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Subcommittee on International Human Rights of the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Development
House of Commons / Chambre des communes
Sous-comité des droits internationaux de la personne du Comité permanent des affaires étrangères et du développement international

For immediate release


Human Rights Situation in Tigray

Ottawa, December 05, 2022 -

On 21 and 28 October 2022, the Subcommittee on International Human Rights to the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Development held meetings on the human rights situation in the Tigray region of the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia. These meetings follow a news release by the Subcommittee after a meeting on 21 June, in which the Subcommittee committed to further investigate human rights in Tigray. Over the course of these three meetings, the Subcommittee heard from 20 witnesses including academics, a doctor, a lawyer, representatives of civil society organizations as well as members of the Tigrayan, Ethiopian and Eritrean communities in Canada.

The Subcommittee welcomes the announcement that the Government of Ethiopia and the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) have formally agreed to a cessation of hostilities on 2 November 2022. This monumental achievement provides hope that an end is in sight for the two-year conflict that has claimed the lives of hundreds of thousands of people, devastated families and caused unimaginable suffering.

The Subcommittee notes that its role is not the mediation of conflict or the drawing of conclusions about the political structures through which Ethiopia will be governed going forward. Our role, rather, is to focus on human rights – to raise awareness about human rights abuses and to make concrete recommendations about how the Government of Canada and other actors can work to improve adherence to human rights laws and norms.

During its hearings, witnesses testified about gross human rights violations amounting to war crimes, crimes against humanity and ethnic cleansing. In particular, it should be highlighted that some witnesses argued that the atrocities were committed with an intent to destroy the people of Tigray, meeting the definition of genocide under the 1948 Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide. Examples of the atrocities included the following:

  • Gender-Based Violence – The Subcommittee heard that gender-based violence permeated the entire conflict. Members heard of women being held against their will, tortured and violently raped by groups of Ethiopian and allied soldiers in front of their husbands and children. Witnesses emphasized that these were not isolated incidents; at least 120,000 Tigrayan women had been raped by mid-2022 – a scale that suggests rape was used systematically as a weapon of war.

  • Civilian Deaths – Witnesses told the Subcommittee that civilians were being deliberately targeted by Ethiopian soldiers – sometimes in attacks that killed hundreds. In one instance, the Subcommittee was told that 800 people were killed when Ethiopian and allied forces attacked the northern city of Axum in November 2020. Civilian deaths were not just the result of indiscriminate air strikes. Some witnesses shared stories of male family members in Tigray who had been bound and killed by Ethiopian and allied soldiers in front of their families.

  • Destruction of Civilian Objects – Witnesses made it clear that Eritrean and Ethiopian soldiers were deliberately targeting civilian infrastructure in Tigray and implementing measures to deprive its population from materials and services necessary for survival. This not only included cutting Tigray off from Ethiopia’s communications infrastructure, but also denying Tigrayans access to money by freezing Tigray’s banks and destroying the majority of the region’s hospitals. This latter spurred a healthcare crisis and prevented the thousands of women who were brutally assaulted from accessing urgently needed care.

  • Starvation as a Weapon of War – According to witnesses, Eritrean and Ethiopian soldiers essentially cordoned off Tigray, depriving its population from accessing desperately needed humanitarian aid, including food. This, coupled with scorched earth tactics, had lethal consequences for Tigray’s population that already suffered from widespread malnourishment before the conflict. One witness, for instance, told the Subcommittee that since the beginning of the blockade, 100% of children admitted to the primary referring hospital in the region were malnourished.

Regardless of the causes of the conflict or the potential legitimacy of a central government fighting an armed militia, the committee wishes to underline that such grossly unjust means can never be used even in pursuit of a just cause. The means by which this conflict has been conducted will have long-term consequences that could challenge the effectiveness of the peace agreement.

The conflict in Tigray has caused one of the worst humanitarian crises in the world. Millions of Tigrayans have been forced to seek safety elsewhere in Ethiopia while tens of thousands have been forced to seek refuge in neighbouring countries where they continue to endure difficult conditions in refugee camps. The peace agreement will allow some to return safely, many to destroyed homes and lands that are no longer cultivable.

It is with this in mind that the Subcommittee remains concerned with the long-term effects of the conflict and the prospects for maintaining peace and stability in Ethiopia.

While the Subcommittee acknowledges that there are several parties to the conflict, and that atrocities have been committed by all sides, it condemns the overwhelming use of force directed by Eritrean and Ethiopian soldiers against the civilian population of Tigray. This is not to say that the Subcommittee condones the TPLF’s tactics. It strongly believes that all human rights violations should be investigated and prosecuted for there to be lasting peace in this region.

It is for this reason that the Subcommittee will continue to monitor the implementation of the peace process. The Subcommittee is firmly convinced that focusing on human rights is fundamental to any peace process. As such, moving forward in Ethiopia will require that those who have committed violations of international human rights and humanitarian law be held accountable. The Subcommittee urges all parties to the conflict to fully engage in the peace and transitional justice processes.

The Subcommittee understands that this will be a long and difficult journey. For this reason, it implores the Government of Canada to support the parties in their efforts to maintain peace in the region and uphold human rights. It also asks the Government of Canada to work with the international community to ensure the peace agreement prevails.

Finally, the Subcommittee thanks the witnesses for their courage in sharing their invaluable and difficult testimony. Their insights of what is happening on the ground provided members with indispensable knowledge into a region and its people that deserve more of the world’s attention.

For more information, please contact:
Ariane Gagné-Frégeau, Clerk of the Subcommittee on International Human Rights of the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Development
Tel: 613-992-9672