ADDIS ABABA – Security forces and their allies committed abuses against Tigrayans in north-western Ethiopia that amounted to war crimes and crimes against humanity, said two rights groups in a report issued Wednesday.
In response, the government said it will examine “all allegations of violations of human rights”, but downplays their suggestion regarding “matters of internal boundaries”.
Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch (HRW) said Tigrayan civilians had been targeted in a “campaign of ethnic cleansing” since the outbreak of the conflict in November 2020.
The two groups said hundreds of thousand Tigrayans were forcibly expelled from the area in a “coordinated” manner by security forces and civilian authorities through ethnically-motivated rape, murder and other serious violations.
“These widespread and systematic attacks against the Tigrayan civilian population amount to crimes against humanity, as well as war crimes,” Amnesty and HRW said in the joint report.
The conflict in northern Ethiopia started in November 2020 after the region’s former ruling party, the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), orchestrated deadly attacks on federal army camps.
Federal and Amhara forces captured and installed a new administration to the area stretching from the Tekeze River to Sudan and claimed by both Amharas and Tigrayans.
The rights groups blamed the atrocities on newly-appointed civilian administrators of the area, and regional forces and irregular militias from the Amhara region.
“Since November 2020, Amhara officials and security forces have engaged in a relentless campaign of ethnic cleansing to force Tigrayans in Western Tigray from their homes,” said Kenneth Roth, Executive Director of Human Rights Watch.
“Ethiopian authorities have steadfastly denied the shocking breadth of the crimes that have unfolded and have egregiously failed to address them,” Roth said.
Ethiopian Human Rights Commission (EHRC) said the findings of the report in terms of the Maikadra killings of ethnic Amhara civilians and their forced displacements by the Samri group with the support of Tigray militia and police, and the retaliatory attacks and unlawful large scale displacement by Amhara Special Forces, militia and the Fano group of Tigrayan residents are consistent with what has been documented and reported by EHRC, as well as its Joint Investigation with the UN on Tigray (JIT).
“These acts of killings and large scale forced displacement by the parties may amount to war crimes and crimes against humanity,” RHRC Deputy Chief Commissioner Rakeb Messele said
The federal government declared a “humanitarian truce” last month, while the rebels agreed to a “cessation of hostilities” on the condition that aid reach Tigray.
Regardless of any truce or ceasefire, the groups said the federal and regional authorities “should allow unhindered, independent, and sustained humanitarian assistance.”
They also said “any consensual agreement by all parties should include the urgent deployment of an AU-led international peacekeeping force” to the area.
‘The report will be Examined’
In response to the report, the foreign ministry of Ethiopia issued a statement saying “the government will carefully examine the content” of the rights groups’ report and “give it due consideration”.
“The Government of Ethiopia is committed to holding accountable all those responsible for violations of human rights and humanitarian law,” the ministry said.
It is for this reason the Government established the Inter-ministerial Taskforce following the publication of the Joint Investigation by the EHRC and the UN, said the statement.
The foreign ministry, however, questioned the “validity of numerous political matters the two organizations felt necessary or in their remit to address”.
Firstly, it said, matters of internal boundaries are dealt with by constitutionally mandated bodies. “It is unwise for the activist organizations to pass judgments on such matters,” the ministry said. “This attitude is certainly not acceptable. They failed to exercise due diligence.”
The Government also expressed concern about the “ethnic undertones of the report that seem to apportion blame disproportionately while trying to exculpate others”.
“This fuels hatred and makes reconciliation and healing more difficult,” it said. “Responsibility is individual.”
“Simply blaming one group does not serve the cause of human rights and peace,” it added.