Widespread abuses against civilians in the western part of Ethiopia’s besieged Tigray region constitute war crimes and crimes against humanity, Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International have charged in a new report.
The crimes were perpetrated by security officials and civilian authorities from the neighboring Amhara region, sometimes “with the acquiescence and possible involvement of Ethiopian federal forces”, the rights groups say in the published report. Wednesday.
The abuses are “part of a widespread and systematic attack against the civilian population of Tigray that constitutes crimes against humanity as well as war crimes,” the report said.
Ethiopian federal authorities strongly refute allegations that they deliberately targeted Tigrayans for violent attacks. They said at the start of the war in November 2020 that their aim was to disarm the rebel leaders in Tigray.
Ethiopian authorities said on Wednesday they were “carefully reviewing” the allegations in the rights groups’ report. While the report contains “ideas that are not helpful to any peace effort, the government will reaffirm its determination to investigate all human rights abuses and make the results public,” a statement from the communications department said. of the government.
The report, the result of a months-long investigation involving more than 400 interviews, accuses hundreds of thousands of Tigrayans of being forced from their homes in a vicious campaign of unlawful killings, sexual assaults , mass arbitrary detentions, looting of livestock and denial of humanitarian assistance.
Widespread atrocities have been reported in the Tigray War, with Ethiopian government troops and their allies, including troops from neighboring Eritrea, facing most of the blame.
Fighters loyal to Tigray’s ruling party – the Tigray People’s Liberation Front, or TPLF – have also been accused of committing abuses as the war spread to neighboring regions. Fighters affiliated with the TPLF deliberately killed dozens of people, gang-raped dozens of women and looted property over several weeks last year in the Amhara region, Amnesty said in a February report.
The new report by Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International focuses on attacks targeting Tigrayans in western Tigray and describes it as “ethnic cleansing”, a term that refers to forcing a population to leave a region through evictions and other violence, often including murder and rape.
Placards posted publicly in several towns in western Tigray urged Tigrayans to leave, and local officials discussed at meetings plans to evict Tigrayans, according to the report. Pamphlets appeared to give Tigrayans urgent ultimatums to leave or be killed, the report said.
“They kept saying every night, ‘We’re going to kill you… Get out of the area,'” a woman from the town of Baeker said, referring to the threats she faced from a Amhara militia, according to the report.
Western Tigray has long been a disputed territory. Amhara authorities claim the area was under their control until the 1990s, when the TPLF-led federal government redrew the internal borders that placed the territory within Tigray’s borders. Amhara officials moved quickly to gain control of the region when war broke out.
The outbreak of war “brought to the fore these longstanding and unresolved grievances: Amhara regional forces, together with Ethiopian federal forces, seized these territories and displaced Tigrayan civilians in a campaign of brutal ethnic cleansing “, says the report.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken claimed in March 2021 that ethnic cleansing had taken place in western Tigray, marking the first time a senior official in the international community openly described the situation as such. This allegation was dismissed by Ethiopian authorities as “a totally unfounded and fallacious verdict against the Ethiopian government”.
The new report corroborates Associated Press reports of wartime atrocities affecting 6 million people in Tigray alone.
In June, the Ethiopian government cut off almost all access to food aid, medical supplies, cash and fuel in Tigray. The war has spilled over into the Amhara and Afar regions, with Tigrayan leaders saying they are fighting to ease the blockade and protect themselves from further attacks.
Faced with mounting international pressure, Ethiopian authorities announced a humanitarian truce for Tigray on March 24, saying the action was necessary to allow the unimpeded delivery of relief supplies to the region. Trucks carrying food have since arrived in the area.
Last year, the PA confirmed the first starvation deaths under the blockade as well as the government’s ban on aid workers bringing medicine to Tigray.
It is estimated that tens of thousands of people were killed during the war. But there is little hope for peace talks as Ethiopian authorities have banned the TPLF, making its leaders fugitives.
Among their recommendations, the rights groups call for a “neutral protection force” in western Tigray, possibly with the deployment of an African Union-backed peacekeeping mission, “with a mandate of robust civil protection”.
Their report also urges the UN Security Council to impose an arms embargo on all warring parties.