Ethiopian rights body says over 100 killed in Tigray massacre

AFP , Wednesday 24 Mar 2021

The findings by the government-affiliated but independent body corroborate separate investigations by Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch (HRW) into bloodshed in the historic town of Axum

Mekele, Tigray
FILE PHOTO: A woman leans on the wall of a damaged house which was shelled as federal-aligned forces entered the city, in Wukro, north of Mekele, on March 1, 2021. AFP

The Ethiopian Human Rights Commission said Wednesday that Eritrean soldiers massacred over 100 civilians in the war-torn region of Tigray in November, in what may amount to crimes against humanity.

The findings by the government-affiliated but independent body corroborate separate investigations by Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch (HRW) into bloodshed in the historic town of Axum.

"Information collected during this preliminary investigation confirm that during the two days of November 28 and November 29, grave violations of human rights were committed and that in Axum, over one hundred residents... were killed by Eritrean soldiers," the commission said.

"As these grave human rights violations may amount to crimes against humanity or war crimes, it underscores the need for a comprehensive investigation into (the) overall human rights situation in Tigray region."

The report was published just a day after Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed admitted for the first time that Eritrean troops had crossed the border into Tigray.

He also suggested they may have been involved in abuses against civilians.

Addis Ababa and Asmara had for months flatly denied the involvement of Eritrean forces in the conflict, and described reports of their alleged atrocities in the region as misinformation and propaganda.

Abiy sent troops into Tigray on November 4 after he blamed the region's ruling party, the Tigray People's Liberation Front, for attacks on federal army camps.

He declared the conflict over in late November but subsequent reports of rape, looting and murder by Ethiopian and Eritrean forces prompted warnings from the United Nations and rights watchdogs that possible crimes against humanity could be unfolding.

'Door to door'

The EHRC conducted a fact-finding mission in Axum, a UNESCO World Heritage site, in late February and early March after earlier attempts to reach the town were "impeded by the security situation".

The commission spoke to dozens of witnesses who said Eritrean troops executed unarmed civilians, often in front of their families, and shot at those trying to collect their bodies for burial.

"Eritrean soldiers went door to door asking women 'where their husbands or children were' telling them 'to bring their sons out if they have any'," the report stated.

Corpses were left in the streets for days, some being dismembered by animals, witnesses said. Another was crushed under the tracks of an army tank, the report said.

In one case, Eritrean troops "found two residents whom they confirmed could not speak Tigrinya and let them go, while they dragged the remaining residents out of their compound and shot them dead".

Like Amnesty and HRW -- which separately reported hundreds killed in Axum -- the EHRC could not provide an exact death toll.

The commission was still verifying more victims and investigating other alleged atrocities in areas around Axum, it said.

Eritrean and Ethiopian troops were also accused of looting hospitals -- even taking hospital beds and mattresses -- and destroying what they did not want, causing a crippling medicine and equipment shortage that resulted in patient deaths.

Axum residents also "deplored" the inaction of Ethiopian troops for doing nothing as Eritrean troops desecrated churches in the ancient town, the report said.

Abiy told lawmakers on Tuesday he had discussed alleged abuses by Eritrean troops with Asmara "four or five times", and described attacks against civilians as "unacceptable."

Earlier this month, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken described the violence in Tigray as "ethnic cleansing" and pressed for an independent investigation.

The US, UN and other members of the international community have repeatedly called for the immediate withdrawal of Eritrean troops from Tigray.

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