New evidence of potential crimes against humanity by Tigrayan forces in Ethiopia, charity warns

Amnesty International has published harrowing new evidence of fighters affiliated with the Tigrayan People’s Liberation Front carrying out dozens of civilian killings, gang-raping women and girls – some as young as 14 – and looting property in two areas of northern Ethiopia’s Amhara region.

Conflict in Tigray broke out in November 2020, spreading to other regions of northern Ethiopia from July 2021.

In a new 26-page report – Ethiopia: Summary killings, rape and looting by Tigrayan forces in Amhara – Amnesty shows how Tigrayan forces carried out a string of atrocities in and around Chenna and Kobo in late August and early September last year, after these forces had taken control of the areas in July.

On top of their brutality, Tigrayan forces also made numerous death threats and used ethnic slurs. In Kobo, Tigrayan forces were apparently lashing out at the civilian population in retaliation for increased resistance from local militias and armed residents.

In Kobo, a town in the north-east of the Amhara region, Tigrayan fighters deliberately killed unarmed civilians, seemingly in revenge for losses among their ranks at the hands of Amhara militias and armed farmers.

Amnesty interviewed 27 witnesses and survivors, including some who helped collect and bury the bodies of those killed. Ten Kobo residents told Amnesty that in the afternoon of 9 September, Tigrayan fighters summarily killed their relatives and neighbours outside their homes. A survivor told Amnesty:

“First they shot my brother Taddese … he died on the spot. My other brother and my brother-in-law tried to move away and were both shot in the back and killed … they shot me in my left shoulder … I stayed down, pretending to be dead.”

Twelve other Kobo residents said they found the bodies of local residents and labourers who had been killed execution-style – shot in the head, chest or back, some with their hands tied behind their backs. One male resident said:

“The first dead bodies we saw were by the school fence. There were 20 bodies lying in their underwear and facing the fence and three more bodies in the school compound. Most were shot at the back of their heads and some in the back. Those who were shot at the back of their heads could not be recognised because their faces were partially blown off.”

Satellite imagery analysis by Amnesty’s Crisis Evidence Lab shows evidence of new burial sites on the grounds of St George’s Church and St Michael’s Church, where residents said they had buried those killed on 9 September. Deliberate killings of civilians – or of captured, surrendered or wounded fighters – constitute war crimes and possibly crimes against humanity.

From July 2021 onwards, in and around Chenna, a village north of Bahir Dar, the capital of the Amhara region, Tigrayan forces raped dozens of women and girls as young as 14, often in the victims’ own homes after having forced them to provide food and cook for them.

The sexual violence was accompanied by sustained brutality, including beatings, death threats and ethnic slurs. Fourteen of the 30 survivors interviewed by Amnesty said that they were gang-raped by multiple Tigrayan fighters, and some were raped in front of their children. Seven of the survivors were girls under the age of 18.

Lucy, a 14-year-old, and her mother were both raped by Tigrayan fighters in their home in Did-Bahr. She told Amnesty:

“I was at home with my mother and my grandmother when two young men with rifles came to our home in the morning at about 11. One of them wore military clothes and the other wore civilian clothes. They spoke a mix of Tigrinya and some Amharic. They said, ‘Our families were raped and now it is our turn to rape you.’ One of them raped me in the courtyard and the other raped my mother inside the house. My mother is very sick now, she is very depressed and desperate. We don’t speak about what happened; it is impossible.”

Salam, a 29-year-old woman, also told Amnesty how four Tigrayan fighters locked her elderly parents in a separate room and then gang-raped her over a 15-hour period.

Many of the survivors suffered severe and long-term physical and psychological damage, including ten who were hospitalised for months after they were raped. Doctors who provided medical care to rape survivors told Amnesty that two people had to be treated for lacerations likely to have been caused by having rifle bayonets thrust into their genitals.

Amnesty has previously documented similar patterns of Tigrayan fighters raping Amhara women and girls in Nifas Mewcha, and has received credible reports of rape from other areas of the Amhara region. Such atrocities constitute war crimes and, potentially, crimes against humanity.

In both Kobo and the Chenna area, residents told Amnesty that Tigrayan fighters stole possessions from their homes and shops, and looted and vandalised public property, including medical clinics and schools. Looting to medical facilities made it impossible for rape survivors and other residents to obtain treatment in the area, forcing them to wait until they could reach hospitals in Debark, Gondar and Bahir Dar weeks later. For rape survivors, this was far too late to receive crucial post-rape care, some of which needs to be administered within 72 hours.

Sarah Jackson, Amnesty International’s Deputy Director for East Africa, the Horn and the Great Lakes, said: “Tigrayan forces have shown utter disregard for fundamental rules of international humanitarian law which all warring parties must follow.

“Evidence is mounting of a pattern of Tigrayan forces committing war crimes and possible crimes against humanity in areas under their control in the Amhara region. This includes repeated incidents of widespread rape, summary killings and looting.“The TPLF leadership must put an immediate end to the atrocities we have documented and remove from its forces anyone suspected of involvement in such crimes.

“There needs to be swift action by the international community to investigate abuses by all sides, bring those responsible to account and ensure that survivors can realise their rights.

“The United Nations and African Union must deploy relevant investigation teams to the region. The international commission of human rights experts on Ethiopia, established by the UN Human Rights Council in December, must also be permitted to start its work and be granted access to the country as soon as possible.”