Tigrayans in the UK took their cause to Parliament in a day-long national lobby ahead of this week’s second anniversary of the outbreak of conflict.
By Sally Keeble
And they heard speakers at an evening meeting in the House of Lords press for the conflict in Tigray to be recognised as a genocide.
The lobby reached senior parliamentarians including MPs Emily Thornberry, Thangam Debonnaire, Sir Laurence Robertson and Brendan O’Hara and Lords David Alton and Ray Collins. It aimed to raise the profile of the conflict in Parliament and increase pressure on the government which has been slow to respond to the crisis in Tigray. The UK supported the UN Human Rights Council’s establishment of an investigation into atrocities, and is to host a global conference on conflict-related sexual violence a the end of November. However, unlike the US and EU administrations, the UK government has not so far considered applying sanctions over atrocities in Tigray.
Lobbyists called in particular for:
- An unconditional ceasefire with the establishment of an internationally recognised monitoring system to end the current bombardment of civilians by Ethiopian and Eritrean military
- Immediate lifting of the 17 month long Ethiopian humanitarian blockade
- Imposition of sanctions if the Ethiopian and Eritrean forces persisted in their action against civilians.
- Full access for the UN Human Rights Council’s commission investigation into alleged war crimes in Ethiopia
CNN reporter Nima Elbagir sent a video message setting out graphic footage of the TV channel’s coverage of alleged massacres and sexual violence in Tigray, and the difficulties of investigating after the Ethiopian government’s communications blackout. She condemned the renewed violence which had broken out even as African Union peace negotiations were being held in south Africa.
And lobbyists heard from human rights activist Rita Kahsay speak of her experience of interviewing women in refugee camps in Sudan including:
- A woman who had been raped – while three months pregnant – by an Eritrean soldier.
- A girl of 7 years who too scared to go to school after she was abducted one day by people traffickers, one of hundreds of Tigrayan children who suffered this fate.
She set out a package of proposals to prevent the use of sexual violence in the Tigray conflict, including giving priority to events in Tigray in the global conference on prevent sexual violence in conflict being hosted by the UK government at the end of the month.
Leading advocate for the Tigrayans, Lord David Alton, set out the urgency of new legislation being passed to fast-track the declaration of genocides by the UK government. He is currently promoting the Genocide Determination Bill which would bring UK procedures for recognition of genocides into line with its European allies.
Lord Ray Collins, a member of Labour’s front bench foreign affairs team, who has especially taken up the issue of sexual violence in conflict, spoke of the importance of independent investigations to provide justice for survivors.
To mark the anniversary senior MP Dame Angela Eagle tabled a motion deploring the over 500,000 lives lost in the conflict, the widespread use of rape by all belligerent parties, but especially targeting Tigrayan women, and calling for withdrawal of multilateral and bilateral support for Ethiopia and Eritrea if they continued their bombardment of civilians.