Good morning. Thank you for inviting me to speak today on behalf of United Tegaru Canada.
It has been almost two years since the start of the conflict, and evidence has mounted of atrocity crimes and human rights abuses committed by Ethiopian and Eritrean forces against Tigrayans. There is evidence of sexual and gender-based violence, forced displacement, mass killings and cultural destruction in what Human Rights Watch has described as a “campaign of ethnic cleansing” targeting Tigrayans. Humanitarian access and aid have been blocked. There is also emerging evidence of genocide, and this is the crime on which I will focus the bulk of my oral submission.
Genocide is defined in the UN genocide convention and in the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court. The definition is identical in each instrument. Genocide occurs when any one of five underlying acts is “committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group”.
The five underlying acts are:
(a) Killing members of the group;
(b) Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group;
(c) Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part;
(d) Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group;
(e) Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.
In Tigray, there is growing evidence of genocide. At the least, there is evidence of a serious risk of genocide, which is enough to obligate Canada to act to prevent it, pursuant to Canada's own international legal obligations as a state party to the genocide convention.
First, and this relates to the first of the five underlying acts, there is substantial evidence that Tigrayans are being killed. Mass killings of Tigrayan civilians have permeated this conflict since November 2020, when hundreds of Tigrayans were massacred in Axum. There have also been killings in Humera and Mekele. The UN International Commission of Human Rights Experts on Ethiopia in its report last month documented that Ethiopian and allied forces are increasingly engaged in air strikes, indiscriminately killing and injuring Tigrayan civilians.
There is also substantial evidence that serious bodily and mental harm are being committed against Tigrayans, and that conditions of life such as famine and the denial of humanitarian access are being inflicted. These relate to the second and third underlying acts in the genocide convention, respectively. The UN international commission concluded that there are reasonable grounds to believe that Ethiopian and allied forces “implemented a widespread range of measures designed to systematically deprive the population of Tigray of material and services indispensable for its survival”. In other words, famine is being used as a weapon of war.
The requisite intent to destroy a group is often the hardest to prove, but in Tigray, there is mounting evidence of intent to destroy Tigrayans as a group.
Reporting by Human Rights Watch found sexual violence to be a defining feature of the conflict, and evidence of genocidal intent is evident from the testimony. For example, one 30-year-old survivor shared that as she was raped by four men, they said to her “you and your race are a foul, toilet-smelling race and should not be on our land”. The UN international commission found that Tigrayan women and girls are targeted with particular violence and brutality, and that attackers used dehumanizing language, suggestive of an intent to destroy the Tigrayan ethnicity. One Tigrayan woman was told, after she was gang-raped, “Our problem is with your womb” and “A Tigrayan womb should never give birth.”
Genocidal intent is also indicated by the indiscriminate targeting of civilians and by repopulation of Tigrayan areas in keeping with a governmental policy to change the ethnic character of the region. We heard earlier this morning about dehumanizing hate speech. All this is indicative of an intent to destroy, in whole or in part, the Tigrayan people.
This evidence of an intent to destroy, when paired with at least one of the five underlying acts, is indicative of genocide. At the least, the evidence documented so far in this conflict denotes a serious risk of genocide, which is enough under the law that Canada is obliged to act.
The next question becomes how Canada should act. Our fulsome recommendations to that effect are included in UTC's most recent brief, dated October 2022, which I am told you will receive next week.
Among other things, Canada should impose targeted sanctions on Ethiopian and Eritrean officials responsible, engage in criminal prosecutions using our universal jurisdiction laws, and resettle Tigrayan refugees, including the 65,000-plus who are currently in Sudan.
I will leave it there for now. I'll be happy to answer any questions.