Steal, Burn, Rape, Kill - Alex de Waal on Ethiopia’s new famine: LRB, 170621…

"This is more or less what has happened. Ethiopian and Eritrean soldiers have looted shops, farms, factories and houses. They have burned crops and granaries, rustled cattle, slaughtered plough oxen and crushed the chicks of poultry farmers underfoot. They have cut down orchards and ripped up water pipes and pumps, many of them paid for with UK aid. They have ransacked the region’s hospitals and clinics. The militias in Amhara have occupied and ethnically cleansed the western lowlands, where hundreds of thousands of poorer Tigrayans from the highlands travel for seasonal work on sesame farms. Having suspended banking services when the war began, the government refuses to unfreeze the accounts of 450,000 Tigrayans in the microfinance scheme, robbing them of access to precious savings.

The most thoroughly documented massacre took place in the city of Axum, where an estimated 750 civilians were murdered by Eritrean troops. There are credible reports of hundreds more mass killings, including a video recording by an Ethiopian soldier that shows a unit rounding up and shooting more than a dozen young men before pushing the bodies off a cliff; some of the victims were still alive. Soldiers and militiamen have raped Tigrayan women and girls. More than five hundred survivors of gang rape have been reported to clinics. Everything we know about the reluctance of survivors to come forward, and the dangers of reaching a hospital while a war is raging, suggests that there are many more such victims. Despite the media blockade, there’s more than enough material to warrant an international criminal investigation."

"Both countries are buying drones and other sophisticated armaments, but for now their most reliable weapon is hunger: they aim to starve Tigray into submission and keep it permanently dependent on an international aid pipeline that they can switch on and off at will. On 3 June they rejected international calls for a humanitarian ceasefire, proclaiming that a final victory was within their grasp. Reports from the ground speak of yet another build-up of troops.

Until a few weeks ago, Tigrayans were hopeful that famine could still be averted through a combination of emergency aid and stores of seed and fertiliser. Now that the rains are falling it’s too late. If Eritrea could be forced to withdraw through a UN Security Council resolution, they argue, Tigray wouldn’t starve. But the Eritreans are digging in: towns are being encircled with trenches. Last week, the UK special envoy for famine prevention, Nick Dyer, tweeted: ‘Just back from Tigray. The humanitarian crisis is worsening and the risk of famine conditions growing.’ But famine is no longer a risk, as another senior diplomat wrote privately: it’s a ‘mathematical certainty’. With their arms twisted by the Ethiopians, it seems likely that the UN and donors will stick with circumlocution and euphemism. If this isn’t a famine then the word has no meaning."