Geneva Palais Briefing on the situation of children in Tigray, Ethiopia.
GENEVA, Switzerland, April 20, 2021 – This is a summary of what was said by UNICEF spokesperson James Elder – to whom quoted text may be attributed – at today’s press briefing at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.
“The crisis in Tigray has entered its sixth month with no clear end in sight.
“More than one million people have been displaced, and fighting continues. Access and security remain serious issues.
“We have been very concerned from the onset about the harm this crisis will cause to children. Such fears are now being realized.
“This is a protection crisis. What is emerging is a disturbing picture of severe and ongoing child rights violations.
“This is also an education and nutrition emergency, and I saw extensive destruction to the systems and essential services on which children rely.
“Children in Tigray have been hit by COVID-19 then conflict. That means 1.4 million children have been out of school for more than a full year (since March 2020). Yes, not a day of school in 13 months.
“I met a 16-year-old girl, Merhawit who fled fighting in the west of Tigray, and walked – with her baby brother on her back – for 300km. Yes, she walked 300km in broken flip flops. Before the conflict, she was top of her class in physics. Now she was searching for food and hasn’t seen a classroom in more than a year.
“A decision to reopen schools, however, is contingent on (1) security; (2) rehabilitation works – the Ministry of Education estimates that up to 25 per cent of schools have been damaged; and (3) reopening schools requires the relocation of the hundreds of thousands of IDPs who are currently sheltering in school premises.
“A recent assessment in 13 towns by UNICEF and partners revealed that more than half of the boreholes are non-functional. These were advanced systems – with generators and electrical circuitry – and most have been damaged and looted.
“I saw an example of this destruction in a health clinic 100km from Mekelle. This had an entire new operation ward devoted to emergency c-sections for mothers and emergency surgery – that opened in 2020, with the support of Rotary in Belgium. Everything – X-ray machines, oxygen, and mattresses for patients – are gone. Operating beds and incubators for babies have been broken and turned upside down. A doctor there told me “It had all the services a mother and baby needed. It was a life-saving place. There was no reason for forces to come here. They came here for vandalizing and looting.”
“According to assessments, violence and looting have left a majority of health care facilities in the region not functioning.
“The sanitation situation is another matter of grave concern. Conditions in many of the displacement sites are poor. They are overcrowded, unsanitary and unsafe .. as such they magnify risks of exploitation of children, and make it impossible for people to practice COVID-19 prevention measures.
“From a health perspective, the presence of large numbers of displaced people is a ticking time bomb, especially as the rainy season approaches – that’s next month – when there will be a grave risk of cholera and other water-borne diseases.
Protection and gender-based violence
“The personal statements I received from children who had been raped or testimonies of women who were victims of sexual violence were harrowing.
“You will all be aware that the President of Ethiopia, the Minister of Women, Children and Youth, the IASC Principals and the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission (EHRC) have spoken against multiple cases of rape and sexual violence
“I heard traumatic stories from survivors, one as young as 14. I heard reports of gang rapes. The level of cruelty described in these attacks was bewildering.
“This year, from the 1st January to 16 April, just one centre that UNICEF supports has received an average of three reports of cases of gender-based violence per day.
“Fighting broke out just as people should have been harvesting.
“That’s their income for a year. Many also had cattle stolen. They have lost access to fertilisers and vaccines for their livestock.
“And now they should be planting. But more than 1 million people are displaced and as such cannot access their land.
“As such, we are seeing a spike in malnutrition in a region that had already seen steep year-on-year increases in malnourished children requiring life-saving treatment prior to this crisis.
“In response, since November last year, UNICEF has provided emergency supplies including drug kits, nutrition supplies, school-in-a-carton kits and early childhood development kits.
“In WASH, UNICEF is leading on efforts to rehabilitate damaged water schemes, supply of water through trucking, and the provision of hygiene supplies. Through these efforts, more than 640,000 people have received safe water for personal use.
“Our priority in the education sector is the reopening of schools while simultaneously working with implementing partners to establish temporary learning spaces for refugees, IDPs and host communities.
“We have supported partners to kick-start 22 mobile health and nutrition teams which are reaching tens of thousands of children and women in ten of the areas with the highest need. They distribute drug kits and support emergency health care and nutrition. They operate six days a week and use the seventh day to restock supplies.
“But again, even for these brave and frontline mobile health and nutrition teams, security remains an issue. I spoke with one team leader who explained how his team had their ambulance stolen, and had to walk three days back to their health clinic.
“And as of right before this briefing, UNICEF has received credible reports of at least 16 incidents that impacted the activities of these mobile health and nutrition teams … in just the last two weeks.
“Nine were reported in the Eastern Region where the health workers had to leave the location due to fighting and direct threat from armed forces.
“The staff members were denied access to the programme locations and in some cases were threatened with death. In three locations the teams were forcibly relocated to other locations.
“Survivors of sexual assault have been provided with medical assistance, psychosocial support and dignity kits at a centre that has been supported by UNICEF. We are also supporting partners to deploy more than 160 social workers to provide child protection case management for vulnerable children including unaccompanied and separated children; and psychosocial support in IDP and refugee camps in Tigray and affected neighbouring woredas in Afar and Amhara.
“UNICEF Ethiopia’s appeal for Tigray stands at US$47.6 million. More than half is unfunded.”
April 18, 2021
President Joseph R. Biden
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W.
Washington, DC 20500
Re: Open Letter to President Biden – Urgent Call to End the Genocidal War in Tigray, Ethiopia
Dear President Joseph R. Biden,
It is with enormous respect that we, the Security and Justice for Tigrayans in Ethiopia, write to you today to urge you to act with utmost urgency to end the genocide and ethnic cleansing in the Tigray region of Ethiopia. The anguish and suffering the people of Tigray are facing is so great that it requires the leader of the free world to bring it to a full stop. We believe this challenge offers a test for the United States as it stands in defense of its democratic and human rights values and a true measure of its success in sharing these values with the world.
There cannot be a higher calling for you Mr. President as the leader of the free world committed to the protection of human rights around the world than to save the extermination of a minority ethnic group by its own government working in partnership with invading foreign armies and militias. This is a rare and historical challenge that threatens the complete destruction of Tigray and the annihilation of its people and requires a swift action to stop. If left unattended, Tigray may not be the only region to bear the brunt of the damage; other regions of Ethiopia and the entire Horn of Africa may also be destabilized.
The atrocities perpetrated on the people of Tigray are abhorrent and too many to count. These widespread atrocities and war crimes including indiscriminate bombing and massacre of civilians, rape of girls and women, burning of crops and looting of livestock, and total economic destruction have been widely reported and documented by some of the most reputable international media such as the New York Times and CNN, the US government, the UN, Amnesty International and many others.
A multi award-winning CNN Senior International correspondent, Nima Elbagir, in her March 18, 2021 interview with 4 News, described the crimes being committed as “…very, very Intentional” adding “it is not a rape about the tragic consequences of war but…it is a rape as a weapon of war”. She continued to say”…this is about erasing Tigray and Tigrayan identity and bloodline which is one of the hallmarks of genocide”.
And with regards to PM Abiy Ahmed, In her interview with Democracy Now on December 3, 2020, Elbagir says, “..for him to have won a Nobel Peace Prize for something that has enabled him to wage a war on an entire region, on 6 million people, is just — it’s appalling. It’s appalling to think about.” The devastation the world is witnessing in Tigray today was not triggered by a simple act of the local government in Tigray but rather it was a result of a well-rehearsed plan that involved military cooperation and preparation for over 2 years premeditated by Abiy Ahmed and Isaias Afwerki to destroy Tigray and subjugate its peace-loving people. The ruthless dictator of Eritrea and his immature student of Ethiopia are carrying out this operation to achieve their dream of conquering the Horn of Africa and the Red Sea zone.
Dear Mr. President,
The war crimes in Tigray have been compared chillingly to that of the former Yugoslavia, Kosovo and the Rwandan genocide by many international observers and media. As you know, while the US took a decisive action to stop the atrocities in Kosovo, it unfortunately did not act in the case of the Rwandan genocide. Former President Bill Clinton said his inaction in Rwanda was his biggest regret of his presidency. The salient question now is how is the Tigray genocide different? On April 25, 2019, you said, “America is an idea. An idea that is stronger than any army, bigger than any ocean, more powerful than any dictator or tyrant. It gives hope to the most desperate people on earth, it guarantees that everyone is treated with dignity and gives hate no safe harbor. It instills in every person in this country the belief that no matter where you start in life, there is nothing you can’t achieve if you work at it. That’s what we believe.” These are the hopeful words from your speech you delivered a year ago that our people want to see translated into deeds. Will the misery of the poor people in Tigray end anytime soon? And why is the US not taking actions strong enough to end the war?
The people of Tigray and indeed the rest of the world recognize that the US has significant leverage over Ethiopia and Eritrea, and it is not entirely clear why there is hesitancy to act to stop this genocide. The US can stop the war via several measures including diplomacy and a show of force targeting military installations of the Eritrean ruthless dictator.
If the US is waiting for Eritrean troops to leave on their own accord, we like to assure you this will not happen. We realize PM Abiy Ahmed announced about 10 days ago that Eritrea will withdraw its forces from Tigray, but this has not taken place despite his deceitful announcement two days ago that they have started “evacuating from border areas”. To the contrary, credible reports indicate that tens of thousands of new Eritrean soldiers arrived in Tigray on the same day the Prime Minister promised withdrawal in defiance of the demands by the international community. Reports also indicate that in an attempt to deceive the world, Eritrean troops are simply changing their uniforms to Ethiopian uniforms so that they remain in Tigray and continue their atrocities. The Prime Minister has been lying about a number of significant issues and he cannot be trusted.
As Tigrayan-Ethiopians who understand the tyrannical aspirations of Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed and his mentor dictator Isaias Afwerki, we believe the only definitive solution to end the genocidal war on Tigray is through meaningful Kosovo-like intervention. Thus, Mr. President, we urge you to act now before it is too late.
Dear Mr. President,
As if the atrocities, the premeditated hunger and the destructions perpetrated in Tigray so far are not enough, a most recently leaked 27-page confidential document from the Government of Eritrea titled “The Military Campaign in Tigray has Failed to Achieve the Desired Goals” was sent to the Eritrean commanders in Tigray. This document orders the Eritrean military in Tigray to swiftly act on aggrandizing the indiscriminate killings of the youth and the complete destruction of properties. It calls for mercilessly annihilate the Tigrayan youth and disperse the remaining ones into various concentration camps. This renewed order to intensify the atrocities in Tigray shows that the situation in Tigray is going to deteriorate further and would become completely out of control. In the face of such reality in Tigray, the US and the international community not only have the legal responsibility to act urgently under the UN Resolutions 2417 (2018) and 1247 (2018) but also they have the moral and ethical obligation to stop this genocide
Despite all the evidence of human rights violations and the US, EU, G7, Great Britain, Canada, France, Germany, and Australia’s latest demands for the immediate withdrawal of Eritrean and Amhara militia forces from Tigray, the Ethiopian government is still allowing the increased presence of the Eritrean forces dressed in Ethiopian military uniforms while integrating the Amhara militia that committed war crimes, rape, genocide, and ethnic cleansing in west Tigray into the national army. The move by the Ethiopian government to integrate a genocidal Amhara militia into the national army rings alarm bells as this is to hide crimes from investigation and further commit additional crimes all over Tigray and beyond. Thus, we at the SJTE ask you take the lead for the USA and its allies to take all necessary measures at your disposal including an immediate military action under “Operation Freedom” to save humanity in Tigray under UN Resolution 1247 (2018) including, but not limited to:
SECURITY AND JUSTICE FOR TIGREANS IN ETHIOPIA (SJTE)