Lessons from Rwanda: dangers of an Ethiopian genocide increase as rebels threaten Addis

21 years ago, the International Panel of Eminent Persons (IPEP) on the Rwandan genocide chaired by Botswana’s former president, Ketumile Masire, submitted its report. The cover letter under which the report was transmitted to the (O)AU ended with the following words:

“Indisputably, the most important truth that emerges from our investigation is that the Rwandan genocide could have been prevented by those in the international community who had the position and means to do so. But though they had the means, they lacked the will. The world failed Rwanda.”

We could be on an urgent calendar to another preventable genocide in Ethiopia. Under our watch, the world is auditioning to fail Ethiopia and Tigrayans too. All the signs are there:

1. A rebel army marching relentlessly towards the capital defined by ethnicity.

2. An incumbent regime, precariously clinging to power through appeals to narrow identity and mobilising a largely peasant populations for a last stand through the deployment of hate and epithets of hate and extermination.

3. Around Addis Ababa, the Federal Government and the Amhara regional government is distributing crude arms of neighbourhood and popular militias and programming them for the extermination of Tigrayans.

4. Around Addis, tens of thousands of Tigrayan identity are being rounded up & interned in makeshift detention centres – malls, shops, police units etc. – just for the crime of who they are or where they come from. The numbers are ambulatory but best estimates as I write indicate the internees are now well over 35,000 and rising fast. This is happening also in other major cities controlled by the Federal Government and its allies.

Some of these internees we know, like Professor Mehari Redae, a professor of law and Professor Assefa Fiseha, Ethiopia’s leading scholar of federalism. Both are now among the tens of thousands interned for being Tigrayan.

If Addis Ababa comes under threat of falling all these internees wherever they are would be liable to be liquidated on an industrial scale.

It feels like we are in a very, very dark nightmare, which is getting darker by the day. We can stop history from repeating itself.

We don’t have a lot of time to prevent another genocide: The rebel army is about 190 miles from Addis. They are marching at a daily walking rate of between about miles. There may yet be some more major fighting to be done & their tide may yet be slowed, halted, suspended or reversed. But the omens are clear.

We need to focus on an urgent programme of Genocide Prevention advocacy on Ethiopia NOW. It may be too late in 2 weeks, guys.

I am Chidi Anselm Odinkalu.

Professor Chidi Anselm Odinkalu is Professor of Practice in International Human Rights Law at the Fletcher School

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