‘Don’t betray women of Tigray’: calls grow for international action against rape in war

Politicians among signatories of two open letters urging investigation into reports of sexual violence in Ethiopian conflict

The former prime minister of New Zealand, Helen Clark, and Zimbabwean author and 2020 Booker prize nominee Tsitsi Dangarembga are among the signatories of two separate letters demanding international action after shocking reports of sexual violence in Tigray.

In one, more than 50 women of African descent call for an immediate ceasefire and express horror at reports that African women and girls are “once again the victims” of violence and rape in war.

Another letter signed by Clark, as well as former UK development secretary Hilary Benn, Green party MP Caroline Lucas and more than 60 campaigners, calls on the UN security council to set up a tribunal to investigate allegations of sexual violence in Ethiopia’s northern region “as a war crime, a crime against humanity, or a constitutive act of genocide”.

“Failure by the international community to act would undo the progress made so far in eliminating sexual violence in conflict,” reads the open letter, whose signatories include more than 30 organisations from Tigray and the diaspora. “It would give a green light to regimes that deploy this barbaric weapon of war. And it would be a betrayal of the women of Tigray, whose courage we salute.”

War broke out in Tigray on 4 November last year when Ethiopia’s prime minister, Abiy Ahmed, a Nobel peace prize laureate, sent in troops to oust the regional government of the Tigray People’s Liberation Front.

Harrowing reports of sexual violence have emerged from large numbers of women and girls, in what are being seen as targeted attacks by Ethiopian soldiers and their Eritrean allies.

“Language used by the assailants makes clear that these are not random attacks. They are targeted at the women because of their ethnicity, because they are Tigrayan, with the aim of rendering them infertile. The attacks are integral to the conflict,” reads one of the two letters published to mark the UN’s International Day for the Elimination of Sexual Violence in Conflict on Saturday.

“But so far, those responsible for gross violations of international humanitarian laws and resolutions outlawing the use of sexual violence in conflict have not been brought to account. There’s been no justice for the women of Tigray,” they write.

The letter signed by Dangarembga also bears the names of anti-female genital mutilation campaigner Nimco Ali, Chineke! Orchestra founder Chi-chi Nwanoku and more than 30 other women of African descent. It calls for a ceasefire and increased humanitarian assistance in Tigray and an independent justice mechanism.

“We are dismayed that African women and girls are once again the victims of conflict-related sexual violence, which in this instance is being permitted, and committed, by government forces charged, ostensibly, with enforcing the law,” reads the letter.

“The fact such gross human violations are under way in the nation where the African Union is based, and amid profound silence from African leaders, impugns the aspiration for ‘African solutions to African problems’.”

This weekend, activists are launching a social media campaign using the hashtags #endsexualviolenceintigray #endrapeinwar and #believeblackwomen, and hosting an online conference on wartime sexual violence around the world.

“We named the conference ‘solutions for women by women’. I believe that we need to work on this ourselves. I am tired of waiting for somebody from higher up to start taking this issue seriously,” said Danait Tafere, a conflict analyst, who lived in Tigray before the Covid pandemic.

She blamed a lack of action on racism. “There’s not much happening [to address] sexual violence, and the reason people are not acting quickly is because this is about black women. Black women are not protected.”

Last week, the UN said 350,000 people were now suffering famine conditions in Tigray.

• In the UK, Rape Crisis offers support for rape and sexual abuse on 0808 802 9999 in England and Wales, 0808 801 0302 in Scotland, or 0800 0246 991 in Northern Ireland. Other international helplines can be found at ibiblio.org/rcip/internl.html

Contributor

Zeinab Mohammed Salih

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
‘Like I wasn’t a person’: Ethiopian forces accused of systematic rape in Tigray
Mutilation, slavery and torture of women and girls detailed in accounts published by Amnesty. Warning: this article contains graphic details of sexual violence

Emmanuel Akinwotu, West Africa correspondent

11, Aug, 2021 @5:01 AM

Article image
‘Bodies are being eaten by hyenas; girls of eight raped’: inside the Tigray conflict
A woman working in war-torn Tigray has shared her harrowing testimony of the atrocities taking place

Tracy McVeigh

14, May, 2021 @9:06 AM

Article image
Violence against Africa’s children is rising. It stains our collective conscience | Graça Machel
We must apply our own home-grown initiatives if we are to curb abuses of Africa’s most vulnerable

Graça Machel

23, Jul, 2021 @6:01 AM

Article image
DRC protesters demand justice over unprosecuted rapes and murders
Women lead protests against conflict violence in Democratic Republic of the Congo, amid calls for action on hundreds of civil war crimes

Kaamil Ahmed

02, Oct, 2020 @11:19 AM

Article image
Makeshift justice the only recourse for ill-protected women at South Sudan camp | Ben Quinn
For women who routinely run the gauntlet of harassment and sexual violence, Malakal protection of civilians camp has roundly failed to live up to its name

Ben Quinn in Malakal

16, Jan, 2017 @7:00 AM

Article image
'I'm here to work, not for sex': battling violence against women in Rwanda | Sophie Cousins
A culture of victim-blaming and high levels of sexual and physical abuse are being tackled with tough laws as well as dedicated centres to help survivors

Sophie Cousins in Kigali

27, Dec, 2018 @7:00 AM

Article image
Quarter of women and girls have been abused by a partner, says WHO
Largest such study finds domestic violence experienced by one-in-four teenage girls with worst levels faced by women in their 30s

Liz Ford

09, Mar, 2021 @4:10 PM

Article image
Male rape and sexual torture in the Syrian war: ‘It is everywhere’
When Sarah Chynoweth was asked to look into sexual violence against men and boys in the Syria crisis, she had no idea of the scale of the problem

Sarah Chynoweth

21, Nov, 2017 @1:10 PM

Article image
The 'rape capital of the world'? We women in Congo don't see it that way | Justine Masika Bihamba
Congo is a nation of sisterhood and solidarity. We are changing our country from within, risking our lives to speak out and taking up the political fight against sexual violence – rather than just taking notes while men speak

Justine Masika Bihamba

09, Oct, 2017 @2:16 PM

Article image
'Slaughtered like chickens': Eritrea heavily involved in Tigray conflict, say eyewitnesses
Despite denials by Ethiopia, multiple reports confirm killings, looting and forcible return of refugees by Asmara’s forces

Guardian staff

21, Dec, 2020 @7:15 AM