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Background Material for Testimony Before the Subcommittee, House of Commons of Canada

June 11, 2024

Background Material For
Testimony Before the Subcommittee on International Human Rights,
The House of Commons of Canada

June 11, 2024

Yonas Biru, PhD

Ethiopia is one of the most conflict-ridden nations on Planet Earth. At the heart of its misery resides a constitution that has reduced the concept of sovereign power from “we, the people of Ethiopia” to “we, the tribes of Ethiopia.” The 1995 Constitution made tribe the foundation of the nation’s political organizing principle and the spirit of nationalism. Tribal interests became the selection criteria for allies and adversaries. Inter-tribal rivalry got baked into the nation’s social psychology. The nation’s enduring unity that was the cornerstone of its unbreeched independence gave way to constitutionally induced tribal conflict and politics became the dogma of a zero-sum game. The fledgling class of opinion-leaders and nation-builders became the first line of casualty. In their place rose an elite class of peddlers of tribal conflict.

Sadly, the Ethiopian diaspora became an integra part, if not the engine of the nation’s tribal warfare. The word genocide became a staple of the political lexicon and served as a steroid for polarizing and galvanizing tribal warriors. In the process, Ethiopia found itself locked in coiled political equilibrium tensed with tribal identity. The notion that Ethiopia’s problems can be resolved by Ethiopians is a myth. An external pressure must be applied to uncoil the tensed political equilibrium before it bursts.

Unfortunately, the notion that African problems can be solved by Africans is another myth. When it comes to crimes among their ranks, African governments take refuge in the proverbial hear-no-evil, see-no-evil, and speak-no-evil mindset. Ironically, their sense of manifestation of promoting peace and justice is focused outside of their home continent. In 2019, the Gambia, a small African nation of 2.7 million people, filed a lawsuit in the International Court of Justice (ICJ) accusing the Asian nation of Myanmar of breaching the genocide convention in its assault against the Rohingya people. In 2024, South Africa filed a claim against Israel at the ICJ alleging genocide against the Palestinians in Gaza.

Given African governments hear-no-evil, see-no-evil, and speak-no-evil policy toward African crisis, the burden of avoiding Ethiopia’s impending genocidal war rests on the broader international community.

The State of the Entropic Crisis

The two-year Tigray War in Ethiopia is “the deadliest armed conflict of the century.” The death toll is tallied at 600,000. Unfortunately, devastations of war are not limited to fatalities; they also result in unimaginable human suffering and economic catastrophe.

During the two-year war, international reports accused the Ethiopian National Defense Forces (ENDF) as well as Eritrean and Amhara forces of war crimes and crimes against humanity, including the use of rape and starvation as weapons of war. The US government added: “Members of the Amhara forces also committed crime against humanity of deportation or forcible transfer and committed ethnic cleansing in western Tigray.” Furthermore, a recent report by New Lines Institute reiterated similar findings of crime against humanity and credible allegations of crimes against Tigrayans in the context of the Genocide Convention.”

Similarly, in 2021, Amnesty International described atrocities committed by Tigrayan forces as “despicable acts that amount to war crimes, and potentially crimes against humanity [and concluded that their actions] defied humanity and [lacked] an iota of humanity.” In 2022, it added: “Tigrayan fighters affiliated with the TPLF “deliberately killed civilians, gang raped and sexually assaulted women and girls.” New Lines Institute also found “reasonable basis to believe that the Tigrayan force have violated international humanitarian law amounting to the commission of war crimes and/or crimes against humanity.” Other international agencies believed Tigrayan forces’ most repugnant crime was the use of “child soldiers for the purpose of human shields against attacks” and crimes of starvation.

 

It is now over a year and a half since the Tigray war has ended. Sadly, the humanitarian crisis has not improved. On March 11, 2024, France’s flagship newspaper, Le Monde reported that 90% of Tigrayans suffer from malnutrition. Currently, over 20 million Ethiopians need international food aid of which 3.46 millions are internally displaced and nearly 33% of Ethiopian students are out of school.

 

The Prime Minister of Ethiopia is indifferent to, if not downright neglectful of, the growing national crises. His lack of adequate response to the plight of millions of forcefully displaced Amharas, the growing starvation of millions of Tigrayns, the multilayered crisis in Bale in the Oromo region, and the forgotten people of Afar manifest his leadership failings.

 

He is not only ignoring the humanitarian tragedy but also denying it. Acknowledging it would undermine his vanity projects, including the $15.4 billion palace he is building with a waterfall, three artificial lakes, a zoo, and luxury condominiums and high-end shopping malls rivaling the posh sections of Dubai.

 

In April 2024, the TPLF exacerbated the crisis by opening a new war front against Amhara forces to recapture one of the contested lands, leading to the forced displacement of 50,000 people. At the writing of this background material, it is also preparing to start another war at the Wolkait front, the second contested land. Its current international media blitz is déjà vu November 2020 all over again. Another civil war is in the air. Ethiopia and the geo-strategic Horn of Africa are in peril.

 

The reality in broader Ethiopia is far more calamitous. The welfare of 128 million people is in the hands of a reckless Prime Minister. The hallmarks of his autocratic leadership include: “Extrajudicial killings; enforced disappearance; torture or cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment [of opposition figures]; harsh and life-threatening prison conditions; widespread civilian deaths; forcible transfers of civilian populations, torture, physical abuses, and conflict-related sexual violence or punishment.”

 

Furthermore, on the heels of the end of the Tigray civil war, the Prime Minister scaled up and intensified the lingering low intensity war with the Oromo Liberation Army (OLA) in the Oromo region. He also started a full-blown war against the Amhara Fano (an armed resistance group) in the Amhara region. As a result, currently, two civil wars are being fought in two regions which together account for 61% of the nation’s total population and 87% of its wheat production.

 

With the OLA and Amhara Fano come layers of complications that can light the nation’s combustible political tinder box.  For all practical purposes, the OLA is a criminal group that is involved in mass murder and kidnapping of Ethiopian and foreigners for ransom. Its primary targets are Ethiopians of Amhara origin. In January 2023, the VOA reported, “close to a million Amharas were forcefully evicted from the Oromo region. In December 2023, the Lemkin Institute for Genocide Prevention flagged “The Amhara are in a perilous discursive position that could easily devolve into genocide.

 

Amhara Fanos are justified in raising arms to defend themselves from an existential threat of genocide. Their problem is that they are disparate forces without a unified leadership structure. They lack seasoned political leaders and operate without political consensus or strategic goal. There is conflict within the various Fano forces, esteeming from power struggle and differences in political orientation. More concerning is that there are non-negligible religious fundamentalist and tribal extremist elements within their ranks.

 

Unless the greater Fano enterprise manages to rein in extremist elements and build a political consensus across all Fano groups, the risk of warlordism and civil war cannot be eliminated or reduced by reasonable accommodation. Fano has a potential to be a transformative force if it succeeds in creating a broad-based coalition and putting pressure on the government for a win-win negotiated settlement. It also has the potential to be a destructive force if advocates of “no-negotiated settlement” emerge as the winning group.

 

Though the Prime Minister has relented to international pressure to negotiate with the OLA, neither party seemed genuinely interested in reaching a settlement. Some of the OLA’s demands could not be met. For example, one of their demands is putting Addis Ababa, the capital city, under the Oromo control as “the rightful owners of the land.” Their demand is based on the Constitution that bestows sovereign power to tribal regions. The OLA believes ownership and citizenship rights should be exclusively reserved to Oromos and non-Oromos will have residential permits without citizenship rights. It is akin to the Quebec Province in Canada restricting the rights of English speaking Canadians in Quebec to residential permit

 

The prospect of intractable war is even more worrisome in the Amhara region. The PM sees the Amhara people as an existential threat to his authoritarian rule and is bent on bringing them to their knees. Though there are Fano groups who are amenable to engage in a negotiated settlement with the government, there are others who are bent on taking over the levers of political power by the barrel of the gun. Recently, one of the most powerful Fano leaders declared that the only negotiation that his group will consider is “one in which the Prime Minister is ready to sign an agreement to handover full power and authority to Amhara forces.”

 

In parallel to the growing political crises, a looming economic crisis and total collapse in law and order pose a potentially irreversible threat to the survival of the nation. At no time in its history has Ethiopia faced the prospect of an apocalyptic rendezvous with national disintegration. It is one spark away from a genocidal civil war that would make the Rwandan genocide look like child’s play. As precious days slip by with no action, Ethiopia is getting closer to the day of reckoning.

 

The international community has moral obligation to intervene in keeping with its “Never Again” commitment after the Rwandan genocide. It also has strategic interests to intervene, considering Ethiopia is an anchor nation to the Horn of Africa that is one of the world’s critical sea transit chokepoints vital for world trade. Up to 15 % of the global trade and 40% of the goods that are traded between Europe and Asia go through the Horn.

 

The International Community Needs to Reset its Intervention Policy

 

The international community needs to focus its intervention on the crisis at the national level rather than responding to the needs and demands of Oromo, Amhara, or Tigrayan diaspora activists. In a game-theoretic sense, the agents of conflict in Ethiopian politics (the Prime Minister and his party, the TPLF, OLA and Fano) will not change their political calculus until they perceive there is a principled change in the international community’s intervention.

 

In the past, the international community’s focus has been on the Tigray crisis. This must change because the Tigray problem cannot be resolved in isolation. Three factors explain the focus on Tigray.

 

First, the TPLF has a robust international PR ecosystem supported by lobbying powerhouses to influence global opinion in its favor.

 

Second, the TPLF is also effective in co-opting the international media and policy makers. In April 2021, a former US Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs revealed that he was “warned TPLF is financing some journalists.” It must also be noted that the most senior US official who was TPLF’s flagbearer was Senator Robert Menendez who was indicted on charges of working for Egyptian agents in exchange for $150,000 in gold bars, $480,000 in cash and a Mercedes Benz to boot.

 

Third, Tigrayan diaspora activists bully and terrorize foreign experts who take issue with the TPLF’s narratives. In November 2021, Getachew Reda, then spokesperson for TPLF and currently the interim president of Tigray, told the Reuters that the TPLF would “hunt down” foreigners who took exceptions to the TPLF narratives and supported the Ethiopian government “as technical experts.” He said, “We don’t care what their nationality is. We will hunt them down. They will be treated like the mercenaries they are.”

 

Accordingly, TPLF supporters organize campaigns against TPLF’s critics, going as far as bombarding their employers with thousands of emails accusing them of hiring “genociders” and “genocide advocates.” In this regard, TPLF’s terror campaign reached a culmination point when they forced US Congresswoman Maxine Waters to fire her communication director, Hermela Aregawi, an Ethiopian-American of Tigrayan heritage. Her “crime” was accusing the TPLF of holding the people of Tigray as political hostage, and persistently heralding the lack of pluralistic politics and the rule of law in the Tigray region. Other victims of the TPLF bullying and terrorist campaigns included a director at the Atlantic Council.

 

The TPLF’s bullies go as far as threatening their targets and their family members with physical harm. It should be noted that some of their victims are reputable Canadian academics and their families. I understand two international witnesses are testifying confidentially before this Committee to avoid TPLF’s cyber-attacks. TPLF has effectively silenced foreign experts. As a result, its agenda dominates the international bandwidth and takes precedence.

 

There is no question that the people of Tigray have suffered unimaginable atrocities. So have the people of Amhara and Afar. The international community must not become an arbitral of genocide claims and counterclaims.

 

It must learn from Amnesty International. In 2021, Amnesty International issued a report on the Axum (an iconic historical town in Tigray) massacre. The report presented what it called “a compelling evidence for war crimes and what appears crimes against humanity.” The assertion was supposedly based on 41 survivors and 20 eyewitnesses. Two weeks later, one of the Directors of Amnesty International admitted the evidence was “incorrect as to the date and the circumstances.” She called for an “independent, UN-led expert investigation” to ascertain the truth.

 

The date and the circumstances were important to whether the actions amounted to war crimes and/or crimes against humanity. The truth was the murders happened after the TPLF forces dressed in civilian cloth and civilian residents of Axum attacked Ethiopian and Eritrean forces. However, all 41 survivors and 20 witnesses gave wrong dates to support TPLF’s narrative that peaceful and unarmed civilians were killed days after TPLF forces had left the city of Axum.

 

When a total of 61 witnesses repeats the same false story including dates and circumstances, it is obvious that the story was scripted, rehearsed, and asserted to allege crimes against humanity and mislead the international community. Unfortunately, this did not stop the New Lines Institute from bolstering its genocide allegations referring to the repudiated Amnesty International report 11 times.

 

In investigating genocide allegations, the report also relied on Mark Lowcock, who was United Nations Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator from 2017-2021. Lowcock was one of the UN official who accused the Ethiopian government of “picking a fight [and] sending Federal troops to Tigray in an attempt to resolve what was essentially a political argument.”

 

Lowcock’s accusation flies in the face of well-established facts. A TPLF official, Sekoture Getachew, described the war that the TPLF launched as a “lightning strike” to “cause a disarray [and] demobilize the federal forces.” He added: “We brought the entire northern command consisting of 30,000 soldiers and 70 to 80 percent of the nation’s military firepower under our control, barring a few pockets of resistance.” Soon after, the acting president of the Tigray State, Debretsion Gebremichael, declared PM Ahmed’s government “illegitimate” and demanded to dissolve it. Anyone who refers to this as “essentially a political argument” cannot be taken seriously, much less as a reliable source to establish the charges of genocide.

 

Another concern is the report’s handling of the allegations of starvation as a weapon of war. The report rightly describes the use of starvation as a “war crime by depriving civilians of objects indispensable for their survival.” In this regard, the report rattled over 40 allegations of starvation crimes against the Ethiopian government and its Eritrean and Amhara allies.

 

What is conspicuously missing in the report is the fact that Tigrayan forces were equally responsible in the starvation of the people of Tigray. It is an open knowledge that TPLF forces looted “USAID warehouses” and “emergency UN food supplies at gunpoint.” Further, in 2021, the TPLF and TDF hijacked over 400 UN Trucks that were used for international food aid transportation. The Trucks were never returned.

 

In the same year, TPLF and TDF fighters were caught with donated high-energy biscuits that were intended to starving children. Furthermore, in 2022, the UN World Food Program (WFP) announced “TPLF forces stole 12 fuel tankers from its warehouse in Mekelle,” the capital of Tigray. The UN characterized their actions as “outrageous and disgraceful” and the head of the USAID, Samantha Powers, described it as “deeply cruel” to their own people. The UN Secretary-General’s office stressed the TPLF’s action “will impact humanitarian operations,” such as “the distribution of food, fertilizer, and other emergency relief items.”

 

According to Opinio-Juris, the world’s first and prominent blog dedicated to the informed discussion of international law, “starvation crimes include attacks against objects indispensable to the survival (OIS) of the civilian population .” No doubt that incidents of stealing humanitarian food aid, medicine, trucks, and fuel intended to save lives fall under starvation crimes. It is puzzling to say the least how TPLF’s systemic and persistent looting of objects indispensable to the survival of the people of Tigray hid in the blind spot of the authors of the New Lines Institute’s report.

 

More disturbing is the report’s extensive use of materials published by TPLF’s foreigner advocates. The report referred to three such advocates (Martin Plaut, Alex de Waal, and Kjetil Tronvoll) for a total of 124 times. In the meantime, widely published prominent foreigner experts with differing views were completely shutout.

 

A recent Special panel on a new “Genocide in Tigray involving Sarah Vaughan (a known quantity in the TPLF advocacy circle) and Dr. Azeem Ibrahim OBE, one of the co-authors of the report all but threw a wet blanket on the credibility of the report.  Vaughan said she is not “convinced that this is strong enough evidence” to declare genocide. She found the evidence presented in the report as “circumstantial bits and pieces” and concluded “there is quite a long way to go proving intent” which is one of the critical criteria to establish genocide.

 

The response of Dr. OBE to Vaughan’s damaging assessment was puzzling, to put it mildly. The report to which he is a leading author was conclusive, headlining “Genocide in Tigray: Serious breaches of international law in the Tigray conflict, Ethiopia, and paths to accountability.”

In a sardonic twist of irony his response to Vaughan’s damaging statement was: “We are a Washington based Think Tank organization. One of the things we are hoping this report instigate is a thorough, proper investigation by the authorities that do have a power and capacity to get to the bottom of many of the issues.”

 

Genocide reports of the kind published by the New Lines Institute are based on unverified information at best. At worst, they fail to pass the test of impartiality and ethical integrity. In the best of circumstances, their utility does not go beyond making a case for an unfettered international investigation. This is where the international community must step in. This Committee can have positive impact on the lives, livelihoods, and future of 128 million Ethiopians by advocating for such an investigation.

 

In its intervention, the international community needs to be judicious without being judicial and impartial without being neutral. The solution for the looming genocidal crisis comes from changing the rules of the political game that the warring parties are engaged in, not by trying to find a common ground between them. In tribal politics there is no middle ground. If by some miracle the international community manages to tease out a common ground, tribal commissars will change it into a battleground in a heartbeat.

 

Ray of Hope Behind the Heavy and Dark Clouds Hanging Over Ethiopia

 

Of recent, voices of discontent have started to emerge from a growing undercurrent movement in the back alleys of the Amhara-Oromo-Tigray political nexus. This has opened a window of opportunity to shift the center of gravity of the nation’s political theater toward forces of reconciliation.

 

Whether the opportunity will be realized depends on who wins the tug of war between the forces of reconciliation and the agents of tribal conflict. The international community has enormous leverage to tilt the balance toward forces of reconciliation. Such a leverage can be more effective if the international community works as a team forming a committee and finds a way to bring China on board.

 

China has an enormous investment portfolio in East Africa. Furthermore, its trade with Gulf countries in 2023 was nearly $290 billion. Therefore, it has vested interest to be a part of an international effort to avert the Horn’s impending catastrophic crisis. The international community needs to consider taking the following steps as a matter of supreme urgency.

 

  • Make accountability a sacred bedrock of international intervention, demandingunfettered international investigations of all atrocities committed in Ethiopia. In this regard, the international community needs to put pressure on the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) to establish a human rights investigation commission and make international aid to Ethiopia conditional to providing an unfettered access to such a commission. Should this fail, it needs to impose stringent sanctions against intransigent parties and individuals.

 

 

  • Put pressure on the government to declare a unilateral ceasefire in Amhara and Oromo regions and pursue a peaceful settlement. The international community must stress the alternative to the negotiation table is an international persecution for war crimes, crime against humanity and genocide.

 

  • Put pressure on the OLA and Fano fighters to accept peaceful negotiation as a primary option.

 

  • Put stringent conditions to the World Bank and IMF loans to Ethiopia, including stopping the ongoing wars, ending the state of emergency, and releasing all political prisoners.

 

  • Put pressure against the UAE and Turkey to stop supplying the Ethiopian government with drones and other lethal weapons.

 

  • Give equal attention to armed and unarmed opposition groups and support emerging voices of peace and reconciliation.

 

Some of these actions may require costly enforcement mechanisms, beyond economic sanctions. As noted above, the nation is one spark away from a genocidal civil war that would make the Rwandan genocide look like child’s play. As precious days slip by with no action, Ethiopia is getting closer to the day of reckoning. The future cost of inaction can be far greater than the cost of action now. The cost of economic and/or political collapse will ultimately be the burden of the international community. Now is the time to act.

7 Comments

  1. Dr. Yonas:-
    You appear to believe that Africans cannot solve their problems. This is siding with the racists. The 1994 election of South Africa and its resounding success in building a democratic system at one stroke is a good enough evidence that we can do it.

    I read your articles with considerable interest, but I sometimes wonder whether some of your statements are evidence-based. You write that Amhara Fanos ” … problem is that they are disparate forces without a unified leadership structure. They lack seasoned political leaders and operate without political consensus or strategic goal. There is conflict within the various Fano forces, esteeming from power struggle and differences in political orientation. More concerning is that there are non-negligible religious fundamentalist and tribal extremist elements within their ranks.” Is this true ?

    Can a disorganized, divided and conflicting body with no political consensus and strategic goal get this far ? Are you not seriously underestimating Fano ? I know very little about the internal workings or organization of Fano in Gojjam, Gonder, Wello and Shoa, but my observation of events on the ground contradict yours.

    Again, have you ever heard of genocide attributable to the Fano over the last 10 months under the ” disparate forces”, as you describe them, in the wide Amhara region ? If you have not, are you suggesting that whoever has been in Tigray with ENDF, if true, has been a totally different breed of Fanos ? If Fano has criminal elements, are you suggesting that those that may have been in Tigray that you accuse of genocide are a select group of holy men ?

    You seem to have forgotten to mention that the current invasion of Raya and Welkait comes immediately after TPLF has signed a Pretoria agreement, in the presence of American and AU observers, where TPLF has agreed to disarm fully 30 days after the the signature. The Ethiopian Government had been giving the impression that they had disarmed. If they have done it, then how is it that they now have heavy guns to invade north Amhara for the 4th time, or is it possible that they have been given the heavy guns by ENDF to invade the Amhara region? This lack of transparency is one strong reason for the existence of Fano today to ensure Amhara survival, but your review appears to cover up this important fact intentionally or otherwise.

    Lastly, you suggest that a win-win agreement between Fano and the Ethiopian Government has not been possible due to extremist elements within Fano. However, do you know that the Pretoria agreement has already failed ? Why did it fail ? Who was responsible for its failure ? Why do you think an agreement with Fano will be respected ? Why do you blame Fano for extremism when there is a clear need for serious caution ?

  2. A very confused and demented man. Only a few years ago you had been crying wolf for being discriminated against by white folks while working for the World Bank. Now you are seeking their very intervention to save the only black nation that defeated the white colonialists. What can better diagnose your derangement than this. Pathetic!

  3. Logically #Ethiopia armed forces must obey the Ark of the Covenant Values ​​​​completed in house of Axum Queen of Sheba with message Prophet Solomon p. King Ezana message Prophet Jesus p. King Nagashi message Prophet Muhammad p.
    #Ethiopian_army #Gambella #Oromo #Tigray #Somalia

  4. Is this what was presented to the Canadian House of Commons? When did that happen and who presented it? Was it Obbo Yonas himself or someone else? Is there a video of the presentation? If it does exist, please someone post the link for us here. It is a pleasant surprise for me to notice the brother has not used the term ‘Oromummaa’ as pejorative in this article.

    Keep writing, sir!

  5. It was/is wonderful presentation by Dr Yonas Biru. Don’t be distracted by those who came to this world to just insult others but not contributing something worthwhile. Ethiopia needs courageous people like you at this historical juncture.

  6. አሰፋ፦
    ዶ/ር ዮናስን ባግባቡ ማበረታታት ደግ ሆኖ ሳለ፣ የሰውን ማንነት ሳታውቅ፣ ፍርድ አትስጥ! አጻጻፍህ ያስገምትሀል። የሚረባ ሥራ መሥራትና አለመሥራታችንን እዚህ ላይ በሚጫረው አጭር አስተያየት መገመት ይከብዳል። ዝርዝር ቢቀርብልህስ ይገባሀል ? ገንቢ ትችት ለዕድገት መሠረት መሆኑን ዶ/ር ዮናስን ብትጠይቀው ያስረዳሀል። እንደምገምተው በዩኒቬርሲቲ ደረጃ ብዙ የገፋህም አትመስልም።
    የዛሬው የአገራችን ችግር እንዳንተ ገንቢ ትችትንና የባለጌ ስድብን መለየት የማይችሉ በዝተውብን ነው።

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