ADDIS ABABA – Fighters of Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) summarily executed dozens of civilians in two towns they controlled in Ethiopia’s northern Amhara region between August 31 and September 9, 2021, Human Rights Watch (HRW) said on Friday.
These killings, it said, highlight the urgent need for the United Nations Human Rights Council to establish an international investigative mechanism into abuses.
Fighters of the TPLF – a group designated as terrorist group by Ethiopian parlament earlier this year, entered the village of Chenna on August 31 and engaged in fighting with Ethiopian federal forces and allied Amhara militias.
Residents of the town told HRW that in the next five days TPLF forces summarily executed 26 civilians in 15 separate incidents, before withdrawing on Sept 4.
In the town of Kobo on Sept 9, Tigrayan forces summarily executed a total of 23 people in four separate incidents, witnesses said.
The killings were in apparent retaliation for attacks by farmers on advancing TPLF forces earlier that day.
“Tigrayan forces showed brutal disregard for human life and the laws of war by executing people in their custody,” said Lama Fakih, crisis and conflict director at Human Rights Watch.
“These killings and other atrocities by all sides to the conflict underscore the need for an independent international inquiry into alleged war crimes in Ethiopia’s Tigray and Amhara regions.”
The conflict in Northern Ethiopia started after the TPLF forces carried out a deadly attack on federal army based in Tigray region in November last year – prompting the central government to launch a law enforcement operations against the group behind the attack.
The federal government withdrew its from the region after declaring a unilateral ceasefire in July.
TPLF forces, however, expanded the conflict into the neighboring Amhara and Afar regions leading to large-scale displacement, with 3.7 million people in need of humanitarian assistance there.
In September and October, Human Rights Watch said it has remotely interviewed 36 people, including witnesses to killings, victims’ relatives and neighbors, religious figures, and doctors about fighting and abuses in and around Chenna Teklehaimanot village (Chenna) and the town of Kobo.
Nineteen people described seeing Tigrayan fighters in Chenna and Kobo summarily execute a total of 49 people who they said were civilians, providing 44 names.
The rights group also obtained three lists of civilians who had allegedly been killed in Chenna between August 31 and September 4. Taken together, the lists contain 74 names, 30 of which witnesses and relatives of those killed also mentioned to Human Rights Watch.
In addition to summary executions, civilians may also have been killed during the fighting from crossfire or heavy weapons, said the Human Rights Watch.
A 70-year-old man said that two TPLF fighters killed his son, 23, and nephew, 24, in his home in Chenna’s Agosh-Mado neighborhood on September 2.
“At about midday two Tigrayan fighters came to my compound … they asked [for] our identity cards and accused us of being members of the local defense forces,” he said, “Then they tied my son and nephew’s hands behind their backs and took them out through the gate of my compound and shot them dead there. Then they turned to me, and I begged them not to kill me and they left.”
According to HRW, witnesses also said that TPLF forces put civilians at grave risk by holding them in residential compounds and shooting from those compounds at Ethiopian troops positioned on nearby hills, drawing return fire. Such actions may amount to “human shielding,” a war crime.
The TPLF fighters seized control of Kobo in North Wollo district in mid-July.
According to residents of Kobo and nearby villages, on the morning of September 9, Tigrayan forces from Kobo conducted operations in neighboring villages.
As these forces searched for weapons in at least two villages, farmers there attacked the Tplf troops and fighting ensued.
Upon the figheters returned to Kobo shortly after midday, they attacked farmers working in the fields between the villages and Kobo.
Four residents described the summary execution of 23 people, including farmers returning to Kobo, in four incidents in the town, said HRW.