Abiy Ahmed: The First Nobel Laureate On Trial at the International Criminal Court?

Abiy Ahmed: The First Nobel Laureate On Trial at the International Criminal Court?

Ethiopia’s prime minister may want to coast on the laurels of the Nobel Prize but, realistically, he may very quickly become the first Nobel laureate to face war crimes charges.

byΒ Michael Rubin

(Nationalinterest)—The Norwegian Nobel Committee announcedΒ on October 11, 2019, that Ethiopian prime minister Abiy Ahmed had won that year’s Nobel Peace Prize β€œfor his efforts to achieve peace and international cooperation.” The committee wanted to highlight Abiy’s initiative to end Ethiopia’s border conflict with Eritrea and β€œto recognize all the stakeholders working for peace and reconciliation in Ethiopia and in the East and Northeast African regions.” But they picked the wrong man.Β Β 

In June 2020, Abiy extra-constitutionallyΒ postponedΒ elections. When Ethiopia’sΒ northern Tigray regionΒ refused and, on Sept. 9, 2020, held its ownΒ parliamentary electionsΒ marked by long lines and high participation that the opposition Tigray People’s Liberation Front won. AbiyΒ respondedΒ two months later by cutting Tigray’s internet access and phone lines andΒ sending in the Ethiopian ArmyΒ to oust the elected government from Mekelle, the provincial capital. MultipleΒ reportsΒ confirm that Eritrea’s military also entered the region, operating side-by-sideΒ with Ethiopian troopsΒ as theyΒ sacked and lootedΒ towns and villages in the region. On Jan. 13, 2021, EthiopiaΒ announcedΒ that its forces had killed Seyoum Mesfin, the country’sΒ long-serving former foreign minister, while fighting. Subsequent photos suggest that Abiy’s men hadΒ summarily executed Mesfin.

While Ethiopia repeatedly said that the situation in Tigray was calm, reports continued to circulate alleging that Ethiopian forces had engaged in widespread human-rights violations. With the restoration of communication to the region, it now appears these reports were legitimate. Ethiopians now circulate videos of summary executions. This video circulated today purports to show the summary execution of two menΒ in the Tigrayan market town of Adwa. The greatest war crime, however, appears to be a massacre of more than eight hundred Tigrayans at theΒ Church of St. Mary of ZionΒ in Axum, reputed to be theΒ resting place of the Ark of the Covenant, shortly after Ethiopian forces entered the area. Reached by phone by theΒ Associated Press, a church deaconΒ recountedΒ the massacre:Β 

The deacon recalled soldiers bursting into the church, cornering and dragging out worshippers and shooting at those who fled. β€œI escaped by chance with a priest,” he said. β€œAs we entered the street, we could hear gunfire all over.” They kept running, stumbling over the dead and wounded along with others trying to find places to hide. Most of the hundreds of victims were killed that day, he said, but the shooting and looting continued the following day. β€œThey started to kill people who were moving from church to home or home to home, simply because they were on the street,” another witness, visiting university lecturer Getu Mak, told theΒ Associated Press. β€œIt was a horrible act to see.”  

The deaconΒ confirmedΒ that he had counted the bodies of those killed in the massacre, and alleged that Ethiopian forces left bodies in the streets for days where they were feasted upon by hyenas. With growing witness accounts, the Ethiopian Foreign Ministry has nowΒ tweetedΒ that β€œRape, plunder, callous & intentional mass killings, as observed & verified inΒ #Mikadra, & every other imaginable crime might happen inΒ #Tigray” although it continued to deny both the regime’s own culpability and ignore eyewitness accounts of Eritrean forces participating in human-rights abuses.

Just as the Norwegian Nobel Committee once honored Burmese politician Aung San Suu Kyi only to learn she was anΒ apologist to genocide, so too must it confront Abiy’s increasingly murderous record. Paul Rusesabagina, the hotel manager made famous in β€œHotel Rwanda” and lionized by Western politicians is likewise nowΒ facing accountabilityΒ for his support of armed groups and designated terrorists.Β 

Abiy’s apologists criticize Ethiopia’s constitutional federalism and still describe Abiy as a reformer. Suspending elections and unilaterally changing the law without regard to any constitutional process, however, is the mark of dictatorship rather than reform. Engaging in ethnic cleansing, rape, and murder against regional opposition puts Abiy in the class of Omar al-Bashir, Sudan’s former president whoΒ was indictedΒ while still in office for his genocidal campaign against Darfur

Abiy and his forces still ban journalists from traveling to Tigray andΒ other provincesΒ where locals allege Ethiopian and/or Eritrean forces have massacred civilians. Abiy may deny such events, but innocent parties seldom ban journalists who could confirm the truth of their statements. Rather, the travel bans and communication cut-offs are likely meant to help Abiy to escape accountability for his actions. Filibustering the outside world will not work, however, nor will the truth fade from the memory of surviving victims or the family members of those killed in Tigray. Abiy may want to coast on the laurels of the Nobel Prize but, realistically, he may very quickly become the first Nobel laureate to face war crimes charges at theΒ International Criminal CourtΒ in The Hague.Β 

Michael RubinΒ is a resident scholar at theΒ American Enterprise InstituteΒ and a frequent author for theΒ National Interest.Β