Address Conflict- Related Sexual Violence in Ethiopia’s Tigray Region

Address Conflict- Related Sexual Violence in Ethiopia’s Tigray Region

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We are signing this petition in support of women of African descent who are marking the International Day for the Elimination of Sexual Violence in Conflict with an open letter in solidarity with the women and girls in the Tigray region of Ethiopia, who are being targeted in a campaign of sexual violence which the UN Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict has described as being of “a level of cruelty beyond comprehension.”

During a disturbing briefing to the Nations (UN) Security Council in April, the UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator Sir Mark Lowcock reported an unspecified agency operating in Tigray had estimated that 30% of all incidents against civilians involved sexual violence, which he confirmed is being used “as a weapon of war, as a means to humiliate, terrorize and traumatize an entire population today and into the next generation.” The perpetrators were identified as members of the “Ethiopian National Defence Forces, Eritrean Defence forces, Amhara Special Forces, and other irregular armed groups or aligned militia,” and nearly a quarter of the cases involved gang rape over an extended period of time.

Reports continue to emerge from Tigray of wives being raped in front of their husbands; mothers raped in front of their children and vice versa; family members forced to choose between raping female relatives or death, and of women themselves being forced to choose between rape or death. Several victims report their assailants boasted of “cleansing” their bloodline, while others arrive at medical facilities having suffered additional traumatic injuries to their reproductive organs inflicted by attackers to prevent them from bearing children. Researchers from Ghent University in Belgium have concluded this campaign of mass rape fits “a pattern that has been evident in previous genocidal actions, and [is] reminiscent of events in Bosnia and Rwanda.”

In this conflict Tigrayan women and girls have no protection or place of refuge. A USAID analysis of 36 events involving 106 women and girls found that 39% were raped in their homes, 21% were abducted and raped in military camps, 18% were raped when walking on a road, 11% were raped while in hospital, 11% in open areas, and 4% in a convent. Victims range from an eight-year-old child to elderly grandmothers. Eritrean refugees who fled to Ethiopia in safer times have also been targeted, amid reports of Eritrean soldiers and diverse armed militia accessing refugee camps and raping, killing or forcibly returning residents to a country they fled in fear for their lives. While cultural reticence, stigma, and restricted access to rural areas mean the total number of victims is as yet unknown, a report by the European External Programme with Africa (EEPA) asserts that 10,000 would be a “conservative estimate.”

We are dismayed that African women and girls are once again the victims of conflict-related sexual violence, which in this instance is being permitted, and often committed, by government forces charged, ostensibly, with enforcing the law. The fact that such appalling violations are underway in the nation where the African Union (AU) is based, and amidst profound silence from African leaders, impugns the aspiration for ‘African solutions to African problems.’

We welcomed the UN Security Council's first statement of concern regarding the situation in Tigray, which made mention of the appalling sexual violence against women and girls. However, we deeply regret that political exigences appear to have been prioritised over the lives of African civilians, as evidenced by the Council’s continuing inability to hold a public session on Tigray. Unfortunately, the time for statements of concern to be of any effect has long passed. Violations continue, and with each day incalculable physical, emotional, and psychological damage is being caused to an entire people group.

We concur with former president of Malawi Joyce Banda, who once highlighted that “the potential of the African continent is intrinsically linked with the potential of its women.” Therefore, we appeal to African leaders, and to their international counterparts, not only to speak up for the women and girls of Tigray, but also to provide the leadership needed to bring these atrocities to a definitive end.

In solidarity with the victims of these terrible crimes, we call urgently for:

  • an immediate ceasefire;
  • increased and timely humanitarian assistance for the survivors;
  • an independent justice mechanism to ensure that those responsible for the suffering are held to account.

Time is of the essence.

 

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