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.  

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published.


Coordinator - Tibet Team

Mandakini graduated with honours from the Geneva Academy of International Humanitarian Law and Human Rights. Her team analyses the human rights violations faced by Tibetans through a legal lens.

Kenza Mena
Team Coordinator -China

Kenza Mena has expertise in international criminal law since she is currently pursuing a last-year Master’s degree in International Criminal Justice at Paris II Panthéon-Assas and obtained with honors cum laude an LLM in International and Transnational Criminal Law from the University of Amsterdam. She also holds a Bachelor’s degree in French and Anglo-American law. 

Since September 2021, she has been the coordinator of Team China at GHRD, a country where violations of human rights, even international crimes, are frequently perpetrated by representatives of the State. Within Team China, awareness is also raised on discrimination that Chinese women and minorities in the country and, more generally, Chinese people around the world are facing.

Kenza believes that the primary key step to tackle atrocities perpetrated around the world is advocacy and promotion of human rights.

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.

Lukas Mitidieri
Coordinator & Head Researcher- Bangladesh

Lucas Mitidieri is currently pursuing his bachelor’s degree in International Relations at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro (UFRJ). As the GHRD Bangladesh Team Coordinator, he advocates for human rights and monitors violations across all minorities and marginalized groups in Bangladesh. Lucas believes that the fight for International Human Rights is the key to a world with better social justice and greater equality.

Nicole Hutchinson
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.

Gabriela Johannen
Coordinator & Head Researcher – India

Gabriela Johannen is a lawyer admitted to the German bar and holds extensive knowledge in the fields of human rights, refugee law, and international law. After working for various courts and law firms in her home country, she decided to obtain an LL.M. degree from Utrecht University where she studied Public International Law with a special focus on Human Rights. Additionally, while working as a pro-bono legal advisor for refugees, she expanded her knowledge in the fields of refugee law and migration.

Gabriela is the coordinator and head researcher for GHRD India, a country, she has had a personal connection with since childhood. Her primary focus is to raise awareness for the severe human rights violations against minorities and marginalized groups that continue to occur on a daily basis in India. By emphasizing the happenings and educating the general public, she hopes to create a better world for future generations.

João Victor
Coordinator & Head Researcher – International Justice

João Victor is a young Brazilian lawyer who leads our team of International Justice and Human Rights. He holds a Bachelor’s degree in Law from the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil and possesses over 5 years of experience in dealing with Human Rights and International Law issues both in Brazil and internationally, including the protection of refugees’ rights and the strengthening of accountability measures against torture crimes.

João has an extensive research engagement with subjects related to International Justice in general, and more specifically with the study of the jurisprudence of Human Rights Courts regarding the rise of populist and anti-terrorist measures taken by national governments. He is also interested in the different impacts that new technologies may provoke on the maintenance of Human Rights online, and how enforcing the due diligence rules among private technology companies might secure these rights against gross Human Rights violations.

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.

Angela Roncetti
Team Coordinator and Head Researcher- South America

Angela holds a Bachelor of Laws (LL.B) from Vitória Law School (FDV) in Brazil. Her research combines more than five years of experience conducting debates and studies on the rights of homeless people, the elderly, children, and refugees. Besides that, she also volunteers in a social project called Sou Diferente (I am Different in English), where she coordinates and takes part in actions aimed at the assistance and the emancipation of vulnerable groups in the cities of the metropolitan area of Espírito Santo state (Brazil).

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.

Pedro Ivo Oliveira
Team Coordinator and Researcher

Pedro holds an extensive background in Human Rights, especially in Global Health, LGBTQ+ issues, and HIV and AIDS. He is currently finishing his Bachelor’s Degree in International Relations and Affairs at the Pontifical Catholic University of Minas Gerais, Brazil. Moreover, he successfully attended the Bilingual Summer School in Human Rights Education promoted by the Federal University of Minas Gerais and the Association of Universities of the Montevideo Group. Besides, Pedro Ivo has a diversified professional background, collecting experiences in many NGOs and projects.

With outstanding leadership abilities, in 2021, Pedro Ivo was the Secretary-General of the 22nd edition of the biggest UN Model in Latin America: the MINIONU. Fluent in Portuguese, English, and Spanish, Pedro Ivo is the Team Coordinator and Head Researcher of the Team Africa at Global Human Rights Defence. Hence, his focus is to empower his team from many parts of the world about the Human Rights Situation in the African continent, meanwhile having a humanized approach.

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

Veronica Delgado
Team Coordinator and Researcher- Japan, Sri Lanka & Tibet

Veronica is a Colombian lawyer who leads our team of Japan, Sri Lanka and Tibet. She holds a master’s degree in Public International Law from Utrecht University. She has experience in Colombian law firms. Here she represented clients before constitutional courts. She also outlined legal concepts to state entities such as the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Ombudsman’s Office on international law issues.

Veronica has an extensive research background with subjects related to public international law. She worked as an assistant researcher for more than two years for the Externado University of Colombia. Here she undertook in-depth research on constitutional, business, and human rights law issues. She was involved with consultancy services with the Colombian Army regarding transitional justice. 

Wiktoria Walczyk
Coordinator & Head Researcher (Nepal & Indonesia)

Wiktoria Walczyk has joined GHRD in June 2020 as a legal intern. She is currently coordinator and head researcher of Team Nepal and Indonesia. She has an extensive legal knowledge concerning international human rights and is passionate about children’s and minorities’ rights. Wiktoria has obtained her LL.B. in International & European Law and she specialised in Public International Law & Human Rights at The Hague University of Applied Sciences in the Netherlands. Moreover, she is pursuing her LL.M. in International & European Law and focusing on Modern Human Rights Law specialisation at the University of Wroclaw in Poland. In order to gain an essential legal experience, Wiktoria has also joined Credit Suisse’s 2021 General Counsel Graduate First Program where she is conducting her legal training and discovering the banking world. She would like to make a significant impact when it comes to the protection of fundamental human rights around the world, especially with regard to child labour. 

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.

Jasmann Chatwal
Team Coordinator & Head Coordinator: North America

Jasmann is a political science student at Leiden University who joined GHRD in May 2021 as an intern in team Pakistan. Now, she is the team coordinator for North America and is responsible for coordinating the documentation of human rights violations in USA, Canada, and America.