OPEN LETTER to Australia’s Ambassador to Ethiopia to condemn the horrendous burning of Tigrayans alive and take concrete measures to pave the way for accountability
Re: The embassy’s Facebook post on 16 March 2022 about Ethiopia’s highest achieving women
Firstly, we congratulate you for your recent assignment as an ambassador of Australia to Ethiopia. Besides continuance of the usual diplomatic ties, we do hope that you will endeavor to help foster in that country the great democratic values we here in Australia take for granted.
In only four years in the helm of power, the current government has transformed the country from one of the fastest growing economies in the world and a beacon of peace in an otherwise volatile region, to one that is at the brink of collapse. It has never been in the list of 10 countries under conflict watchlist until 2018, but in 2022 it is superseded only by Afghanistan in this category. Despite claims by the Ethiopian prime minister and his entourage, the current government came through a normal party process within the EPRDF coalition, and the change was happily received by people in all corners of the country, including Tigray. This also gained wider support by all partners in the world, as it was hoped to mitigate the political and social tensions which had been simmering since 2015. This and the alleged “peace deal” with Eritrea helped the Ethiopian prime minister (PM) to look like a real peace maker, thus resulting in him collecting the 2019 prestigious Nobel Peace prize. Instead of putting the prize for good use the PM, emboldened by the newly found fame, pushed the country in a different development and political trajectory.
Among the many “changes” the PM made to sugar-coat his hidden agenda was allocating half of the ministerial posts to women. This unprecedented move on the surface looked genuine but it was soon apparent that the selection of the women to the respective posts was mainly based on whether they conform by the PM’s play books in his pursuit to revert the federal arrangement of the country to a unitary system, and less on society’s expectations for rectifying the gender imbalance in the high office.
The President of the Ethiopian Federal Supreme Court, Ms. Meaza Ashenafi, who was probably the senior most member of the “highest achieving” women who attended the function hosted by Your Excellency, was busy encouraging the PM to wage war against the people of Tigray as early as 2019, when she spoke of an unrelated and probably factually incorrect legal precedence where President Eisenhower “invaded” Arkansas during the American civil war. As the president of the Ethiopian Federal Supreme Court, Ms. Ashenafi would be expected to possess the highest level of moral and legal authority to enforce the rule of law of the land.
Coincidental or not, the assignment of more women to the high office has only meant an unprecedented level of abuse and despicable atrocities committed on women. Only months after the Abiy’s government came to power, war broke in the Welega zone of the Oromia region; then the genocidal war on Tigray began on 04 November 2020. The war waged by the government and its allied forces on both regions was typified by weaponized sexual violence on women and girls. In the eight months when the Ethiopian National Defense Forces, the Eritrean Defense Forces, and the Amhara militia and Fano vigilante invaded Tigray on 04 November 2020 and routed out of Tigray on 28 June 2021, 52,000 women and girls were reportedly raped, most of them gang-raped. A recent detailed study by the Tigray Bureau of Health found that more than 120,000 women and girls were victims of sexual violence. This study didn’t include areas still under occupation. While this behavior was widely denounced by many governments, UN agencies, international organizations, and international media, the many female ministers who would be expected to protest in support of these poor women uttered no word. The only exception was the Minister for Women, Children, and Youth, Ms. Filsan Abdullahi who was vocal about rape and sexual violence carried out during the Tigray war and resigned from her ministerial role to preserve her moral values.
The world was shocked by the video on the killing of innocent Tigrayans on 03 march 2022 in the Benishangul-Gumuz region where 10 men 8 of them Tigrayans were first shot and their bodies burnt while one Tigrayan was thrown alive to the inferno. The government’s own Human Rights Commission has reported that this extra-judicial killings were carried out by the Ethiopian forces and other armed groups. The indifference of democratic nations in the face of such carnage will only motivate the genocidaires to escalate their level of cruelty. Last year a video was circulated where men in Ethiopian military uniforms shot dead Tigrayan youth at point-blank range, proudly posing for a photo and then throwing them off a cliff near Mahbere Deigo, a small village in Tigray. Moreover, CNN has shown scores of corpses floating near the shores of the Setit river in Sudan with their hands tied off together to their back and with gunshot wounds. They were known to have been from the Humera town of the Western Tigary. According to a recent report from Ghent university in Belgium, over 500,000 Tigrayans are believed to have perished due to the war and weaponized siege, and the number is thought to increase exponentially unless the siege is broken soon. The outrage displayed by democracies around the world was not either commensurate with the level of atrocities committed on unarmed civilian population or words were not followed by actions. This encouraged the genocidaires to increase their genocidal activities both in intensity and level of cruelty to the extent that people are now thrown into fire alive. Continuing gruesome killings and mass incarceration of tens of thousands of Tigrayans outside Tigray and starving millions to die via a complete siege and humanitarian blockade are part of the genocide H.E Pekka Havvisto, the European Union’s Special Envoy to Ethiopia exposed that in his visit to Addis Ababa in February 2021 Ethiopian government high officials openly said to him “we are going to wipe out the Tigrayans for 100 years” “we are going to wipe out the Tigrayans for 100 years”
Neither the PM of the country nor the ‘high-achieving” women ministers are yet to denounce the barbaric act of cruelty committed on the 3rd of March in the Benishangul-Gumuz. This might as well be one of the mysterious killings (assassination of chief of staff & president of the Amhara region, death of engineer of the renaissance dam, etc.) which many claim to have been orchestrated by the government in power. In the aftermath of this gruesome killing we, Australians of Ethiopian descent, from the Tigray community, were shocked to read in the embassy’s Facebook post of 16 march, 2022 that your Excellency hosted and honoured the ‘achievements” of the women who hold high office in the justice, investment, technology, business, and arts in the current Ethiopian government. It is under these women’s watch that injustice has flourished in the country, investment and business has gone downhill, and the art sector has been heavily utilized as an arm of the government to foment hatred among the Ethiopian society and ease the government’s genocidal campaign it waged against certain ethnic groups.
Enablers of a government which saw the death of half a million people in a region of 7 million and allowed weaponized sexual violence on 52,000 – 120,000 women and girls do not deserve recognition from a country like Australia, which upholds democratic values. Your excellency must not recognize the likes of Ms. Meaza Ashenafi who oversaw the complete obliteration of the already weak judicial system; a system that doesn’t question the government that keeps over 100,000 Tigrayans in Nazi-like internment camps without due process. In the wake of the recent shocking video on the brutal killing of a living soul into an inferno, all we would have expected from our embassy was to uphold our Australian values by condemning the extrajudicial killing perpetrated by the Ethiopian government. The USA embassy to Ethiopia in its 14 March 2022 Facebook post did just that. Given the similarity of moral and democratic values between Australia and USA we ask Your Excellency to follow suit. We also respectfully ask Your Excellency to arrange us a meeting so that we clarify our position in this regard.
Alliance of Tigrayan Communities in Australia and New Zealand (ATCAN)
H.E Senator the Honorable Marise Payne
Foreign Minister and Minister for Women
2-12 Macquarie Street Parramatta, NSW, 2150.
Ms Alison Chartres
Assistant Secretary, Africa Branch
Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade
Rg Casey Building, 10 John McEwen Cres, Barton ACT 2600