The United Nations’ Internet Governance Forum (IGF) is convening its 17th annual conference in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, this week. Among the conference’s broader themes one is:“connecting all people and safeguarding human rights” and “Avoiding Internet Fragmentation”.
It is ironic that a UN body whose supposed objective is to promote wider and better access to internet is holding its biggest annual meeting in a country that has weaponized the internet and communications system to commit crimes that amount to genocide and disinform the world about it.
Ethiopia’s regime has imposed the world’s longest internet and general communications shutdown on the Tigray region, home to about seven million people and where an ongoing genocidal campaign has led to the death of up to half a million people over a 25-month-long period. During the last two years, hundreds of thousands of people of Tigrayan descent have perished due organized massacres, indiscriminate bombings of cities and villages and a deliberate mass starvation and lack of access to medical assistance because of a siege imposed by the Ethiopian regime and its allies. Over 120 thousand women and girls were reportedly subjected to systematic campaign of rape and sexual violence largely by Ethiopian and Eritrean armies and their allied ethnic Amhara militia, who have also been accused of carrying out a successful ethnic cleansing campaign in Western Tigray, which constitutes almost a third of Tigray’s territory. The numbers are likely to be very conservative estimates as the depth of the crisis is little known because of the communication blackout and lack of access to the region for human rights bodies and independent media.
Tigrayans in their millions remain cut-off from the world as the IGF meeting goes on in Addis Ababa. Yet, this situation does not seem to have cause any concern for the UN officials attending the event. However, the United Nations complicity in the Tigray Genocide is not limited to hosting this event in Ethiopia. UN officials including the Secretary General himself have continuously been defending the Ethiopian regime’s campaign to wipe out Tigrayans in many ways. For many weeks into the war in 2020, Mr Guterres who is also attending the event in Addis Ababa today continued to deny the presence of Eritrean troops, who had by then committed some of the most gruesome atrocities against civilians in Tigray.
Despite overwhelming evidence of ongoing atrocities in Tigray, UN officials, including the Secretary General himself and UN representatives in Ethiopia, continue to downplay the scale of the human rights and humanitarian crisis and thus the need for intervention to stop the horrors.
In an open letter she wrote following her resignation, Filsan Ahmed, former Minister of Women and Children of Ethiopia stated:
“The UN was born out of the horrors of World War two. Rather than upholding its mandate and recognizing the spirit (of Never Again) under which the UN was founded[, w]e have top UN officials succumbing to the seductions of the Ethiopian government and accepting invitations to lavish resorts as quid pro quo for silence.”
Leaked audio recordings of Addis Ababa- based senior UN officials reveal a general lack of sympathy among the officials towards the plights of Tigrayans in the country.
The International Commission of Human Rights Experts on Ethiopia (ICHREE) confirmed this complicity of the UN offices based in Ethiopia in the ongoing violence against Tigrayans. In its preliminary investigation report, the ICHREE noted the following revealing the general lack of interest by the UN offices to support investigation into human rights violations in Tigray.
“Requests to various UN entities operating in Ethiopia to share documents and materials of interest were largely deflected, or responded to after an inordinate delay.”
During the IGF opening event today, Doreen Bogdan, Director of the International Telecommunications Union (ITU), posted the following on her twitter.
“Always great to be back at @UN @intgovforum #IGF2022. At this years event, a resilient Internet tops the agenda with discussions on universal connectivity, safety and security, data protection, emerging tech and avoiding fragmentation. #LeaveNoOneBehind #OurDigitalFuture.”
While the stated aim of this conference is to promote digital rights, global connectivity and broader safety of the internet, Doreen says nothing about the absurdity of the situation in the host country of the event. The “#LeaveNoOneBehind” slogan in her tweet does not clearly include the seven million Tigrayans in Ethiopia under siege imposed by the Ethiopian Government that is hosting the event that she is participating in and whose high officials were given a platform to gaslight Tigrayans and disinform the world. The event is being used by the Ethiopian regime to gain global legitimacy and to whitewash ongoing human rights violations in Tigray and across the rest of the country. No Tigrayans can attend the event for security reasons as we had previously tried to clarify to the organizers of the conference, which means the voices of the millions of Tigrayans will not be heard and what the regime officials say is likely to be taken as truth.
During the opening day of the conference, gadgets were confiscated from participants at the entrances of the venue, likely to silence voices about the blackout in Tigray.
Convening a conference of this level in a country that has weaponized the internet to commit genocide in Tigray is mockery of the idea and purpose of “Internet governance forum” itself. It particularly goes against some of the key themes of the conference. We thus suggest to people interested in the human rights implications of communication shutdowns and who would like to hear voices that are suppressed by the Internet Governance Forum to follow alternative virtual events such as the “Internet Ungovernance Forum”.