Hundreds killed in Axum Extrajudicially, says Amnesty

ADDIS ABABA – Human rights Watch on Friday accused Ethiopian and Eritrean troops of systematically killing hundreds of unarmed civilians in Axum during offensive to take control of the city from Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) forces in mid-November.

Amnesty said the troops opened fire in the streets and conducted house-to-house raids “in a massacre that may amount to a crime against humanity”.

Amnesty said the troops opened fire in the streets and conducted house-to-house raids “in a massacre that may amount to a crime against humanity”.

The report, which is based on 41 interviews with witnesses via phone and refugees in Sudan, said the killing took place between November 28 and 29, 2020.

The agency said they consistently described extrajudicial executions, indiscriminate shelling and widespread looting during offensive in the city.

According to Amnesty, satellite imagery analysis by the organization’s Crisis Evidence Lab corroborates reports of indiscriminate shelling and mass looting, as well as identifies signs of new mass burials near two of the city’s churches.

“The evidence is compelling and points to a chilling conclusion,” said Deprose Muchena, Amnesty International’s Director for East and Southern Africa.

“Ethiopian and Eritrean troops carried out multiple war crimes in their offensive to take control of Axum,” Muchena said. “Above and beyond that, Eritrean troops went on a rampage and systematically killed hundreds of civilians in cold blood, which appears to constitute crimes against humanity”.

EHRC’s Findings

Responding to Amnesty International report, Ethiopian Human Rights Commission Chief Commissioner Daniel Bekele said “Amnesty findings should be taken very seriously”.

“It would be a useful contribution for an ongoing investigation by EHRC throughout the Tigray region including Axum,” Daniel said.

EHRC said the commission has not finalized its investigation on the mater.

But preliminary findings indicate the killing of “an, as yet, unknown number of civilians by Eritrean soldiers in the city of Axum in retaliation for an earlier attack by TPLF soldiers who were joined by a small number of local residents”, the EHRC added.

The commission also said it has learned the attack was carried out by Eritrean soldiers after the TPLF soldiers left the area.

Govt’s response

On Thursday, governments said relevant authorities are investigating into alleged crimes and incidents “to ascertain facts and ensure accountability where it is established that crimes have been committed”.

“We are aware that such investigations are already underway by the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission (EHRC) in relation to some of the allegations and incidents that have been reported by various entities, including crimes of sexual violence and allegations relating to incidents in the city of Axum,” the government said in a statement.

Furthermore, the Federal Police and Prosecutors are also undertaking the necessary inquiry to ensure accountability, it said.

These institutions will continue to communicate to the public their findings and based on these findings the Government of Ethiopia will take the appropriate measures in accordance with the law, it said.

“While tragic incidents and unfortunate events do occur in conflict situation, the Government of Ethiopia does not condone any act that gratuitously puts the lives of civilians in danger,” the statement concludes.

Featured Image: The conflict has left Tigray’s population in dire need of humanitarian aid [AFP]

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