YAOUNDÉ, Cameroon – As conflict in Ethiopia’s Tigray region continues to worsen, there are increasing calls for international action against rape as a weapon of war.
According to an open letter from the World Peace Foundation, sexual violence “is the brutal hallmark of the conflict” that broke out last November.
“The perpetrators are overwhelmingly Ethiopian and Eritrean soldiers and Amhara militia. Language used by the assailants makes clear that these are not random attacks. They are targeted at the women because of their ethnicity, because they are Tigrayan, with the aim of rendering them infertile. The attacks are integral to the conflict,” the letter said.
“Failure by the international community to act would undo the progress made so far in eliminating sexual violence in conflict. It would give a green light to regimes that deploy this barbaric weapon of war. And, it would be a betrayal of the women of Tigray whose words we believe and whose courage we salute,” it continued.
Fionn Shiner of the pontifical charity Aid to the Church in Need, UK said she said she was shocked at accounts of women, including Catholic nuns being raped by Ethiopian soldiers and their Eritrean allies fighting in Tigray.
“It has been reported widely that rape is being used as a weapon of war in Tigray and unfortunately, it seems that nuns have been targeted too,” he told Crux.
“There is a lot of evidence that suggests genocide is taking place,” Shiner told Crux.
“Verification is difficult. However, one of ACN’s well-placed sources said the actions of Ethiopian and Eritrean forces were ‘clearly genocide.’ They said the forces are killing people indiscriminately and deliberately targeting the young,” he explained.
Following are excerpts of the interview.
Crux: There are accusations that a genocide is happening against the Tigray people of Ethiopia. Is there justification for this?
Shiner:There is a lot of evidence that suggests genocide is taking place. Any reportage on Tigray has to take into account the fact that there has been a media blackout in the region since the civil war erupted last November. Verification is difficult. However, one of ACN’s well-placed sources said the actions of Ethiopian and Eritrean forces were “clearly genocide.” They said the forces are killing people indiscriminately and deliberately targeting the young.
ACN’s source also said that Tigrayan women were being targeted for rape and sexual abuse, which they believe also constituted a facet of genocide. This has been reported elsewhere. For example, Al-Jazeera had an account of a Tigrayan woman raped and sexually abused who was told, “a Tigrayan womb should never give birth.”
Furthermore, Patriarch Mathias, the head of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church, was filmed saying, “I am not clear why they want to declare genocide on the people of Tigray.” However, there have been accusations that the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), the group Ethiopia originally went to war with, have been pushing false propaganda and peddling lies which has duped high-profile figures such as Patriarch Mathias and journalists in the West. ACN’s in-country source, however, was insistent that the accusations of genocide are legitimate.
Apparently Christians and the Church have also become targets.
The most shocking account we have received is that nuns have been raped. It has been reported widely that rape is being used as a weapon of war in Tigray and unfortunately, it seems that nuns have been targeted too. A different source informed ACN that parish priests were threatened and beaten and that parish properties were “completely cleaned out by the soldiers.” A leaked Church document from the Ethiopian Orthodox Church stated that at least 78 priests were “massacred” in Tigray.
There were also reports, first circulated by Belgium-based NGO European External Program with Africa (EEPA), that 750 people were killed last November during a raid on the Maryam Tsiyon Church in Aksum, believed to contain the Ark of the Covenant. Again, this claim has proven difficult to verify with certainty but a different source that ACN spoke to said that this massacre definitely took place. News agencies such as the BBC reported on this apparent massacre – the BBC had eyewitness accounts. Amnesty International said that between Nov.19 – Nov. 29, Eritrean forces in Aksum were responsible for “killing hundreds of civilians” and that “indiscriminate shelling” could be considered a war crime.
ACN has been engaged in the region. What have been ACN’s impacts in the area?
ACN’s help for Tigray has included emergency support for nuns and monks as well as mass stipends. Further, since 2019 ACN has supported nearly 100 projects in Ethiopia including construction of chapels and monasteries, formation of catechists and support for transport.