Letter to the Attendees of the IGF in Addis Ababa
Dear IGF Attendees,
We, the undersigned researchers and human rights advocates, are writing to you today to communicate our dismay at your decision to attend the upcoming Internet Governance Forum (IGF) in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, where for the past two years the federal government has waged a brutal war against Tigray, the country’s northernmost region. Holding this event in Ethiopia completely neglects the communication siege and internet blackout imposed on Tigray for over two years and also defies the very purpose and themes of the forum. Therefore, we appeal to you to mitigate the impunity encouraged by the decision to hold the IGF in Addis-Ababa by adding your voice to regional and international efforts to draw attention to the ongoing grave violations of human rights by acting on the following recommendations:
- Unconditionally denounce the two-year-long internet shutdown and the continued weaponization of information and communication by the Ethiopian government ravaging lives in Tigray;
- Condemn the exclusionary practices of the IGF organizers who invited an Ethiopian government official as a panelist but failed to ensure a secure platform for communities marginalized, victimized and silenced by state-sponsored violence;
- Call on the organizers to find ways in which to platform and amplify the voices of silenced and marginalized minorities in Ethiopia by engaging with community groups and advocacy bodies. This can include facilitating secure digital participation by researchers, and human rights advocates representing groups who would otherwise not be represented or be able to safely take part in a meeting held under the auspices of the Ethiopian government;
- Co-sign and amplify the petition to the African Union and individual member states asking continental leaders to condemn the Ethiopian government’s infringement of the basic human right to communicate and acquire information , and to push for reestablishing internet access in Tigray;
- Advocate to ensure that the output from the conference is not utilized for propaganda purposes to whitewash the Ethiopian government’s repression of freedom of speech, access to information, and state-sanctioned violence;
- Highlight the effects the communications blackout has on the local community including hampering efforts to coordinate and respond to the conflict induced humanitarian catastrophe and prohibiting reporters and international human rights experts from document and reporting on human rights violations and atrocities; and,
- Advocate for holding the Ethiopian government accountable for shutting down the internet and all means of communication for Tigray.
- And, finally, we call on people to attend the space organized by NetBlocks —#IUF2022 — on Wednesday November 30, 1pm GMT. The event will highlight internet shutdown in Tigray and voices from Tigray, social media censorship and redefining freedom online.
In tandem with the declaration of war on the Tigray region by the Ethiopian Prime Minister on the 4th of November 2020, basic services including the internet and all means of communication in the region by the federal government. This is the latest and most egregious use of shutdowns for disrupting information flow, political repression, cracking down on dissent, and controlling narratives by the Ethiopian government. While this habitual violation of regional and international laws, has been noted by international observers in the past the ongoing communication siege on Tigray has, however, been unique in terms of the extent and its devastating impact on the civilian population.
The shutdown has crippled existing civilian infrastructures , such as healthcare, education, economy, business, and administrative services. The disruption of these vital systems has contributed to and significantly exacerbated the catastrophic humanitarian crisis. It has also interfered with the ability of international humanitarian organizations to launch appropriate conflict and aid response mechanisms. Additionally, the shutdown continues to doubly victimize a community already traumatized by war and documented atrocity crimes amounting to war crimes, crimes against humanity, ethnic cleansing, and genocide. However, the blockade has hidden the true extent of these crimes by hindering monitoring, reporting, and investigative mechanisms that could lead to accountability and justice for victims.
The communication shutdown has also created fertile ground for the widespread dissemination of misinformation, disinformation, and propaganda. Journalists, media, and citizens who question the government’s attempt to monopolize and weaponize information have become direct targets of intimidation, imprisonment, and expulsion from the country. The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) has documented that at least 63 journalists and media personalities have been arrested in the past two years.
The shutdown has cultivated an environment in which polarizing narratives, hate speech and violence incitement has become rampant. In some instances, it has resulted in direct violence against Tigrayan civilians in Ethiopia. Some have died as a result of online hate speech and violence incitement. Furthermore, the communication siege has disrupted connections between people in Tigray and family and loved ones in the rest of Ethiopia and across the world for more than 22 months.
In light of this context, Tigrayan advocacy groups and others have repeatedly urged IGF organizers to reconsider holding the event in Ethiopia and that a secure platform be made available so that those who fear retaliation from the Ethiopian government attend the forum. Sadly, all calls have been disregarded.
Therefore, we are now appealing to IGF attendees to take responsibility to minimize the negative implications of this event. Finally, we would like to express our openness to further discussion and hope that this letter will serve to initiate a channel of communication.
Saba Mah’derom, Board member of Women of Tigray
Meron Gebreananaye (PhD), Assistant Editor Tghat Media and Board Member of Women of Tigray
Teklehaymanot G. Weldemichel (PhD), Norwegian University of Science and Technology
Mulu Beyene Kidanemariam, University of Bergen