Classification: OPEN LETTER H.E. António Guterres Secretary-General of the United Nations New York
Call on the Secretary-General of the United Nations to Change Course in the Genocidal War on Tigray
1. The Global Society of Tigray Scholars and Professionals (GSTS), a non-partisan and autonomous global knowledge network representing more than 3,200 Tigrayan scholars and professionals all over the world, commends Your Excellency’s efforts in addressing the various challenges facing humanity collectively, including global warming, Covid-19 pandemic and efforts to ensure vaccine equity and recovery mechanisms, and safeguarding vulnerable communities. Furthermore, GSTS commends the leadership Your Excellency demonstrated in addressing the unlawful expulsion of seven high level UN officials from Ethiopia and your response to the deceptions of the Ethiopian representative to the UN during your briefing to the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) on the 10th of October 2021.
2. Your Excellency, almost a year into the genocidal war on Tigray, severe and systematic violations to human rights and international humanitarian laws continue to pile up. As a result, ethnic Tigrayans in Ethiopia remain under an active existential threat. The intent of the current Ethiopian regime to systematically annihilate Tigrayans was clearly reported by the European Union special envoy and Finland's foreign minister, H.E. Pekka Haavisto,: “when I met the Ethiopian leadership in February, they really used this kind of language, that they are going to destroy the Tigrayans, they are going to wipe out the Tigrayans for 100 years and so forth.”1 This is further evidenced by hate speech disseminated by the highest authorities in the country and through state operated media contributing to the dehumanization of ethnic Tigrayans. PM Abiy Ahmed himself described Tigrayans as the “cancers of Ethiopia", “invasive weeds [who] must be uprooted in a manner that will never grow again"2 . Following PM Abiy’s inciting inflammatory rhetoric, on the 25th of July 2021, a senior official from Abiy Ahmed’s administration and current State Minister for the Ministry of Peace, Mr. Taye Dendea, characterized the Tigray people as Satan, in a public post from a verified social media account claiming: “the war is between Human and Satan [Tigrayans]”. Mr. Agegnehu Teshager, the then President of the Regional State of Amhara and current the speaker of the House of Federation of Ethiopia also made a publicly aired genocidal call declaring “we will not rest until we have annihilated this enemy[Tigrayans]. These people [in reference to the people of Tigray] are enemies of the entire Ethiopian people. They are enemies of the Oromos; they are enemies of the Afars; they are enemies of the Gambellas; they are enemies of the Somalis.” Even more recently, Deacon Daniel Kibret, a special advisor of the Prime Minister made highly dangerous genocidal remarks that caught the attention of the world when he said: "there should be no land in this country which can sustain this kind of weed [Tigrayans]. They [Tigrayans] should be erased and disappeared from historical records.”3 In summary, Ethiopian officials, from the Prime Minister down have used terms such as terrorists, cancer, invasive weeds, junta, Satan, looters, hyenas, and other genocidal inflammatory rhetoric in reference to the people of Tigray, putting all Tigrayans in and outside of Tigray at the receiving end of systemic genocidal acts.
3. In light of this context and given the gravity and complexity of human rights violations and the breach of international humanitarian laws, and the thus far inadequate response and action received from Your Excellency, GSTS is forced to raise the following concerns regarding Your Excellency’s mishandling of the dire situation, and calls for immediate remedial interventions in your capacity as the Secretary General of the UN and draw attention of the catastrophic situation to the UNSC and international community.
a. Since June 28, the federal government of Ethiopia has put Tigray under a total siege and de facto humanitarian blockade. The government closed Tigray's borders, banned air and ground transportation, cut telecommunications and electricity, stopped salaries of civil servants, halted banking and commercial activities, stopped supplies of life-saving food, medicine, fuel and above all systematically prevented the entry of humanitarian aid convoys. Per UN’s reports, life-saving medical and food aid remain de facto blocked4 . This siege comes after Ethiopian, Eritrean and Amhara forces have effectively destroyed food and water systems, demolished and looted health services and other public and civilian infrastructures. As a consequence, tens of thousands of women and girls of Tigray who faced egregious Sexual and Gender-based Violence (SGBV) in the hands of Ethiopian, Eritrean soldiers and Amhara militia, other survivors of crimes against humanity, and more than 180,000 Tigrayans with chronic non-communicable diseases5 remain denied of access to life-saving medications. Furthermore, the UN announced that people had started dying of hunger as far as April6 . Recently, citing one humanitarian agency, Associated Press (AP) reported “in every district of the more than 20 where one aid group works, residents have starved to death.”7 . Under such grave circumstances that threaten the existence of over 6 million people, GSTS urges Your Excellency to trigger all available UN instruments to protect an ethnic minority facing extermination. GSTS reiterates its repeated calls for the immediate instantiation of UNSC Resolution 2417 (2018) precisely adopted for such situations when starvation is used as a weapon of war against civilians.
b. By the end of June 2021, the US warned that more than 900,000 people have entered the famine phase8 . The UN reported on the 2nd of July 2021 that 400,000 people in Tigray crossed the 'threshold into famine', with over 2 million people on the brink of famine9 . Humanitarian organizations have long announced that food stocks were depleted. After several months, and amid a progressively deteriorating situation, however, the UN’s record of the official number of people facing famine conditions remains the same. Thus, GSTS calls upon the UN to not fail its responsibility to update and inform the world as to the current situation on the ground at this time when it is believed that many more people (perhaps millions) are under famine. This failure to report and inform is effectively hindering other subsequent measures that could have been taken to save millions of innocent lives.
c. Numerous media outlets and human rights advocates have documented the horrendous SGBV committed against tens of thousands of Tigrayan women and girls. These horrific reports of sexual violence indicate the intention of “cleansing and purifying the victim’s blood” 10 on the part of the perpetrators. These attacks also had the articulated intention of deliberately making the victims infertile by mutilating their reproductive organs11 and infecting them with HIV/AIDS and other STDs12. These constitute deliberate acts of genocide. Amnesty International after documenting an overwhelming number of SGBV cases committed by Ethiopian and Eritrean soldiers called on Your Excellency on the 11th of August 2021 “to urgently send his [Your Excellency’s] Team of Experts on the Rule of Law and Sexual Violence in Conflict to the Tigray region - as provided for the UN Security Council resolution 1888” 13 . GSTS reiterates the call made by Amnesty International. Moreover, we remain deeply concerned that your office has not yet taken the plight of the victims and survivors of such weaponized sexual violence seriously enough to promptly instantiate UN tools at your disposal to ensure accountability of crimes that constitute acts of genocide.
d. Unfortunately, barbaric atrocities continue to be committed in parts of Tigray still occupied by the invading forces. We continue to receive disturbing reports (esp. from Western Tigray) of massacres, gang rapes, reports of bodies eyes gouged out, ethnic-based aid denial, looting and other forms of severe human rights violations committed on ethnic Tigrayans. Bodies are said to be either left unburied, buried in mass graves or thrown to the Tekeze river. A recent coverage14 by the AP has corroborated some of these reports. It reported that over 50 bodies of people fleeing the war in Tigray were found floating in the Tekeze River between Sudan and Ethiopia, some with gunshot wounds or their hands bound. It is to be recalled that more than one million Tigrayans have been ethnically cleansed from Western Tigray. Similarly, the latest investigative report by CNN shows a new phase in the genocidal campaign to mass-detain, torture and massacre of ethnic Tigrayans15 . Disappointingly though, these atrocities which have striking similarities to the Rwandan genocide, continue to happen before the eyes of the negligent international community, the UNSC and especially, Your Excellency. Therefore, we ask your Excellency, as a matter of urgency, to denounce these ongoing atrocities and establish a UN-led fact-finding mission to be sent to the area before evidence is erased.
e. Ethnic-based mass arrest, torture, forced disappearance; closure of business etc., that have been ongoing for many months16 have now intensified especially following the hate speech by PM Abiy Ahmed and other officials broadcast on national television. The authorities are forcefully parading mass-arrested civilian Tigrayans living in Addis Ababa and other parts of Ethiopia including those repatriated from the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia as Prisoners of War (POWs). Many people have identified their loved ones on social media and TV. Additionally, state media has reported17 that some of the more than 17,800 Tigrayan former members of the Ethiopian National Defense Forces (ENDF), and over 7,000 police and security personnel that were imprisoned on ethnic-basis prior to the war are being sentenced to death or life in prison. Many are said to have committed suicide, died of hunger, succumbed to harsh conditions in concentration camps and lack of access to critical medical treatments. Additionally, thousands of ethnic Tigrayan university students are stranded, left homeless and helpless in many cities in Ethiopia. Tigrayan teenagers outside Tigray are being abducted and used as "child soldier prisoners of war” 18. Furthermore, in what experts are calling an econocide (an economic variant of genocide), the Ethiopian state media announced that many businesses in Addis Ababa and environs belonging to Tigrayans are to be closed. The majority of these human rights breaches are happening in the capital, Addis Ababa, where many UN representatives and diplomatic missions reside. We demand Your Excellency to boldly denounce the ethnic based mass arrest, business closure, expulsion from job and other forms of harassment and take commensurate measures. We request the UN to establish safe centers in Addis Ababa and other regions where Tigrayans can stay as IDPs without harm and threat to their lives.
f. We recall that Your Excellency has endorsed19 the UN OHCHR and the government-run Ethiopian Human Rights Commission (EHRC)’s joint investigations into the atrocities in Tigray. Your endorsement came despite serious concerns presented to you, the office of High Commissioner for Human Rights and other relevant UN organs by our organization on the impartiality and lack of independence of the EHRC. Recently, the EHRC released the places where fieldwork was conducted20 and not surprisingly, the investigation avoided Axum21, Mahbere Dego22, Debre Abay23, Mariam Dengelat24 , Togoga25 and many other massacre hotspots whereas the team visited places such as Dansha, Maikadra, Humera, Gonder, Bahir Dar, Addis Ababa where the likelihood of finding Tigrayan victims is minimal. We note that Tigrayans have been ethnically cleansed from Western Tigray, including from Dansha, Maikadra, Humera. Those that remain cannot speak freely for fear of reprisal since they are still under the occupation of brutal Amhara forces. Moreover, the investigation avoided the IDP centers in Shire, Axum, Adwa and other towns as well as refugees in Sudan who experienced ethnic cleansing. We also learned that the EHRC has infiltrated into the internal workings of the OHCHR to fire OHCHR employees of Tigrayan origin26 .
Furthermore, the Ethiopian government has recently deported a senior official from the OHCHR office, who was working on the joint investigations. Firing such a higher official shortly before the joint investigation is released manifests the government’s commitment to influence the report. It is also to be recalled that OHCHR had conducted a thorough and extensive investigation in to the mass atrocities committed in Tigray from the 2nd week of November 2020 through the end of December 2020, including interviewing victims and witnesses of the human rights violations of various kinds and gravity in the refugee camps in Sudan. It is our understanding that the report was submitted to H.E Michelle Bachelet in January 2021. However, for reasons that are not clear to the victims, witnesses and the public at large, the findings of the investigation are not yet made public. Victims and witnesses who gave their account with full confidence to the UN were and still are awaiting the release of the report. In accordance with the Transparency principle of the UN, GSTS pleads for the immediate release of the findings. Furthermore, we reiterate that the ongoing joint “investigation” will not serve justice to the victims but may contribute to the perpetual cycle of conflict by leaving gross atrocities unaddressed. Therefore, we call upon Your Excellency to replace the ongoing joint “investigation” with an impartial, independent and UN-mandated inquiry commission.
g. On December 9, 2020, Your Excellency reported “we have no proof of the presence of Eritrean troops inside Ethiopia.” 27 Your conclusion relied on the deceptive statements of PM Abiy Ahmed. Contrary to your statement, Amnesty International’s report traces the presence of Eritrean troops back to 5 November 2020 when horrific sexual abuses of Tigrayan women and girls by Eritrean and Ethiopian soldiers was already underway . Eritrean soldiers were shelling towns as early as 9 November 202028, and by the end of November 2020, Tigray had already experienced one of its worst massacres in Axum29 mainly committed by Eritrean soldiers. The prime minister’s deceit and your reliance on such oral assurances has contributed toward the suffering of civilians and the many atrocities that occurred in Tigray.
h. Your Excellency, in Ethiopia, the entire state apparatus is being mobilized by the government to exterminate a minority population, the Tigray people. Therefore, we are concerned about your repeated plea for an “Ethiopian-led political dialogue”. To our dismay, and in contrast to many international stakeholders, you continued to promote the futile Ethiopian-led proposal even after the appointment of former Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo to mediate the Tigray crises, which has garnered international support. Moreover, the African Union, whose commissioner has applauded the government’s steps into the genocidal war, cannot be trusted to be a neutral peace mediator. GSTS strongly believes the complexity, systematic nature and immense magnitude of the human rights violations warrant an immediate UN intervention, investigation and negotiation process to bring long lasting solution to Ethiopia and the Horn of Africa at large.
i. Your Excellency and some of the UNSC members have underscored the importance of having a stable and united Ethiopia, a vital element considering its large populations and geopolitical significance in the Horn of Africa and beyond. This is true and we commend the concerns though we add that it should not be at the expense of the extermination of one of its ethnic minorities. Leaning toward acceptance by majority at the expense of genocide to minority will not do good for realizing lasting peace in Ethiopia or in maintaining its territorial integrity. Furthermore, the inflammatory rhetoric and systematic ethnic profiling and attacks against ethnic Tigrayans by PM Abiy Ahmed and his appointees are eroding the thousands of years of social fabric and norms of the country, making Ethiopia unmanageable not only for PM Abiy, but also for those who will follow. If the ongoing total and ethnicized war is not urgently stopped, and a negotiated ceasefire settled, Ethiopia may eventually face a dreadful disintegration.
j. The concepts of “African solutions to African problems” and “internal solutions to internal problems” are in principle catchall phrases and noble. However, they are being exploited by the likes of Abiy Ahmed to exterminate minority communities. More worryingly, such failed concepts have been used as convenient excuses by Your Excellency, the Ethiopian Government, AU Commission Chairperson, H.E Moussa Faki; and some UNSC members, to block the international community from taking timely and corrective measures to end the genocide and the unimaginable sufferings of millions of civilian Tigrayans. The practical implementation of “African solutions” has consistently failed to address the many inter and intra‑state origin conflicts and problems plaguing our beleaguered continent, including the ongoing conflicts in various parts of Africa. It has rather become an enabling instrument for African autocrats to silently decimate minorities in their countries by undermining the mandates of the UN and other international bodies. The ongoing genocidal war on Tigray serves as a lens to highlight the extent to which the AU keeps failing African peoples, particularly minority groups like the Tigrayans. Therefore, GSTS calls upon the UN under your leadership to demonstrate its earnest Responsibility to Protect (R2P) to the people of Tigray.
k. Eritrea forces still remain in Western, Central and Eastern Tigray as well as in the Amhara region. Eritrean security personnel are also all over Ethiopia. We ask Your Excellency to implement the UN Human Rights Council Resolution 47/13, which “calls for the swift and verifiable withdrawal of Eritrean troops from the Tigray region” 30 . We also urge Your Excellency to boldly condemn and call for the immediate withdrawal of Amhara forces from Western Tigray. Furthermore, we call up on Your Excellency to salvage the Irob and Kunama minority communities in Tigray facing extinction by the Eritrean soldiers31 .
l. In your interview with Al Jazeera English aired on the 18th of September 2021, Your Excellency insinuated that Tigrayans ruled Ethiopia, and alluded that the current conflict is driven by a desire to reassert this rule. Prior to PM Abiy Ahmed, Ethiopia was ruled by a coalition of parties, consisting of the Tigray People's Liberation Front (TPLF), Amhara Democratic Party (ADP), Oromo Democratic Party (ODP) and Southern Ethiopian People's Democratic Movement (SEPDM) to which the current PM, deputy PM and many current officials were at the highest posts. Currently, in the absence of a negotiated peace deal, Tigrayans have no option but to fight to break the siege and survive but harbor no intent of ruling Ethiopia. The narrative that Tigrayans ruled Ethiopia and are fighting to rule again is at the center of the genocidal campaigns against Tigrayans in the country and we were deeply distressed to hear it echoed by You. Therefore, we kindly ask You to refrain from advancing the Ethiopian government’s narratives and request you to uphold the neutrality principle of the UN. Moreover, the Tigray government has been calling for a negotiated ceasefire while the Ethiopian authorities have rejected any peace talks and are still mobilizing all-abled persons to fight. Thus, we are dismayed to observe You promoting false equivalence. The “no military solution to the conflict” pronouncement should also have come from the onset of the genocidal war.
m. GSTS appreciates the initiatives taken by some members of the UNSC to bring the plight of Tigrayans facing genocide to the attention of the Council and call for open meetings. GSTS further notes that despite the evidences presented to Your Excellency by different UN branches, human rights and civil society organizations, the calamitous situation of the victims has not yet been taken seriously and impartially by Your Excellency. Therefore, GSTS requests Your Excellency to table UNSC meetings and make way for the initiatives of other UNSC members in tabling the predicaments of the ongoing genocidal war and its consequences to the people of Tigray.
4. Recent revelations have confirmed that unfortunately some UN officials in Addis Ababa have been pursuing a pro-government agenda, including advancing the government’s narratives, in violation of the UN principles of humanity, impartiality, neutrality and independence. The recently leaked audios indicate that the UN Ethiopia office demands swift intervention, thorough investigation and decisive corrective measures by Your Excellency.
5. Your Excellency, since 18 October 2021, the Ethiopian government is conducting indiscriminate aerial raids on Mekelle. Civilians including children and pregnant women are among the reported victims. Mekelle University, Mesfin Industrial Engineering, Mekelle General Hospital32 and other private properties including hotels have been attacked. More than a million residents and hundreds of thousands of IDPs living under total siege are now being terrorized by aerial bombardments. Furthermore, on the 22nd of October, the Ethiopian government sent its warplanes to Mekelle at the same as a scheduled and a government-authorized UN humanitarian flight. By using the UN humanitarian flight as a shield, the government may have had ill intentions of misleading Tigrayan defense forces into shooting a UN humanitarian flight. Reliable internal sources also reveal that the regime in Addis Ababa is preparing for intensified airstrikes on populated cities, targeting Universities, hospitals, Tekeze Hydroelectric power, telecommunications and other remaining infrastructures and livelihoods in Tigray. Furthermore, amid the deteriorating situation of famine and human rights violations, the UN has unfortunately decided to reduce its presence from “nearly 530 to around 220 U.N. staff on the ground in Tigray” 33 . In addition, GSTS is dismayed to learn that the UN has suspended flights to Mekelle, in response to the irresponsible actions of the Ethiopian government, when such flights are desperately needed34 . GSTS urges Your Excellency to condemn the ongoing aerial bombardments on the civilian Tigray population and infrastructure, reverse the decision to reduce UN presence in Tigray and continue direct UN flights to Mekelle.
6. Your Excellency, the type, gravity, magnitude, and systemic nature of the war crimes, crimes against humanity and acts of genocide committed on the minority people of Tigray represents one of the worst of its kind in the 21st century. Humanitarian workers with decades of experience in war zones say that they have never seen anything similar to what is happening to Tigrayans35 . Negligence to address the current dire humanitarian and human rights crises will not only be a deep stain on your legacy and conscience, and that of others with the mandate and responsibility to act, but also puts the global integrity, neutrality and reputation of the UN and its institutions at a stake.
7. In light of the aforementioned issues, the GSTS implores Your Excellency, the UNSC and all relevant UN branches to:
a) put pressure on all parties in to the conflict to immediately end hostilities and sit for an immediate negotiated ceasefire and all-inclusive political dialogue;
b) use all UN tools (including UNSC Resolution 2417 (2018)) and diplomatic means to immediately end the brutal siege and de facto humanitarian blockade on Tigray and thus grant unfettered humanitarian access to all parts of Tigray in a manner consistent with the United Nations guiding principles of humanitarian emergency assistance, including humanity, neutrality, impartiality and independence;
c) facilitate an urgent and direct aerial delivery (air bridge) of humanitarian aid to Tigray;
d) put all necessary pressure on the Ethiopian Government to fully re-establish all public services in Tigray, including electricity, fuel, telecommunication, internet, banking services, land and air transportation, water supply services etc.;
e) ensure the permanent and immediate withdrawal of Eritrean Defense Forces from Tigray and Amhara regional forces and militia from Western Tigray, in keeping with United Nations Human Right Council resolution 47/13;
f) disqualify the so-called joint-investigation and instead deploy UN-mandated commission to conduct an independent, credible and international investigation into the egregious violations of fundamental human rights and international humanitarian law committed against the People of Tigray;
g) urgently send your team of experts on the Rule of Law and Sexual Violence in Conflict to the Tigray region - as provided for the UNSC resolution 1888;
h) uphold the neutrality principle of the UN, refrain from any false equivalence, but instead be clear on naming the party that has rejected a peaceful resolution to the ongoing conflict; and
i) conduct regular and public meetings of the UNSC on the ever-escalating dire humanitarian situation in Tigray and other parts of Ethiopia. 8. Last but not least, GSTS remains committed to collaborate with Your Excellency, your office and other relevant UN organs to end the ongoing genocide, facilitate negotiated ceasefire and dialogue, as well as ensure accountability aimed at ushering long-lasting peace and mutual coexistence in Ethiopia and the Horn of Africa region at large.
The Global Society of Tigray Scholars and Professionals
23 rd October 2021
CC: · H.E. Antony Blinken Secretary of State of the United States
· H.E. Ursula von der Leyen President of the European Commission
· H.E. Josep Borrell High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy/Vice-President of the European Commission
· All UNSC Members