Bluff and subterfuge: Eritrea’s letter to the UN

In an attempt to shift blame, the Eritrean government openly implicated itself as being in violation of international laws.

On 16 April, Sophia Tesfamariam, Ambassador and Permanent Representative of Eritrea to the United Nations, sent a letter to the Security Council (UNSC). She explained Eritrea’s involvement in Ethiopia’s war in the Tigray region.

The letter begins with a complaint: “I have the honor to strongly register my government’s dismay by the unwarranted statements made” by the US Ambassador to the UN and the UN’s Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator. She is protesting against the briefings given to the UNSC on the role of the Eritrean army in the invasion of Tigray and the atrocities it committed against civilians.

However, the letter’s stratagem does more harm than good by implicating the Eritrean government in the aggression of a sovereign nation and war crimes.

Violating sovereignty

The letter does not seem to be written by a regime that understands or seriously takes its duties (and rights) under international law towards another state.

The tensions between the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) and the federal government of Ethiopia is an internal Ethiopian matter. Strictly speaking, the letter itself is an illegal interference into the affairs of Ethiopia.

Therefore, through its letter, Eritrea confirmed that it had violated Ethiopia’s sovereignty when it deployed its army and security personnel in Tigray.

One may argue that Eritrea is doing all these at the will of the Ethiopian regime and, therefore, not breaching Ethiopia’s sovereignty. But then again, we have not yet heard any formal (or informal) invitation of Eritrea by the Ethiopian government led by Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed.

Moreover, Eritrea is not entitled under international law to intervene in a civil war situation even if it was invited. The concept of sovereignty extends beyond a government in office. It embraces the people, the territory, and the territorial and political integrity of a country. Nor do Abiy Ahmed’s prime ministerial powers give him the authority to bargain Ethiopia’s sovereignty.

Self-defense pretext

The letter tries to justify Eritrea’s invasion as a “legitimate measure” of self-defense against the “regional threat,” namely the TPLF. It blames the “TPLF clique” for “attacking” the Ethiopian army stationed in Tigray with the aim of “confiscating” the army’s weaponry and subsequently invade Eritrea.

It refers to the “decision” of TPLF’s Central Committee to invade Eritrea without providing any evidence to that effect. Even if Eritrea’s allegations of TPLF’s plan is true, current international law rejects pre-emptive attacks in the name of self-defense unless the action meets strict requirements.

These requirements are spelled out under Article 51 of the United Nations Charter and general international law. They are: (1) proof of a prior armed attack, (2) reporting of such an attack to the UNSC, (3) the necessity of responding to the attack, and (4) the proportionality of the response.

First, the Eritrean regime might argue that rockets fired by the Tigrayan forces attacked it first and that it acted in self-defense. But, the rocket attacks on Asmara happened more than a week after Eritrea launched a full-scale military operation in Tigray.

Furthermore, the letter is silent on the plan by the Eritrean troops, Ethiopian federal army, and Amhara regional forces to attack the regional government of Tigray. The preparations started well before 3 November and had been ongoing for more than two years.

The letter does not offer any insight regarding the military deployment of the Eritrean and Ethiopian army contingents around the borders of Tigray before the beginning of the war. The letter does not explain how swiftly these contingents coordinated their attacks against the Tigrayan forces as soon as the conflict had begun.

The conduct of the Eritrean regime is naked aggression against Ethiopia. History is repeating itself as Eritrea’s army did commit the same act of aggression in 1998, as confirmed by the Hague Claims Commission in 2005, which ruled that it violated the UN charter by “resorting to armed force” to attack Ethiopia in May 1998.

Second, there is no trace of reporting by the Eritrean government to the UNSC on the “attack by TPLF.” Unless authorized by the UNSC, any use of force against a sovereign state’s territorial integrity and political independence amounts to a violation of the United Nations Charter.

Suppose Eritrea’s military action has been instigated by the right of self-defense. What, then, stopped the Eritrean government from reporting its actions to the Security Council before or when launching its military operation in Tigray?

President Isaias Afwerki’s invasion of Tigray, therefore, does not have any legal justification. This is why he opted for denying his troops’ involvement until very recently.

Third, the government of Isaias had not exhausted all avenues of peaceful resolution of the tension between itself and the TPLF. The use of force was not a necessity or last resort as strictly required under international law.

Fourth, sexual violence, extrajudicial killings, wanton destruction of property, looting, vandalism, and hindrance of aid delivery violate the proportionality requirement in the event of acting in self-defense.

Evasion of war crimes

The letter denies the use of sexual violence and hunger as weapons of war. It states that the “alleged” sexual violence and associated crimes committed by the Eritrean troops “is not just outrageous, but also a vicious attack on the culture and history of our people.”

True, the people of Eritrea cannot collectively be blamed for the crimes that are being committed by the troops. But, human rights groups, the international media, and international organizations have documented many cases of gang rapes, assaults, and inhumane treatment of women in the hands of the Eritrean army. The abuses reached a level of sexual slavery. A woman had been raped for several days by 23 Eritrean soldiers, and objects were put into her body, which is an extreme act of sadism.

Systemic and widespread rape is used as a weapon of war by the Eritrean army. Over 800 women have been identified as victims of rape in few clinics of Adigrat and Mekelle alone. Even Abiy Ahmed admitted atrocities had been committed in Tigray by his and Eritrean troops.

The Axum, Mariam Dengelat, Wukro, Adigrat, Tembien, Selekleka, Hawzen, Hadush Adi, and Adi Irob massacres of innocent civilians have been widely documented by Amnesty, Human Rights Watch, and, to some extent, by the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission.

Hence, describing these mass crimes as “outrageous” via a high-ranking female official is an insult to families who have lost their loved ones, those who sustained severe physical and phycological traumas, and the international organizations, advocacy groups, and the media.

The Eritrean letter also refers to humanitarian assistance as an urgent task of the international community. It blames the TPLF for “waging” this war at the time of critical harvest season.

It is audacious to claim that the Eritrean regime cares for Tigrayan farmers more than the TPLF does, which, by the way, was voted in office by the same farmers two months before the war began.

It is also disingenuous as the Eritrean army, along with federal and Amhara forces, deliberately used starvation as a weapon of war. They are destroying and looting food, agricultural equipment, water, and medical facilities. They are banning farmers from plowing their lands for the forthcoming harvest season while hindering aid from getting to those in desperate need.

These crimes are well documented by the Tigray Interim Administration, which Abiy’s government designated after he had declared “victory” back in late November.

Bluff and subterfuge

The letter says that the TPLF’s threat “has been largely thwarted.” Therefore, Ethiopia and Eritrea agreed on the withdrawal of Eritrean troops, replacing them with “Ethiopian contingents along the international boundary.”

This “agreement,” however, cannot be celebrated and taken in good faith.

First, the Eritrean regime has not yet admitted that its army is fighting inside Tigray. It is making a vague promise and telling a half-truth.

Second, despite the Eritrean and the Ethiopian regimes’ promise of the troops’ withdrawal, there is no proof of their exit. As the US Ambassador to the UN told the Security Council on 15 April, the Eritrean forces are wearing Ethiopian army uniforms, an indication that they wish to stay in Tigray indefinitely.

Third, sources on the ground are saying more Eritrean troops are stationed in Tigray as well as in other parts of Ethiopia.

Senator Chris Coons said he is disappointed by the behavior of Abiy, who failed to get the Eritreans out of Tigray. The ousted president of Tigray, Debretsion Gebremichael, said he does not believe that the Eritrean army will exit from Tigray without coercion.

In conclusion, Eritrea’s letter to the UN is an open admission of aggression against the territorial integrity of its neighbor and a futile attempt to cover up war crimes and crimes against humanity.

The way forward

The international community is duty-bound to take appropriate actions and coerce the Eritrean regime (along with the Ethiopian federal government and Amhara regional leaders) to:

1. Immediately halt the massacres, sexual violence, continued looting, and destruction of property.

2. Allow unfettered access to aid and relief efforts to avert the looming manmade hunger.

3. Withdraw troops from Tigray through adequate supervision and monitoring without giving room for sabotage, manipulation, and delay tactics.

4. Cooperate with independent and international investigators to expose the gross human rights violations committed in the last six months.

5. Return all private and public properties looted from Tigray, including industrial equipment, vehicles, machinery, livestock, etc.

6. Halt the hostile attitude towards international organizations and other relief workers.

Query or correction? Email us

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The author requested anonymity due to a concern that making their views public could jeopardize future professional activities.

This is the author’s viewpoint. However, Ethiopia Insight will correct clear factual errors.

Main photo: Ambassador Sophia Tesfamariam with UN Secretary-General António Guterres; March 2021; UN

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Mistir Sew

This is a generic byline for all anonymous authors. The anonymity could be because they fear repercussions, as they are not authorized by their employers to express their views publicly, or for other reasons.


  • Author,
    Your entire piece is built on sand foundation. Here, consider this:

    POLICE ACTION (aka Law Enforcement Operation)
    “In military/security studies and international relations, police action is a military action undertaken without a formal declaration of war.

    The Vietnam War and the Kargil War were undeclared wars and hence are sometimes described as police actions.

    The Soviet–Afghan War was an undeclared war and hence also could be described as a police action, especially since the initial troop deployments into Afghanistan were at the request of the Afghan government. ”

    It seems like PM Abiy and IA played TPLF like a fiddle in this one.

    On the other hand, too bad Tegaru chose TPLF repeatedly (elected), worst of it this time around election.

    Other Ethiopians would have still been able to stand with the Tegaru had they not blatantly and repeatedly supported TPLF while simultaneously denying and minimizing the suffering incurred during TPLF’s tenure for 27 years.

  • Article written by an anonymous entity what a surprise, likely a T.P.L.F sympathiser…. Say it with your chest big man.

    Furthermore, UN is yet to convict anyone for an illegal invasion of Iraq under the guise of WMD’s, because the perpetrators were US/Europe…

    What makes you think they can do anything in Tigray, when the initial attack on northern command came from Detsi followed by rockets aimed at Asmara.

  • To bring peace in the Northern part of Ethiopia, Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed needs to make time to hold peace talks with the TPLF delegates of elders who reached out to him.

  • ‘‘The letter itself is an illegal interference into the affairs of Ethiopia.’’ Absolutely. It shows the open disdain that Eritrea has for Ethiopia. Eritreans think that they are entitled to colonize Ethiopia. It is this attitude that led to the 1998 war. They wanted to order around Meles on matters of Ethiopia, when he refused, the Eritreans started the war. At the time idiot Meles snatched defeat out of the jaws of victory. Now the Eritreans have quislings in arat kilo and have launched extermination campaigns in Tigray and the rest of Ethiopia. The core of the quisling elite is the Ezema leadership. All that Ezema leadership desires is the permission by Isaias to let them yearly vacations in the ports of Assab and Massawa. For them having chat and katikala at these ports for a few days a year is the ultimate life goal. Ezema has plans to privatize the resources of Ethiopia including peasant farms for the benefit of Eritrean ‘businessmen’ and to the impoverishment of Ethiopians. Ezema is led by ex Marxists turned sworn enemies of Ethiopian peasants. The extermination campaign by Eritrean army against the peasants of Tigray, Benishangul, Wollo, Qimant, and Oromia is supported ideologically by Ezema. They are not just after the land of peasants, but after their lives too. We need to remember that Eritrea and Ezema have been working with Egypt for long. The probability that they are coordinating with Egypt at this moment is high. The present condition reminds me of a joke that circulated in Ethiopia in the 1970s. It is said that when Mengistu hollered his slogan ‘Eritrea will neither be sold nor exchanged’, Ethiopian traders responded by saying ‘Why not, if it is profitable.’ Today, Ethiopia is being sold to Eritrea in open daylight, and it is not a joke. The desire of Ezema leaders to have their yearly vacations in the Eritrean ports trumps everything. I just never imagined that the Ethiopian elite, and some ex Marxists, would degenerate to this degree. But, the Ethiopian mass will arise, for their lives depend on it. Ethiopia must be liberated from Eritrean occupation.

    • Tesfu Baisa,,,
      It is so disgusting when I see your intention of scapegoating Eritrea for the failure and crisis in Ethiopia.
      If you really worry about Sovereignty of Ethiopia, 1st you have to mention TPLF clique who destabilize the northern command and endangered Ethiopia’s interest /and sovereignty/. In this case Eritrea played positive role to wel come the Northern command soldiers,who could have been killed by the junta.I know you are not comfortable with this act,because Eritrea saved lives of soldiers who later defeated the junta and save Ethiopia. Further more the TPLF clique shelled border towns in Eritrea and launched rockets.why not Eritrea take appropriate measure targeting the outlawed group???
      I can easily recognize you from your writings that you are pro- tribal-ethnicity politics,that is why you hate Eritrea.No more no less! Eritrea was and will be against Tribe/ethnicity/race/religion affiliated extremists.Ezema’s policy is non of Eritrea’s business,because Eritrea has a lot of homework to do.As Ethiopian Shoulder your problems ,bravely and intellectually solve your challenges.Pls do your homework & Dont blame it on Eritrea. But if you want to have vacation in Red sea beaches you are wel come, it is fair price!!
      At this time Ethiopia is in crises and Eritrea playing its positive role as a gesture to respected Ethiopian people.
      ውሾቹ ይጮሓሉ ፣ ገመል ጉዞ ዉን ይቀጥላል!

  • It’s amusing watching someone write so much to say so little. And to talk about sovereignty when it the TPLF who invaded Somalia on the pretext of attacking Al Shabab. Stop being hypocrites.

    • Truth Teller, you are right about that. Few irrational folks try to defend the thugish legacy of the TPLF clique.They became so cocky arrogant and intoxicated with the power excesses overtime that they mostly operated outside of the domestic and international norms including abducting people from other country, abusing and torturing innocent citizens for sadistic pleasure and invading illigally in other countries like Somalia and Eritrra for
      devious economic and political schemes. By the same token, we have obligation to empathize and stand up for the right cause when innocent civilians are caught in crossfire and unecessay conflict in which they have little to with.

  • Oh, is Sophia strikes again? I remember reading her rants in the last 10 years or so against the TPLF cluque and the in defence of despot Afwerk’s draconian rule and cruel practice against Eritrean populace. First, I couldn help bu thought as if she was bitter about a long lost good lover or something within the ranks of the TPLF during earlier EPLF-TPLF brothers-in-arms struggle in the jungle, but it was just about political and power ambitions at all cost, I suppose. No wonder he elevated her to the cushy UN rep post in his pariah and crumbling regime after castrating or banishing all able bodied men in his mini-state. Eventually her lloyalty paid off at the expence of the Ertean people.
    By the way, the least she could do now , if any sense of morality left with her, is either to shut up or defend the rights of the women and poor girls of Tigrain and Eritreans (in refugee camps), who were victimized in the conflict , but not the other way around. Let her imagine in a moment putting herself , her progeny or relatives into the shoes of those victims

    • Awale….
      focus on the main context of the current Tigrai crisis, why you jump to demonize Sophia’s personal character. She as an official Eritrea representative has done great and timely briefing. Because out lawed TPLF remenants and supporters has nothing on ground,they left with lies and disinformation to mislead world powers. Any false allegations on Eritrea will never open space for TPLF group,tplf is dead and dismissed. Although the recent allegations being peddled threaten to obscure the TPLF’s high culpability in instigating the conflict and scapegoat the Eritrean and Ethiopian governments, the undeniable facts and fundamental truths should be clear for all to see: the party responsible for the violence, humanitarian crisis, and looting and blocking of aid in the Tigray Region of Ethiopia is the TPLF. Since the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) launched its massive military attack on Ethiopian federal forces in early November last year, leading to widespread violence, conflict, and the unfolding of significant humanitarian challenges, there has been a relentless barrage and spread of disinformation.
      On an almost daily basis, we have been inundated with a seemingly endless stream of sordid reports and allegations of lurid crimes. The reports and allegations have been utterly false and baseless, in actuality having been concocted and disseminated for sinister purposes.The latest preposterous claims in the long series of fabrications came several days ago from the AFP which, on the basis of anonymous and dubious sources, claimed that Eritrean soldiers were “blocking and looting food aid” in the Tigray Region of Ethiopia. Anyone with a minimal understanding or knowledge about Eritrea and the region’s general history, not to mention a basic grasp of logic, would know that these allegations are absolutely preposterous and devoid of truth.
      Eritrea’s measure to self defense is legal and appropriate under terms of international laws. As citizens who are interested to contribute our best to solution for current crises ,we have to focus on good neighborhood,peace ,stability,mutual respect and share ideas as much as we can. Lies and disinformation will not help the people suffering on ground.

  • Sophia TM at the UN as the rep. of Eritrea (aka the North Korea of Africa) is part of Isaias’ cabal and their obsessive animosity towards TPLF. In her denial about the atrocities committed, Sophia tried to express a pretense of moral outrage by calling the reports an attack on the culture and history of her people. But then many of her people, Eritrean women in the diaspora were so horrified by the gruesome atrocities attributed to Eritrean troops, that the women took a moral stand, an honorable stand to denounce the atrocities and issued a public statement that said “not in our name”.

    • nimntai ,,,,,,,,,,,,,well,to protect Eritrea and bury our Enemy!!!

      “PIA and Eritrea” are characteristically well know for doing and accomplishing practically the job in hand.In contrary the TPLF clique is well know for lies and propaganda ,which eventually take them to extinct as a political entity. TPLF has been preparing for war since they escaped to Mekele.They have trained >100,000 youth and militias,violate constitution, invite Eritrean army to enter Tigrai and escape from Eritrea.Finally launch an attack on northern command and again fire more than 15 rockets to different cities of Eritrea to vanish Eritreans.Then what happened is history ,PIA has obligation to defend the country he lead.Doesn’t matter where the enemy is ,Eritrea soldiers have right to capture and kill the enemy.Even if the enemy escaped to space or under sea. Eritrean soldiers are trained to defend their people and country,TPLF narrative for last 20 years was “there is no capable Eritrean army to fight any war”,why now TPLF/supporters/ talk about the army they underestimate for years. I don’t think Eritrea needs green light from outsider.Eritrea should act appropriately in such away that the enemy will never breath again.Same thing in future, any attempt to attack Eritrea by any means will have devastating consequence. History reveals it.period!
      Rest in hell TPLF!

      Victory to Eritrea!
      wede Erey beal sire!

      • Tesfamichael – For many years TPLF was caring for thousands of Eritrean refugees in Tigray, they were refugees mainly because PIA has been running Eritrea like the North Korea of Africa, as described by western observers. You, beal sire, also need to be reminded that Eri soldiers you are proud of, were also looting goods and things from Tigray and selling them in Eri. Generally speaking, being a soldier is honorable – but soldiers looting and stealing is dishonorable.

        • nimintai,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,
          well, I am not supporting any one who participated on looting or killing any civilian.
          #1) you mentioned it is “For many years TPLF was caring for thousands of Eritrean refugees in Tigray, they were refugees mainly because PIA has been running Eritrea like the North Korea of Africa, as described by western observers.” it is funny!! i want to tell you pls think logically.
          To be exact and make it clear,it is TPLF clique and his Tegaru cadres who looted and deported >80,000 Eritrean civilians.They took every asset of Eritrean at that time.the reason is because they were Eritreans.(words of Meles, የዓይናቹ ቀለም ደስ ስለማይለን፣ ምንም ንብረት ኣለን ሳትሉ ውጡልን) .(የወጋ ቢረሳ፣ የተወጋ ኣይረሳም). #2) dont forget who trained,armed and support TPLF till the time to control power in 4-kilo. Just honestly refer humble Tegaru Tegadelti they will tel you the truth.
          It is not Eritrean culture to lie,cheat and beg. Anyway derailing the main context will not help. As far as the current crisis is concerned, for any consequence on beloved Tigrai people is responsibility of the TPLF. Because they miscalculated their action,they fan the flame and now they leave the people in open air. we Eritrean people love our brotherly people of Tigrai,we dont need any elaboration on our similarities.If TPLF really cares about civilian Eritreans why did they fire their rockets to highly populated areas?
          At last I am not supporter of PIA,but if any enemy attacked my people i will rise and join my fellow Eritrean soldiers (jeganu deki adey) and destroy our enemy.I don’t care who leads but I know PIA is bitter pill for our enemy,I like him at this point.

          • Tesfamichael – You proclaim a culture of being honest and truthful, in which case you would have to admit that PIA shelled western Tigray first, then a few days later TPLF reacted in self-defense using rockets. You also seem to be somewhat conflicted about PIA, you say you are not a supporter of PIA, but you like him because he is the leader against your enemy. That means you share PIA obsession about TPLF and the craving for revenge, which is one of the underlying causes leading to the conflict.

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