Survivors of sexual assault do handcrafts at a safe house in Mekele on February 27, 2021. Four months into the Tigray war, stories of rape, many involving multiple soldiers, have become all-too-common, according to doctors and nurses in Ethiopia's northernmost region. (Photo by EDUARDO SOTERAS / AFP via Getty Images)
On November 2, 2022, the Ethiopian Government and the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) signed a peace deal towards ending the brutal two year war in Ethiopia. On November 12, 2022, they further signed an agreement laying out the roadmap for implementation of the peace deal. The roadmap includes steps to facilitate unhindered humanitarian access, provide security to aid workers, and ensure the protection of civilians, among others. It does not include any provisions to ensure justice and accountability.
The two years of war have seen atrocity crimes perpetrated by all actors to the conflict and humanitarian crisis reaching new levels, among others around 5.2 million in need of humanitarian assistance in Tigray, including 3.8 million who need healthcare. Understandably, the agreement does not change the fact that atrocity crimes have been perpetrated. They must be investigated and those responsible brought to justice. Among these crimes is conflict related sexual violence (CRSV).
In early November 2022, the Dr. Denis Mukwege Foundation published their new report “Understanding Conflict Related Sexual Violence in Ethiopia”, produced in cooperation with the United Kingdom’s Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) and the Institute for Public Health at Washington University. The report found that “data suggest that Ethiopian and allied forces committed CRSV on a widespread and systemic basis in order to eliminate and/or forcibly displace the ethnic Tigrayan population.”
The report cites numerous testimonies of survivors of CRSV in the region.
Among them, 27-year-old woman who was raped in front of her children by a half-dozen Fano militiamen carrying out neighborhood searches targeting Tigrayans testified: “Two of them raped me and then I lost consciousness and don’t know how many more raped me, if all six [did], or not. They said: ‘You Tigrayans should disappear from the land west of Tekeze! You are evil and we are purifying your blood.’”
30-year-old survivor testified that “four men raped me. […] They insulted me and they urinated on my head. They said: ‘You and your race are a foul, toilet-smelling race and should not be in our land.’”
28-year-old mother of two, was apprehended by ten Amhara militia members and raped, as she was trying to flee to Sudan, testified that “they said: ‘If you were male we would kill you, but girls can make Amhara babies.’”
The report further cited a testimony of a survivor who recalled that “Eritrean soldiers saying while raping her that they were ordered ‘to come after the women’, while another woman recall[ed] Eritrean soldiers saying that their actions were revenge against Tigray.”
The report further identified that the use of CRSV in Ethiopia is widespread and perpetrated by all actors to the conflict, and affects many ethnic groups. The report indicates that “multiple sources suggest that the [Eritrean Defense Forces] EDF perpetrated CRSV because they were ordered to and as a means of ethnically motivated revenge. (...) CRSV by the TPLF appears to have been ethnically motivated revenge in response to atrocities committed by federal forces and their allies in Tigray.”
Furthermore, the report indicated that Eritrean refugees have been targeted by multiple actors to the conflict, including by the EDF, by Amhara forces and by Tigrayan forces.
The response to the atrocities in Ethiopia, and specially to CRSV, is yet to follow. This also applies to healthcare services for survivors of CRSV which are still lacking.
As we watch some progress with the peace agreement, the issue of justice and accountability cannot be delayed or left unaddressed. Lasting peace cannot be achieved if the atrocities in Ethiopia enjoy impunity and survivors are left without a voice.
(c) 2022, Forbes