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The Pretoria Peace Agreement
Could this be the end of the war in Tigray?
By Meron Gebreananaye and Teklehaymanot Weldemichel
On November 2, 2022, almost two years to the day after the start of the Tigray War, representatives of the Ethiopian federal government and the regional government of Tigray signed a peace agreement, mediated by the African Union, in Pretoria, South Africa. The agreement promised an end to the deadliest war in the world today.
So where are we, two months after this agreement, and what are the prospects for peace in Tigray in 2023?
Previously in the Cosmopolitan Globalist: Making Sense of the Tigray War
The war began in November of 2020, when—allegedly—the Tigrayan People’s Liberation Front attacked the Northern Command headquarters of the Ethiopian National Defense Force, alongside a number of other bases. The Ethiopian federal government and its allies from neighboring Eritrea and the Amhara region of Ethiopia then launched a full-scale war on the Tigray region.
From the outset, the war was characterized by terrible brutality against the Tigrayan population. Within weeks of the start of the war, tens of thousands had fled into neighboring Sudan.Reports soon emerged of the massacre of civilians, along with rape and sexual violence on an industrial scale.
… By sunset the next day, around 83 prisoners were dead and another score missing, according to six survivors. Some were shot by their guards, others hacked to death by villagers who taunted the soldiers about their Tigrayan ethnicity, prisoners said. Bodies were dumped in a mass grave by the prison gate, according to seven witnesses … When asked about these accounts, Col. Getnet Adane, a spokesman for the Ethiopian military, said he was too busy to comment.—Washington Post
The Ethiopian government simultaneously placed the region under an almost complete blockade of basic services, including banking, transport, and telecommunications. It also prohibited the delivery of aid.The government of Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed maintained this draconian siege despite twice agreeing to allow unfettered aid in two separate humanitarian truces declared in June 2021 and March 2022.
A humanitarian catastrophe ensued. Millions were reduced to food insecurity and then outright famine.The healthcare system, which served seven million people, collapsed completely. Medical supplies were not permitted to enter. Doctors were forced to operate without anesthesia. Patients died for want of basic medical supplies. Medical personnel have not been paid for two years.
As of March last year, researchers estimated that 600,000 civilians had been killed directly or perished in the humanitarian catastrophe ensuing from the siege.This figure is, however, very conservative. Millions have been displaced by systematic ethnic cleansing, particularly from areas occupied by Eritrean and Amhara forces. Many of the missing have not been located. Thousands remain in concentration camps.
The March 22 humanitarian truce ushered in a brief lull in hostilities. But on August 24, Ethiopian and Eritrean forces, along with ethnic militias loyal to the Abiy regime, launched a scorched-earth offensive from every direction, shelling Tigray indiscriminately and launching drone and air attacks on towns and villages throughout the region. They hit kindergartens, markets, residential buildings, IDP camps, university campuses, and other civilian targets, killing countless innocents. Eritrean forces bombed and ransacked cities and villages in Northern Tigray. Hundreds of thousands, including thousands of IDPs from Western Tigray, were forced to flee.
Amid this renewed offensive, African Union mediators, supported by the United States and other international actors, induced the Ethiopian federal government and representatives of Tigray to come to the table on October 24 for the first public peace talks in Pretoria.
The former president of Kenya, Uhuru Kenyatta, the former president of Nigeria and AU High Representative for the Horn of Africa, Olusegun Obasanjo, and the former Deputy President of South Africa, Dr. Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, led the talks. On November 2, after a week of uncertain and largely private negotiations, representatives of the federal government of Ethiopia and the political and military leadership of the Tigray region signed a deal, formally designated “Agreement for lasting peace through a Permanent Cessation of Hostilities.”
The Agreement contained thirteen articles. These stipulated, among other things, an end to all hostilities; the restoration of federal authority in Tigray; the disarmament, demobilization, and reintegration of Tigrayan forces; and the restoration of humanitarian access and resumption of basic services in Tigray. It specified transitional measures and monitoring, verification, and compliance mechanisms.
The flaws in the agreement
While in principle all warmly welcomed the agreement, its framing and some of its provisions caused trepidation. A significant source of concern—particularly because of the precedent it sets for conflict and conflict resolution—is that contrary to humanitarian law and practice, the agreement codified access to humanitarian aid and basic services as an element to be negotiated. Moreover, the implementation of unfettered access has been left to the discretion of the Ethiopian federal government, the very entity that instituted and maintained the brutal blockade in contravention of international humanitarian laws.
Similarly, the agreement stipulated that the Ethiopian National Defense Forces would be the sole provider of peace and security in Tigray following the disarmament of the Tigrayan forces. But this is the very force that has been credibly accused of war crimes and crimes against humanity in Tigray. Likewise, the agreement does not explicitly oblige the Ethiopian federal government to mitigate threats to Tigray’s civilian population.
There are five arenas, in particular, where the agreement is particularly deficient.
First, it does not address the federal government’s destructive military alliance with the region’s perennial spoiler, Eritrean dictator Isaias Afewerki, nor does it specify a timeframe for the complete withdrawal of Eritrean troops that remain deep within Tigray.
Second, the agreement does not require the federal government to curtail the mobilization, aggression, and unconstitutional occupation of Tigrayan territories by Amhara forces.
Third, there is no amnesty for members of the Tigrayan forces. These are Tigrayans of all ages, genders, and walks of life who were forced to mobilize in the face of a brutal invasion and genocide in their homeland.This singular failing undermines belies optimistic expectations of durable peace: It leaves the door open to retribution by the federal government, which would fuel another vicious cycle of war, and sooner rather than later.
Fourth, the agreement does not treat the tens of thousands of Tigrayans in the rest of Ethiopia who remain in concentration camps, where they have been subjected to inhumane conditions, torture, extrajudicial executions, forcible disappearance, and deliberate starvation.
Finally, the monitoring, verification and compliance mechanisms will be overseen by African experts and only by those experts. Important guarantors— including the United Nations, the US, and European Union—are excluded, along with all the resources, expertise, and influence they would bring to ensure compliance and a sustainable peace.
As these examples show, the Agreement not only leaves much to be desired but relies inordinately on the good will of the federal government for its implementation. For the past two years, the Ethiopian government has shown itself unwilling to act in good faith or in accordance with international human rights and humanitarian law. This is, therefore, a serious and perhaps fatal design flaw.
Where are we now?
Two months after the signing of the agreement, have these concerns proven salient?
The implementation of the agreement has already faced multiple obstacles, many owed to the problems described above. First, while the agreement clearly states that all but the federal government’s forces must withdraw from Tigray, Eritrean and Amhara forces—including the ethnic militia that has been accused of ethnic cleansing in Western Tigray—still occupy large parts of Tigray.They allegedly continue to commit grave human rights abuses.
Daily, new reports emerge of looting, killings, kidnappings and the forced disappearances of Tigrayan civilians.According to a December 30 report by the regional Emergency Coordination Center, Eritrean and Amhara forces have killed 3,708 civilians since the signing of the peace deal.
“Malnutrition rates among children under five and pregnant and lactating women (PLW) in Tigray remain highly alarming. Out of the 25,793 children screened during the week (18-24 December), 8,564 of them or 33.2 percent, were identified with moderate acute malnutrition (MAM) and 1,022 children or 4 percent identified with severe acute malnutrition (SAM). Out of the 15,341 PLW screened, 10,315 women or 67.2 percent were found acutely malnourished.” — OCHA Situation Report, January 5, 2023
The peace agreement mandates the swift restoration of basic services in the Tigray region. However, this remains very slow and limited to a few major cities. Telephone lines have been reconnected in a few major towns, but banking, power, transport and other essential services remain almost nonexistent.
The restoration of health services, in particular, remains slow. Limited medical supplies have been allowed into Tigray, but the the need remains unmatched. Dr. Kibrom Gebreselassie is the director of Ayder Hospital, Tigray’s largest hospital and the only hospital that is even partly functioning. More than forty days after the signing of the deal, he wrote:
The agreement clearly stipulates the need for unfettered access by humanitarian agencies to the region. We argue these should not have been subject to negotiations in the first place, but even so, humanitarian access to large parts of Tigray remains hampered. According to the UN’s latest report, it is still impossible to distribute food to border areas and districts off the main roads. In Tigray’s central zone, where 1.4 million people face famine, only 3,180 people received food assistance in the last reported week. The media has no access to the region: Information about the situation for civilians on the ground is lacking.
It is particularly difficult to obtain a clear picture of the humanitarian situation on the ground because UN offices in Ethiopia continue to copy and amplify the Ethiopian government’s claims about distribution of humanitarian assistance in Tigray:
As a result, despite robust indicators, famine has not been declared. Similarly, UN agencies and their workers on the ground have persistently ignored gross violations of human rights by Eritrean and Ethiopian forces in Tigray since the signing of the peace agreement.
The Pretoria Agreement undoubtedly brought hope for peace and relief for millions. Tigrayans have invariably been optimistic. Even with the limited resumption of services, many have finally managed to contact their families, and some have even been able to travel to the region for the first time in two years. This has given us a bit more insight into the breadth of the impact of the war and the humanitarian crisis. Large swathes of Tigray remain under brutal occupation by Eritrean forces and by Amhara special forces and militia. New atrocities are reported daily. The civilian population continues to perish from weaponized starvation, with millions denied access to humanitarian aid and healthcare.
With more than 600,000 casualties—out of a total Tigrayan population of less than seven million—it is no exaggeration to say there is not a family in Tigray untouched by loss.
Sadly, however, because the peace agreement prioritized a political resolution over the protection of the Tigrayan population, more loss remains an abhorrent prospect. The people remain at the full mercy of the regime and the forces that have deliberately starved them and committed countless abominations against them.
If the declared vision of the Pretoria Agreement, durable peace, is to be realized in 2023, all parties must accept robust international mechanisms to enforce its terms—including credible transitional mechanisms and accountability.
Dr. Meron Gebreananaye is an assistant editor at Tghat Media and a board member of Women of Tigray. Dr. Teklehaymanot Weldemichel is a postdoctoral fellow in Geography at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology in Trondheim.
Claire—I am by no means an expert, or even well-informed, about this conflict. I think it important to note, however, that people with a better claim to expertise than me hold that the Tigrayan People’s Liberation Front also bears responsibility for the immiseration of the Tigrayan people. Because I find the competing claims confusing, I’ve invited Tekle and Meron to join us presently on a Cosmopolicast to help me make sense of this claim and other claims about the origin of the conflict and the nature of the TPLF. One thing is clear: No matter the nature of the TPLF, nothing could justify this barbarity.
If you have questions for the authors, please leave them in the comments.
“Tigray violence in Ethiopia and refugee crisis in Sudan” (Doctors without Borders).
“WHO slams Ethiopia’s “blockade” on health relief to Tigray region as ‘catastrophic’ and ‘unprecedented’ even in conflict zones” (Health Policy Watch).
“Federal government humanitarian truce in Tigray is a positive step forward and must lead to humanitarian access” (Amnesty International). “Despite ceasefire in Tigray, no end in sight for conflict” (Lawfare).
📹 Tigray Humanitarian Crisis: “The Tigray region has been cut off from the rest of Ethiopia because of the civil war. Supplies are low and people are starving. Because of the fighting, crops could not be sowed and there is no harvest this year. It is the youngest that are the first to die in what is a major humanitarian crisis.” (Arte)
“‘We will erase you from this land’: Crimes against humanity and ethnic cleansing in Ethiopia’s Western Tigray Zone” (Amnesty International).
“Renewed fighting scuttles five-month-old Ethiopia ceasefire” (Voice of America).“Ethiopian airstrike hits kindergarten as fighting spreads in Tigray” (The New York Times). “Ten dead in second day of air raids in Ethiopia’s Tigray region” (Al Jazeera). “More than 50 killed in northern Ethiopia air strike, say aid workers and Tigray forces” (Reuters). “Drone strikes hit Ethiopia’s Tigray region after ceasefire offer, say local authorities” (Reuters). “New air strike hits capital of Ethiopia’s Tigray” (The Defense Post/AP). “Ethiopian and Eritrean forces seize key Tigrayan city, say rebels” (France 24).
“How Eritrea could derail the Ethiopian peace deal” (Foreign Policy). “What’s Eritrean President Isaias Afwerki’s next move after a dubious truce?” (Global Voices).
“Museum warns of heightened risk of genocide and mass atrocities in Ethiopia's Tigray region.” (United States Holocaust Museum)
“Deadly detention” (Reuters); “Ethiopian guards massacred scores of Tigrayan prisoners, witnesses say” (Washington Post); “New atrocity feared in Western Tigray: About 3,000 Tigrayan men moved out of concentration camps to unknown destination,” (Tghat); “Eyewitness accounts, video confirm reports of Tigrayan children held in concentration camp” (Salon); “Men are marched out of prison camps. Then corpses float down the river” (CNN).
“Crimes against humanity and ethnic cleansing in Ethiopia’s Western Tigray zone” (Human Rights Watch).