ETHIOPIA – An all-inclusive peace process led by women is needed after widespread sexual violation of Tigrayan women and girls

Amnesty International reported in 2021: “Soldiers and militias subjected Tigrayan women and girls to rape, gang rape, sexual slavery, sexual mutilation and other forms of torture, often using ethnic slurs and death threats.”

“The pattern of acts of sexual violence, with many survivors also witnessing rape of other women, indicates that sexual violence was widespread and intended to terrorize and humiliate the victims and their ethnic group. Twelve survivors said soldiers and militia raped them in front of family members, including children. Five were pregnant at the time.

One 20-year-old woman from Baaker told Amnesty International she was attacked in her home in November 2020 by armed men who spoke Amharic and wore a mixture of military uniforms and civilian clothing. She said: “Three men came into the room where I was. It was evening and already dark… I did not scream; they gestured to me not to make any noise or they would kill me. They raped me one after the other… I was four months pregnant; I don’t know if they realized I was pregnant. I don’t know if they realized I was a person.”

Another, a 35-year-old mother-of-two from Humera said she and four other women were raped by Eritrean soldiers in Sheraro on 21 November 2020. She said: “Three of them raped me in front of my child. There was an eight-months pregnant lady with us, they raped her too… They gathered like a hyena that saw something to eat… They raped the women and slaughtered the men.”

Filsan Abdi, founding director of the Horn Peace Institute, writes: “Six months have passed since a cessation of hostilities agreement was reached to end the two-year war in northern Ethiopia. The deal, signed by the Ethiopian government and Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) under the auspices of the African Union, should be lauded for establishing a framework to halt a conflict that killed hundreds of thousands of civilians.

“But the agreement can, and must, be enhanced. Only a comprehensive and inclusive peace deal – one that expands the range of combatant forces and regional conflicts it includes – will bring Ethiopia closer to the day when it will never again suffer through such a tragic war. And Ethiopian women and girls, who have been excluded from the peace process, must be given a seat at the table. As we have seen in Sudan, fragmented peace processes sidelining women lead to limited agreements perpetuating the cycle of war.

“The Tigray war was the world’s most hidden conflict, receiving very little international attention. The number of civilian deaths has been estimated at 600,000, exceeding the Ukraine war in lethality. Millions were forced to flee their homes, more than half of them women and children. Hospitals and emergency clinics were destroyed.

“The scale of the brutality against women and girls is almost too painful to relay. According to a United Nations panel of experts, sexual and gender-based violence – in particular rape – was perpetrated on a “staggering scale” by all parties to the conflict. Investigative reports all agree that survivors suffered profound violations to their physical and psychological integrity that will scar them for life.

“While accountability for crimes committed against the victims is a necessary component of lasting peace, I believe we must first find the women, support them, give them space to heal, and provide them with the psychosocial support they need…

“In practical terms, Ethiopian women should constitute 50 percent of the delegations engaged in any aspect of the peace negotiations. They should play an equally robust role in planning, implementing, and monitoring all humanitarian interventions, ensuring that the needs of women and girls, women with disabilities, and other neglected groups are not overlooked. Ethiopian women can play instrumental roles in any national dialogue process and transitional justice efforts.”

SOURCE: Amnesty International, by Agnès Callamard, AI Secretary General, 10 August 2021 + VISUAL by Amnesty International ; Al Jazeera, by Filsan Abdi, 12 May 2023