After a four-month-long information blockade, major news outlets have recently begun reporting the atrocities in Tigray. The senseless war between the Tigray regional government and the Ethiopian federal government and its allies has had unimaginably destructive consequences.
Many Tigrayans did not anticipate the levels of cruelty and savagery they have witnessed at the hands of their own countrymen and neighbors. Even more so, no one had foreseen that a Nobel Peace Prize-winning leader (dubbed ‘the reformer’) would wage a war against his own people and let vengeful soldiers from a neighboring country starve, murder, and rape his own people.
In this war, we have witnessed horrifying reports of massacres, mass starvation, mass murders, extrajudicial execution, indiscriminate shelling of schools and churches, extensive destruction and looting of private property, and the systematic destruction of key infrastructures. We have seen millions of people displaced and thousands crossing borders seeking refuge.
Amongst the most horrific and painful atrocities being committed by Eritrean, Ethiopian and allied Amhara milita in Tigray has been the sexual violence that thousands of young girls and women have been facing. It is evident from the countless testimonies and verified reports that sexual violence has been used as a weapon of war. The testimony of the victims is horrifying. Listening to these accounts and thinking of what they went through is heartbreaking.
“I lost my hand when a soldier tried to rape me.” said an 18-year-old schoolgirl from Tigray
“There are disturbing reports of individuals allegedly forced to rape members of their own family, under threats of imminent violence.” said Pramila Patten (U.N. Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Sexual Violence in Conflict)
In a country that prides itself on having women as the head of State, President of the Federal Supreme Court, chair of the National Election Board, Minister of Peace, and half of the cabinet members, one would assume that these officials and the government in general would come out to condemn the painful deeds and act to stop it. Alas, for political reasons, most have remained silent. Even when they have admitted to the reports of atrocities, they have been quick to rationalize them, citing the exigencies of the war and avoiding accountability by pointing fingers elsewhere. They have collectively failed.
Even those who were supposed to protect the youth and women turned a blind eye to reports that should not have been ignored. The perpetrators knew that they would not be held accountable, while the victims believed silence was a condition for their survival. With no consequence for all the gross abuses, silence from women leaders and inaction by the international community has emboldened even more savage atrocities to continue happening in broad daylight to this day.
Shockingly, some Ethiopians living in the West have chosen to aid and abet the denial and cover up by the government by engaging in co-ordinated attacks, blaming and mocking the victims. Some have doctored images to not only deny the fact that the victims were indeed abused, but to also dehumanize and even criminalize them. When called out on this behavior, these actors resort to bullying, intimidation and outright attacks against all those speaking up for the victims.
Likewise, in Ethiopia, the media and those in power are working hard to silence the victims by erecting active barriers against disclosure. There are reports of harassment and intimidation of victims. Some have been removed to isolated and undisclosed locations so that international media, recently invited in by the Ethiopian government, wouldn’t not have access to them and their testimony. Added to these actions is the Ethiopian culture of silence and keeping one’s wounds and emotions inside for fear of shame and losing face.
So what can we do?
Let’s speak up for the victims. We know that the media in Ethiopia will not let the truth come out. We know that the government-led investigations are a mockery. So let’s use social media to tell the victim’s misery as they would have if they had that option. Speak for them and turn up the volume.
If we begin to speak for them, then the victims will not be intimidated from speaking up about their own experiences, and they will know that they are not alone. We ask the silence breakers and those who championed the #MeToo movement to help the victims. No one knows about the power of solidarity and speaking up in volumes more than they do. The #MeToo movement showed us that, when many speak up against the offenders, others are encouraged to speak up. And, when speaking up triggers an avalanche of responses, then there is a chance for real change and justice for the suffering.
The victims of sexual violence need people to listen to them, understand their pain, and help them heal. They need YOU! Let’s not leave them on their own.
In addition to the international media’s working tirelessly to let the world know about the atrocities, we call for international organizations working in the Tigray region to create a safe space for victims to tell their stories — space where they can find a listening ear to help them deal with their trauma.
All those who need to know already know. Unfortunately, they will not act to stop the violence. With a collective and strong voice, however, we can twist the hands of those in positions of power and responsibility to act and stop the violence. Let’s not be complicit in covering up the atrocities.
Let’s speak up and do so NOW!
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