Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch (HRW) warned in a joint statement that thousands of Tigrayans are being forcibly expelled, detained, or killed in a fresh wave of ethnic violence in the western part of Ethiopia’s Tigray region, blaming armed groups from Amhara, which are aligned with Ethiopia’s military, for the abuses.
“Without urgent international action to prevent further atrocities, Tigrayans, particularly those in detention, are at grave risk,” said Joanne Mariner, director of crisis response at Amnesty International.
Tigrayan civilians describe atrocities
Western Tigray has seen some of the worst violence in the 13-month war between Ethiopia’s military, aided by forces from the Amhara and Afar regions, and Tigrayan forces (TPLF).
“Tigrayan civilians attempting to escape the new wave of violence have been attacked and killed. Scores in detention face life-threatening conditions including torture, starvation, and denial of medical care,” HRW and Amnesty International said.
They spoke to 31 people in western Tigray who described the surge of abuses.
“When the people tried to escape… (the Fano) attacked them with machetes and axes,” a 34-year-old farmer told them. “We were passing bodies and we were all in shock … After we calmed down, we noticed that there were more bodies there too. Everywhere you turned, there would be five, 10 bodies.”
According to witnesses, whose stories were partly corroborated by satellite imagery, Amhara security forces, including the region’s police and members of local militia, Fano, rounded people up and took people to makeshift detention sites.
One former detainee, who escaped from the sites, told the rights groups he knew of 30 people who died while he was held there, including seven of the 200 men in his cell.
“All of us have gone through it [the beatings] but the most vulnerable ones were the [older men],” he said. “They couldn’t handle the torture, that’s why they were dying.”
A government spokesman denied Amhara security forces were responsible for the attack. He told Reuters news agency the abuses were committed by Tigrayan forces.
Atrocities committed by all sides
Rights groups have accused fighters on all sides have been accused of atrocities including sexual violence, extrajudicial murder, and ethnically motivated crimes.
Last week HRW accused TPLF rebels of summarily executing dozens of civilians in two Amhara towns they briefly controlled between August and September.
Amharas and Tigrayans, are two of Ethiopia’s largest ethnic groups and they both lay claim to western Tigray where the war erupted in November 2020.
Amhara sided with Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed against the TPLF.
UN to discuss war crimes in Ethiopia
Thursday’s report comes a day before the UN Human Rights Council special session on possible war crimes committed during the conflict.
The UN estimates that 20,000 people were recently evicted from western Tigray, and more than 1 million have been displaced from there since the war began.
“The global paralysis on Ethiopia’s armed conflict has emboldened human rights abusers to act with impunity and left communities at risk feeling abandoned,” Laetitia Bader, Horn of Africa director at HRW said.
“As evidence of atrocities mounts, world leaders should support the creation of an international investigative mechanism and the UN Security Council should put Ethiopia on its formal agenda,” she added.