and denying the stories of survivors is the cruelest thing one can do. In fact, it is widely recognized that it is very hard for any survivor to report, especially in conservative societies like Tigray as they fear stigma, lack of proper services, and mostly fear of not being believed.
Sadly, survivors of weaponized sexual violence and sex enslavement in Tigray are not only being disbelieved, they are being erased and silenced. They have been left without representation and a voice in the very international structures designed to give every woman, regardless of race, creed, or ethnicity a voice. A good example, in this regard, is that even as the whole world recoiled at the extent and brutality of the sexual violence being reported in Tigray, out of 1200 tweets by UN Women Ethiopia since Nov 2020, 10 were related to Tigray with the same news on PSEA training in Tigray recycled more than 4 times.
The women and girls of Tigray deserve to be heard, believed, protected, and their needs addressed. And we believe that Call to Action partners including donor countries and partner organizations can ensure this by:
- Calling on all UN Agencies to adhere to international norms and procedures as well as internal policies going forth;
- Ensure accountability as per the mandate of Call to Action for past negligence and dereliction of duty as demonstrated in this leaked audio;
- Ensure systems are put in place to anticipate and mitigate the capture of humanitarian institutions and practices by political interests;
- Demand that Survivors be believed and that their stories be centered;
- Condemn the privileging of governments and political affiliations over the well being and rights to protection, care, and justice of survivors;
- Stand by zero tolerance to rape at all times including at times of conflict.
We thank you.
Women of Tigray, Board.