For the last month, the attention of the world has rightly been focused on the illegal invasion of Ukraine by Russia. But the deadliest war on the planet is currently happening in Ethiopia. Global leaders have so far hesitated to call it a genocide, referring to it as a civil war, or the Tigray War. But the atrocities committed by the Ethiopian and Eritrian governments make it clear the conflict is turning into a genocide.
According to researchers at Ghent University in Belgium, as many as 500,000 people have died from war and famine in the Tigray region of northern Ethiopia over the past 16 months. The estimate includes 50,000 to 100,000 victims of direct killings, 150,000 to 200,000 starvation deaths, and more than 100,000 additional deaths caused by a lack of health care.
The United Nations has also said more than 500 rapes in Tigray have been reported to healthcare workers. Some Tigrayan victims of rape by Ethiopian forces and their allies recalled the rapists using phrases like “Tigrayans have no history,” “Tigrayans are beasts,” and that “we are raping you to cleanse your Tigrayan bloodline.” One Tigrayan woman described how Eritrean soldiers ordered her father to rape her, then shot and killed him when he refused. The soldiers raped her instead.
Some Eritrean prisoners of war have confirmed that they were ordered to kill all Tigrayans above the age of 10 and also to prevent people from burying victims. Teenagers were reportedly killed while family members of murdered victims were prevented from burying their loved ones.
The conflict’s history
The conflict began 16 months ago in Tigray. This region is located in the northernmost part of Ethiopia, and is the fifth-most populous of the country’s 11 regional states. In November 2020, fighting broke out when the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), a left-wing ethnic nationalist, attacked the Ethiopian National Defense Force (ENDF) Northern Command headquarters in the city of Mekelle. The Ethiopian national government responded by declaring a state of emergency in the region and launching a military assault to retake several areas controlled by TPLF.
A week later more than 600 civilians were massacred with knives and machetes by local militias, while the government continued air strikes in the region using Chinese-made drones. Michelle Bachelet, head of the U.N. Human Rights Commission, says her staff have recorded hundreds of deaths from aerial attacks “apparently carried out by the Ethiopian Air Force.” Soon after the massacre, the military of Eritrea began occupying parts of Tigray to help impose a curfew in which hundreds were killed.
Criticism of the conduct of government troops and their allies from neighboring Eritrea grew after U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken asserted that “ethnic cleansing” had taken place in Tigray. What began as a political dispute, soon developed into a campaign of genocide against minority Tigrayans. “The challenge in Ethiopia is very significant, and it’s one that we are very focused on, particularly the situation in Tigray, where we are seeing very credible reports of human rights abuses and atrocities that are ongoing,” Blinken told the foreign affairs committee of the U.S. House of Representatives.
Effects from the war in Ukraine
The Ethiopian government appears to be using the fact that the world’s attention has been diverted to engage in stronger genocidal measures. For example, government forces are preventing food aid and medicine from reaching Tigray, according to humanitarian groups. As Mehari Taddele Maru observes, “With 5.2 million out of 6 million people in desperate need of food aid, nearly 83 percent are food insecure, 40 percent are facing extreme lack of food and 900,000 live in a ‘famine-like’ situation. The death toll from this famine, used as a weapon of war, could exceed thousands.”
While the war on Ukraine deserves our continued attention, we must not forget about the other countries where horrific acts of violence are occurring. “We are seeing clear evidence of [the war in Ukraine] draining resources and attention from other trouble spots in desperate need,” United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres recently told journalists.
Christians should continue to pray for peace in Ethiopia, for the protection of its citizens, for an end to government corruption, and for the Lord to provide food for the millions who are starving. We should also pray that fellow believers in Ethiopia and around the world would be allowed to minister to the physical and spiritual needs of these oppressed people with the hope of Christ.