Christians in the Tigray region of Ethiopia are reporting a campaign rape and torture at the hands of government forces with tens of thousands of civilians dead. The region is involved in a “quiet” conflict with government forces aligning with the ethnic Oromio people battling Tigray. The conflict is not primarily between embattled Christians and Muslims common in many African nations, but between warring ethnic groups of Christians who, many say, were brought to a breaking point by decades of conflict.
And, as is the case in most conflicts, women and children are the ones who suffer the most.
The country’s Minister for Women stated that “conclusively and without a doubt” many women have been raped. Her statement was a rare admission from the government that has chosen to keep the conflict low-key.
News reports quote witnesses on the ground as well as local authorities confirming the reports from the four-month-long conflict. The rape allegations against the government are notable because women have few police, health facilities, or other support groups for reporting the crimes.
The new year has seen an escalation of fighting in the predominantly Christian nation between Tigrahy and government forces. The federal government declared war on the Tigray region along the country’s northern border with Ethiopia after Tigray’s leaders scheduled elections independent from national elections. Tigray is familiar with conflict, having served as the main site of hostilities in the decades-long conflict between Ethiopia and Eritrea. That conflict was technically ended in 2018, although independent observers state that the reality on the ground is still far from peaceful.
The Tigray region held elections in September in defiance of Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s orders to the contrary. Ahmed has delayed national elections originally scheduled for 2020, pushing them into 2021. In any case, Tigray’s regional elections escalated tensions with the federal government. The Tigray People’s Liberation Front, the leading party in the Tigray region, has long pushed for separation from the rest of Ethiopia.
Tigrah has been cut off from the world after all telecommunications, including cell towers, internet and phones, were cut by the government.
Ahmed has faced criticism from human rights groups for his liberal use of such communications blackouts, which make it hard for human rights observers to discern what is happening on the ground. His troops have also been accused of gross human rights violations, including the rape and murder of innocent civilians.
Strangely, Ahmed was awarded a Nobel Peace Prize in recent years.
Many are worried that this conflict could spread beyond Ethiopia’s borders, setting off ethnic tensions.
Ethiopia is a majority Christian nation, and many of the groups involved in these ethnic conflicts are majority Christian as well. Over 90% of the Tigray people are Christians, while the Oromio people are largely split between Christianity and Islam.
Hailu Kebede, foreign affairs head for the Salsay Woyane Tigray opposition party, called the conflict the “least-documented” war, estimating along with two others, that more than 52,000 civilians have died over the last few months.
“The world will apologize to the people of Tigray, but it will be too late,” he told The Associated Press.
–Dwight Widaman | Metro Voice