The people and Government of Tigray are grateful to the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, for highlighting the litany of atrocities that have been committed against the people of Tigray. First, the Abiy regime has been raining aerial bombs on civilians and civilian installations across Tigray since mid-October, killing hundreds of innocent civilians and wounding hundreds more. Second, tens of thousands of Tigrayans have been rounded up throughout Ethiopia and are being held under cruel, inhumane and degrading conditions, in a clear contravention of the Ethiopian constitution and international law, including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). Finally, the humanitarian situation in Tigray is indescribably bleak due to the Abiy regime’s all-encompassing blockade of Tigray.
Be that as it may, the Government of Tigray would like to highlight some issues where some of the High Commissioner’s statements, taken as a whole, might reinforce the barrage of pre packaged talking points and propaganda coming from the Abiy regime and its allies.
First, the High Commissioner cites Afar and Amhara regional authorities’ assessment about the number of students affected by the destruction of schools. This verbatim citation could be construed as supporting the claim that the High Commissioner is implicitly accusing Tigrayan forces of causing the destruction of schools and health facilities without conducting a transparent and independent investigations upon which such a claim should be based. The ability of investigators from the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) to observe conditions on the ground in Amhara and Afar regions, as the High Commissioner’s statement makes clear, also stands in direct contrast to Tigray, which has been rendered totally inaccessible by the Abiy regime’s all-encompassing and deadly siege of Tigray.
Perplexingly, the High Commissioner did not mention the near-total destruction of health and school facilities across Tigray, the critical shortage of life-saving medical supplies that has claimed the lives of thousands of Tigrayans, and the fact that schools across Tigray have been shuttered for over 2 years now. In fact, even if schools reopen, the chances of students showing up are slim to none given the dire humanitarian condition in Tigray, which has seen virtually every Tigrayan exposed to extreme hardship on account of the suspension of banking services, non-payment of salary for over 8 months now, and meager humanitarian aid.
Second, while the people and Government of Tigray are grateful to the High Commissioner for highlighting the dire humanitarian situation in Tigray, we note with profound concern the dangerously erroneous explanation she provided for the suspension of humanitarian aid delivery into Tigray. The High Commissioner claims that fighting in Abala and its environs was to be blamed for the obstruction of humanitarian aid delivery into Tigray. This explanation, such as it is, is wrong on multiple levels.
To begin with, there is no ongoing fighting at the moment. Second, insofar as there was brief fighting between Tigrayan forces and an assortment of irregulars in the area, including Afar special forces and Eritrean mercenaries, that had been crossing over into Tigrayan territories and launching attacks, it was one that was imposed on us as Tigray’s army had to respond to their repeated cross-border attacks inside Tigray. After being subjected to multiple provocative attacks by these forces, Tigray’s Army took limited measures to degrade their capabilities and ensure the security of the people of Tigray. At no time before, during or after the fighting have aid trucks been prevented from passing through into Tigray by Tigray forces. The fact is that the authorities had not completed the issuance of clearance for the movement of trucks transiting to Tigray by the time fighting broke out in late January.
Indeed, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) has stated that no humanitarian supplies have been delivered to Tigray by road since mid-December, when there were no active hostilities in the area. Furthermore, no humanitarian workers have also been cleared to travel by road from Semera to Mekelle since October 28, 2021, clearly establishing the Abiy regime’s obstructive intent. In fact, the UN relief chief, Martin Griffiths, had as far back as September accused the Abiy regime of erecting “a de facto humanitarian aid blockade,” strongly demanding to “get those trucks moving.”
The humanitarian situation in Tigray has gotten progressively worse since Mr. Griffiths made the above claims, as the Abiy regime continues to tighten a deadly chokehold on Tigray. According to aid agencies, 100 trucks carrying food, non-food items and fuel must enter Tigray daily to address the vast scale of humanitarian needs. Accordingly, from July 12 through the present, about 24,000 trucks carrying supplies should have arrived in Tigray. In reality, only 1339 trucks have arrived, representing a measly 6 percent of the trucks needed—a shocking display of inhumanity in the face of a devastating humanitarian calamity.
Although the Abiy regime has recently taken modest steps to enhance humanitarian operations in Tigray by allowing additional UN Humanitarian Air Service (UNHAS) flights to Mekelle, the supplies brought in are far from enough to meet Tigray’s massive humanitarian needs. The WHO, ICRC and other partners have transported critical medical supplies and food items to Mekelle. However, the quantity brought in so vanishingly small that it won’t make a dent in Tigray’s
catastrophic medical and humanitarian emergency. In fact, only 210 metric tons of medical and nutrition supplies have arrived since mid-December. To put it in perspective, 200 metric tons translate into no more than 5 truckloads of supplies. However, Tigray needs at least 700 truckloads of humanitarian supplies per week.
If the Abiy regime and its domestic allies believe their own manufactured explanations, there is a solution: allow unfettered UNHAS flights to Tigray with expanded cargo capacity.
Finally, the High Commissioner also praises the Abiy regime for trying to “implement” the recommendations of the deeply flawed report issued jointly by the OHCHR and the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission (EHRC). The Ethiopian regime, the chief architect of the genocidal war on Tigray, cannot investigate itself without making a mockery of the whole concept of accountability and justice for victims. The crimes committed against the people of Tigray are staggering in their geographical scope, viciousness, and organization. Given the systematic nature of the crimes and the fact that no corner of Tigray has been spared from the long arm of the genocidaires, the regime cannot be a credible agent of justice for the victims. The atrocities committed in Tigray cannot be attributed to so-called ‘bad apples’ in the military; the Eritrean and Ethiopian militaries as institutions are knee-deep in the genocide on Tigray. Accordingly, a state implicated in the commission of heinous crimes can never be an impartial administrator of justice vis-à-vis those crimes.
The Government of Tigray has always stated that only an independent investigation by an impartial international body can get to the bottom of all atrocities committed since the start of the genocidal war on Tigray. However, the Abiy regime has opposed an independent investigation at every turn, concerned that it would shed light on the unimaginable atrocities its forces committed and continue to commit against the people of Tigray. Sadly, the High Commissioner does not even exhort the regime to accept the legitimacy of the International Commission of Human Rights Experts on Ethiopia, established pursuant to Resolution S-33/1 by the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) on December 17, 2021.
In strenuously objecting to the aforementioned Commission, the Abiy regime refers to the joint OHCHR-EHRC investigation, arguing that the issue of atrocities committed in Tigray is now closed. The involvement of the EHRC had, of course, enabled the regime to manipulate the investigative process and its final report, gravely undermining its credibility.
In light of the Abiy regime’s extreme aversion to any process over which it cannot have a final say and desire to smear the Government of Tigray and Tigray forces, it will not voluntarily accept the legitimacy and mandate of the independent commission. In fact, there are credible reports that the regime has presented two conditions for cooperating with the work of the Commission. The first condition is the UNHRC’s acceptance of the OHCHR-EHRC report, lock, stock and barrel. Once the results of the joint report are taken as final, what is left is, of course, the ‘implementation’ of the recommendations, over which the Abiy regime has unlimited sway. The second condition is that the UNHRC agrees to undertake a joint investigation with the EHRC into allegations of rights violations in Amhara and Afar regions. Stated differently, the Abiy regime is looking for a mechanism to legitimize and cement its fictitious narratives about the genocidal war on Tigray, whitewash its criminal record, evade accountability, and secure international imprimatur for its smear campaign against Tigray forces. Suffice to say that the Abiy regime’s conditions are nonstarters so far as the people and Government of Tigray are concerned. The UNHRC accepting such conditions would render null and void its own resolution establishing an independent Commission.
We urge the international community to deploy a robust package of punitive actions or the credible threat of one to compel it to accept the legitimacy and mandate of the International Commission of Human Rights Experts on Ethiopia, come to the negotiating table, facilitate unobstructed humanitarian delivery into Tigray and end the cruel blockade of Tigray. At a time when the world is rightly gripped by Russia’s brutal assault on Ukraine, the international community should not continue to turn a deaf ear to the agonizing pleas of Tigrayans for help.