Ethiopia: Eritrean soldiers committed war crimes and crimes against humanity despite truce - New Report
Atrocities against civilians in Tigray have continued since signing of the Cessation of Hostilities Agreement
Eritrea and Ethiopia are obliged to investigate and, where there is sufficient evidence, prosecute crimes under international law
‘They told me, “Whether you shout or not, no one is going to come and rescue you”. And then they raped me for around three months. They were taking turns on me, just like a doorkeeper’ – victim testimony
‘Eritrean soldiers [have subjected] women to horrific abuse including rape, gang rape and sexual enslavement, while civilian men were extrajudicially executed’ - Tigere Chagutah
The Eritrean Defense Forces (EDF) have committed war crimes and possibly crimes against humanity in the Tigray region, immediately before and after the signing of a Cessation of Hostilities Agreement (CoHA) between Ethiopia’s federal government and the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) in November last year, Amnesty International said in a new report released today.
The 46-page report, "Today or Tomorrow, They Should Be Brought Before Justice” – Rape, Sexual Slavery, Extra-Judicial Executions and Pillage by Eritrean Forces in Tigray, documents how EDF soldiers, allied to the Ethiopian government, have been responsible for rape and sexual slavery, extra-judicial executions and pillage.
Tigere Chagutah, Amnesty International’s Regional Director for East and Southern Africa, said:
“Despite the signing of the Cessation of Hostilities Agreement, atrocities against civilians in Tigray continued with Eritrean soldiers subjecting women to horrific abuse including rape, gang rape and sexual enslavement, while civilian men were extrajudicially executed.”
Amnesty interviewed witnesses, survivors and family members, who testified on the extra-judicial execution of at least 20 civilians by the EDF in Mariam Shewito district between 25 October and 1 November 2022. In addition to this, a social worker in the district provided a list of more than 100 names of people who had been extra-judicially executed within this period, although Amnesty was unable to independently corroborate all these cases remotely.
Testimonies were also collected from the Kokob Tsibah district. Here, for nearly three months after the signing of the agreement, EDF soldiers raped and sexually enslaved women, and extra-judicially executed 24 civilians.
Survivors of sexual violence and witnesses to killings told Amnesty they identified perpetrators through their camouflage, the Tigrigna dialect the soldiers spoke, and the type of interrogation questions they asked. The districts of Kokob Tsibah and Mariam Shewito are near the Eritrean border, and survivors say they could easily identify Eritrean soldiers.
Testimonies of survivors and witnesses were corroborated with satellite imagery and further information from social workers, medical experts who treated victims and survivors, local government officials, and civil society organisations.
Amnesty shared preliminary research findings with the Ethiopian and Eritrean governments on 17 August, but at the time of writing this, the organisation had not received a response.
Rape and sexual slavery of women
Amnesty interviewed 11 survivors of rape and sexual slavery in Kokob Tsibah district, where more than 40 women told a local civil society group that they had been subjected to rape and sexual slavery after the truce had been signed.
Some women were raped inside an EDF military camp, others in their own homes or inside homes taken over by the EDF. Amnesty interviewed four survivors of sexual violence who were held in an EDF camp in Kokob Tsibah district for nearly three months.
All names of victims have been changed to protect their identities.
One survivor named Fanta told Amnesty that five EDF soldiers gang-raped her for three consecutive days from 1 to 3 November.
She was kept in a house the EDF had occupied, before being moved to the EDF military camp where she was held captive with 14 other women.
“They kept taking turns raping me for the entire three months. They never left me for the entire three months. When one of them leaves, the other will come. Is there anything that EDF didn’t do? We were locked [inside the camp] since the day they [EDF] took us to the camp. We could not go out and get medical support. We could not visit our family. There were many women detained with me.”
According to survivors, a social worker and local interim government officials, EDF detained the women in the camp under suspicion of their spouses, sons, or relatives being members of the Tigrayan forces.
Bezawit, a 37-year-old mother of two, was forced into a nearby forest by EDF soldiers after they entered Kokob Tsibah district on 2 November 2022. She was raped by three EDF soldiers and held captive in her own house for nearly three months.
“They told me, ‘Whether you shout or not, no one is going to come and rescue you.’ And then they raped me for around three months since then. They were taking turns on me, just like a doorkeeper.”
Post-sexual violence care must be administered within 72 hours to provide preventive measures for sexually transmitted infections and pregnancy. Despite suffering numerous injuries, survivors of rape and sexual slavery interviewed for this research did not receive any medical care. Most of them only obtained medical treatment after the EDF left Kokob Tsibah on 19 January.
Together with previous documentation by Amnesty, the cases of rape and sexual slavery documented in Kokob Tsibah can be considered as part of a widespread and systematic attack directed against the civilian population and may amount to crimes against humanity.
Extrajudicial execution of civilians and pillage
Eritrean soldiers stationed in Mariam Shewito and Kokob Tsibah districts intentionally killed civilians while conducting house-to-house searches - allegedly in pursuit of members of the Tigrayan forces and their supporters.
Priest Meheretab, a member of the clergy, was sheltering with his wife, children and other residents in St Michael Church in Kokob Tsibah district on 2 November, when EDF soldiers entered the building looking for Tigrayan forces. The soldiers forced everyone to lie on the ground and beat them while interrogating them about their identities.He said a 70-year-old priest was shot dead by the EDF during the assault.
Yemane, 58, who was in the same room as the victim, and witnessed the incident, described the killing to Amnesty and said:
“I do not know what the priest said to one of the soldiers, but he shot the old man in the chest point blank. Then, [the EDF soldier] came to us and said, ‘If anyone tries to pick the body or try to bury him, you will all be killed.’”
Most of the 49 survivors, witnesses, and family members of victims interviewed by Amnesty said Eritrean soldiers also looted their properties and livestock. Many have been forced to depend on family members for shelter and food, while some have resorted to begging to survive.
Effective investigations into violations are critical
Since the outbreak of the Tigray conflict in November 2020, Amnesty has documented crimes under international law and other human rights abuses by all parties to the conflict, including Eritrean forces.
Eritrea and Ethiopia have an obligation to effectively investigate and, where there is sufficient evidence, prosecute crimes under international law, including alleged war crimes and crimes against humanity. This must be done in line with international standards on the right to a fair trial and without resort to the death penalty.
Amnesty is calling for the mandate of the International Commission of Human Rights Experts on Ethiopia (ICHREE) to be renewed during the upcoming UN Human Rights Council’s 54th session starting on 11 September.
Amnesty is also calling on the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights to rescind its decision to terminate the mandate of the Commission of Inquiry on the Situation in the Tigray Region of the Federal Republic of Ethiopia established in May 2021. In June this year, the mandate was terminated before the Commission of Inquiry had produced a final report.