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Professor Jan Nyssen’s Speech at the “Save Tigray” demonstration in Brussels



14 November 2022

Good day to all!

All of us are very sad. We haven’t heard from our friends and relatives in Tigray for one or two years. We all know people who have died before their age. And we are alone: besides some smaller countries, NGOs and individuals, the international community has let Tigray down. Among the smaller countries that have understood the suffering of Tigray, there is Ireland. Ethiopia has direly punished them for that. But why is Ireland taking such a principled attitude? In my understanding, that is because, just like Tigray, Ireland knows what famine is. Just like Tigray, Ireland knows what it is to have an imperial neighbor. Ireland was living on the side of imperial Britain, Tigray is living on the side of imperial Ethiopia.

We are two weeks after the Pretoria agreements, and the humanitarian aid has not arrived – humanitarian aid should be there in any case, it should not even have been part of the peace negotiations.

We have calculated that 5 to 10% of the Tigray civilians have died due to massacres and starvation; to that you may add the numerous young fighters who took up weapons not to defend a party but to defend their families, their mothers and sisters from the killer armies.

Yesterday (13 November 2022), the Ethiopian chief of staff, Berhanu Jula said that “Tigray has been sufficiently punished”. What does that mean “Tigray has been sufficiently punished”? Let it sink in: “Tigray has been sufficiently punished”! So this was indeed a war against Tigray and not a war against TPLF! We have proven since the beginning that this is a war against Tigray, and not just a war to capture 128 individuals, or so, as Abiy claimed.

Jan Nyssen’s poster boards at the “Save Tigray” demonstration

Abiy Ahmed is the main responsible, he has invited the Amhara fanos and Isayas. I listed their programme on my poster boards. But then, so many people have been killed, so many war crimes. The whole diplomatic world knows it, they express concerns after concerns but they do not take action. Are our governments really that naïve?

I think that they are more concerned with big business than with nitty gritty things like humanity and war crimes. At global scale we have the IMF which was just waiting for the Pretoria paperwork to give new loans to the Ethiopian government. But even here at the scale of Belgium: one of our Belgian MPs, Samuel Cogolati, has proposed to sanction the Ethiopian regime by curtailing the landing rights for Ethiopian Airlines. It would be a sanction that does not hurt the poorest of the poor in Ethiopia, because they cannot afford international air travel anyway. But what do we hear then as feedback from our government circles? “Oh, but we should not be tough on Ethiopia, otherwise they will shift their cargo flights from Liège in Belgium to Maastricht in The Netherlands; and we’ll lose income”… That’s how far the complicity is going, that is Realpolitik.

Regardless of complicity, from a moral point of view, we are convinced that Abiy should go to the ICC. If Omar Al-Bashir of Sudan has been sent to the ICC for the Darfur genocide -rightly so- then why should Abiy not go to the ICC for the Tigray genocide? We have to continue insisting on that. We are working now to prepare a comparative table between the Darfur genocide and the Tigray genocide. Both from the point of view of the theoretical aspects, and the numbers of victims. 

Delivering the speech (photo Twitter)

Now, back to Berhanu Jula’s “Tigray has been sufficiently punished”. The second message that we hear would then be “OK now we are going to stop punishing Tigray”. Can we believe that? Can we believe that now, all of a sudden, they are going to stop punishing Tigray, like they say? You don’t trust them. I don’t trust them. The people in Tigray don’t trust them. We have seen the imagery of the Mehabere Dego massacre. That massacre was filmed, but for instance I know three sites around my town of Hagere Selam where similar massacres took place, but that were not filmed, yet the massacres took place in the same way. So the people know very well what ENDF is, they cannot trust it. There are no international observers; it should be full with UN people to see what is going on.

I have discussed with colleagues about the Rwandan genocide of 1994. Did you know that in 1993, there were the Arusha accords between both warring parties. But the main wave of the [Rwandan] genocide came after the agreement. So, better to be aware, it is not because there is an agreement that the genocide will stop. If something goes wrong, it can all run bad again. There are no mechanisms to enforce this agreement. 

So, we are here, we feel like we are left alone. But we must continue to raise awareness, to talk to politicians. I am also urging you very much to reach out to the general public. You would be surprised by the number of people in Belgium, but also in the surrounding countries who still don’t know that there is a war in Tigray. We have to integrate with the fellow students, with the community where you are living and to bring them to events like this. 

I also want to say: forget about party politics. It is Tigray as a whole that is being martyred. You and I should act in defense of Tigray. Last but not least, I wish to thank you for being the advocates of your people, and, let’s continue the struggle.




Thank you very much!

PS Speech recording:

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  1. Lewis `Cheap Flights` Linden

    November 22, 2022 at 8:59 am

    Dear Professor Jan Nyssens, Thank you for your impassioned speech at the Save Tigray demonstration in Brussels. I was moved by your words and concerned by the plight of the Tigray people. I have a few comments and questions about the points you raised in your speech. First, you said that the Ethiopian government is “deliberately” starving the Tigray people. I question this use of the word “deliberately.” While it is true that the Ethiopian government has blockaded aid from reaching Tigray, I’m not sure if this is intentional starvation or simply a lack of access to food. Second, you spoke about the “ethnic cleansing” of Tigray. Again, I question the use of this word. “Ethnic cleansing” implies that the Ethiopian government is forcibly removing the Tigray people from their homes. While there have been mass displacement and refugees, I’m not sure if this can be classified as “ethnic cleansing.” Finally, you called for Tigray to be given autonomy within Ethiopia. I agree that this is a possible solution to the conflict, but I’m not sure if it is feasible. The Ethiopian government is unlikely to cede power to Tigray, and Tigray is unlikely to be able to gain autonomy through force. I hope that my questions and comments have been helpful. I am eager to learn more about the situation in Tigray and to find a way

  2. Jan Nyssen

    November 17, 2022 at 3:35 pm

    Ethiopian regime supporters try to downplay Berhanu Jula’s statement, as if he would have talked about pain inflicted on Tigrayans by their own regional government. Taken in context, clearly, he talks about the Ethiopian government punishment inflicted on Tigrayans.

    See Berhanu Jula’s speech:
    “Tigray has been sufficiently punished; to punish them more would be mindless”.

  3. Cillard michel

    November 16, 2022 at 10:36 am

    La coupure des communications (téléphone et Internet) nous empêche de parler avec nos proches, et les témoignages qui sortent nous inquiètent encore plus sur ce qu’ils deviennent. Le retour sous contrôle ENDF est tout aussi angoissant quand on sait les crimes commis par les soldats de l’armée fédérale. Comment pourraient-ils désormais protéger le peuple Tigreen ? En même temps que l’aide humanitaire arrive, que les troupes érythréennes et non ENDF quittent le Tigray, que les services sont rétablis, les journalistes et experts/observateurs de l’ONU doivent pouvoir investiguer dans toute la région. La question du génocide doit aussi être explicitement posée.

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