A Human Tragedy Unfolding in Ethiopia’s Tigray Region

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The armed conflict between the Ethiopian army and the Tigray People’s Liberation Front, a political party and ethnic Tigrayan military organization, has no end in sight. Civilians in the war torn Tigray Region of Ethiopia have suffered under extreme violence in the last few months1. The Ethiopian and Eritrean allied militaries have been accused of participating in widespread sexual violence2 and ethnic cleansing. According to Amnesty International, the Eritrean Military has perpetrated multiple significant war crimes, such as the massacre of roughly 700 civilians in the holy city of Axum3. These atrocities against innocent civilians prompted US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken to call for the complete withdrawal of Eritrean troops from Ethiopia4. The situation for civilians has only grown more dire as the Ethiopian-Eritrean coalition has recently begun using ‘siege tactics’ which exacerbate famine5. The UN estimates that 1.4 million people are on the brink of starvation due to food inaccessibility5. The brutality has not been limited to the government forces however, as many reports of ethnic retribution killings have been tied to the TPLF6.


The conflict’s origins are multi-faceted and have strong political and social explanations. Policy Analyst Jacques Bahati and other observers of the socio-political dynamics in Ethiopia believe that the violence in Ethiopia was predictable simply because of the recent loss of power of the Tigray minority ethnic group which ruled Ethiopia for decades. The ongoing conflict started in September, 2020, when an unlawful regional election was held in Tigray by the TPLF in defiance of the Ethiopian Federal Government. Shortly after the controversial vote, an Ethiopian Army base was allegedly attacked by TPLF militants. The TPLF have unequivocally denied their involvement, and claim that the attacks were fabricated as an excuse for the Government to invade. On November 4th, 2020 Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed ordered a military intervention in Tigray.


The conflict began with aerial bombardments and artillery strikes across the region. Tigray’s cities and towns were quickly overtaken as armored conveys poured in from the south and east. Within 10 days, the Ethiopian forces had taken the Tigrayan capital, Mekelle. Four days later, on November 28th, Primer Minister Abiy announced that the mission was complete. However, fighting continued to escalate long after the proclamation of victory as Tigrayan militants fled to the mountains.


A unilateral ceasefire was unexpectedly announced June 28th, days after Ethiopia’s Army withdrew from Mekelle. The TPLF has agreed to the temporary ceasefire, stating that they will resume fighting if Eritreans and neighboring ethnic Ahmaran militiamen (ethnic group allegedly aligned with the Ethiopian Government) do not retreat as well. It is unclear if the peace will hold, as Abiy has floated the option of gathering hundreds of thousands of soldiers for a second occupation, and the TPLF have threatened to march on the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa and invade Eritrea8. The conflict has not been going on for a long time, but it has been devastating, becoming one of Africa’s worst human rights disasters in years. Hundreds of thousands have been displaced, tens of thousands have been killed, and many more are on the brink of starvation.

  1. https://www.nytimes.com/2021/07/02/world/africa/tigray-ethiopia-soldiers-captured.html
  2. https://www.lawfareblog.com/sexual-violence-and-war-tigray
  3. https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/news/2021/02/ethiopia-eritrean-troops-massacre-of-hundreds-of-axum-civilians-may-amount-to-crime-against-humanity/
  4. https://www.state.gov/continuing-atrocities-and-denial-of-humanitarian-access-in-ethiopias-tigray-region/
  5. https://news.un.org/en/story/2021/06/1093722
  6. https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/news/2020/11/ethiopia-investigation-reveals-evidence-that-scores-of-civilians-were-killed-in-massacre-in-tigray-state/
  7. https://www.npr.org/2021/06/28/1011053371/ethiopia-declares-an-immediate-unilateral-cease-fire-in-tigray
  8. https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2021/7/5/ethiopia-abiy-ahmed-defends-tigray-conflict-rebel-gains
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