Sexual Violence as a Weapon of War in Tigray

After a four-month-long information blockade, major news outlets have recently begun reporting the atrocities in the Tigray region of Ethiopia. The senseless war between the Tigray regional government and the Ethiopian federal government and its allies has obliterated the Tigray region beyond repair.

Many did not anticipate this level of cruelty and savagery at the hands of their own countrymen and neighbors. Even more so, no one had foreseen that a Nobel Peace Prize-winning leader (dubbed ‘the reformer’) would wage a war against his own people and let vengeful soldiers from a neighboring country starve, murder, and rape his own people.

In this war, we have witnessed horrifying reports of massacres, mass starvation, mass murders, extrajudicial execution, indiscriminate shelling of schools and churches, extensive destruction and looting of private property, and the systematic destruction of key infrastructures. We have seen millions of people displaced and thousands crossing borders seeking refuge.

Most painful of all is the sexual violence that thousands of young girls and women have been facing. It is evident from the countless testimonies and verified reports that sexual violence has been used as a weapon of war. The testimony of the victims is horrifying and heart-wrenching, and listening to their accounts and thinking of what they went through is heartbreaking.

“I lost my hand when a soldier tried to rape me.”

18-year-old schoolgirl from Tigray

“There are disturbing reports of individuals allegedly forced to rape members of their own family, under threats of imminent violence.”

Pramila Patten (U.N. Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Sexual Violence in Conflict)

In a country that prides itself on having women as the head of the state, president of the Federal Supreme Court, chair of the National Election Board, Minister of Peace, and half of the cabinet members, one would assume that officials could come out to condemn the painful deeds and act to stop it. Alas, for political reasons, most have remained silent. Even when they have admitted to the reports of atrocities, they rationalized the inevitability of the war by saying ‘they started it.’ They collectively failed.

Even those who were supposed to protect the youth and women turned a blind eye to reports that should not have been ignored. The perpetrators knew that they would not be held accountable, while the victims believed silence was a condition for their survival. With no consequence for all the gross abuses, the women leaders’ silence and the international community’s inaction have emboldened the savages to commit every atrocity imaginable to women in broad daylight to this day.

Sadly, some Ethiopians living in the West have engaged in blaming and even mocking the victims. Others have engaged in doctoring and even denied the fact that the victims were indeed abused. When called out on their behavior, they then started intimidating those speaking up for the victims.

Likewise, in Ethiopia, the media and those in power are working hard to silence the victims by erecting active barriers against disclosure. There are reports of harassing and intimidating victims and putting them in isolated and undisclosed locations so that the recently invited international media wouldn’t get to them and tell the world what the Ethiopian and Eritrean soldiers have done and continue to do. Added to these actions is the Ethiopian culture of silence and keeping one’s wounds and emotions inside for fear of shame and losing face.

So what can we do?

Let’s speak up for the victims. We know that the media in Ethiopia will not let the truth out. We know that the government-led investigations are a mockery. So let’s use social media to tell the victim’s misery as they wish they could if they had the option. Speak for them and turn up the volume.

If we begin to speak for them, then the victims will not be intimidated from speaking up about their own experiences, and they will know that they are not alone. We ask the silence breakers and those who championed the #MeToo movement to help the victims. No one knows about the power of solidarity and speaking up in volumes more than they do. The #MeToo movement showed us that, when many speak up against the offenses of savages, others are encouraged to speak up. And, when speaking up triggers an avalanche of responses, then there is a chance for real change and justice for the suffering.

The victims of sexual violence need people to listen to them, understand their pain, and help them heal. They need YOU! Let’s not leave them on their own.

In addition to the international media’s working tirelessly to let the world know about the atrocities, we call for international organizations working in the Tigray region to create a safe space for victims to tell their stories — space where they can find a listening ear to help them deal with their trauma.

All those who need to know already know. Unfortunately, they will not act to stop the violence. With a collective and strong voice, however, we can twist the hands of our leaders to act and stop the violence. Let’s not be complicit in covering up the atrocities.

Let’s speak up and do so NOW!

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store