UN fears repeat of 1984 Ethiopian famine

The United Nations (UN) is warning of a repeat of Ethiopia’s devastating 1984 famine, and is calling for an immediate ceasefire in the northern region of Tigray.

Mark Lowcock, the world body’s humanitarian chief, told the BBC that hundreds of thousands of people were already experiencing famine conditions in Tigray after months of conflict.

Mr Lowcock called on the “men with guns” and their political masters to allow full access for aid workers.

And he said more money was urgently needed to support a massive expansion of humanitarian assistance.

But the Ethiopian government has brushed aside talk of a ceasefire.

And those in most urgent need appear to be trapped behind the frontlines – isolated and increasingly desperate, their homes and crops and clinics destroyed.

The patriarch of Ethiopia’s Orthodox Church recently ignited controversy when he said that genocide was being committed in the northern Tigray region.

His Holiness Abune Matthias – an ethnic Tigrayan himself – explained that since the outbreak of conflict in November between the Ethiopian military and the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), his “mouth had been sealed, unable to speak from fear”.

Abune Matthias’ emotional statement resonated with many Tigrayans, who are deeply traumatised by the violence in their region. More than two million people have been displaced in the conflict.

Through protests in capitals around the world and via social media, members of the diaspora have united to campaign against what they insist is genocide.

The Ethiopian government rejects reports of mass atrocities as exaggerated and politically motivated. Breaking with the traditional hierarchy of the Ethiopian church, the Orthodox Synod distanced itself from the patriarch’s statement.

In popular parlance, genocide is the crime of crimes – the very worst on the books. It evokes a special outrage – campaigners against genocide call for exceptional international responses, including military intervention, to stop it.

The term was invented by Rafael Lemkin, a Polish lawyer of Jewish descent, to describe the uniquely terrible crimes perpetrated by the Nazis against entire peoples.

It won a special place in the international statute books when the United Nations formalised the Genocide Convention in 1948.

In the trials of high-ranking Nazi officials at Nuremberg, prosecutors had brought charges of crimes against humanity – defined as widespread and systematic violations perpetrated by a state or a state-like entity. -BBC

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