Nearly two years after war broke out in Ethiopia’s Tigray region, the fighting is intensifying, and the interstate dimension to the conflict is as undeniable as ever. Reports indicate that some one hundred thousand Eritrean troops are assaulting Tigray, apparently in coordination with the Ethiopian military. The region has been under siege since June of 2021, with only piecemeal exceptions during the lull in the conflict over this past spring and summer. Humanitarian conditions on the ground grow more dire as the latest combat compounds the suffering of people who have not had adequate access to food or medicine for over a year. Because access to the region is so difficult, observers have been left to speculate on the scale of the human losses.
The world has mustered limited will to address the crisis. Even beyond the gridlock at the UN Security Council, the UN Human Rights Council barely summoned enough support to extend the mandate of the Commission of Experts tasked with investigating major violations of international human rights, humanitarian, and refugee law in Ethiopia, despite the evidence already uncovered of grave crimes committed by all parties to the conflict. Part of the tepid international response springs from African states’ insistence that the matter be addressed within the region. But this presents its own problems.
The United States’ energetic Special Envoy for the Horn of Africa, Mike Hammer, has been working with African and European colleagues to try to bring the Tigrayans and Ethiopians to the African Union’s (AU) negotiating table, aiming to stop the carnage and build some momentum toward peace. It’s been tough sledding. Over the last week, diplomatic fits and starts have attracted plenty of international attention, but accomplished nothing for the civilians living through this horror.