Global Human Rights Defence

The Political Origins and Devastating Consequences of the Tigray Civil War
(Victim of Togogo Airstrike Carried on a Stretcher to a Hospital in Mekelle. Image from


On December 10, 2019, Ethiopian Prime Minister (PM) Abiy Ahmed received a Nobel Peace Prize for ending a territorial dispute with Eritrea. Nonetheless, in 2021, PM Ahmed is presiding over a civil war in the northern region of Tigray. The conflict, which escalated in November 2020, stems from political tensions between the federal and the Tigray regional governments.

Ethiopia is a Federal Democratic Republic composed of ten regions which are divided along ethnic lines, namely Tigray, Afar, Amhara, Oromia, Somali, Sidama, Benishangul-Gumuz, Gambella and Harari, Southern Nations Nationalities and People Region (SNNPR). In 2020, the total population of Ethiopia was almost 115 million, with the population of Tigray at approximately five million people.  

A Struggle for Sovereignty and Political Power: The Origins of the Tigray Civil War 

The Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) is a political party that originated in the mid-1990s as a small militia of Tigrayans fighting against Ethiopia’s military dictatorship. By 1991, the TPLF became the most powerful rebel force in the country and toppled the government, leading them to dominate Ethiopian politics for almost three decades. However, in 2018, following anti-government protests, the TPLF lost its hold on power and began moving towards de facto independence

In 2018, PM Ahmed established the Prosperity Party and removed Tigrayan government leaders accused of corruption and repression. Tigrayan leaders, subsequently, criticized reforms initiated by PM Ahmed to centralize power and dismantle the federal system. Moreover, Tigrayan leaders accused PM Ahmed of excluding the country’s ethnically based regions in decision making during his attempts to consolidate power. Furthermore, the TPLF refused to join a coalition with the Prosperity Party in November 2019 which would diminish their influence in the merged government as they only make up around 6 percent of the population

In August 2020, the Prime Minister postponed the general elections citing the COVID-19 pandemic and extending the government’s term by nine months. The move infuriated officials in Tigray who argued they were not consulted and accused PM Ahmed of attempting a power grab. Moreover, despite the postponement of the general elections, on September 9, 2020, the Tigrayans held regional parliamentary elections in defiance of PM Ahmed, who deemed the elections illegal. Subsequently, federal lawmakers cut funding for Tigrayan leadership, sparking tensions between the Tigrayan regional government and the federal government

On November 4, 2020, tensions escalated as PM Ahmed ordered a military offensive against TPLF forces in Tigray in response to an alleged attack on a government military base in the region on the morning of November 4, 2020. In early August 2021, fighting spread as the TPLF conquered territories in the neighbouring regions of Afar and Amhara, increasing the amount of internally displaced persons (IDPs).  In sum, the civil war in Tigray represents a struggle for sovereignty between the federal government and a regional state.

The Consequences of the Tigray Civil War  

The conflict resulted in a humanitarian crisis in the Tigray region as people have been forced to flee, are killed in massacres, and are subjected to conditions of famine. On June 22, 2021, a single airstrike by the Ethiopian military on a busy marketplace in the town of Togoga in the Tigray region killed at least 64 people, including children. Moreover, according to researchers from Ghent University, by July 2021, at least 10,000 deaths were reported

The conflict likewise disrupted educational services. On May 28, 2021, Human Rights Watch (HRW) stated that all parties in the Tigray conflict have been involved in the attacks and occupation of schools since November 2020. Consequently, classrooms were damaged as well as offices and electrical installations, water pipes, and other property. It is estimated that, by March 30, 2021, approximately 25 percent of the schools in Tigray were damaged while many teachers have been forced to flee, resulting in a shortage of learning materials. 

Due to the conflict, by May 25, 2021, about 1.7 million people were internally displaced across Tigray and the neighbouring regions of Afar and Amhara. Those displaced reside in overcrowded collective shelters such as schools and require life-saving food, beddings, access to healthcare services, water, sanitation, and protection. Nonetheless, many sites have not received food distribution since the conflict broke out, particularly those in the Tigray region. On July 2, 2021, Ramesh Rajasingham, Acting Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, stated in a briefing that over 400,000 people in Tigray suffer from famine while another 1.8 million are on the brink.  

As humanitarian workers are targeted, aid is not reaching those in need. For example, on June 24, 2021, three humanitarian workers from Médecins Sans Frontières were murdered in Tigray, only weeks after aid workers from the Relief Society of Tigray (REST) and the International Committee for the Development of Peoples (CISP) were killed on May 29 and April 28 2021.


The civil war has left about 5.2 million people in need and is spreading into the neighbouring regions of Afar and Amhara. Tigrayan forces have stated that they will continue fighting until the federal government ends restrictions imposed on Tigray and withdraws all troops. Furthermore, as the suffering and conflict continue, it is evident that humanitarian efforts must be increased while the safety of aid workers must be assured.  


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Aimilina Sarafi
Pakistan Coordinator

Aimilina Sarafi holds a Bachelor’s degree cum laude in International Relations and Organisations from Leiden University and is currently pursuing a Double Legal Master’s degree (LLM) in Public International Law and International Criminal Law at the University of Amsterdam.
She is an active advocate for the human rights of all peoples in her community and is passionate about creating a better world for future generations. Aimilina is the coordinator for the GHRD team of Pakistan, in which human rights violations of minority communities in Pakistan are investigated and legally evaluated based on international human rights legal standards.
Her team is working on raising awareness on the plight of minority communities such as women, children, religious and ethnic minorities within Pakistan.

Marguerite Remy
Coordinator Middle East and a Legal Researcher.

Marguerite is the coordinator of the team of legal researchers focusing on the Middle East and a legal researcher herself.

She developed her expertise in international human rights law, international criminal law and humanitarian law during her double bachelor in law and political science at Sorbonne-Paris 1 University and her LLM in public international law at Leiden University. Particularly interested in the Middle East for years, Marguerite has acquired a good knowledge of the region and its human rights issues through various field experience, including internships in a cultural service of the French embassy and in a local NGO, as well as a semester in a university in the region. Currently, her main interests are accountability mechanisms for crimes committed during recent armed conflicts, notably in Syria, the Israeli-Palestinian situation and the Palestinian case at the ICC, and transitional justice issues.

Editorial Team Lead

Nicole has an MSc in International Development Studies with a focus on migration. She is passionate about promoting human rights and fighting poverty through advocacy and empowering human choice. Nicole believes that even the simplest social justice efforts, when properly nurtured, can bring about radical and positive change worldwide.

Mattia Ruben Castiello
Media quality coordinator

Mattia is currently in charge of quality checking and improving all the social media and website handles of the Global Human Rights Defence.
With a bachelor in Psychology from Spain and a master in Cultural Anthropology from the Netherlands, Mattia’s passion now lies in Human Rights in regard to the refugee and migrant crisis. Having lived his whole life in East-Arica, Mattia has had the opportunity to work with a vast amount of non-government organisations and health institutions. This has provided him with knowledge in diverse cultural understandings as well as interest in concerning global issues.

Jeremy Samuël van den Enden
Coordinator Bangladesh & Communication Officer
Mr. Van den Enden has a MSc in International Relations and specializes in inequality, racial dynamics and security within international diplomacy and policymaking. He studies the contemporary as well as modern historical intricacies of human rights in the global political arena. Furthermore, Mr. Van den Enden assists GHRD in revitalizing its internal and external communication.
Célinne Bodinger
Environment and Human Rights Coordinator

As the Environment and Human Rights Coordinator, Célinne is passionate about the health of our planet and every life on it.

Prerna Tara
Human Rights Coordinator

Prerna Tara graduated from Leiden Law School with an LLM in Public International Law. She practiced in the India before starting her Masters. She has assisted in pro- bono cases and interned at some of the best legal firms in India which has brought her face to face with the legal complexities in areas of corporate law, white collar crimes etc. Her work at GHRD deals with human rights research spanning throughout the globe.

Lina Borchardt
Team Head (Promotions)

She is currently heading the Promotions Team and University Chapter of Global Human Rights Defence. Her background is the one of European and International Law, which I am studying in The Hague. She has previously gained experience at Women´s Rights organizations in Germany, the Netherlands and Turkey over the past years.
She has been working for Global Human Rights Defence in the Netherlands since 2020. Her focus now is concentrated on the Human Rights and Minorities Film Festival and the cooperation of GHRD with students across the country.

Bianca Fyvie
Coordinator and Head Researcher

Bianca has widespread knowledge about social problems and human rights issues, with a specific focus on social justice in Africa and the empowerment of communities and individuals. She holds a Bachelor’s degree in Social Work from Stellenbosch University as well as a Master’s degree in Social Work and Human Rights from Gothenburg University. She has participated in courses on Women’s Leadership at Stellenbosch University, and has worked with organizations such as AIESEC towards furthering the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. She also has experience in working directly with marginalized and vulnerable groups in South Africa while qualifying as a Social Worker.
Bianca is the coordinator for a group of interns doing research and reporting on Human Rights topics in a range of African countries. Her focus is on ensuring that these countries are monitored and have up to date reports and research conducted in order to allow relevant and updated information to be produced.

Alessandro Cosmo
GHRD Youth Ambassador
(European Union)

Alessandro Cosmo obtained his B.A. with Honors from Leiden University College where he studied International Law with a minor in Social and Business Entrepreneurship. He is currently pursuing an LL.M. in Public International Law at Utrecht University with a specialization in Conflict and Security. 
As GHRD’s E.U. Youth Ambassador, Alessandro’s two main focuses are to broaden the Defence’s reach within E.U. institutions and political parties, as well as mediate relations between human rights organizations abroad seeking European funding. 
Alessandro believes that human rights advocacy requires grass-roots initiatives where victims’ voices are amplified and not paraphrased or spoken for. He will therefore act on this agenda when representing Global Human Rights Defence domestically and abroad

Hiba Zene
Coordinator and Head Researcher

Hiba Zene holds a Bachelor’s degree in International and European Law from The Hague University and, has significant legal knowledge in the field of international human rights law. She actively advocates for the protection of all human rights of vulnerable minorities and marginalised groups. Focusing, specifically on the human rights of children and women in Africa.
Hiba is the coordinator and head researcher for GHRD Africa. As a human rights defender for GHRD she has examined and investigated various human rights abuses, violations and issues in Africa. She has led research missions addressing issues on Statelessness in Kenya, Child Abuse in Uganda, and Teen Pregnancy in Kenya.

Thaís Ferreira de Souza
Coordinator and Head Researcher (International Justice and Human Rights)

Senior Paralegal at PGMBM (Amsterdam office), working to bring justice for victims of wrongdoing by big corporations, with a focus on human rights and environmental law.
Previously, Thaís worked as a Visiting Professional at the International Criminal Court (ICC) in the Hague, providing legal advice on international human rights law and international criminal law. She also worked at the State Court of Justice of the Rondônia State (TJRO) in Brazil from 2013 to 2017, initially as a legal clerk and posteriorly as a legal advisor to judges. In 2016 she served as the regional representative of the Brazilian Institute of Criminal Procedural Law (IBRASPP) in the State of Rondônia, Brazil and during her bachelor’s degree, she worked as a Research Assistant at the Research Group ‘Ethics and Human Rights’ of the Federal University of Rondônia for over three years.

Fairuz Sewbaks
Coordinator and Head Researcher

Fairuz Sewbaks holds extensive legal knowledge regarding international human rights, with a specific focus on human rights dealings taking place in continental Africa. She holds a bachelor’s degree from The Hague University in public international law and international human rights and successfully followed advanced human rights courses at the Centre for Human Rights, University of Pretoria. She furthermore participated in the Istanbul Summer School where she was educated about the role of epidemics and pandemics in light of human rights.


Fairuz is the coordinator and head researcher for GHRD Africa. Her primary focus is to establish and coordinate long-term research projects regarding the differentiating human rights dealings of vulnerable and marginalized groups in continental Africa, as well as conducting individual research projects.

Priya Lachmansingh
Coordinator and Head Researcher, Political Advisor
(Asia & America)

Priya Lachmansingh is currently pursuing her bachelor’s degree in International & European
Law at the Hague University of Applied Science.
As GHRD’s Asia & America human rights coordinator and GHRD Political Advisor, Priya’s
prominent focus is to highlight human rights violations targeted against minority and
marginalized groups in Asia and America and to broaden GHRD reach within Dutch political
parties and as well seek domestic funding.

Fabian Escobar
Coordinator and Head Researcher

My name is Fabian Escobar, L.L.B. International and European Law candidate to The Hague University. I was born in Honduras and been living in The Netherlands, more specifically Amsterdam the last 8 years. I am passionate about Human Rights, Civil and Political Rights, fighting racism, and empowering women and ethnic minorities. In GHRD I am the coordinator for the Europe Team, I am thankful for being part of this team and that I have been given the opportunity to learn and apply my learning.