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Factsheet: Ethiopia’s Tigray Region

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  • Tigray is the northernmost region of Ethiopia with a population of approximately seven million.
  • The TPLF is Tigray’s ruling party and had been part of the ruling coalition for decades before Abiy’s ascent to office in 2018.
  • On November 4th, 2020, Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, Nobel Peace Prize winner the previous year, sent federal troops into Tigray for a military campaign against the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF)
  • Abiy’s stated reason was what he called a “traitorous” attack on federal army camps in Tigray. The TPLF deny responsibility and have accused Abiy of creating a pretext for invasion.
  • Abiy claimed the air and ground operations would be swift and targeted but, six months on, there have been reports of massacres, rape and widespread hunger.
  • Tigray held regional elections in September 2020, which the TPLF won, but which were declared illegal by the national government, which then withheld funds meant for social welfare programmes in Tigray.
  • Abiy sacked the head of the military, an institution which has a strong Tigrayan presence.
  • After nine days of army air strikes, TPLF forces fire rockets at Asmara, the capital of neighbouring Eritrea, and TPLF leader Debretsion Gebremichael says his forces have been fighting Eritrean troops “on several fronts.”
  • Tens of thousands of refugees soon fled into Sudan, with the United Nations warning of possible war crimes in Tigray.
  • On November 28th Abiy falsely claimed that military operations in Tigray were “completed,” having rejected peace talks and sent tanks to Tigray’s capital Mek'ele.
  • In February this year, Amnesty International said that Eritrean soldiers had killed “hundreds of civilians” in November in Tigray’s holy city, Axum. Eritrean forces are also accused of massacring and systematically raping Tigray citizens.
  • In March, US US Secretary of State Antony Blinken labelled the violence “ethnic cleansing” and urged Eritrea and special forces from Ethiopia’s Amhara region to leave the areas of Tigray they were occupying.
  • Ethiopia and Eritrea deny Eritrean involvement until March when Abiy suggests that Eritrean troops may have committed atrocities. The Ethiopian Human Rights Commission then claims that Eritrean soldiers massacred more than 100 civilians in Axum in November, consistent with investigations by Amnesty and Human Rights Watch.
  • Despite talks between Ethiopia and Eritrea which appear to signal the end of Eritrea’s involvement, in April the UN confirms there is no evidence of withdrawal. Eritrea then confirmed for the first time that it has been engaged militarily in Tigray and says it will withdraw.
  • After nearly six months of the military operation against Tigray, the UN Security Council issued a joint statement, expressing “deep concern” about allegations of human rights violations, including reports of sexual violence.
  • The Security Council further called for “a scaled-up humanitarian response and unfettered humanitarian access” to address humanitarian needs, including provision of food assistance.
  • In stark contrast Ethiopia’s mission to the UN labelled the operation in Tigray “an internal affair regulated by the laws of the country, including human rights laws” and claimed that the Ethiopian government was “providing significant portion of the humanitarian assistance delivered to those in need and will continue to allocate the maximum available resources.”
  • As recently as April 27th, the UN’s humanitarian update for Tigray stated that “active hostilities reported in the central, eastern and northwestern parts of the region”.
  • Casualty figures are unknown and difficult to estimate, but it is possible that tens of thousands have been killed in the conflict; two million displaced and 4.5 million in need of food assistance.