ALSO AVAILABLE IN RUSSIAN
IS THE WINNER OF THE 2023 RAW in WAR
ANNA POLITKOVSKAYA AWARD
for women human rights defenders working in war and conflict
Today, Saturday 7th October, RAW in WAR (Reach All Women in WAR) celebrates the courage of Ethiopian journalist, Lucy Kassa, whose unwavering commitment to speak truth to power and expose the mass rape of women in Tigray and the killing of civilians, has made her a target for those who want to silence journalists and rule Ethiopia by the force of the gun.
On the 17th anniversary of Anna Politkovskaya’s murder today, RAW in WAR honours Lucy Kassa with the 2023 Anna Politkovskaya Award for her courage and determination in informing the world about the brutal treatment of civilians during the civil war in Ethiopia and for standing up for peace and justice for the women of Tigray, in the face of grave danger, just like Anna did.
Lucy is a young and courageous Ethiopian investigative journalist who, for the past three years, has told and continued to tell the stories of the victims of crimes during the war in Ethiopia, committed by all sides with impunity. She has reported and exposed the horrors and the despicable violence the people in Tigray, in the North of Ethiopia, have suffered, which according to the International Commission of Human Rights Experts on Ethiopia, established by the UN Human Rights Council in 2021, include war crimes and crimes against humanity, encompassing mass killings, the mass rape of Tigrayan women and weaponised sexual violence, ethnic cleansing and torture. She exposed hidden concentration camps, hidden famine and other grave atrocities. Lucy Kassa, who is herself of Tigrayan descent, has bravely spoken out about how the war in Ethiopia’s North caused the death of thousands of civilians, who – if not killed by weapons or as a result of torture, died of hunger and illness.
Lucy continued to expose these crimes at a great personal risk to her life and well-being. She has been subjected to death threats, and relentless online hate campaigns for her journalism work. Despite the threats, Lucy has continued to tell the stories of those who suffer grave human rights abuses, irrespective of which political side and ethnic group commits them. For her reporting on a conflict, about which the government in Addis Ababa has attempted to hide the truth, and for refusing to be silenced when the government shut down the Internet in Tigray and revoked accreditation of foreign journalists, Lucy Kassa has been threatened and called a “traitor” and a “supporter of terrorists”. In February 2021, her flat was raided by unidentified armed men and she was told that the next time it would be worse for her.
Despite the danger she faces, Lucy continues to report on the war in Tigray and has been working as a freelance journalist for major global media outlets including The Guardian, Al Jazeera, The Telegraph and Los Angeles Times, to name a few.
The bravery of Lucy Kassa has been recognized by media and human rights advocates around the world. The RAW in WAR Nominations Committee for the 2023 Anna Politkovskaya Award joins in expressing its high appreciation of her courageous work, carried out despite the daily risks she has been facing, and against the backdrop of the deafening silence of the international community to act to end the violence in Ethiopia.
On announcing the winner of the 2023 Anna Politkovskaya Award, Belarusian writer and Nobel Prize laureate for literature, Svetlana Alexievich, 2018 Award winner and a member of the 2023 Award Nominations Committee, said:
“Once again there is much pain and bloodshed in our world. That is why it is so important today to have a witness who can speak up about it. Lucy Kassa is one of those brave witnesses. We have learnt from her about the suffering of the women of Tigray, about the Ethiopian civil war.
We present this award to Lucy Kassa for tirelessly ringing the bell of hope, telling us about her pain-stricken homeland.”
Like Anna Politkovskaya, Lucy Kassa is not just interviewing the survivors of atrocities, of human rights violations and crimes against humanity. She wants these crimes to end, to make sure that the victims will be able to find justice. She writes with compassion but not for one side only. Her reporting takes a stand against the hate and the lies, which are spread by all warring factions in the conflict.
Lucy Kassa had to leave Ethiopia for her own safety, but she continues to write about the unfolding violence in her country, taking great care of the safety of her sources and not giving in to the smear campaigns, trolling and bullying that regularly targets her online and offline.
On receiving the 2023 Anna Politkovskaya Award, Lucy Kassa said:
“Thank you so much for acknowledging my work. I am deeply honoured and humbled to receive the Anna Politkovskaya Award. It means a lot to me to receive such a great honour in the name of Anna Politkovskaya, particularly during this time when impunity and injustice is persisting in my home country, Ethiopia.
The 4th October was the deadline to table a resolution at the UN Human Rights Council and call for the renewal of the mandate of the International Commission of Human Rights Experts on Ethiopia, but States members of the Council, failed to do so. Despite pleas from human rights groups and the Commission’s own warning in its findings that there is greater risk of future atrocity crimes including genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity, the Commission will therefore be disbanded when its mandate expires this month. By not renewing the mandate the international community has failed victims of war in the Tigray war, one of the deadliest wars in recent time which has killed more than half a million civilians in Tigray alone. There is no hope of justice in sight for the thousands of women and girls raped in weaponised sexual violence and those who were brutally massacred. Meanwhile the Ethiopian government has continued repeating similar patterns of war crimes in the ongoing war in Amhara region, bordering Tigray.
When I learned that the UN had not renewed the Commission’s mandate, I turned off my phone and PC. I was working on a story about continuing war crimes in the ongoing war in Amhara region. I couldn’t raise the enthusiasm to continue my work anymore. I asked myself “What is the point of this? Why fight to tell and verify the stories of victims of war if it will not bring justice? Why keep on listening to horrible accounts and spending so much energy to shed light on their plight if their suffering will not end?”
It was at this time that I received the news that I had been given this award. It uplifted my spirit and it reminded me that as much as there is so much evil, injustice and hypocrisy, there are many who fight and die for justice. It reminded me that I am not alone. The Anna Politkovskaya Award is a beautiful inspiration for me not to feel discouraged in times of pressure and burnout. Anna’s courage will be a fuel for me to keep on going. I will think of Anna and this award in her name whenever I lose my enthusiasm for telling the heart-breaking stories of victims of war. I am very much grateful.”
The war erupted in Tigray, a region in the North of Ethiopia, in November 2020, later spreading to other regions of Ethiopia. The war, during which all parties to the conflict – the Ethiopian Federal government, the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) and Eritrean troops, fighting on the side of the Ethiopian army – committed unspeakable atrocities and crimes against humanity, lasted for two years and officially ended with a peace agreement in November 2022. However, reports about violence and human rights violations, ethnic cleansing, rape and torture committed against the civilian population, continued. Thousands of people have had to leave their homes and currently live in refugee camps. While figures differ, possibly nearly half a million people were killed or died of hunger and illness in 2022 alone as a result of the war and reportedly more than 10,000 women were raped or suffered various forms of sexual violence.
The war started a year after Ethiopia’s prime minister Abiy Ahmed received the Nobel Peace Prize 2019 for his efforts towards a peaceful solution to the conflict between Eritrea and Ethiopia. During the war in Tigray, the central government in Addis Ababa tried to prevent any reports about the crimes committed coming out from the region. In the past, Abiy Ahmed was also hailed for his support for press freedom. However, the country has fallen behind since 2022 and progress, which had been made in the years before, has been lost.
Against this background, the bravery of journalists and human rights defenders like Lucy Kassa in continuing to speak out against the human rights violations being perpetrated by the military and the rebel forces against Tigray’s population, coming as it does in the face of death threats and threats of gender-based violence and massive risks for their safety, is astonishing. For her courage in exposing the truth, Lucy had also received the Amnesty International Media Award for an article she wrote on sexual violence as a weapon of war and the Magnitsky Human Rights Award in 2022.
On receiving the 2023 Anna Politkovskaya Award, Lucy Kassa will join a group of remarkable women human rights defenders who received the Anna Politkovskaya Award in the past, including Svetlana Gannushkina and Tetyana Sokolova (2022), Fawzia Koofi (2021), Radhya Almutawakel (2020), Alex Crawford (2019), Binalakshmi Nepram (2018) and Svetlana Alexievich (2018), Gulalai Ismail (2017) and Gauri Lankesh (2017), Jineth Bedoya Lima (2016) and Valentina Cherevatenko (2016), Kholoud Waleed (2015), Vian Dakhil (2014), Malala Yousafzai (2013), Marie Colvin (2012), Razan Zaitouneh (2011), Dr. Halima Bashir (2010), Leila Alikarami on behalf of the One Million Signatures Campaign for Equality in Iran (2009), Malalai Joya (2008) and Natalia Estemirova (2007).
The award will be presented to the winner in March 2024 in London at RAW in WAR’s ‘Refusing to be Silenced’ event, part of the 2024 Women of the World (WOW) Festival.
AVAILABLE FOR INTERVIEWS (pictures on demand):
Lucy Kassa – 2023 Award winner (Tigray/Ethiopia)
Svetlana Alexievich – 2018 Award winner (Belarus)
Elena Kudimova – Anna Politkovskaya’s sister
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