Tigray has pardoned and released 4208 Ethiopian Prisoners of War (PoWs), 401 of which are women. Tigray cited humanitarian reasons and the gracious culture of Tigrayans for giving the amnesty. The Tigray Government said (see Statement below) the PoWs have been treated according to the Tigrayan generosity and in compliance “with the basic precepts of applicable international laws pertaining to the treatment of prisoners of war”.
Berhane Kebede, coordinator of the PoW center, said in a press briefing, that he believes that the amnesty is befitting to the Tigrayan culture and hoped that the released PoWs will preach peace and the devastation of war in their communities. Some of the PoWs said they will speak about their humane treatment in Tigray and preach peace as they board trucks leaving the detention facilities.
A criteria for the release of the PoWs is the level of involvement in crimes of the PoWs. The Tigray Government (GoT) said the pardon and release is part of unilateral confidence-building measures, following promise it says it made to the AU envoy, Olusegun Obasanjo. The GoT also called on the international community to pressure Abiy to release Tigrayans languishing in detention centers only on the basis of their identity.
It is to be remembered that Tigray also released 1000 PoWs in July 2021. Following the start of the war on Tigray, it released soldiers captured in the operations with the North Command centers.
The Abiy regime doesn’t keep Tigrayan prisoners of war, but instead shows Tigrayans it rounds up as PoWs. Tigrayans believe that the regime simply executes the Tigrayans captured in war.
Tigray Government Statement on the Pardon and Release of the PoWs
For over a year and half, the people of Tigray have been under a relentless genocidal assault by the Ethiopian and Eritrean armies as well as Amhara regional forces. At the end of June 2021, the invaders were chased out of most parts of Tigray, though large swaths of Tigray are still under enemy occupation. During the strategic offensive to rid Tigray of these marauding gang of criminals, and in subsequent operations outside Tigray, Tigray forces inflicted a series of backbreaking losses on our enemies, decimating their vaunted divisions and capturing thousands of their fighters.
Since then, the people and Government of Tigray, even with their survival under threat due to a deadly blockade imposed by the Ethiopian regime and its domestic and foreign allies, have been extending their time-honored generosity to enemy fighters captured on the battlefield. Even as millions of Tigrayans face the risk of death by starvation, the people and Government of Tigray have been doing everything in their power to comply with the basic precepts of applicable international laws pertaining to the treatment of prisoners of war. We continue to do so despite the fact that the regime that sent them to wage a genocidal war on Tigray has even denied their very existence.
In recent months, the AU Special Envoy for the Horn of Africa, former Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo, has been trying to help us secure a peaceful way out of the war on Tigray. The Government of Tigray, consistent with its principled preference for the peaceful resolution of political differences, had agreed to undertake even unilateral confidence-building measures. Accordingly, per the promise we made to Chief Obasanjo, we have decided to release 4208 prisoners of war. Of those to be released, 401 are women.
In making this momentous decision, the Government of Tigray has done its due diligence in such a way that enemy fighters suspected of having committed atrocities will be held accountable. First, the vast majority of those designated for release were captured during engagements outside Tigray. The fact that they joined the military in 2021/2022 also means that the chances of their having committed atrocities in Tigray are slim to none. Enemy fighters that are suspected of involvement in atrocities will be held accountable to the full extent of the law.
Second, in making this decision, the Government of Tigray has taken into account physical disabilities either due to illness or injury sustained on the battlefield. In addition, since there were numerous pregnant prisoners of war—the regime had cruelly deployed pregnant fighters to the frontlines! —we have prioritized the release of those that have given birth during their stay in Tigray.
Tigray has a distinguished history of treating people with respect, decency and humanity. While the people of Tigray justifiably seethe with anger and pain at the unimaginable atrocities committed and being committed against them, they are also too principled to compromise with their cherished values, even under extraordinarily trying times. Decency, humanity and magnanimity are the hallmarks of a civilized society, such as ours. The latest decision should, therefore, be seen in this light.
The Government of Tigray calls on the international community to extend the necessary cooperation to facilitate the implementation of the decision to release captured enemy fighters. The Authorities in Addis, having denied even their very existence, cannot be relied upon to extend good-faith cooperation in this regard.
Last but not least, we call on the international community to press the Ethiopian regime to release the thousands of Tigrayans still languishing in jail solely on account of their identity. Despite the apparent lifting of the most recent state of emergency proclamation, thousands of Tigrayans continue to be held incommunicado solely on account of their identity. Furthermore, since November 2020, several thousand retired and active members of the Ethiopian National Defense Force, their Tigrayan identity having been criminalized, have been held under cruel, inhumane and degrading conditions. Tragically, a number of those detained members of the military have died due to the extremely inhumane conditions under which they have been held. Hundreds of those detained have been murdered, with some others dying under extremely suspicious circumstances.
We call on the international community to deploy all tools at its disposal to get the Ethiopian regime to release political prisoners and prisoners of conscience. Such a step would go a long way towards creating an environment conducive to the peaceful resolution of Ethiopia’s multifaceted crisis.