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Everything You Need to Know About the Conflict in Tigray

Sandra de la Riva is a sociologist researcher and translator working in the development of human rights.

The Tigray flag

The Tigray flag

War in Ethiopia

Since November 2020, civil war has raged on in the Tigray region of Northern Ethiopia. This war was caused by regional and state conflict. Since 1994, the 10 regions of Ethiopia have been governed by designated ethnic groups. However, for the past few years, there has been a rise in ethnic communities that wish to govern themselves without the guidance of the state. This has led to disparities and a lack of unity within the country.

In 2018, when Abiy Ahmed became Prime Minister, reforms were presented to help unify the country’s regions and bring peace between the Ethiopian-Eritrea border. However, this only worsened the situation.

In 2020 the elections in Ethiopia were put on hold due to COVID-19. Taking a stance against the state, the region of Tigray held elections illegally in September 2020 [1]. These elections were set up by the Tigray People Liberation Front (TPLF), a political party created in 1975 that gained national political recognition in 1991 [2]. A few months after the voting, the Prime Minister accused the party of attempting to attack a military base in Tigray in order to overthrow the government [3]. Prime Minister Abiy then ordered the state military to attack TPLF forces and has since canceled their registration as an official political party [4]. The result was a six-month state of emergency, regional unrest, and civil war (BBC).

Due to the fighting, many have tried to flee to neighboring countries such as Sudan and Eritrea for safety. Caught in the crossfire, thousands of innocent lives have been taken due to the conflict, and millions risk starvation daily. As the fight continues, bodies, primarily female, are being used as a symbol of purification and a weapon of war. With new cases arising daily, in just one week over 500 Northern Ethiopian women had reported being sexually abused (New York Times). Some victims describe being drugged, gang-raped, held hostage, and even having objects such as stones, nails, and plastic forced into their bodies via their genitalia [5].

From these sexual assaults, there has been a rise in sexually transmitted diseases such as HIV within the region. Victims claim the acts to be committed by Ethiopian military soldiers and Eritrean military allies, stating that their goal is “to cleanse” the people of Tigray. Internationally, these sexual assaults have made news and have been reported by Amnesty International. Since 2008, the UN Security Council has affirmed that rape and other forms of sexual violence in war are war crimes and weapons of war [6]. Prime Minister Abiy has released statements condemning the matter, “Anyone who raped our Tigrayan sisters, anybody that is involved in looting will be held accountable in a court of law” [7].

Additionally, the World Peace Foundation published a report explaining that the conflict completely destroyed Tigray’s economy leading to a rise in poverty and deaths from starvation [8]. The report claims that the situation will only get worst in the coming months for the 5.7 million people in the region. The United Nations estimates that over 4.5 million people in Tigray (80% of the region’s population) are currently at risk of starvation [9].

With hundreds of people dying daily and sexual assaults being committed every day, one can only hope for peace for this nation and its victims of war. The men, women, and children of Tigray do not deserve to live in these conditions or in constant fear for their lives. To save lives and to stop further abuse, the Ethiopian government and the TPLF must come to a resolution where peace and social cohesion are at the forefront. Where soldiers are tried for crimes of war and where the nation’s people are safe to walk outside without fear of being killed or kidnapped. How many more people must die and how many more people must be raped for an end to come to this civil war?


[1] Ethiopia’s Tigray crisis: The long, medium, and short story - BBC News

[2] Tigrayan People’s Liberation Front | Ethiopian organization | Britannica

[3] Sexual Violence Pervades Ethiopia’s War in Tigray Region - The New York Times (

[4] NEBE cancels registration of TPLF – Welcome to Fana Broadcasting Corporate S.C (

[5] 'Practically a genocide': Doctors say rape being used as tool of war in Ethiopia - CNN

[6] Rape - Rape as a weapon of war | Britannica

[7] Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed Admits Eritrean Involvement in War - Bloomberg

[8] Starving Tigray - World Peace Foundation (

[9] In the Tigray War, Weaponized Starvation Takes a Devastating Toll (