There are fears that the Ethiopian war could wind up in genocide as Prime Minister’s Abiy Ahmed’s government embarks on a crackdown against the Tigray.
Indiscriminate arrests of Tigray people by Ethiopian authorities signal a start of genocide unless the international community intervenes or the coalition of Tigray People’s Liberation Front and the Oroma Liberation Army quickly topples the sitting government.
On Monday the African Union and the United States said there was a small window of opportunity to end fighting in Ethiopia.
The UN Security Council, the African Union, and Kenya and Uganda have also called for a cease-fire in the conflict that has killed thousands of people.
Canada, calling the situation in Ethiopia “rapidly evolving and deteriorating,” has withdrawn the families of its embassy staff and non-essential Canadian employees.
At a pro-government rally recently, some demonstrators denounced the US one of the foreign powers that has called for a cease-fire.
The United Nations warned that the risk of Ethiopia spiralling into a widening civil war is “only too real.”
Already Ethiopian National Defense Force (ENDF) and Eritrean Defence Forces (EDF) are accused of war crimes committed during the Tigray war that started in November 2020.
A joint investigation by the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission (EHRC) and the UN Human Rights Office said there could be evidence of war crimes.
However, before the fall of the Capital City Addis Ababa, it appears Ethiopia’s Nobel Peace laureate Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed is determined to annihilate the Tigray as he asked “all capable Ethiopians” to “show their patriotism” by joining the war, which is raging across the north of the country.
To start with, Ethiopia authorities have embarked on indiscriminate arrest of members of the international community (most of whom are Tigray), attacking journalists and the media and illegal detention of prominent Tigray figures.
Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, who is desperate to save his government from imminent collapse, no longer cares about his international image as he turns his war against the international community that has condemned his fight against the Tigray rebels.
Abiy’s government has previously accused aid groups of arming Tigrayan forces but never produced proof.
The United Nations said Wednesday that Ethiopian authorities had detained 72 drivers working for the World Food Programme (WFP) in the country’s conflict-torn north.
The news, which came a day after the UN reported the arrests of 22 employees in the capital Addis Ababa, is likely to further inflame tensions with the government following a decision in September to expel seven senior UN officials for “meddling” in the country’s affairs.
A UN spokesperson said the new detentions had occurred in the capital of Afar province, on the only functional road leading into famine-threatened Tigray.
Ethiopian officials last week announced a six-month nationwide emergency amid rising fears that fighters from the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) and Oromo Liberation Army (OLA) rebel groups could advance on the capital.
The state of emergency allows for indefinite detentions and requires citizens to carry ID cards that can indicate ethnic origin.
This month, the Tigrayans joined up with another armed group, the Oromo Liberation Army. And the two have threatened to either attack the capital or seize a transport corridor linking landlocked Ethiopia to the region’s main seaport.
The war is rooted in a power struggle between Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed and the TPLF, which dominated politics for three decades until he took office in 2018 and curbed its power.
Human Rights Watch (HRW) said this week that the state of emergency measures posed risks not just to Tigrayans but also media organizations and aid groups, among others.
On Tuesday night a police official in Ethiopia’s Somali region announced that authorities were closing a private media outlet, Nabad TV.
The official, Mohamud Sheikh Ahmed, accused Nabad of violating the state of emergency by broadcasting content that “incites violence and bloodshed.”
Nabad was founded by Filsan Abdullahi Ahmed, who went on to serve as women’s minister in Abiy’s government and was the first federal official to acknowledge that rapes had taken place in Tigray during the war.
In late September she announced her resignation, saying that “any situation that compromises my ethics is contrary to my convictions and values.”
Filsan told AFP Wednesday that her parents as well as Nabad staff had been detained overnight by police.
Lawyers say arbitrary detentions of ethnic Tigrayans — commonplace during the war — have surged since then, ensnaring thousands, with the new measures allowing the authorities to hold anyone suspected of supporting “terrorist groups” without a warrant.
Law enforcement officials describe such detentions as part of a legitimate crackdown on the TPLF and OLA.
The UN on Tuesday said 22 Ethiopian staff had been detained in Addis Ababa. Six were freed while the remaining 16 were in custody Tuesday night, UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric told reporters at the world body’s headquarters.
On Wednesday, the UN said nine were still in custody.
Information on the ethnicity of the drivers detained in Semera was not immediately available, though the UN has in the past hired ethnic Tigrayans to transport food and other aid into Tigray.
So far, the war has killed thousands, forced more than two million people from their homes, sucked in troops from neighbouring Eritrea and left hundreds of thousands in famine. Fighting has spread into neighbouring Afar and Amhara regions, threatening the stability of Ethiopia and the wider Horn of Africa.
The Ethiopian Human Rights Commission said the arrests of Tigrayans – the latest in repeated waves documented by Reuters – were at least in the hundreds, including elderly people and mothers with children.
Ethiopian authorities have rounded up high-profile Tigrayans – from a bank CEO to priests – as well as United Nations staff in a mass crackdown on suspected supporters of rebellious northern forces, according to people linked to the detainees.
Police denied targeting the Tigrayan ethnic group, saying those arrested were believed to have links to the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), which has fought central government for a year.
The detentions were “out of control”, one senior Ethiopian official told Reuters. He asked for anonymity for fear of retribution.
On Tuesday, police detained Daniel Tekeste, the Tigrayan CEO of Lion Bank along with five other staff, a bank employee told Reuters, adding they were released later that night.
A branch manager at another private bank told Reuters a policeman visited his office in the capital on Tuesday and asked if any Tigrayans worked there. The manager said he told the officer he did not have that information, and he left.
Three high-level members of the former federally-appointed Tigray administration were detained last week but later released, one said, adding that many lower- and middle-ranking regional Tigrayan government officials were still detained.
Abraha Desta, a former cabinet-level member of the Tigrayan administration who had been a prominent critic of the TPLF, was arrested in October after publicly denouncing arrests of Tigrayans.
A Tigrayan member of the ruling Prosperity Party was called to a meeting on Monday in the Kirkos district of the capital and then arrested, his friend told Reuters.
A list compiled by an imprisoned priest and passed to a family member said 37 priests and religious workers had been arrested from four churches in the capital. The Ethiopian Orthodox Church did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Tadele Gebremedhin, a Tigrayan lawyer handling the cases of detained journalists and senior TPLF officials, was arrested at his home on Nov. 4, said a colleague. He remains in prison.
However, most of the arrests reported to Reuters were not high-profile citizens. A resident of Addis Ababa said three Tigrayan friends – a bartender and two real estate brokers – were arrested last week.
Uniformed police and men in plainclothes arrested the bartender at Aarabon Cafe, the man said, while police arrested the brokers at night at their homes.