Written by By Gillian MacKenzie, CNN
Ethiopia’s national airline has been branded the nation’s “most appalling” over a 2006 incident in which it transported some of the weapons used during the country’s conflict in the north-eastern province of Tigray.
The Horn of Africa country’s state-run carrier was implicated in a video circulating on social media that appeared to show arms being loaded on an aircraft registered under the flag of the nation of Sierra Leone.
Earlier this month Ethiopia’s government said it had ordered international aviation regulators to review rules governing air transportation of war material, after the incident.
The aircraft reportedly used in the incident was run by Ethiopian Airlines, which is the flagship of the nation’s aviation industry.
CNN cannot independently verify the authenticity of the video, which has since been removed from Instagram.
Weapons ‘may cause loss of life’
Mark Olney, the dean of the university’s global affairs faculty, told CNN the video reinforced the concerns raised by the 2014 Fukushima nuclear disaster in Japan, when demonstrators paraded illegally through streets carrying weapons to protest against the government.
“We’ve seen this type of event outside the industrial complex too — particularly when political situations deteriorate,” he said.
“Weapons are held in public so they may cause loss of life. This is an issue that’s especially sensitive right now.”
Olney said there was a danger the tape could lead to a backlash against the east African country.
“Ethiopia would need to address the problem in a way that’s consistent with the international community’s expectations and concerns, which are also shared by a growing number of ordinary Ethiopians.
“There must be a balanced approach, given all the different interests Ethiopia faces. In the current situation, that means Ethiopia will need to establish a transparent, independent mechanism that can independently investigate its actions, and ensure that those findings are not dismissed.”
Ethiopia’s handling of a three-decade war with its Tigray-dominated neighbor led to a long period of animosity between the two countries, but an amicable divorce in 2011 saw the nations share a pan-African common market and increase relations considerably.
War crimes ‘carried out in open’
Olney added the video did not only raise the profile of the country’s major airline, but also demonstrated the country’s poor record on human rights issues.
“This exposes the Ethiopian government’s heavy-handed approach to dealing with dissent at home, and its complicity in actions that violate international law,” he said.
“I think Ethiopia’s approach has been summed up in the phrase, ‘If you don’t shoot, we will shoot back.’”
Olney suggested only more discussion and public outrage about these policies could force Ethiopia to change its approach.
“What does it take to get the political elite to do the right thing? That is the question,” he said.
A senior United Nations human rights investigator who follows armed conflict in the region, Luis CdeBaca, also questioned the morality of the weapons being transported by Ethiopian Airlines.
“Obviously there are clear war crimes that may have been carried out in the open,” he told CNN.
“It would be far better if these weapons were either not used at all, or destroyed.”
CdeBaca said the scale of weaponry used on the plane suggested it was probably used during wartime.
“Unfortunately, the matter of the weapons is what is causing great concern,” he said.
“The fact that they’re being used in public would also be an indication that it could be used later in another situation.”
For now, it remains unclear whether the weapons were legally allowed to be transported by the airline.
“I’m not in a position to comment on the legality of transporting the weapons,” a spokesperson from the US Department of State said.
“We are aware of a video showing suspected weapons. I’m not aware of any action taken by the department at this time.”