Hundreds of people marched in Washington on Thursday to denounce the Ethiopian government on the first anniversary of its deadly military conflict with forces in the country’s northern Tigray region.
VOA estimated that several hundred people joined the peaceful protest organized by ethnic Tigrayans living in and around Washington. The protesters marched from the Capitol to the U.S. Agency for International Development then on to the State Department, where U.S. foreign service officer Geoffrey Parker met and spoke with some of the organizers outside the building. There was no immediate word on what they discussed.
The protesters chanted slogans and held signs accusing the Ethiopian government of committing genocide against the Tigrayan people and driving them into a famine. Mesfin Reda, one of the organizers, told VOA that he has relatives in Tigray.
“We want to make sure that we are the voice of the people who are being killed in the darkness,” he said.
Many of the marchers carried the red and gold flag of the Tigray region. Some joined the protest from as far away as the U.S. West Coast states of California and Washington. They concluded the march with a vigil near the White House and planned to gather for more protests in the U.S. capital on Friday and Saturday.
Thursday marked the first anniversary of Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s deployment of troops to Tigray in response to forces of the Tigray People’s Liberation Front seizing military bases a day earlier. The ensuing conflict has killed thousands of people, displaced several million from their homes and left 400,000 residents of Tigray facing famine, according to a July estimate by the U.N.
A joint investigation by the United Nations and the government-created Ethiopian Human Rights Commission published on Wednesday found that all sides in the conflict have committed human rights violations, including torturing civilians, gang rapes and arresting people based on ethnicity. U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet said some of those abuses may amount to war crimes and crimes against humanity.
Abiy said Wednesday that he accepted the report despite some “serious reservations” and noted that it did not accuse the government of genocide or using food as a weapon. He said a civil-military taskforce would be established to investigate all of the report’s allegations.
Eritrean troops allied with the Ethiopian federal military and regional Amhara militias were also implicated in the joint report. However, the Eritrean government denounced the findings. Eritrea’s Minister of Information Yemane Gebremeskel said the report “replicates fallacious narrative on the origins of the conflict - (that the war was unleashed by the Federal Government!)” he said in a Twitter post. “If the Joint Investigative team cannot get this fundamental fact right, the credibility of its report cannot be taken seriously by any standards.”
The TPLF led Ethiopia’s ruling coalition for nearly 30 years but lost control when Abiy took office in 2018 following years of anti-government protests. Abiy’s relations with the TPLF soured after they accused him of centralizing power at the expense of Ethiopia's regional states, an accusation Abiy has denied.
U.S. State Department spokesperson Ned Price said Washington’s special envoy for the Horn of Africa Jeffrey Feltman, who arrived in Addis Ababa on Wednesday to try to start a dialogue between the warring parties, had a “productive” first day of meetings with members of Abiy’s government on Thursday.
But Paris-based Horn of Africa historian Gerard Prunier told VOA’s South Sudan in Focus program that he is skeptical about Feltman’s chances of success.
“Right now, both sides want to fight to the bitter end,” Prunier said. “Abiy says we should all die defending Ethiopia, meaning his government. And the Tigrayans — it is clear that they want to go on until they win. The U.S. shuttle diplomacy, I'm sorry, is not very useful for the time being. Once the shooting stops, perhaps [it will be].”