An Immediate “Humanitarian Truce” Temporarily Ends Hostilities in Ethiopia’s Tigray Conflict

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***CONTENT WARNING: This Article Discusses Sexual Assault and Rape***

In a surprise announcement this past Thursday, the Ethiopian government led by Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed—who came to power in Ethiopia in 2018 after almost three decades of rule by the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF)—declared a “humanitarian truce” to allow aid into the war-torn Tigray region in Northern Ethiopia[1]. The government has also called on the Tigrayan rebels to “desist from all acts of further aggression and withdraw from areas they have occupied in neighboring regions” [2]. The Tigrayan forces agreed that they would agree to ending the hostilities immediately if humanitarian aid arrived in the region “within a reasonable timeframe” [3]. This cease-fire agreement follows almost 17 months of conflict between the TPLF and forces led by Ahmed’s national government. The conflict broke out in early November of 2020 after existing political and ethnic tensions between the TPLF and Ahmed’s central government in Addis Ababa escalated into military confrontation when government forces moved into the Tigray region after accusing the TPLF of raiding government garrisons and taking prisoners. 

The conflict has, according to the U.N., has led to the displacement of over 400,00 people within the Tigray region in northern Ethiopia—tens of thousands of whom have fled to Sudan, fueling a refugee crisis in the neighboring country—as well as a dire humanitarian situation for residents who have remained in Tigray and surrounding regions[4]. Some 400,000 people have been plunged into famine due to the conflict, and almost 2 million more are on the brink of famine-like conditions and in critical need of food and aid according to Reuters[5]. The Ethiopian government has been accused of creating a “de facto blockade” of the Tigray region that has prevented humanitarian aid from entering the region since December 2021[6], but the government has placed the blame on the Tigrayan rebels and asserted that they are responsible for blocking the access to aid in the region, not government forces[7]. 

Both the TPLF and the Ethiopian government—which is aided by Eritrean soldiers and militia forces from the Amhara region West of Tigray—have been accused of human rights abuses that “may amount to war crimes and crimes against humanity”[8] that include but are not limited to extrajudicial executions, torture, rape, and attacking of refugees and/or civilians[9]. While all sides have participated in human rights abuses, the Eritrean forces have been the most egregious violators of human rights. as they hold a grudge against the TPLF for the bloody border war between Eritrea and Ethiopia from 1998-2000 when the TPLF were in power in Ethiopia[10]. The Eritrean government, led by president Isaias Afwerki, views the TPLF as “an existential threat” to Eritrea[11]. Eritrean soldiers have been accused of attempting to eliminate Tigrayans, and there are documented cases of Eritrean soldiers slaughtering hundreds of unarmed civilians in a “massacre[s] that may amount to…crime[s] against humanity” [12]. The Tigrayan rebels are not free of guilt, however. Forces from Tigray and Amhara, neighboring regions in Ethiopia home to different ethnic groups, have been accused of revenge killing civilians and possibly ethnic cleansing during the war as the Amhara region and areas in Tigray have swapped hands between Tigrayan forces and Amhara militias during the war[13]. The University of Ghent has estimated that the war has led to at least 10,000 deaths with at least 230 massacres[14].

Some of the most concerning human rights violations during the war have been the rampant sexual violence from all sides of the conflict. U.N. Aid Chief Mark Lowcock informed the U.N. Security Council that “there is no doubt that sexual violence is being used in this conflict as a weapon of war,”[15] and Amnesty International reported that rape is being used as “a weapon of war to inflict lasting and psychological damage” [16]. Ethiopian and Eritrean troops have been accused of targeting women and young girls in Tigray, and the TPLF has also been accused of mass sexual assault and rape in Amhara. Thousands of women and young girls have reported sexual abuse at the hands of fighting forces with 2,200 cases of sexual assault or rape in Tigray and 940 cases in Amhara reported in the first 8 months of the war [17]. A group of experts from the U.N.’s Human Rights Council believes the existing estimates are “an underestimation of the true extent”[18] of the widespread use of sexual violence, and a BBC interview with an unidentified woman in Tigray corroborates this theory as the woman stated that she knows of many women and girls who were sexual assaulted and did not come forward[19].

Ethiopia is the second-most-populated country in Africa, and it is critical for stability in the Horn of Africa, so the international community is watching the conflict unfolding in Ethiopia with interest in its peaceful conclusion. The biggest fear that the international community holds is that the ethnic lines Ethiopia was divided along during the TPLF rule would cause the country to fracture along ethnic identities and destabilize the entire region. Last June, those fears were almost realized with Tigrayan rebels only 200 kilometers from the capital. Although the rebels were eventually repulsed by government forces, Tigrayan rebels have allied themselves with other ethnically based rebel groups combating the federal government, and there has been an alarming rise in social media posts advocating for ethnic violence and an adjacent proliferation of hate speech[20].

Western countries and the U.N. are supportive but also skeptical of the truce, and hope that the truce can be a stepping-stone toward eventual peace between the two parties. The Ethiopian government originally rejected calls for peace-talks from Western countries, the U.N. and the African Union because it saw its operation in Tigray as a “law-enforcement operation” that was expected to last only a few weeks, but the comparable military power of both parties in the conflict has led to protraction of the conflict[21]. There had been one ceasefire earlier in the conflict in June 2021 when the Tigrayan rebels retook the Tigray regional capital of Mekelle from government forces, but fighting quickly resumed in July 2021[22]. Despite the success, or lack thereof, of the first ceasefire, the United Nations hopes that the most recent  truce will “translate into an effective cessation of hostilities, respected by all parties in this conflict, to allow for effective humanitarian access for all who need it” [23]. But whether this ceasefire can transform into large peace negotiations to end the bloody conflict remains to be seen.


Works Cited:

  1. Dahir, Abdi Latif, and Simon Marks. “Ethiopia Declares ‘Humanitarian Truce’ in War-Ravaged Tigray Region.” The New York Times, March 24, 2022, sec. World. https://www.nytimes.com/2022/03/24/world/africa/ethiopia-tigray-conflict-truce.html
  2. Ibid
  3. Ibid
  4. BBC. “Ethiopia’s Tigray War: The Short, Medium and Long Story.” BBC News, June 29, 2021, sec. Africa. https://www.bbc.com/news/world-africa-54964378.
  5.  Matthew Green. “Civil War Has Pushed Ethiopia to the Brink”
  6. Al Jazeera. “Ethiopia Declares Unilateral Truce to Allow Aid into Tigray,” March 24, 2022. https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2022/3/24/ethiopia-declares-truce-to-allow-aid-into-tigray  Abdi Latif Dahir and Simon Marks. “Ethiopia Declares ‘Humanitarian Truce’”
  7. Al Jazeera. “Ethiopia Declares Unilateral Truce to Allow Aid into Tigray,”
  8. Green, Matthew. “Civil War Has Pushed Ethiopia to the Brink. Its Future Is at Stake.” Reuters. Accessed April 1, 2022. https://www.reuters.com/investigates/special-report/ethiopia-conflict-fractured/
  9. Scott Neuman and Eyder Peralta. “Rebels Are Closing in on Ethiopia’s Capital”
  10. Ibid
  11. Ibid
  12. Scott Neuman and Eyder Peralta. “Rebels Are Closing in on Ethiopia’s Capital”
  13. Matthew Green. “Civil War Has Pushed Ethiopia to the Brink”
  14.  BBC. “Ethiopia’s Tigray War”
  15. Matthew Green. “Civil War Has Pushed Ethiopia to the Brink”
  16. BBC News. “Ethiopia’s Civil War: The Women Who Paid the Price,” March 26, 2022, sec. Africa. https://www.bbc.com/news/world-africa-60648163.
  17. Ibid
  18. Ibid
  19. Ibid
  20. Scott Neuman and Eyder Peralta. “Rebels Are Closing in on Ethiopia’s Capital” Matthew Green. “Civil War Has Pushed Ethiopia to the Brink”
  21. Al Jazeera. “Ethiopia’s PM Abiy Promises ‘Final’ Offensive in Tigray,” November 17, 2020. https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2020/11/17/ethiopias-pm-abiy-vows-final-offensive-into-tigray.
  22. Scott Neuman and Eyder Peralta. “Rebels Are Closing in on Ethiopia’s Capital” Al Jazeera. “Ethiopia Declares Unilateral Truce to Allow Aid into Tigray,” 
  23. Al Jazeera. “Ethiopia: Tigrayan Fighters Agree to ‘Cessation of Hostilities,’” March 25, 2022. https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2022/3/25/ethiopia-tigrayan-fighters-agree-to-cessation-of-hostilities

Author

  • Jeremy is a student at Yale University (class of 2025) studying Ethics, Politics, and Economics. Jeremy currently serves as the 2023-2024 Head Design Editor of YRIS, after having previously served as a design editor from 2021-2023. He is the Vice President of the Yale College Democrats and a member of the Black Men’s Union at Yale.