War has broken out in Ethiopia’s Tigray regional state five months ago between the federal government and the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF)-led armed forces. On the midnight of 03 November 2020, the TPLF-led paramilitary forces dismantled the Northern Command of the Ethiopian National Defense Force, which is believed to be the largest among the five commands. The TPLF-led forces' higher leaders stated on the regional TV station, Dimtsi Weyane, two days later that the military operation executed on that night was an ‘anticipatory self-defense attack to prevent an imminent strike’ from the Ethiopian federal government.
Hours later, on the 4th of November Abiy Ahmed (PhD), the Ethiopian Prime Minister, commanded an offensive against the TPLF-led forces. The federal government has claimed that TPLF (Tigray People’s Liberation Front) attacked the northern command of the Ethiopian National Defense Force (ENDF) in Mekelle, Dansha, and other bases to seize arsenals and then maneuver military operations to overthrow the federal government.
On the second day, the federal government waged a full-scale military operation on the TPLF-led forces and declared a state of emergency in Tigray. The federal government has called the military operation against the TPLF-led forces ‘law enforcement operation’.
As skirmishes continued, the Federal government-led forces controlled several territories, including the regional capital, Mekelle, on 28 November 2020. Nevertheless, the federal government captured and killed senior military and civil officers of the TPLF-led forces, fighting has continued in the region.
Amid the ongoing armed conflict, both parties have come out with multilateral-unproven reports and news of human rights violations.
According to preliminary findings by the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission issued on 24 November 2020 at least 600 civilians were killed on the 9th and 10th of November 2020. The report blamed a group of youths called ‘Samri’ which is loyal to TPLF for the mass killing. Amnesty International also said it confirmed that hundreds of civilians were killed in Mai Kadra.
Amnesty International further came out with a report of civilians mass-killing in the city of Axum. The report claimed it had interviewed survivors in Sudan and residents of Axum and hundreds of people were killed by Eritrean troops.
Following reports and widespread unconfirmed speculations of human rights violations, the international community has been pressuring the Ethiopian government. Countries, international organizations, and NGOs have called for full humanitarian access to Tigray, independent investigations of human rights violations, and immediate cessation of hostilities.
Amidst this situation, many have been claiming the international community may sanction Abiy Ahmed’s (PhD) administration. Some social media activists and lobbyists claim that many countries and the International Criminal Court (ICC) are preparing and collecting evidence to accuse the perpetrators of human rights violations, including Abiy Ahmed’s government.
Recently the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) convened on the armed conflict and following situation in Tigray under any other business (AoB) rather than as a regular agenda. The session was the fourth that the UNSC has held since the armed conflict erupted in Ethiopia's Tigray on 04 November 2020 and convened all the meetings under AoB.
The UN Security Council meeting held on March 04, 2021, on Tigray ends without any resolution. Ireland requested the meeting with the support of Estonia, France, Norway, the UK, and the US and proposed a resolution that calls for ‘immediate cessation of hostilities. The proposal was rejected by veto-holding Russia and China and non-permanent member India saying it intervenes in Ethiopia's internal affairs. Later on, modified the draft statement to call for an end to violence and further modified it to call for all parties to comply with their obligations under international humanitarian law and international human rights law. However, China, Russia, and India objected to all the modified draft statements. The draft statements neither mentioned the involvement of foreign forces nor proposed sanctions on the Ethiopian government.
The veto-powers of China and Russia are always pro-non-intervention in countries’ internal affairs. They always accuse western countries of interfering in sovereign states’ domestic issues. Furthermore, Russia, China-related to Taiwan, and India to Kashmir have domestic affairs in which they don't want intervention from other countries and always support non-intervention in the foreign policies.
The United States State Department has been calling for the ‘immediate withdrawal of Eritrean forces and Amhara regional forces’ from Tigray and cessation of hostilities by all parties to the conflict, and a commitment to permit unhindered humanitarian access. But Ethiopia refused the call saying the acts of ethnic cleansing and involvement of foreign forces in the ongoing military operation are ungrounded allegations.
Despite reports and allegations, the Ethiopian and Eritrean governments have repeatedly been denying the Eritrean troops’ involvement in the ongoing military operation against Tigray’s pro-TPLF forces. Ambassador Dina Mufti, the spokesperson of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Ethiopia, said in a press briefing on 20 January 2021 that the Eritrean troops’ deployment to the border areas is expected to protect their borders as the TPLF-led forces had been firing rockets to Eritrea to regionalize the conflict.
On 05 February, the US Embassy in Asmera, Eritrea, stated that it had asked the Eritrean government to withdraw its forces from Ethiopia’s Tigray. However, Eritrea denied the Eritrean army’s involvement in the Tigray armed crisis stating the US embassy’s statement in Asmera unwarranted and grounded on false and presumptive allegations.
On 18 March 2021, the US State Department issued a press statement by Antonio Blinken, US state secretary. It provided an additional 52 million US dollars in assistance to respond to the humanitarian crisis in Tigray. The state secretary also called for the cessation of hostilities, withdrawal of Eritrean deployed Amhara regional forces, and the need for accountability for human rights abuses and atrocities by all parties such as Ethiopian National Defense Forces, Tigray People’s Liberation Front forces, Eritrea Defense Forces, and Amhara regional forces.
The European Union in mid-December 2020 has decided to conditionally delay a decision on a potential 90 million euro budget support payment to the Ethiopian government before the end of 2020. The EU decided due to the conflict in Tigray and following the humanitarian crisis due to these hostilities.
The speculation that Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed (PhD) and or president Isaias Afwerki are or will be accused by the International Criminal Court (ICC) is unsupported. ICC did not accuse Abiy so far. Furthermore, no country or international organization has so far proposed sanction of any form on Ethiopia.
Recently the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) wrote a memo to U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres blaming TPLF for provoking the federal government’s bloody offensive against the Tigrayans and a subsequent military crackdown; that has driven half a million people from their homes."
The Ethiopian Human Rights Commission recently requested the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (UNHCHR) to jointly conduct investigations into reports of human rights violations and possible war crimes. Michelle Bachelet, UNHCHR head, has agreed to carry out a joint inquiry Tigray with the Ethiopian counterpart.