W.H.O. Chief Tedros’ Marxist Political Party Accused of Mass Rape, Murder in Ethiopia

World Health Organization (WHO) Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus arrives for a press conference on December 20, 2021 at the WHO headquarters in Geneva. - The World Health Organization chief called for the world to pull together and make the difficult decisions needed to end the Covid-19 pandemic within the next …
FABRICE COFFRINI/AFP via Getty Images

Members and associates of the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), a Marxist political party that ruled Ethiopia from 1991 to 2018, have engaged in human rights atrocities including gang rapes and mass killings of civilians in the ongoing Ethiopian Civil War, Reuters revealed on Tuesday.

The civil war, which began in November 2020, has attracted accusations of human rights violations, including ethnic cleansing and genocide, on both sides. While a regional conflict, it has also attracted international attention due to the outsized profiles of some of the most prominent members of the warring factions. On the Ethiopian government’s side, Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, part of the ethnic Oromo majority, won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2019 for his work ending the Ethiopian war with neighboring Eritrea. The most prominent Tigrayan in the world, World Health Organization (W.H.O.) Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, was a senior member of the TPLF and health minister under the previous TPLF government.

Abiy has evolved from an alleged peacemaker to war champion, personally traveling to the front lines of the civil war, urging civilians to take up arms against Tigrayans, and vowing to “bury this enemy with our blood and bones and make the glory of Ethiopia high again.” Tedros, meanwhile, has endeavored to distance himself from the Ethiopian Civil War as much as possible, emphasizing the need for him to focus the W.H.O. on the Chinese coronavirus pandemic but rejecting Abiy government claims that he has been working to help the TPLF behind the scenes.

The Ethiopian government launched a war against the TPLF after its members attacked military bases and other government outposts in the Tigray region, home to the ethnic minority Tigrayan people. The TPLF justified the attack by noting that Prime Minister Abiy had launched an extensive crackdown, allegedly to combat corruption, against Tigrayan government officials and organized an imposing military building around Tigray that necessitated a preemptive attack. Ethiopia declared the previous ruling party of the country a terrorist organization in January. Reuters’ extensive reporting from inside Ethiopia on Tuesday revealed the toll the war has taken on civilians subject to mass killings and brutal gang rapes.

In the town of Belete Asrate in Amhara, where the vast majority of residents are Amharic people, locals told Reuters that Tigrayan forces brutalized the populace when they invaded in the last year, attacking churches and shops.

“Tigrayan fighters killed 27 civilian men in the town. … Townspeople said more than 70 women were raped by Tigrayan fighters,” Reuters reported. Reuters confirmed the stories with three of the women, who detailed excruciating gang rapes during the invasion.

“I want them all to be wiped out – all the Tigrayans. Let their race be wiped out!” one of the women, Abay Tsegaye, told Reuters.

The TPLF neither confirmed nor denied any responsibility in the attacks when asked, Reuters noted. While TPLF leaders have organized their side of the war on Addis Ababa, they have called for Tigrayan men to take up arms along with them, attracting many with no official membership in the political party/terrorist organization.

“Across Tigray in July, a Reuters journalist saw hundreds of young Tigrayans, males and females, joining the army. Youths trained in the early hours of the morning, jogging along the road while carrying large wooden logs,” the outlet reported. “In the small town of Nebelet, newly recruited soldiers marched under heavy rain waving flags of Tigray.”

TOPSHOT - Tigray People's Liberation Front (TPLF) fighters prepare to leave for another field at Tigray Martyr's Memorial Monument Center in Mekele, the capital of Tigray region, Ethiopia, on June 30, 2021. - Rebel fighters in Ethiopia's war-hit Tigray seized control of more territory on June 29, 2021, one day after retaking the local capital and vowing to drive all "enemies" out of the region. (Photo by Yasuyoshi Chiba / AFP) (Photo by YASUYOSHI CHIBA/AFP via Getty Images)

Tigray People’s Liberation Front fighters prepare to leave for another field at Tigray Martyr’s Memorial Monument Center in Mekele, the capital of Tigray region, Ethiopia, on June 30, 2021. (YASUYOSHI CHIBA/AFP via Getty Images)

Reuters also relayed human rights crimes that Ethiopian prosecutors — admittedly a biased source — had documented in the immediate aftermath of the TPLF attacking the government in Tigray.

“There were multiple accounts, they said, of captured federal troops being deliberately run over by a truck,” Reuters reported, including an alleged incident in which “a red truck carrying 20 uniformed Tigrayan soldiers smash into a column of captured Ethiopian troops, killing 10 of them.”

The documented violence on the part of the TPLF and its supporters joins a long list of human rights abuses allegedly committed by Abiy’s government and allies in Eritrea. In August, Amnesty International accused the Ethiopian government and Eritrean forces, in the country at Abiy’s request, of using rape “as a weapon of war” against Tigrayans, including some girls as young as ten years old. In a report published in September, Human Rights Watch similarly accused Eritrean forces of attacking Eritrean refugees in Ethiopia, attempting to flee their own brutal leftist government.

“Between November 2020 and January 2021, belligerent Eritrean and Tigrayan forces alternatively occupied the Hitsats and Shimelba refugee camps that housed thousands of Eritrean refugees, and committed numerous abuses,” Human Rights Watch asserted, listing among the abuses “killings, rapes, and looting.”

The civil war has tarnished an already disastrous tenure for W.H.O. Director-General Tedros, the first non-medical doctor to assume the role. While most of the criticism of Tedros’ leadership has surrounded his poor handling of the Chinese coronavirus pandemic — including the W.H.O. falsely claiming that the Chinese coronavirus is not contagious at Beijing’s request, his status as a high-ranking TPLF member has also elicited some attention, though most of it from the Ethiopian government.

An unnamed Ethiopian government official told the Turkish state news agency Anadolu in November, shortly after the war began, that Tedros was “fully engaged in soliciting diplomatic and military support” and essentially worked as a “diplomat” for the group.

“Tedros had been lobbying the U.N. agencies to exert pressure on the Ethiopian government to unconditionally stop its military action against the TPLF. He was relentlessly demonizing us,” the official claimed, accusing Tedros of “treason.” Ethiopia expelled the United Nations from the country in October. The U.N., in turn, demoted two women staffers that month after a recording of them speaking to a reporter leaked, in which they accused the U.N., and Tedros personally, of lobbying for the TPLF.

Tedros has steadfastly denied any involvement in the conflict and seldom discussed it publicly. In December 2020, as the war intensified, he told reporters at a W.H.O. press conference that he was experiencing “personal pain” because he did not know if his family was safe in Ethiopia, as “communication is not there.”

On another occasion, Tedros emphasized, “There have been reports suggesting I am taking sides in this situation. This is not true. I want to say that I am on only one side, and that is the side of peace.”

Tedros’ few public comments on the matter have been in defense of Tigray civilians.

This month, Tedros accused Ethiopia of establishing a “systemic” blockade of humanitarian aid, noting the W.H.O. no longer has access to the country.

“People are dying. No food. People are starving. No telecommunication. They are isolated from the rest of the world. No fuel. No cash,” he lamented.

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