witness accounts

Ethiopia: New report reveals more killings in Amhara region

By Jaysim Hanspal

Posted on December 10, 2021 14:10

Ethiopian families fleeing fighting describe hunger, rape in Amhara
A private security member sits with a gun while children play at a camp for the internally displaced due to the fighting between the Ethiopian National Defense Force (ENDF) and the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) forces in Dessie town, Amhara Region, Ethiopia, October 8, 2021. REUTERS/Tiksa Negeri

Today a report from Human Rights Watch (HRW) revealed that between August 31 and September 9 2021, Tigrayan forces executed dozens of civilians in two towns they controlled in Ethiopia’s northern Amhara region.

On August 31, Human Rights Watch (HRW) reported that Tigrayan forces entered the village of Chenna and engaged in fighting with Ethiopian federal soldiers and allied Amhara militias. In the town of Kobo on September 9, Tigrayan soldiers executed a total of 23 people in four separate incidents, according to witnesses.

The killings were in apparent retaliation for attacks by farmers on advancing Tigrayan forces earlier that day.

In September and October, HRW remotely interviewed 36 people, including witnesses to killings and victims’ relatives and neighbours, about fighting and abuses in and around Chenna and the town of Kobo.

The organisation says nineteen people saw Tigrayan fighters in Chenna and Kobo “summarily execute a total of 49 people who they said were civilians”, providing 44 names.

The organisation also obtained a list of 74 civilians who have allegedly been killed in Chenna between August 31 and September 4. On 8 December 2021, mass graves were discovered in Kombolcha, Amhara. Local news sites suggested that they were the responsibility of the TPLF, who previously occupied the area.

Survivors of an attack by TPLF forces in Amhara told Amnesty that they were “raped at gunpoint, robbed and assaulted”. Sixteen women from the town of Nifas Mewcha were subjected to abuse as the fighters also destroyed and looted medical facilities in the town.

A push for international intervention

It has been hard for the media to verify accusations of violence in the region, with bans and arrests for journalists considered a threat to Abiy’s administration and humanitarian aid, making it difficult for international organisations to keep track of the ongoing conflict.

Lama Fakih, crisis and conflict director at HRW said, “Tigrayan forces showed brutal disregard for human life and the laws of war by executing people in their custody.”

“These killings and other atrocities by all sides to the conflict underscore the need for an independent international inquiry into alleged war crimes in Ethiopia’s Tigray and Amhara regions.”

The bigger picture

In November 2021, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights in conjunction with Ethiopian Human Rights Commission released a report into the Tigrayan conflict, which showed attacks on all sides. According to the report, “The ENDF, EDF, and TSF carried out attacks on civilians resulting in the deaths of and injuries to men, women, boys, and girls.”

Since then, accusations on all sides have drawn criticism to Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, who won a Nobel Peace Prize in 2019 for ending the conflict with Eritrea. Eritrean forces have joined Ethiopian-Amhara forces and have been accused of killing civilians, including the Axum massacre of an estimated 800 civilians, which the Eritrean government denies happening.

In July, fighting expanded to the neighbouring Amhara region, leading to large-scale displacement, with 3.7 million people in the region in need of humanitarian assistance. Around the same time, UN officials warned that more than 400,000 people in the Tigray region are now in famine. The government received international criticism after stopping food trucks from entering the area, citing security concerns

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