UNITED NATIONS- Friday’s visit by the highest ranking U.N. official was to Ethiopia. She said that Tigrayan fighters were hopeful of ending conflict. And she believes top officials in government are making more effort to achieve peace.
But Deputy Secretary-General Amina Mohammed said the most important thing now is how to put pressure on the momentum for peace and not have it unravel, “which it could — it’s very fragile.”
During her talks with both sides, she said, her message was that “with the conflict and the tragedies — horrendous at that — that no one wins and that peace really is indispensable.”
Months of political tensions between Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s government and the Tigray leaders who once dominated Ethiopia’s government exploded into war in November 2020.
In the midst of intense fighting, Ethiopian soldiers fled Mekele in Tigray’s capital. The government then declared a state of emergency and seized all the power it had. The Tigrayans were stopped from reaching Ethiopia’s capital by a government-supported drone offensive. The Tigrayans returned to Tigray in December.
Last June, Ethiopia’s government cut off almost all access to food aid, medical supplies, cash and fuel in Tigray, and Mohammed said only “a trickle” is getting through, which is “absolutely insufficient and inadequate.”
The U.N. World Food Program said in late January that three-quarters of Tigray’s population of some 6 million are “using extreme coping strategies to survive” and more than a third “are suffering an extreme lack of food,”
During her five-day visit to Ethiopia, Mohammed represented Secretary-General Antonio Guterres at the recent African Union summit and then visited four Ethiopian regions — Tigray and neighboring Amhara and Afar as well as Somali. After meeting with Tigray’s leader and Ethiopia’s prime Minister, she traveled to Somalia with President Sahle-Work Zewde and spoke to many local officials, members of civil society, and women.
Mohamed stated that her talks were focused on “how we get to the path to peace — humanitarian access, cessation or hostilities in certain cases in Tigray — and, most importantly, how they were making efforts now at the National Dialog, and how that gets to that with the Parties that were Concern” She also inquired about the three U.N. staffers detained by their government but she did not ask for them to be seen.
She said the message to her from all of Tigray’s leaders “was that this was going to be done the Ethiopian way, and they were going to find an Ethiopian solution to it.” They did not exclude mediation from Africa or from the United Nations, “but they were very fixed on finding the end to their problems themselves in all cases,” she said.
During her travels, she said, “What was really heartbreaking for me was to see the social fabric of a part of that country so torn.”
Mohammed said she saw famine and was asked in all the regions what was the worst outcome of the hostilities.
“Ethiopian women, writ large, were affected in a way that is unimaginable,” she said. “In your worst nightmares, you cannot imagine what has happened to the women in Ethiopia.”
She said she spoke to women across the regions who suffered atrocities, including gang rapes, rapes of women who had just given birth by Caesarean sections and rapes of women in front of their children, sometimes leaving all listeners swallowing hard and holding back tears.
Mohammed claimed she had met a Tigray woman who was gang-raped repeatedly and gave birth to her 5-month old son. Mohammed stated that she had been staying at a U.N. Population Fund safe house, but wanted to move on and seek a job because she is “a survivor, rather than a victim”, even though society has “thrown them away”.
“Without any shadow of doubt, justice must be served and accountable for their actions, Mohammed stated. I believe that this is very much the… core of national dialogues. They cannot achieve any lasting peace without reconciling and being held to account for the atrocities across the country.”