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Lest we make the same mistake; The international community’s response to current situation in Ethiopia

Solidarity Committee for Ethiopian Political Prisoners (SOCEPP-Canada)
የኢትዮጵያ ፖለቲካ እሥረኞች አንድነት ኮሚቴ (ኢፖእአኮካናዳ)
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March 9, 2021

On October 10, 1990, Nayrah;  the fifteen (15) year old Kuwaiti girl provides the US Congressional Human Rights Committee a “harrowing details of a human rights abuse by Iraqi Soldiers” which, she was quoted as saying she witnessed such an event taking place at the Al Sabah Maternity Hospital in Kuwait. She reported, ;

“…they burst into the hospital while I was working there that day and removed and took away all the incubators thereby causing over 300 newborns to perish.” CRC Report 1990

On December 19, 1990: Amnesty International (AI), under the title “Iraqi Atrocities in Kuwait” –released a report stating that they too investigated the matter thoroughly claiming it to be true.  Amnesty emphatically stated deaths indeed happened hence calling for the international community to intervene. (Iraq/Kuwait: Human Rights Violations since August 1st 1990 – Amnesty International(AI) Report)-Dec 19, 1990

Following the said incident and the interview, Nayrah’s recorded a video  crying, sobbing and speaking in her language was then widely broadcast on major American news outlets such as ABC, CBS, CNN, NBC, BBC, France-24, and German TV. In addition, major print media outlets such as the New York Times, Washington Post and others published the story as is without  verification. They all asked the then president Bush, Sr., to act immediately.

President Bush acted almost immediately by first instructing the State Department and the US Ambassador to the UN to table the matter before the UN Security Council (UNSC).  Although he did not get a wider coalition of the UN member states at the first attempt, Later on he managed to put a large group of European and Arab countries together, hence getting the approval of the UNSC on Novemnber 29, 1990 to invade Kuwait and remove Iraqi soldiers .

Emboldened by this resolution, President Bush then ordered the Pentagon to put-up an unprecedented array of war machinery: “Operation Desert Storm”, of hundreds of thousands of American, British and others soldiers. President Bush on live TV on January 17, 1991 declared the beginning of the war.

Despite the claim of Human Rights abuse and massacre of children and reports by “eye witnesses and highly reputable Human Rights organizations”, the following are some of facts what the world found out after the devastating war which lasted for 42 consecutive days and which also sow the seed for the subsequent war in Iraq that started in 2003.

  • On October 21, 1990 the Congress conducted an inquiry on the subject and shortly after, at the invitation of the Iraqi government, many Western Media Personnel went to Kuwait to conduct an investigation into the said allegation. They reported to respective media outlets that no such incident took place at the said hospital involving the Iraqi soldiers.
  • After the “Operation Desert Storm” took place the war of Kuwaiti “Liberation and civilians as well as property was destroyed, Amnesty International (AI) comes back into the picture admitting that there was no evidence implicating the Iraqi soldiers for any incident at that hospital, hence retracting its initial report.
  • Amnesty’s initial report was based, they allege, on an interview they has with a “reliable source”, a Red Crescent doctor who said  he witnessed the incident at the hospital.  It was later found out to be a onetime authority figure hired by  the previous government to do this dirty job. “The doctor”  later confessed that he never saw the newborns’ death but heard from someone else.  He  said the death was not 312, as reported by AI but only 72.  In fact, he said 32 newborn death from another hospital was also included in the report. The cause of the death of the newborns’ in that hospital was due to other complications and not because incubators were unplugged and stolen. (Cockburn, Alexander – Right Stuff. LRB, February 07, 1991)
  • The New York Times in 1992 reported that the Nayrah’s Testimony was actually manufactured by the Kuwaiti government support group: “Citizens for a Free Kuwait” who hired a lobby group and public Relations firm known as: Hill & Knowlton, which in fact was paid one million dollars.
  • It became clear that Nayrah, the girl behind the Amnesty International report & the Bush’s Desert Storm, was actually an “actor” who happened to be the daughter of the Kuwaiti Ambassador to the United States.
  • At the end of the war, the ABC investigative journalist/s who went to the said hospital found out that there were newborn as well as adult deaths at the hospital. They confirmed that the death was, not committed by Iraqi soldiers as alleged, but because of  lack of critical care as most Kuwaiti doctors and nurses abandoned their professional duties to care  and did not return till much later.
  • In 1992, Andrew Whitely, the HRW’s Director, shared his discontent with the press that all the reports that came out prior to the January 17, 1991 were unfortunate in that they severely lacked research, transparency and accountability.

All of the above was revealed after so many lives were lost, so many families destroyed, so much resource wasted and so much trauma left its marks on both the victims of war and the soldiers who actually conducted the war itself.

This was all the result of a reckless and misleading propaganda and hasty decisions.


The backdrop and context of the current conflict in Tigray

The Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) ruled Ethiopia with an iron fist from May 1991 until it was systematically ousted from power in March 1918. Ethnic Federalism, ethnic cleansing, mass killings, fraud elections, and the looting of the country’s resources to the tune of over $30 billion US dollars is what most Ethiopians know about the TPLF rule.

In November 2021, in an unprovoked attack by the Tigray Regional forces, demobilized the National Defence Force stationed in the region killing thousands and taking many others prisoners.  It was reported that the killing targeted members of a specific Ethnic Group (Amhara and Oromo) with in the Army.

Additionally, the TPLF forces raiding arms depos looted armaments including rockets they later fired on Asmara, Gondar, and Bahir Dar until they were silenced by the quickly put-up and reinforced defense forces of the Ethiopian Army. This army was also supported by regional and local forces of the Amhara and the Affar. While the Amhara and the Affar forces were at the forefront  fighting, citizens and regional governments throughout the country stood behind the National Defense Forces in unison and contributed immensely to bring about law and order in the region  where the National Defense Force was attacked  by the TPLF.

While the National Defense Force was trying to establish law and order in the region TPLF and cohorts committed genocide on their traditional targeted ethnic group – the Amhara at May-Kadra. numbering from 700-1000

The ugly war has displaced many from their homes and many into exile to the Sudan. In addition, there is no denial that a number of members of the TPLF affiliate Youth Group called “Samri”. which apparently was responsible for the genocide at Mai-Kadra also fled to the Sudan.

TPLF provoked the conflict because found it difficult to exist without dominating the political landscape in the country as it did for dacades.

All of this does not mean that there is no suffering,  human rights violation, disruption of peaceful day to day living, shortage of basic necessities…etc. The people  of Ethiopia are of course concerned about peace in Tigray.

However, it is imperative that governments avoid hasty actions that have a far reaching consequence both within Ethiopia and in the region at large.  Human Rights groups too need to carry a non patrician  thoroughly and responsible vetting of facts and avoid a one sided blame before putting out reports that could have a serious consequences.

As a leaked  confidential memo signed by  Achim Steiner, the administrator of the UNDP and published on Financial Post dated  March 9, 2021   show  “The  Tigray People’s Liberation Front, Ethiopia’s former ruling political party, provoked the Ethiopian government offensive by attacking and seizing Ethiopia’s Northern Command headquarters in Tigray in early November 2020, in what would have been an “act of war everywhere in the world, and one that typically triggers military response in defense of any nation,” U.N. Development Program Memo Sidesteps Ethiopia’s Role in Atrocities in Tigray War (

The Credibility Gap and the Trust Deficit


One of the most important factors the international community and Human Rights groups need to consider is the credibility gap between their action during the reign of TPLF and post TPLF. Many see the western world as enablers of TPLF in its human rights violation for 27 years. Despite horrifying atrocities by the TPLF, the international community has turned its head the other way and failed to take meaningful step to stop TPLF from abusing the citizens of that country with impunity

In fact, despite the countless atrocities TPLF committed the regime was the major recipient of western aid in Sub Sahara Africa. Its security apparatus, its international relation, its military capacity… etc was mainly built and subsidized by the western world.

Since it lost power in Addis Ababa in 2018, the TPLF continued to play a provocative role to undermine the unity of the country and its people. Despite a full knowledge about the distractive and provocative actions of the TPLF, the international community neither condemns nor  took any measure to stop the TPLF from pushing the country into further conflict.

As the Financial Post article put it “The ghosts of a repressive 27-year TPLF regime continue to torment the country—and winning the hearts and minds for social cohesion requires accepting that there is blame on all sides, including the international community,” it states.

After ignoring the suffering of the Ethiopian people the current action of the western donors sudden move to punish Ethiopia for human rights violation fails the credibility test. It will not be a surprise if Ethiopians question whether the motive of the western world is protection of Human Rights or something else.


Conclusion and recomendations


Whether responding to a crisis like what we observe in Ethiopia now or challenging injustices requires a well-planned strategy for making sure that the general public and all stakeholders clearly understand the intent of any action and that the message is believed. Threat and intimidation increases people’s  worry and hardly helps to building trust.

The sudden sprinting of the western world to punish Ethiopia in relation to what is happening in Tigray without even uttering a word of accountability about TPLF’s action  will only widen the credibility gap.  This has a potential for  undermining the peaceful attempt to build a democratic and self-reliant country and  will sow the seed of further conflict in the country and the region at large.  Coupled with this, the timing of the unprecedented pressure by the western world while the country is partially invaded by the Sudan and the daily military threat for its attempt to use the Blue Nile for Hydro Electric Generation makes the move of the western world look insensitive and questionable.

Therefore,  we  urge caution and sober thinking before rushing to any conclusion and action.  We agree that the alleged abuse of Human rights in Ethiopia should be investigated. We also believe that there is a role the international community could play to alleviate the suffering of the people in Tigray and entire Ethiopia. But we also say that all of this has to be done with full respect  of the sovereignty of Ethiopia.

The Ethiopian Government too has to  be transparent and provide true information on the alleged involvement of the Eritrean army in Tigray and alleged abuse it purportedly committed.

As Lawrence Freeman (2021)[i] put it succinctly: The US embargo on Ethiopia in the mid-70s under Jimmy Carter only brought other allies into Africa and the resultant 1976/7 War of destruction between Somalia & Ethiopia. Ethiopia stayed out of America’s sphere of influence until about 1992. It has since stayed intact and let’s keep it that way.



[i] Horn of Africa Endangered by Untrue Media Attacks on Ethiopia, Africa and the World. L. Freeman on

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