Tigray Conflict: Report Calls For Accountability For Violations, Abuses by All Parties

ADDIS ABABA – A joint investigation by the United Nations and Ethiopian right group today says all sides involved in the war in Tigray, to varying degrees, committed violations, but no some of which may amount to war crimes.

The Joint Investigation Team (JIT) drawn from the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission (EHRC) and the UN Human Rights Office, however, said there is no evidence that confirms starvation was used as a weapon of war in the conflict or genocide committed.

The JIT covers the period from 3 November until 28 June 2021 when the Ethiopian Government declared a unilateral ceasefire, visiting several locations, including Mekelle, Humera, Mai Kadra, Bahir Dar and Addis Ababa and conducting 269 confidential interviews with victims and witnesses.

How it starts

The report says the Tigray Special Forces (TSF) and allied militia attacked the Northern Command of the Ethiopian National Defence Forces (ENDF) and took control of the bases and the weaponry on November 3, 2020.

The following day, it says the federal government announced a military operation against the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) and its forces.

The ENDF, the Amhara Special Forces (ASF) and allied militia, and the Eritrean Defence Forces (EDF) accordingly started a military offensive against the TPLF forces and allied militia in Tigray.

The violent conflict resulted in serious violations of international human rights law, humanitarian, and refugee law, says the report published a day after the government declared nationwide state of emergency.

Call for Accountability

Speaking to reporters in Addis Ababa, Chief Commissioner of the EHRC, Daniel Bekele said the violations “we have identified may amount to crimes against humanity, war crimes and others but not genocide”.

Michelle Bachelet, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, who also gave a press briefing in Geneva, said the conflict has been “marked by extreme brutality”.

“The gravity and seriousness of the violations and abuses we have documented underscore the need to hold perpetrators accountable on all sides,” Bachelet said.

Since the June cut-off date of the joint report, the conflict has now expanded to Amhara and Afar regions with more reports of violations and abuses coming out.

“EHRC remains engaged in monitoring the human rights situation since end of June and will be sharing its findings in due course,” Bekele said.

More findings

On attacks against civilians, the report says there are reasonable grounds to believe all parties to the conflict – including the ENDF, EDF and Tigrayan forces – either directly attacked civilians and civilian objects or carried out indiscriminate attacks resulting in civilian casualties and destruction or damage to civilian objects.

During its visit to Humera, the JIT team saw visible shell marks on walls and craters in the streets.

On Unlawful or extrajudicial killings and executions, the JIT concludes that these were perpetrated by the ENDF, EDF and Amhara militia, as well as by the TSF and militias affiliated with the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF).

The report details how on 9 and 10 November a Tigrayan youth group known as Samri killed more than 200 ethnic Amhara civilians in Mai Kadra.

Revenge killings were then committed in Mai Kadra against ethnic Tigrayans after the ENDF and ASF had captured the town.

On 28 November, the EDF killed more than 100 civilians, mostly young men, in Axum in central Tigray.

“War crimes may have been committed since there are reasonable grounds to believe that persons taking no direct part in hostilities were wilfully killed by parties to the conflict,” the report says.

In addition, killings in some instances appear to have been committed as part of a widespread and systematic attack against a selected civilian population and therefore may also amount to crimes against humanity.


“The torture and ill-treatment of civilians and captured combatants have been an expression of the brutality exhibited by all sides during the conflict,” the report says.

Victims were beaten with electric cables and metal pipes, detained incommunicado, threatened with guns to their heads and deprived of food or water.

Civilians in Western Tigray were tortured and ill-treated mainly because of their ethnic identities as Amhara, according to the report.

Elsewhere, captured soldiers and fighters, as well as civilians suspected of providing support to them, were tortured.

On 2 April in Samre, Eritrean soldiers forcibly paraded at least 600 Tigrayan men who were stripped to their underpants or completely naked.

The report also details how Tigrayan forces also subjected captured ENDF soldiers to public view and insults.

On arbitrary detentions and enforced disappearances, the report says ENDF detained individuals in secret locations and military camps, in many cases arbitrarily.

Tigrayan forces and groups allied to them also arbitrarily detained and abducted non-Tigrayan civilians some of whom were killed or disappeared.

On Pillage, looting and destruction of property, the report says the conflict has seen large-scale destruction and appropriation of property by all parties to the conflict.

Families whose crops and food were taken have had to rely on community members and humanitarian assistance to survive while looting of health centers has resulted in civilians losing access to health care, the report says.

Students across Tigray have also seen their education disrupted because their schools were used for military purposes, according to the report.

On Sexual and gender-based violence, the JIT says there are reasonable grounds to believe that all parties to the conflict committed sexual and gender-based violence, with the ENDF, EDF, and TSF implicated in multiple reports of gang rape.

In many cases, rape and other forms of sexual violence were used “to degrade and dehumanize the victims,” the report says.

The JIT conducted 30 interviews with women survivors, nearly half of whom had been gang-raped. Many had unwanted pregnancies and were infected with sexually transmitted diseases as a result, according to the report.

On Forcible displacement of civilians, the report says thousands of civilians have been forced to flee as a result of killings, rapes, destruction and looting of properties, fear of reprisal attacks, and as a result of ethnic and identity-based attacks, which was particularly the case in Western Tigray.

The report says the forced displacement of ethnic Amharas from their homes by the Tigrayan Samri youth group in Mai Kadra, followed by a retaliatory displacement perpetrated against ethnic Tigrayans.

These were not carried out to protect the security of the victims nor justified by military imperatives as required by international law, it says.

No evidence of deliberate denial of Aid

According to the JIT, no evidence found that confirms starvation was used as a weapon of war in the conflict.

The report reads impediments or delays in humanitarian assistance were attributed to active conflict, lack of functional local administrative bodies for coordination.

Tigray forces were also implicated in setting up road blockades delaying delivery of humanitarian relief, it says.

“The JIT could not confirm that there was deliberate or willful denial of humanitarian assistance to the civilian population in Tigray or the use of starvation as a weapon of war,” it says.

Regarding refugees, the report says between November 2020 and January 2021, the TSF and EDF violated the civilian character of refugee camps in Tigray by their presence in Shimelba refugee camp, which shelters Eritrean refugees.

The TSF and EDF put the security and lives of thousands of refugees at risk by fighting around the camp, resulting in the displacement of thousands of refugees, the disappearance of hundreds of refugees, and the destruction of the refugee camp, according to the Joint Investigation Team.


The JIT report makes extensive recommendations, including a call to all parties to the conflict to end all violations and abuses and to take all necessary measures to protect civilians and civilian infrastructure.

It calls on them to agree, without preconditions, to immediately end hostilities and end any measures that may exacerbate the already acute humanitarian crisis.

To the Government of Ethiopia, the JIT advised for prompt, thorough and effective investigations by independent and impartial bodies into allegations of violations and to hold those responsible accountable.

Investigations and prosecutions of all reported cases of unlawful or extra-judicial killings and executions should be a priority, with victims and their families of victims being involved and kept fully informed.

The JIT also says the government of Eritrea should a undertake investigations meeting international standards, and urged to immediately release Eritrean refugees detained in the country.

There are also numerous recommendations for the international community, including the UN. “These include the promotion and support of all efforts to reach a cessation in hostilities and achieve sustainable and inclusive peace, including support for effective accountability measures,” says the JIT.


Featured Image caption: Chief Commissioner of the EHRC, Daniel Bekele, speaking to reporters in Addis Ababa on November 3, 2021.