Ethiopia’s leader won the Nobel Peace Prize. Now he’s accused of war crimes.

Opinion: Ethiopia’s leader won the Nobel Peace Prize. Now he’s accused of war crimes.

Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed speaks during a question-and-answer session with lawmakers in Addis Ababa in November 2020.
Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed speaks during a question-and-answer session with lawmakers in Addis Ababa in November 2020. (Tiksa Negeri/Reuters)
The Washington Post | Jan. 27, 2021

FIFTEEN MONTHS ago, Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for ending his country’s conflict with neighboring Eritrea. Now, he may be perpetrating grave crimes against humanity. After launching an invasion of the rebellious province of Tigray, Mr. Abiy’s regime stands accused of sealing off the region and blocking deliveries of food and other humanitarian aid. International aid officials are warning that millions of people could be at risk of famine.

When he rose to power in 2018, Mr. Abiy displaced politicians and generals from Tigray who had ruled Ethiopia for 27 years under a ruthless autocracy. In addition to ending the war, the new leader released political prisoners and promised democratic elections. Yet the campaign Mr. Abiy launched against Tigray in early November has all the earmarks of Ethiopia’s previous dictators. In occupying the province’s capital and other towns, federal forces, ethnic militias and allied troops from Eritrea have carried out massacres and rapes, according to the sporadic reports emerging from the region. Journalists have been banned, and phone and Internet services are down. Two million of Tigray’s 6 million people are believed to be displaced.

Without food deliveries, many of those people could starve. Yet up until late last week, federal and regional officials were blocking deliveries by the United Nations, even while government troops reportedly burned crops and destroyed livestock. On Friday, U.N. humanitarian relief coordinator Mark Lowcock reported that authorities had finally authorized the movement of 500 metric tons of food to Tigray’s main cities and two out of four refugee camps. But, he tweeted, “we must get more aid workers and life-saving supplies into Tigray so we can scale up operations.” U.N. officials say about 80 aid workers are waiting in the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa, for permission to travel to Tigray. Until they can get in, it won’t be clear how serious the food problem remains.

Mr. Abiy’s government claims to be engaged in a “stabilizing mission” after routing the forces of the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF). In fact, it has been relentlessly hunting down fugitive TPLF leaders — including longtime former Ethiopian foreign minister Seyoum Mesfin, 71, who was gunned down this month in what authorities claimed was a shootout. Though four dozen TPLF leaders have reportedly been killed or captured, scores remain at large, along with thousands of fighters who still control parts of the province.

Mr. Abiy contends his forces have already triumphed in Tigray and the conflict will soon be over. More likely, a guerrilla war with the TPLF will drag on for years, and the humanitarian crisis will deepen, even if an immediate famine is averted. That’s why the United States and the European Union, which heavily fund Ethiopia, should withhold further aid until there is full humanitarian access to Tigray and the government agrees to pursue peace talks.

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