The Ethiopian Human Rights Commission, in a report released on Tuesday, claims that up to 600 civilians were killed in a “massacre” in Tigray, a region in northern Ethiopia. Subjected to strangling, stabbing and hacking to death, civilians faced “crimes of atrocity” at the hands of Samri – local youths backed by local administration who went on a door-to-door killing spree on 9th November, according to reports. The Samri targeted members of the minority Amhara and Wolkait ethnic groups. This occurred as the forced of the region’s ruling Tigray People’s Liberation Front, or TPLF, retreated from attacks by the federal government troops.
Government troops and the TPLF have been in conflict since 4th November. The TPLF, which denied responsibility for the inhumane killings, controls the Tigray region and views the central government as illegitimate. It alleges that Ethiopia’s Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed does not have a mandate to lead the country after postponing elections due to the coronavirus.
The violent conflict between the party and the central government began three weeks ago with the government accusing TPLF of holding an illegal election and attacking a military base for weapons. As a result, Mr Abiy, citing treason, ordered a military offensive in Tigray.
The report of the recent violence, attributed to the TPLF, is the result of a week-long probe conducted in the region by the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission.
According to the commission, “the killings, bodily and mental injury, as well as the destruction that went on throughout the night . . . indicate the commission of grave human rights violations which may amount to crimes against humanity and war crimes.”
The victims were beaten to death with sticks, stabbed with knives, machetes and hatchets, and strangled with ropes, according to the report. Others suffered severely injuries and had their property looted or destroyed, the commission said.
“The unimaginably atrocious crime committed against civilians for no reason other than their ethnicity is heart breaking,” said the commission’s chief, Daniel Bekele.
Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed declared the commission’s findings “heart-wrenching” and urged the international community “to condemn these atrocious acts of crimes against humanity.”
UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, has expressed alarm at the escalation of violence in the region and urged all sides to give “clear and unambiguous orders to their forces” to not target civilians.
“The highly aggressive rhetoric on both sides regarding the fight for Mekelle is dangerously provocative and risks placing already vulnerable and frightened civilians in grave danger. I fear such rhetoric will lead to further violations of international humanitarian law,” she said.