Many civilians brutally killed in Ethiopia’s Tigray region, Amnesty International says

Many civilians have been brutally killed in Ethiopia’s Tigray region amid fighting between the local and federal governments, Amnesty International said on Thursday.

The reported killings occurred in Mai-Kadra, a town in the region’s south-west, on the night of November 9, according to the international NGO.

Photographs and videos digitally verified and geolocated by Amnesty International showed bodies strewn across the town or being carried away on stretchers.

“We have confirmed the massacre of a very large number of civilians, who appear to have been day labourers in no way involved in the ongoing military offensive,” said Deprose Muchena, Amnesty International’s Director for East and Southern Africa.

“This is a horrific tragedy whose true extent only time will tell as communication in Tigray remains shut down.”

Ethiopia’s federal government declared “war” with the region’s ruling party, the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), earlier this month. Ethiopian Prime Minister and Nobel laureate Abiy Ahmed has ordered the Ethiopian Defense Forces to lead a “law enforcement operation” in the area, which includes air strikes.

Witnesses in Mai-Kadra, who were providing food and other supplies to the EDF, told Amnesty International they saw dead bodies, as well as injured survivors. The victims’ wounds appeared to be inflicted by sharp weapons, they told the human rights organization, which commissioned an independent pathologist to confirm the reports.

“Those wounded told me they were attacked with machetes, axes and knives. You can also tell from the wounds that those who died were attacked by sharp objects,” one unnamed witness told Amnesty International.

State-affiliated broadcaster Fana TV reported that Ethiopia’s federal army had killed 550 enemy fighters, though the identity and affiliation of the alleged fighters is unclear.

Since the escalation of fighting between government and regional forces in Tigray, at least 11,000 people have fled the region and entered neighboring Sudan, according to the UN’s refugee agency.

What Triggered Tensions?

The current round of tensions in Tigray started in August when Abiy’s government delayed scheduled elections because they said the risk of Covid-19 was too high. Officials in Tigray held their own election in September anyway, with more than two million people turning up to vote.

In retaliation, the federal government withheld funding from the TPLF leadership in Mekelle, promising to send it directly to local leaders instead. It set off a tit-for-tat series of recriminations and rhetoric between the regional and the federal government that has been steadily building.

Last week, Ethiopia’s federal government announced a six-month state of emergency, giving them broad security powers. On Thursday, the parliament voted to strip immunity from prosecution for 39 members of the House, including several high-ranking TPLF members and Tigray regional president Debretsion Gebremichael, according to a statement from a newly-established taskforce created to deal with the situation.

TPLF has accused the federal government of unfairly purging its party members.

Around 150 people from “ethnically diverse” backgrounds have also been detained in the capital Addis Ababa and various parts of the country, on suspicion of colluding with TPLF to incite “conflicts and carrying terror attacks,” according to another statement from the taskforce.