Nairobi – Security forces allied to Ethiopia’s army are rounding up and killing Tigrayan civilians in a fresh wave of ethnic violence in the country’s brutal war, two rights groups said on Thursday.
Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch said armed groups from the Amhara region were responsible for a recent surge in horrific abuses in the long-contested western part of Tigray.
In November and December, Amnesty and HRW documented Amhara forces systematically detaining, torturing and starving Tigrayan civilians, including teenagers and the elderly, living in the disputed region.
Some of those trying to flee the crackdown in western Tigray were attacked with machetes and axes by Amhara militias and regional security forces, while others were taken away on trucks and remain unaccounted for.
“Without urgent international action to prevent further atrocities, Tigrayans, particularly those in detention, are at grave risk,” Joanne Mariner, Amnesty’s director of crisis response, said in a statement.
The warnings come as the UN Human Rights Council prepares to hold a special session on Friday to consider whether to appoint international investigators to probe widespread violations during Ethiopia’s 13-month war.
The rights watchdogs said this “new onslaught of abuses… should ring alarm bells” amid a conflict that has fanned historic grievances between Amharas and Tigrayans, two of Ethiopia’s largest ethnic groups.
Both lay claim to western Tigray and when war erupted more than a year ago, Amhara sided with Addis Ababa and sent its regional forces to retake the fertile lands.
The United Nations has expressed worry over reports of large-scale displacement from western Tigray, where the US has previously warned of ethnic cleansing.
Amnesty and HRW said deliberate attacks on civilians and forced expulsions “violate the laws of war” and those responsible should be identified and face accountability.
Atrocities on all sides
Gizachew Muluneh, a spokesman for Amhara’s regional government, told AFP the allegations made in the joint report were “totally groundless and unjustifiable”.
“We are cognisant that such misrepresentations are another wave of falsehoods,” he said, accusing rights groups of overlooking atrocities committed by the rebels.
“It is embarrassing to accuse the Amhara regional government security forces while our people are suffering from (an) appalling humanitarian disaster due to the TPLF (Tigray People’s Liberation Front)”, he added.
Fighters on all sides have been accused of atrocities, including sexual violence, extrajudicial murder and ethnically-motivated crimes.
This month, HRW accused TPLF rebels of summarily executing dozens of civilians in two Amhara towns they briefly controlled between August and September.
The conflict has killed thousands of people, displaced more than two million and driven hundreds of thousands into famine-like conditions, according to UN estimates.
Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed sent troops into Tigray in November 2020 after accusing the region’s dissident ruling party of attacks on federal army camps.
The Nobel Peace laureate declared victory over the TPLF but rebel fighters staged a shock comeback, recapturing most of Tigray and pushing into neighbouring Afar and Amhara.
The rebels reportedly reached around 200km (125 miles) outside of Addis Ababa by road but in recent weeks the battle lines have shifted as pro-government forces have reclaimed strategic towns.
Picture: Getty Images
Additional reporting by AFP