Aklog Birara (Dr)
I had argued that US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken’s repeated reference and attribution to and use of the historically flawed geopolitical and regional boundary term “Western Tigray” is a “de-facto” recognition of the right of the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) to incorporate forcibly annexed Amhara lands into Greater Tigray. Tragically for Ethiopia, this policy will reinforce violence and cause more bloodshed.
The “king-makers “of the international order (UN, multilateral financial institutions, human rights organizations, and the like) express and dictate severe terms and conditions on Ethiopia without let up. These edicts under the rubric of human rights and democracy have direct impact on Ethiopia’s interactable domestic problems including contentious regional boundaries. These are domestic and sovereign matters that lend themselves to amicable resolution by Ethiopians.
In terms of the root causes of human insecurity in Ethiopia; I suggest that is high time for Ethiopians to soul search and agree that the future is far more important than the past. They must agree on what type of future they envision for Ethiopia; and for whom. They must agree that the rights, safety, and personal security of all Ethiopians matter. This will not happen through dreaming and assaulting or demeaning one another. This requires arduous work. This demands a unity of national purpose. Commitment to establish, nurture and recognize strong and robust national or Ethiopian institutions is critical.
The crux of the matter is this. The West led by the USA believes (wrongly or rightly) that Ethiopian political and social elites are incapable of resolving the country’s crisis. Therefore, the US designs, engineers, leads, and manages foreign policy instruments with a mindset that it must fill a “void in Ethiopia’s governance. The social base of their current argument is the harm on Tigrean Ethiopians inflicted by Amhara militia, Fano, administrators as well as by Eritrean forces.
The cohort of influencers include corporate media, legislators, policy, and decision-makers as well as human rights organizations. Today, these influencers dictate what is good for Ethiopians and other Africans. In short, the USA and its institutions are treating Ethiopians as immature.
I subscribe to the overarching and painful theme that insurgency, civil war, targeted ethnic killings, rape, displacement of millions, revenge and counter revenge and destruction of socioeconomic and physical infrastructure in Ethiopia are an affront to our common humanity. However, it is important to remember these tragic occurrences did not just erupt after November 2021. Subdued and cleverly managed by Ethiopia’s rulers, targeted ethnic killings, ethnic cleansing, massive displacements of Indigenous people based on ethnic affiliation began in the 1970s. They continue unabated to this day. These degraded the entire Ethiopian society.
The uncommon phenomenon of “Western Tigray” became common post 1991 when the TPLF took political power. It gained prominence after the TPLF initiated civil war of November 4, 2021. The “big elephant in the room” that popularized and internationalized the term “Western Tigray” as a vital and legitimate component of Greater Tigray is the symmetry between TPLF policy claim and public policy concerning forcibly annexed lands on the one hand and the legitimacy granted by the USA-led West to this claim on the other.
I say this based on concrete evidence left out by Amnesty and Human Rights Watch. Last week, the Ethiopian Press Agency (EPA) reported to the international community that the TPLF “murdered more than 60,000 ethnic Amhara over a forty-year period in Wolkait, Tegede and Telemt. It based its report on research findings including the unearthing of mass graveyards. This staggering figure constituted close to 75 percent of the population at the time.
Assistant Professor Geta Asrade, a member of the Gondar University research and fact-finding team reported to ENA that his team “conducted the research by identifying, unearthing, and assessing mass graves, and by interviewing survivors. We have found that the whereabouts of 19 percent of gamily heads is still unknown after the TPLF abducted and took them to prisons. Twenty-five percent of ethnic Amhara killed; and 29 percent of ethnic Amhara forced to leave or flee their homes and properties.”
This is the genesis of the “Western Tigray” phenomenon. If facts matter in defining foreign policy, why not adhere to the truth?
In other words, “Why deaf ears and blind eyes?”
When it comes to foreign policy and punitive measures, Western leaders, legislative bodies, corporate media, human rights organizations, most notably, Amnesty International and Human Rights as well as think-tanks speak and operate seamlessly together and in concert. The strategic goal of speaking from the same script using impartial and jaded data sends a chilling message to Black Africans. This is because it is not the wellbeing of our common humanity that Amnesty and Human Rights Watch are really serving when it comes to Ethiopia. Rather, it is someone else’s agenda with intent to serve a specific national security objective in the name of humanity.
Regardless of the merit, history, and the truth on the ground these entities lend deaf ears and blind eyes to contestants and counter views. I urge the reader to remember that the post-World War II international order dominated by the United States of America is replete with false and misleading narratives that led to the collapse and or massive destruction of countries: Yugoslavia, Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan, Somalia, Yemen, Libya, Vietnam. Given its strategic location, Ethiopia is no longer an exception to this global phenomenon.
It is not my intention here to discuss who really benefits from civil wars and wars between or among countries. I leave this to the imagination of the reader. It is incontestable that civil wars and wars between and among countries entail losers and winners.
Following the release of massive research, findings, diagnosis, and conclusions by Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch titled “War Crimes, Crimes Against Humanity and Ethnic cleansing in Western Tigray, Ethiopia,” April 6, 2022, US Department of State spokesperson Ned Price acknowledged the report and clarified the US position on the matter on April 8, 2022.
The convergence between the conclusions of the human rights organizations and the embrace of broad findings and conclusions by the Department of State is not coincidental. In my assessment, Westerners planned and synchronized their scheme carefully. The emotive term used by Amnesty and HR Watch “We Will Erase You from This Land” is so graphic that it is believable. It disarms the international reader or listener. In effect, it is Ukraine like.
I am not aware of any reasonable or rationale Ethiopian regardless of ethnicity or faith who welcomes or supports the massacre of Tigrean-Ethiopians. Targeted ethnic cleansing and killing degrades every one of us. It dehumanizes all Ethiopians. The TPLF and its allies crafted, introduced, and executed this uncommon and unacceptable political culture and practice in Ethiopia in the 1970s and early 1980s. The TPLF and its ethnic elite allies imposed the current ethnicity and language-based Constitution that also grants the right to secede (Article 39). No wonder Ethiopia is on a roller coaster.
The gaping hole in the Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch latest report and the sweeping conclusions emanate from their deliberate disregard of the massacres of tens of thousands, the displacements, and expulsions of hundreds of thousands of Amhara by the TPLF when it forcibly annexed Wolkait, Tegede, Telemt and Raya and incorporated these Amhara lands into Greater Tigray. This action changed the demographic composition of the population overnight. Newly dug mass grave sites Wolkait (so called “Western Tigray”) by academics and experts from Gondar University cited earlier reconfirm the plethora of evidence availed to the international community over the past 30 years. The community ignored the atrocities.
By their own definition, the TPLF committed war crimes, crimes against humanity, ethnic cleansing, and genocide. This occurred without challenge from Western governments, corporate media, or human rights organizations. I underscore the incontestable fact that the TPLF changed the demographic composition of the population by targeting indigenous Amhara.
Had Amnesty and HR Watch wanted to present a balanced scorecard and fair assessment of human atrocities in Ethiopia, they could have acknowledged that the TPLF committed dozens of Mai Kadra like massacres before the Mai Kadra massacre of November 2021 that they acknowledge as incidental and or peripheral.
I want to draw your attention to the Q & A where Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch discussed their joint report.
- What are your key findings?
They concluded that “new administrators in the Western Tigray zone, as well as regional officials and security forces from Ethiopia’s Amhara region, are responsible for a campaign of ethnic cleansing, conducted through crimes against humanity and war crimes, targeting Tigrayan civilians in Western Tigray since the war began in November 2020. Western Tigray (referred to as Wolkait-Tegede by Amhara) has been the site of unaddressed, and decades-long boundary disputes, simmering tensions, and rights abuses. With the outbreak of conflict in November 2020, Amhara forces, militias, and authorities with long-standing grievances and an interest in claiming the land, acted in close coordination with the federal government to take control of these areas.”
There is no reference to TPLF forcible annexation of these lands; and to ethnic reconfiguration or decomposition achieved by the TPLF through massacres, ethnic cleansing, and massive expulsion of indigenous Amhara. I remind you of the credible evidence that the TPLF killed or took to unknown places or expelled more than 60,000 Amhara were or just herded them like cattle and hid them or their bodies in secret and hard to find locations or simply threatened them to leave the area and never come back. The reason for this deliberate negligence of these horrendous atrocities by Amnesty and Human Rights Watch is to target Amhara forces, militia, Fano, administrators and the Government of Eritrea.
This is the reason the report is political and strategic. This is the reason I urge Amnesty and Human Rights Watch to do the right thing by covering all human atrocities in Ethiopia over the past forty years.
- Why are you releasing this report now?
The coincidence I would like to flag is the pending US Congress Bills HR-6600 and S-3199. “This report is the product of over a year of work. Given the scale and severity of the violations, we needed to gather numerous testimonies across Western Tigray to give a faithful account of what unfolded across such a large area, and to be confident in our findings.” If it took this long, why did Amnesty and HR Watch fail to give coverage to massacres and rapes by the TPLF in the Afar and Amhara regions? Why is there no reference to targeted ethnic cleanings in Beni-Shangul Gumuz, Wellega and other locations? Do Afar and Amhara lives matter at all? They do. I lost respect for these two important institutions because they are not fair. Their report is politically motivated.
- What evidence did you base your findings on?
The evidence gathered is patently biased. By all measurements, it is favorable to the TPLF and the Tigrean population. Neither Amnesty nor Human Rights Watch interviewed a sample of Indigenous people who fled their homeland and now live in Australia, Canada, Europe, and the USA. Why did they fail to interview researchers, previously expelled Indigenous people in the vicinity and in the rest of Ethiopia?
“Between December 2020 and March 2022, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch researchers conducted over four hundred interviews with survivors of abuses, their family members, and witnesses, to investigate abuses and trends across over a dozen towns and villages in Western Tigray. The report also draws on previous documentation by Amnesty International of human rights violations in Western Tigray prior to the outbreak of conflict in November 2020.” What about the testimonies of Amhara victims and survivors who fled the TPLF onslaught, ethnic cleansing, massacres, and expulsions and who reside in the Sudan and Ethiopia? Is this not fair and prudent?
- How did you establish that Tigrayans did not choose to leave the Western Tigray Zone en masse?
The primary cause for displacement of more than ten million Ethiopians from their homes and lands is the civil war triggered by the TPLF. Tens of thousands of Tigrean Ethiopians fled Tigray and moved to the Amhara region. If Amhara were inhumane, would they open their lands to this exodus? Amnesty and HR Watch fail to give credit where credit is due. Tragically and for reasons that defy logic, Amnesty and Human Rights Watch as well as the US Department of State seem to be unabashed in criticizing Amhara, the primary victims of TPLF and OLA/Shine atrocities over four decades. Imagine the victim and not the victimizer accused!!
Pessimistic observers argue that Amhara are “doomed.” As an eternal optimist, I say to all Ethiopians and friends of Ethiopia around the world that if Amhara who love and defend Ethiopia are “doomed,” then Ethiopia will fail. If you wish to save Ethiopia, then it behooves you to defend the human and civil rights of Amhara too.
Amnesty and Human Rights Watch fail to recognize that Amhara and Tigray share a long and established history, culture, and religion together. These two important brotherly/sisterly people must coexist side by side once the conflict is over It saddens me that the West, including HR organizations are creating and perpetuating ethnic conflict instead of bridging relations.
Both HR organizations fail to recognize that the TPLF declared a people’s war. They refuse to acknowledge that the survival of the Amhara and the continuity of Ethiopia as a state are both at stake. Strengthening human security is different from outright rejection of peaceful coexistence among Ethiopia’s diverse population. In multiethnic Ethiopia, human security must go hand with the thread of commonalities, including mutual acceptance and respect. So, I say to Amnesty and Human Rights Watch do not accentuate ethnic division in Ethiopia. It is already bad.
“Amhara interim authorities and security forces in Western Tigray organized the buses and trucks that forcibly transported Tigrayans away. In other incidents, security forces rounded up thousands of Tigrayans, and loaded them at gunpoint onto trucks, or put them on trucks directly from detention facilities where they were unlawfully detained. Tigrayans also fled because they faced extreme hunger.” The sole intent of this narrative is to blame Amhara for a conflict and war they never initiated in the first place. In utilizing a cookie cutter approach to a complex human rights problem in Ethiopia, the “king makers” accuse Amhara victims as victimizers. How fair is that?
- What are your findings on the Mai Kadra massacre? What steps did you take to address reports of violations in Mai Kadra against the Amhara community?
Amnesty and HR Watch failed miserably on the fairness and parity test. Instead of reviewing and concluding that the Mai Kadra massacre by the TPLF and its youth wing Samri is ethnic genocide, they rationalized the massacre by associating killings of more than 1, 500 innocent Amhara civilians including day laborers to “looting.” If any group in Ethiopia merits attribution to massive looting and destruction, it is it the TPLF.
“By the afternoon of November 9, 2020, the opportunistic looting of Tigrayan businesses sparked arrests of Amhara residents and daily workers. Targeted attacks of Amhara residents and daily workers then followed. Up until the evening, Tigrayan men and boys beat, stabbed, and hacked, with knives, machetes, and axes, Amhara victims, leaving scores dead and over a hundred injured. At one point that evening, both sides committed violence, as armed Amhara also began to attack Tigrayans in town, with Tigrayan residents also shot and killed.”
The term “both sides” shows parity in committing violence. What ever happened to the survey and conclusion of ethnic massacre by the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission and by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights in Mai Kadra? Are Ethiopians and the rest of Africa compelled to believe that the only truth we must accept as authentic and honest is one that comes from Western corporate media, legislators, policy and decision makers and human rights groups?
This attribution of parity (“both sides”) by Western entities when and if it suits their strategic goals is unacceptable. While the argument by Amnesty and Human Rights Watch is to defend human rights and the rule of law in Ethiopia, their biased, one-sided, and pro-TPLF diagnosis and recommendations tantamount to one that the TPLF and its cohort of Western supporters would have written. While it may appear psychologically a win for the TPLF, the report is equally damaging to Tigrean Ethiopians who must deal with their demons and coexist with other Ethiopians.
References and citations
(open and see this heartbreaking mass grave and judge)
(Amhara genocide in Wolkait, Tegede and Telemt)
(The devastating effect of TPLF war on Amhara
Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International Q & A on War Crimes, Ethnic cleansing, Genocide etc. in “Western Tigray,” Ethiopia.
April 6, 2022
Crimes against Humanity and Ethnic Cleansing in Ethiopia’s Western Tigray Zone
Q&A on New Report: “We Will Erase You from This Land”
Part II will cover the rest of the Q &A next week
April 11, 2022