Ethiopia says Investigating alleged Killing in Axum

ADDIS ABABA – Ethiopia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MoFA) has responded to the Amnesty International report which alleged hundreds have been killed by security officers in Axum city of Tigray Regional State.

The international rights group said the killing occurred between November 28 and 29, 2020 during which the federal army took a major offensive to take control of the city from Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) forces.

The deadly attack on the Federal Army base in Tigray perpetrated by the forces of the outlawed TPLF party in early November prompting the federal government to start law enforcement operations in the region. Its purpose, officials said, “has been to restore law and order in the region and bring those criminals to justice”.

These operations were conducted with utmost precaution to avoid collateral damage on civilians and civilian institutions, the Foreign Ministry said.

However, “if at all there is any misconduct by anybody” during the operation, the ministry said “corrective measures will be taken”.

Ongoing Investigations

The government said pertinent Ethiopian institutions, including the Ethiopian Defense Forces are conducting the necessary internal review in this regard”.

The alleged human rights abuses, including sexual violence and other incidents, the Tigray region in general and the city of Axum in particular “are indeed matters of grave concern”, MoFA said.

“Similar to the massacre in Mai Khadra, the alleged incident in the city of Axum will have to be thoroughly investigated,” the government stressed.

A team composed of experts from the Federal Attorney General and the Federal Police Commission has already been deployed in the Tigray Region to carry out its investigative work.

The outcome of the investigations and their recommendations will “enable the government to bring the perpetrators to justice and comprehensively address alleged human rights violations and incidents that have occurred in the region, according to MoFA.

Officials have already arrested 36 people suspected of being directly involved in the massacre of innocent people in Mai Khadra and their case is being seen in Federal First Instance Court.

‘Serious report’

The Ethiopian Human Rights Commission (EHRC), which has been investigating and reporting on human rights issues in the region, said its experts are investigating the incident in Axum.

Its preliminary findings have confirmed looting, and sexual violence as well as damages to civilian infrastructures, according to EHRC’s officials.

“Amnesty findings should be taken very seriously,” said Daniel Bekele, Chief Commissioner of ERCH.

Many are awaiting the outcome of the EHRC’s investigation which, authorities said, will be publicized to the Ethiopian people and the international community in due course.

Tangible limitations

The Foreign Ministry too said Amnesty’s “report raises serious issues that should be of great concern”. It also pinpointed the limitation in the methodology Amnesty employed to produce the report.

The international rights group accused Ethiopia’s security officials of killing hundreds in the city of Axum after interviewing 41 witnesses via phone and refugees in Sudan .

“The report raises serious issues that should be of great concern but, obviously the methodology employed in producing the report has its own limitations as it depended on scanty information gathered from refugees in eastern Sudan and phone interviews with individuals in Axum,” MoFA said.

Officials said one of the sources cited in the report, for instance, is found not to be a priest as he claimed but a deceptive person who lives in Boston while urging organizations working in the area to carefully choose their sources.

“As the government has been making it clear on several occasions, some of the refugees who made it to eastern Sudan are former TPLF fighters,” it said. “They are engaged in intimidating refugees and propagating misinformation”.

Call to work together

“That is why it would have been appropriate for Amnesty International to undertake the necessary field work by visiting the region and talking to the competent Ethiopian authorities to uncover the truth,” the ministry added.

The government has expressed “readiness to collaborate with international human rights experts in accordance with the principle of complementarity, which gives primacy to national human rights institutions and mechanisms”.

“This is indeed the best way to facilitate a credible, transparent, independent, and impartial investigation of all allegations of violations by all parties,” the Ministry said.

The ministry also said the security situation in the region “is steadily improving”. “Humanitarian actors and the media are now given “unhindered access to the entire region,” it said, adding “expedited issuance of clearance will be implemented accordingly”.

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