56 women from Africa and the diaspora have marked the International Day for the Elimination of Sexual Violence in Conflict by signing an open letter in solidarity with women and girls in Ethiopia’s Tigray region who are currently being subjected to a campaign of sexual violence described as being of “a level of cruelty beyond comprehension.”
The publication of the letter is accompanied by the launch of a petition that will be delivered to the UN Security Council, the African Union and the European Council in two weeks’ time, calling on them to take action.
The human rights crisis in Tigray has been ongoing since 4 November 2020, when Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed ordered a military offensive against the Tigray Peoples’ Liberation Front (TPLF) forces in response to an attack on a federal army base which the Tigrayan authorities insist was pre-emptive.
There have been consistent reports of egregious human rights violations in this conflict, largely attributed to soldiers from neighbouring Eritrea. The use of sexual violence as a weapon of war has been widespread, with assailants regularly reported as speaking of “cleansing” the bloodline of their victims, drawing comparisons with campaigns of mass rape in Bosnia and Rwanda, which were committed with genocidal intent. One report by the European External Programme with Africa (EEPA) suggests that 10,000 would be a “conservative estimate” for the total number of victims.
The letter, whose signatories include human rights activists and practitioners, authors, artists, parliamentarians, politicians, religious leaders, lawyers, academics and other professionals from at least 15 countries, states: “We are dismayed that African women and girls are once again the victims of conflicted-related sexual violence, which in this instance is being permitted, and committed, by government forces charged, ostensibly, with enforcing the law. The fact such gross human violations are underway in the nation where the African Union (AU) is based, and amidst profound silence from African leaders, impugns the aspiration for ‘African solutions to African problems.’”
African leaders and their international counterparts are urged to bring the atrocities to a “definitive end” to the violence and abuses by ensuring an immediate ceasefire, increased humanitarian assistance for survivors, and an independent justice mechanism to hold those responsible for the violations to account.
Dr Khataza Gondwe, Head of Advocacy and Team Leader for Africa and Middle East at Christian Solidarity Worldwide, said: “Thousands of women and girls are being targeted in a systematic campaign of sexual violence that increasingly bears the hallmarks of genocide. The fact that such appalling violations have been allowed to continue for over seven months is a serious blight on the conscience of Africa and the entire world. Appeals and statements of condemnation are not sufficient. The international community must move swiftly, decisively and robustly to ensure a ceasefire, unimpeded humanitarian access to the entire region, and that those implicated in violations that may amount to atrocity crimes are held accountable using every available mechanism.”
You can sign the petition here.