Ethiopia’s Abiy Ahmed joins a long list of Nobel Peace Prize recipients who have been accused of war crimes, abuse and genocide.
When Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed declared the launch of military operations in the country’s Tigray state in early November, he promised a swift campaign to crush what he called “traitorous” attacks on military camps by the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), an ethnic faction that once ruled over the territory’s six million residents and dominated the central government until Abiy came to power in 2018.
Three weeks later he declared victory over the TPLF, tweeting, “I am pleased to share that we have completed and ceased the military operations in the Tigray region.”
More than six months later, the situation in Tigray can only be likened to hell on earth, with both the United Nations and World Health Organization using the word “horrific” to describe widespread death and starvation.
“The situation in Tigray, Ethiopia, is, if I use one word, horrific. Very horrific,” WHO Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told a news conference, while warning that more than five million people face imminent death from starvation.
Eritrean government forces have crossed the border into Tigray to provide military assistance to Abiy’s civil war against the TPLF, resulting in an array of war crimes carried out against the civilian population, including mass slaughter, mass rape, indiscriminate attacks against civilians and the looting and destruction of property.
Survivors have described how Eritrean soldiers have moved through towns and villages, going from house to house in search of young men and boys to execute, with one telling Human Rights Watch, “They made them take off their belts, then their shoes. They lined them up and walked behind them. The Eritrean soldiers fired their guns. The first three then fell. They fired other shots and the other three fell.”
“I thought the Ethiopian military stood for Ethiopia and its people…but they did nothing as Eritrean forces looted and killed. They just kept silent,” another witness said.
These deaths, along with the potential mass starvation of millions in Tigray fall squarely upon the shoulders of Prime Minister Ahmed, who was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2018 for his role in ending hostilities between his country and Eritrea.
But he rejected pleas from the UN and African Union to enter peace talks with the TPLF, rather than go to war, commit war crimes and probably genocide, given that a tiny ethnic group – the Irob – now faces extinction because of the violence.
He has also been accused of carrying out a “well-orchestrated campaign of ethnic cleansing” against Somali Muslims in Ogaden, as reported by TRT World in 2018.
“Entire villages and towns in the border region are being wiped out just because they’re inhabited by ethnic Somalis. Ambushes, rape and massacres are taking place in increasing frequency,” a Somali journalist told me at the time.
Abiy now joins a long list of Nobel Peace Prize recipients who have been credibly accused of war criminality and genocide, including Henry Kissinger, who oversaw the deaths of three million Vietnamese and ignited a civil war in Cambodia; Aung San Suu Kyi, who oversaw genocide in Myanmar against the Rohingya; and Shimon Peres, who oversaw the massacre of hundreds of civilians in Lebanon.
In his nomination letter to the Nobel Peace Prize committee, Awol K. Allo, a professor in law at Keele University, United Kingdom, said that Abiy’s “messages of peace, tolerance, love and understanding are being felt far beyond Ethiopia,” which today reads as perverse joke, given his hands are stained with blood.
The awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize has now reached the level of comical absurdity and political satire, given Alfred Nobel, whose name adorns the “prestigious” honour, started and funded the prize out of egotistical concern. He feared he would be remembered as the "merchant of death” after a French newspaper in 1888 claimed he “became rich by finding ways to kill more people faster than before,” a quip made in reference to his mother of all inventions – dynamite.
In other words, the prize was established to rehabilitate his future legacy, a public relations stunt by another name.
That bona fide war criminals and perpetrators of genocide count among its recipients is why human rights activists treat the Nobel Peace Prize with the disdain it rightly deserves, and it’s why some recipients and nominees have rejected the prize, even asking its committee to remove them from the “honour” roll, including Mordechai Vanunu, who spent nearly two decades in prison for leaking details of Israel’s nuclear weapons program.
“I don’t want to belong to a list of laureates that also includes Shimon Peres, the man behind Israeli atomic policy,” he stated in a letter to the Nobel committee in 2009.
That the Ethiopian Prime Minister’s actions in Tigray and Ogaden are no better or worse than those taken by Kissinger, Aung San Suu Kyi and Peres in their respective government’s military campaigns against civilian populations makes him a worthy recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize, which says much about the “prestige” and “honour” attached to it.
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