Nobel committee set to resign following Tigray atrocities | Kjetil Tronvoll
The war with Tigray in Ethiopia has been going on for months. Thousands of people have been killed and injured, women and girls have been raped by military forces and more than 2 million citizens have been forced to leave their homes. Prime Minister and Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Abiy Ahmed said that a nation on the verge of “prosperity” would experience some “hard knocks” which would create “blisters”. This is how he rationalized what is claimed to be genocide.
Members of the Nobel Committee have individual responsibility for awarding the 2019 Peace Prize to Abiy Ahmed, accused of waging the war in Tigray. Members should therefore collectively resign from their honorable positions on the Nobel Committee in protest and defiance.
The committee justified the award of the Nobel Prize to the Ethiopian Prime Minister for his “efforts to achieve peace and international cooperation, and in particular for his decisive initiative to resolve the border conflict with neighboring Eritrea”. Today, the Eritrean forces, as well as the Ethiopian federal and regional forces in Amhara, are accused of war crimes and crimes against humanity in what Abiy calls a “law enforcement operation” in the United States. Tiger.
The war began last November, when federal soldiers entered Tigray alongside Eritrean forces, claiming the aim was to arrest the elected regional government and leaders of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Tigray (TPLF ) for rebellion. The Tigray rulers have withdrawn from the regional capital, Mekelle, in the mountains, with thousands of soldiers ready for battle. It was clear from the start that war was inevitable, as the Tigrayans would not submit to Abiy’s centralizing policies, which they said undermined their constitutionally enshrined autonomy.
The countryside has become increasingly repulsive. The United States criticized Abiy for his ethnic cleansing. Numerous massacres of civilians have come to light, and rapes of women and girls have been systematically carried out to “clean the blood line”, as soldiers allegedly put it, and to break spirits. Civilian infrastructure, such as hospitals, water facilities, schools and universities have been the direct targets of bombing and looting, in an attempt to destroy the ability to govern.
Worse still is the humanitarian consequence. Today, 5.2 million Tigrayans, or about 85% of the region’s population, need help to survive, but it is not reaching them. Food and emergency aid from the UN and international organizations is hampered by the federal bureaucracy and Ethiopian and Eritrean soldiers. Hundreds of thousands of people are at risk of starving to death this summer. We may soon see again images of massive deaths in Tigray, similar to the famine that took place during the Ethiopian Civil War and inspired the Live Aid concert in 1985.
Human rights experts believe there is reason to declare genocide in Tigray when they analyze the political intentions behind the systematic mass killings of civilians, sexual violence and more. The patriarch of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church said the government was committing genocide. The final legal conclusion must however be for a future international criminal court.
What then is the responsibility of the Nobel Committee to someone who uses the prize to legitimize the genocidal war against his own people? Did they do a comprehensive risk assessment before presenting the award to an outgoing Prime Minister who was not democratically elected in a country that has always been an authoritarian state? Or is it, in hindsight, something that the committee could not have foreseen?
Already, in early 2019, reforms in Ethiopia and the peace process with Eritrea were known to have lost momentum. Liberal political reforms in the country were retreating. Some have also warned that the price of peace itself could destabilize rather than consolidate the region.
After the start of the war, I received a call from a senior Ethiopian official: “I will always hold the Nobel committee responsible for the destruction of our country,” he said. “After Abiy received the Peace Prize, he saw it as recognition of his policy and no longer listened to objections or dangers of decentralized power in Ethiopia.”
Abiy’s candidacy and the committee’s “non-position” on any crime against humanity committed by military forces under the command of a Nobel Prize winner are the subject of international criticism. But the committee remained silent, continuing a century-long tradition of refusing to discuss the adjudication process. Last year, in reaction to Abiy’s decision to postpone the 2020 elections indefinitely, the Nobel Committee voted in favor of the winner, reaffirming its position on the prize. Now, after the outbreak of war, committee members remain reluctant to discuss their initial assessment.
Initiatives by Ethiopian diaspora organizations to hold the Nobel Committee legally accountable for the consequences of the Prize have further tarnished the Nobel Prize’s reputation.
On the guidelines enshrined in the Nobel Rules is that once a prize is awarded, it cannot be withdrawn. So how could the committee express its condemnation of the war and Abiy’s policies if it so wished? All members have individual responsibility – it is not officially known whether some voted against. They should therefore recognize this, collectively resign and let the Norwegian parliament appoint a new committee.
As collective action, it would be seen as a responsibility for error – and as a protest against war.
At the same time, the Nobel Institute should improve its expertise, undertake comprehensive risk assessments and analyze the conflicts and relevant contexts on which the rewards are based. It seems clear that procedures failed in awarding the prize to Abiy.
By appointing a new committee, Norwegian political parties must abandon the tradition of appointing retired politicians. This would provide the much needed distance of dependence between the prize and the Norwegian political elite. International members should be involved, with expertise in what the prize really is: war and peace, international law, human rights. The name Nobel carries international weight and a committee with world-class capabilities should protect it.