In rare rebuke, Nobel body criticizes 2019 Peace Prize winner

Abiy Ahmed holds his Nobel Prize
Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed poses for photos after receiving the Nobel Peace Prize in 2019.
(Hakon Mosvold Larsen / Associated Press)

The Norwegian Nobel Committee, which awards the prestigious Nobel Peace Prize, on Thursday issued a rare admonition to the 2019 winner, Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, over the war and humanitarian crisis in his country’s Tigray region.

“As prime minister and winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, Abiy Ahmed has a special responsibility to end the conflict and contribute to peace,” the Oslo-based committee said in a statement.

Abiy won the prize, in part, for making peace with neighboring Eritrea after one of Africa’s longest-running conflicts.


The committee said that “it must be emphasized that Abiy Ahmed’s prize was awarded on the basis of his efforts and the justifiable expectations that existed in 2019,” adding that “the historical backdrop included an authoritarian governing system and widespread ethnic conflicts.”

But in November 2020, Abiy’s government allowed Eritrean forces into Tigray as they together pursued the Tigray leaders after political tensions erupted into war. Some tens of thousands of people have been killed, and hundreds of thousands now face famine as Ethiopia’s government has kept almost all food and medical aid from Tigray since late June.

“Nowhere in the world are we witnessing hell like Tigray,” WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, a former Tigray official, told reporters Wednesday, saying the WHO had approached Abiy’s office for permission to send medicines into Tigray, in vain.

“The humanitarian situation is very serious, and it is not acceptable that humanitarian aid does not emerge to a sufficient degree,” the Norwegian Nobel Committee statement said.

There was no immediate comment from the prime minister’s office.

Ethiopia’s conflict entered a new phase in late December when Tigray forces retreated into their region amid a new military offensive and Ethiopian forces said they would not advance further there. But aid workers have said airstrikes continue to kill civilians in Tigray, with a weekend strike killing more than 50. Another airstrike killed 17 on Monday, the day President Biden, in a call with Abiy, raised concerns about them.

The Norwegian Nobel Committee also said that its deliberations are confidential. “Furthermore, it is not our role to provide continuing commentary on Ethiopian developments or to assess the position of a Peace Prize laureate after the prize has been received.”


Associated Press writer Cara Anna in Nairobi contributed to this report.