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The Canadian government should use political influence over Ethiopia to speak out against conflicts, the local Ethiopian community urges

Winnipeg’s Ethiopian community is calling on the Canadian government to speak out against the conflict between Ethiopia and the Tigray people.

According to the United Nations, the armed conflict between the Tigrayan Special Forces, previously known as Tigray People’s Liberation Front, and Ethiopia’s military forces began in November 2020 and has killed and injured thousands and displaced millions of people. Despite the central government postponing a scheduled general election due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Tigray region decided to hold its own regional elections in September 2020, which was declared unconstitutional.

Following the TPLF’s attacks on Ethiopia’s army camps, Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed has accused the TPLF of terrorism and launched a military operation that engulfed other regions as militias and separatist groups rose against the central government. The fighting has intensified in recent weeks since Tigrayan forces took back key towns and are advancing closer to Addis Ababa, capital of the Oromo region, and Ethiopia, even after Ethiopian forces declared a unilateral ceasefire in June. In addition, eight other rebel groups, including the Oromo Liberation Army, which was once considered an enemy of the TPLF, announced their support for the Tigrayan forces earlier this month.

On Nov. 3, the UN Human Rights Office released findings from a joint investigation with the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission. It said that they have enough evidence to declare that both parties in the conflict have “committed violations of international human rights, humanitarian and refugee law, some of which may amount to war crimes and crimes against humanity.”

According to the investigation, the violations committed include sexual and gender-based violence, unlawful killings and extra-judicial executions, torture, violations against refugees, and forced displacement of civilians.

Mustefa Ebro, chair of the board of directors at the Winnipeg Oromo Union, spoke to U Multicultural about human rights violations and the civil war in Ethiopia on Nov. 15. (Screenshot/Zoom)

Mustefa Ebro is the chair of the Winnipeg Oromo Union’s board of directors, a registered nurse, and a human rights activist who fled Ethiopia and came to Canada as a political refugee. He said that the recent war has gotten out of control and has been led by a Nobel Peace Prize-winning Prime Minister who has declared war on his own people with the support of foreign forces from Eritrea and Somalia.

“As a Canadian taxpayer and as a human rights activist, I closely monitor the Ethiopian government’s relationship with Canada. Canada is the largest donor to Ethiopia – the third-largest donor to Ethiopia, closely up to $200 million a year. And Ethiopia is the single largest recipient from Canada, so that means the Canadian government has a tremendous amount of political influence over Ethiopia to stop such violence against children and women. So we know that the Ethiopian government is using the money they obtain from the Canadian government and the rest of donors to buy war equipment to use against civilians,” he explained, adding the Ethiopian government has bombarded the Tigray region capital city, Mekelle, more than three times. The Ethiopian government also bought drones from Iran and Turkey, Ebro said. “They cannot afford to buy those highly sophisticated equipment to silence their people if they don’t have access to foreign (money). So we are demanding the Canadian government to step up and talk to their counterpart in Ethiopia (that) unless they respect human rights, Canadian tax money will not finance their violence.”

Ebro and other human rights activists in Canada have written open letters to the federal government and Ahmed expressing their concern for the civilians’ safety.

“We want the Canadian society to hear what our tax money has been doing overseas,” Ebro added.

The UN has reported that the victims in the conflict have been imprisoned incommunicado, threatened with guns, deprived of food and water, and beaten with metal pipes and electric cables. The Amhara population in Western Tigray suffered torture and ill-treatment mainly due to their ethnic identity. Other captured soldiers, fighters, and civilians suspected of supporting them were tortured.

“The Tigray conflict has been marked by extreme brutality. The gravity and seriousness of the violations and abuses we have documented underscore the need to hold perpetrators accountable on all sides,” said Michelle Bachelet, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights. As many as 600 Tigrayan men were forcedly paraded naked through the streets of Samre on Apr. 2 by Eritrean soldiers.

“Female (Eritrean Defence Force) soldiers mocked us and took pictures of us,” a 70-year-old victim told the UN’s Joint Investigation Team. Also detailed in the report is how Tigrayan forces humiliated and publicly displayed captured Ethiopian National Defence Force soldiers.
Ebro explained that the general public in Ethiopia cannot even speak about the conflict because they could get killed. Since the OLA and the TPLF advance to the capital, the Ethiopian government ordered intelligence and police officers to stop, search, confiscate, or kill anyone they suspect is linked to any of the rebel groups.

“Those two tribes are going through hell,” he continued. “We thought TPLF were brutal when they were ruling for the past 27 years, but I’ve never seen the level of brutality this current government is doing because they were simply pulling kids from church and killing them in front of the mothers.

Ebro said the conflict and the atrocities that civilians are going through hit too close to home for him.

“I am a political refugee myself, and I fled Ethiopia 20 years ago, from my second year at university, and I lived in Kenya for one year and five months. Unfortunately, the same crisis is happening in Ethiopia. A lot of university students are (fleeing) the country, the ones that are lucky,” he said. “(Some) have been killed, women are raped, and the children are malnourished. I have family members back home. I have friends who got caught up in between this violence. I don’t have sleep. I’m on social media 24-7…and I constantly talk to my people over there. They continue updating me and I’m receiving tragic news almost every day. It hurts me as a human being, it hurts me on a personal level. It hits too close to home. We are physically out of Ethiopia, physically out of Oromia, but mentally I’m there.”

– Ligia Braidotti, U Multicultural

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