As women from Africa or of African descent, we are marking the International Day for the Elimination of Sexual Violence in Conflict by signing this open letter in solidarity with the women and girls in the Tigray region of Ethiopia, who are being targeted in a campaign of sexual violence which the UN Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict has described as being of “a level of cruelty beyond comprehension.”
During a disturbing briefing to the Nations (UN) Security Council in April, the UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator Sir Mark Lowcock reported an unspecified agency operating in Tigray had estimated that 30% of all incidents against civilians involved sexual violence, which he confirmed is being used “as a weapon of war, as a means to humiliate, terrorize and traumatize an entire population today and into the next generation.” The perpetrators were identified as members of the “Ethiopian National Defence Forces, Eritrean Defence forces, Amhara Special Forces, and other irregular armed groups or aligned militia,” and nearly a quarter of the cases involved gang rape over an extended period of time.
Reports continue to emerge from Tigray of wives being raped in front of their husbands; mothers raped in front of their children and vice versa; family members forced to choose between raping female relatives or death, and of women themselves being forced to choose between rape or death. Several victims report their assailants boasted of “cleansing” their bloodline, while others arrive at medical facilities having suffered additional traumatic injuries to their reproductive organs inflicted by attackers to prevent them from bearing children. Researchers from Ghent University in Belgium have concluded this campaign of mass rape fits “a pattern that has been evident in previous genocidal actions, and [is] reminiscent of events in Bosnia and Rwanda.”
In this conflict Tigrayan women and girls have no protection or place of refuge. A USAID analysis of 36 events involving 106 women and girls found that 39% were raped in their homes, 21% were abducted and raped in military camps, 18% were raped when walking on a road, 11% were raped while in hospital, 11% in open areas, and 4% in a convent. Victims range from an eight-year-old child to elderly grandmothers. Eritrean refugees who fled to Ethiopia in safer times have also been targeted, amid reports of Eritrean soldiers and diverse armed militia accessing refugee camps and raping, killing or forcibly returning residents to a country they fled in fear for their lives. While cultural reticence, stigma, and restricted access to rural areas mean the total number of victims is as yet unknown, a report by the European External Programme with Africa (EEPA) asserts that 10,000 would be a “conservative estimate.”
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 often committed, by government forces charged, ostensibly, with enforcing the law. The fact that such appalling violations are underway in the nation where the African Union (AU) is based, and amidst profound silence from African leaders, impugns the aspiration for ‘African solutions to African problems.’
We welcomed the UN Security Council’s first statement of concern regarding the situation in Tigray, which made mention of the appalling sexual violence against women and girls. However, we deeply regret that political exigences appear to have been prioritised over the lives of African civilians, as evidenced by the Council’s continuing inability to hold a public session on Tigray. Unfortunately, the time for statements of concern to be of any effect has long passed. Violations continue, and with each day incalculable physical, emotional, and psychological damage is being caused to an entire people group.
We concur with former president of Malawi Joyce Banda, who once highlighted that “the potential of the African continent is intrinsically linked with the potential of its women.” Therefore, we appeal to African leaders, and to their international counterparts, not only to speak up for the women and girls of Tigray, but also to provide the leadership needed to bring these atrocities to a definitive end.
In solidarity with the victims of these terrible crimes, we call urgently for:
- an immediate ceasefire;
- increased and timely humanitarian assistance for the survivors;
- an independent justice mechanism to ensure that those responsible for the suffering are held to account.
Time is of the essence.
- Mahasin Z Abdalla, Activist, Sudan
- Sara Abdelgalil, Paediatric Consultant, Sudan
- Nemat Abdelrahem, Activist, Sudan
- Salwa Abdelwahab Saied, Women’s Rights Activist, Sudan
- Teman Liti Agera, COO, CSW Nigeria
- Nimco Ali OBE, CEO, The Five Foundation, The Global Partnership To End FGM
- Maha Alneil, Sudanese Women’s Union UK
- Sulayma Al Subai, Sudanese Women’s Union
- Rev Nicqi Ashwood, United Church in Jamaica & the Cayman Islands/ World Council of Churches,
- Hanan Babekr, Chair, Sudanese Women’s Union
- Abiodun Baiyewu, Country Director, Global Rights, Nigeria
- Zainab Lowe Baldeh, Women’s Association for Victims’ Empowerment (WAVE), Gambia
- Gloria Mabeiam Ballason, CEO, House of Justice, Nigeria
- Sara Beleil, Consultant Psychiatrist, Sudan
- Helen Berhane, Religious Freedom Activist, Eritrea
- Elizabeth Chyrum, Director, Human Rights Concern-Eritrea
- Tsitsi Dangarembga, Founding Director, Institute of Creative Arts for Progress in Africa Trust; Man Booker Prize Nominee 2020, PEN Pinter Prize Winner2020
- Marsha de Cordova, UK Member of Parliament for Battersea
- Julia Duncan-Cassell, former Minister of Gender, Children, and Social Protection, Liberia
- Amal Elsheikh, Human Rights Lawyer, Sudan
- Dr. Ihsan Fagiri, President, No To Women’s Oppression Initiative, Sudan
- Angela Franklin, Poet, USA
- Rev. Dr Karen Georgia Thompson, United Church of Christ, USA
- Tamador Gibreel MA, Art Therapist, Sudan
- Khataza Gondwe, Head of Advocacy, Africa Middle East Team Leader, CSW UK
- Taweni Gondwe-Xaba, Strategist, South Africa
- Dr Nontando Hadebe, member of Circle of Concerned African women theologians, South Africa
- The Rt Reverend Rose Hudson-Wilkin, Bishop of Dover
- Dr Ruth Jonas, Bible Society, South Africa
- Selam Kidane, Psychologist, Co-Founder, Release Eritrea
- Rev Dr Winelle Kirton Roberts, Moravian church, Switzerland
- Niemat Kuku, Politician, Sudan
- Dr Gloria Kwashi, President, Zambiri Outreach and Childcare Centre, Nigeria
- Ikhlas Mahmoud, President, Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF) Sudan
- Rita Mazzocchi, Secretary, Horn of Africa Civil Society Forum
- Raquel McKee, Social Commentary Poet and Teacher, Northern Ireland
- Liela M. Medani, Founder & Chair, YOU Are Not Alone Organisation
- Amna Mohamed Bashir Maryoud, President, Sudanese Women For Change
- Esther Mombo St. Paul’s University Limuru Kenya
- Fulata Lusungu Moyo, Sex Trafficking Responses through research, Education Accompaniment and Mentorship – STREAM, Switzerland-Malawi
- Dr. Ishraga Mustafa Hamid, Author and Women’s Rights Activist, Sudan
- Samia Nemari Manago, Women’s Right Activist, Sudan
- Rev Dr CL Nash, Misogynoir to Mishpat, Leeds University Research Fellow, American Baptist Church
- Dr Eleanor Nwadinobi, Medical Women International Association, Every Woman Treaty, Nigeria
- Chi-chi Nwanoku OBE, Founder, Artistic and Executive Director, Chineke! Foundation
- Dr Mona Obied, General Secretary, Sudanese Women’s Union, UK
- Habiba Osman, Executive Secretary of Malawi Human Rights Commission.
- Prof Funmi Para-Mallam, Chair, African Women’s Leadership Network (Nigeria Chapter)
- Minister Beverly Pegues-Tucker, Founder and Vice President, Africans Rising Together (ART) 2063, USA
- Kori Porter, CEO, CSW USA
- Bell Ribeiro-Addy, UK Member of Parliament for Streatham
- Mashair Saeed, Sudanese Community, UK
- Igbal Siddig Sharief. Civil Engineer – Projects Manager, Sudan
- Mariam Tadros, Peacebuilding Specialist, British-Egyptian
- Lechani Wotho-Mokobi, Attorney-at-Law, Bathu Mbeli Consultancy, Botswana
- Ms Lona Wilson Lupai, World Council of Churches, Switzerland-South Sudan
Click here to sign a petition in support of this open letter.
Featured Image: An Ethiopian woman who says she was gang-raped by armed men is seen during an interview with Reuters in a hospital in the town of Adigrat, Tigray region, Ethiopia. REUTERS-Baz Ratner
32 thoughts on “Call for Action to Address Conflict-Related Sexual Violence in Ethiopia’s Tigray Region from Women from Africa and of African Descent”
Very sad to see no urgent action taken by the on the Eritrean troops rape on women in Tigray. The genocidal war which uses chemical weapon, weaponized hunger and rape as instruments for war is hard to process happening in the 21st century.
The atrocities in Tigray has become beyond control as the call for cease fire and negotiation is rejected by the Ethiopian government which caused the lack of unfettered humanitarian access.
Stop sexual violence in Tigray/ Ethiopia-tigray
Please Don’t Look Away, And Not Act On Behalf Of The Tigray Genocide, More Specifically, Rape against Women, And Girls???
When You Look Away, You Just Became Part Of The People, That Have Done The Crime Itself!!! Feel Good To Free The Next Victim???
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