Dec 6, 2021 - World

U.S., allies denounce "widespread arrests" of Tigrayans in Ethiopia

Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed. Photo: Jemal Countess/Getty Images

The U.S. and several allies released a joint statement on Monday condemning "widespread arrests" in Ethiopia made on the basis of ethnicity, specifically of ethnic Tigrayans.

The big picture: The Ethiopian government is engaged in a civil war with rebel forces from the Tigray region. Now the U.S. and its allies are responding to reports that Tigrayans in the capital and elsewhere are being swept up by security forces and held without charge.

What they're saying: "Individuals are being arrested and detained without charges or a court hearing and are reportedly being held in inhumane conditions," Australia, Canada, Denmark, the Netherlands, the U.K. and the U.S. said in a joint statement, noting that those arrested include "Orthodox priests, older people, and mothers with children."

  • "The Ethiopian government’s announcement of a State of Emergency on November 2 is no justification for the mass detention of individuals from certain ethnic groups," the statement added.

Driving the news: Since the state of emergency declaration, hundreds of Tigrayans have been arrested in their homes, at their workplaces and on the street and taken to overcrowded detention centers, the New York Times reports.

  • The Ethiopian government says the detained people are supporters of the Tigray People's Liberation Front (TPLF), which was formerly the country's most powerful political faction but was declared a terrorist group during the standoff with Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed last year that sparked a civil war.
  • Witnesses told the Times they're often arrested on the basis of their names, accents and other distinguishing features. The message that all Tigrayans are “traitors" to be punished has spread widely on platforms like Facebook.

State of play: After being pushed out of the Tigayan capital last November by federal troops, the TPLF has regrouped, joined forces with other rebel groups and opened a counter-offensive. There have been reports of ethnic cleansing during the fighting in Tigray.

  • Abiy last month called on ordinary Ethiopians to take up arms if necessary to defend the capital, Addis Ababa. The State Department has been urging all U.S. citizens in the city to flee.
  • Abiy announced on Nov. 23 that he would lead the federal forces from the front lines, and he's declared a string of victories since then.
  • The UN and U.S. are calling for a ceasefire, but prospects currently appear dim. They're also pressing Abiy to stop blocking food supplies from reaching Tigray to prevent mass starvation.
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