According to a new Amnesty International report, Ethiopia’s rival Tigray forces raped or gang-raped local women after attacking a community in the Amhara region as they pushed toward the country’s capital, opening a new front of horror in the year-long war.
The report, which was released early Wednesday and is based on interviews with 16 women and local authorities, is the most comprehensive yet by a human rights watchdog on alleged Tigrayan abuses since their entry into Amhara four months ago. Earlier, during the Tigray war, ethnic Tigrayans reported hundreds of rapes by Ethiopian and allied forces, and experts estimate that thousands occurred.
Since retaking much of their region in June, Tigray forces have expanded the war into Amhara, and The Associated Press has spoken to numerous witnesses who have described abuses such as house-to-house killings.
The United Nations human rights office said last week that all sides in the war between Ethiopia’s government and Tigray forces that had dominated the national government for nearly three decades had committed abuses.
The Amnesty report focuses on the Amhara town of Nifas Mewcha, which was attacked by Tigray forces in mid-August and later returned to government control.
Fourteen of the sixteen women told the human rights organization that Tigray fighters gang-raped them. Some women said they were raped at gunpoint. Others claimed that the fighters raped them in front of their children.
“The survivors’ testimonies describe despicable acts by (Tigray) fighters that amount to war crimes and possibly crimes against humanity.” “They defy morality and any semblance of humanity,” said Agnes Callamard, secretary general of Amnesty International, in a statement.
The women said they recognized Tigray fighters by their accents and ethnic slurs directed at Amhara, and in some cases, the fighters announced their affiliation with Tigray forces.
Regional government authorities told Amnesty that more than 70 women reported being raped in Nifas Mewcha alone.
“It’s extremely shocking how it happened in nine days,” Amnesty researcher Fisseha Tekle told The Associated Press. While the rights group cannot characterize the actions as systematic due to the report’s narrow scope, he says “by itself, it’s horrible.”
“The ethnic slurs, the ethnic dimension, the gang rapes,” he said, comparing what Amnesty documented in town to what it had documented in Tigray. “All of these things are comparable.”
Getachew Reda, a spokesman for the Tigray forces who has repeatedly denied that the fighters are attacking civilians, did not respond to AP questions.
“What we get in terms of human rights violations is catastrophic,” he said, as the war in Ethiopia escalates. He urged the warring parties to step up efforts to protect civilians.
An African Union envoy and a US envoy will continue their diplomatic efforts this week, amid growing calls for an immediate cease-fire and talks.