The patriarch of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church recently sparked controversy when he said that genocide was being committed in the Tigray region in northern Ethiopia.
His Holiness, Father Matthias, himself a Tigrayan, explained that since the outbreak of the conflict last November between the Ethiopian Army and the Tigray People’s Liberation Front, his mouth has been closed, and he is unable to speak out of fear.
Matthias’ emotional remarks resonated with many Tigrayans who have been traumatized by the violence in the area, which have displaced more than 2 million people.
Tigrayans have united to campaign against what they insist is genocide through protests in capitals worldwide and via social media.
Genocide, in popular parlance, is the worst crime in the books. It is a different type of crime determined by the perpetrator’s intention in “the total or partial destruction of a national, ethnic, racial or religious group as such.” Activists are calling for exceptional international responses, including military intervention.
So far, human rights organizations say that crimes against humanity may have been committed in Tigray. Some Ethiopian media express ethnic hostility towards the Tigrayans with the indiscriminate use of insulting language, alleging the Tigrayan People’s Liberation Front’ bad actions.
Tigrayans, who have been in power at the federal level for more than 25 years, entered into a bitter dispute with Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed. After the latter assumed office in 2018, the conflict spread.
There are reports of selective purges of Tigrayans in government institutions and travel, work and residence restrictions. Those violations are not as heinous as murder, rape, or starvation, but they will be essential to request a case for genocide. The final determination of what is happening there will be through a guilty verdict in the trial of a high-profile perpetrator, possibly at the International Criminal Court (ICC).