On 2 November the Ethiopian federal government declared a nationwide state of emergency in response to the possible southward advance by Tigrayan forces towards the capital, Addis Ababa. Reports emerged on 31 October and 1 November that the Tigrayan Defense Forces (TDF) captured an additional two towns in the Amhara region, marking a significant territorial gain in the year-long war against the federal government. The TDF have joined up with fighters from the allied Oromo Liberation Army (OLA), a rebel armed group that is seeking self-determination for the Oromo people, Ethiopia’s largest ethnic group. The OLA has reportedly captured the town of Kemise, located 200 miles northeast of Addis Ababa.
Officials in Addis Ababa have urged civilians to arm themselves and prepare to defend their neighborhoods. Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed also called on civilians to use “any type of weapon” available, asserting that “dying for Ethiopia is a duty for all of us.”
The city administration in Addis Ababa stated they were conducting “house-to-house searches” for “troublemakers” and announced their intention to take legal measures against residents who were found to be “supporters” of or “nostalgic for” the Tigray People’s Liberation Front, the regional governing party of Tigray and aligned with the TDF. Authorities in the city previously conducted ethnically motivated detention campaigns against Tigrayans in June and July.
This latest escalation comes as the conflict in Tigray reaches the one-year mark. Thousands of people have been killed and more than 7 million in Tigray, Amhara and Afar remain in desperate need of aid. Earlier today, 3 November, the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission released a joint report finding that all parties to the conflict – including Tigrayan forces and federal government forces, as well as their Eritrean and militia allies – have committed violations of international law that may amount to war crimes and crimes against humanity.
Savita Pawnday, Executive Director of the Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect, said that, “in a conflict that has already been characterized by ethnically polarizing hate speech and incitement by political leaders, the call to arms and house-to-house searches in Addis Ababa are concerning developments. The UN Security Council and African Union must strongly urge the government of Ethiopia and all other parties to the conflict to agree to an urgent ceasefire to prevent any further escalation.”
The Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect (GCR2P) is an independent organization that focuses on conducting research analysis and advocacy in relation to mass atrocity.
The law of armed conflict (LOAC) is centered on the protection of victims of armed conflict and the regulation of hostilities. Both are founded on a delicate balance of military necessity and human compassion. This necessitates the ability of forces and their commanders to distinguish between military targets and non-combatants or innocent civilians. The latter must be protected at all times from the dangers of war.
As the crisis enters its one-year mark today, the call for civilians to use “any type of weapon” available against Tigrayan forces reveals a failure to protect. It is also a declaration of defeat. Civilians are more likely to fall victim to random targeting as a result of the purported directive.
In addition, in the case of armed conflict, the R2P Principle outlines who is accountable for protecting vulnerable non-combatants. The Principle emphasises that when a state fails to protect its citizens – whether owing to a lack of ability or a lack of willingness – the international community bears responsibility for preserving human lives.
So far, the Ethiopian government and the international community have not acted in the best interests of the civilian population. The international community and those conducting hostilities on behalf of the conflicting parties must take all necessary actions to avoid a humanitarian catastrophe.
The GI ADVISORY is a research-based security firm, whose primary purpose is to contribute to safer communities and world order.
For more information about international security analysis and services, please subscribe to our website.