Ethiopia: Fears of fresh atrocities loom in Tigray as conflict intensifies

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Last week the Ethiopian government captured the town of Shire in Tigray, which hosts thousands of forcibly displaced Tigrayans

In August and September, multiple air strikes in Mekelle and Adi Daero killed hundreds of civilians, including children

‘We have already seen in this conflict that impunity for previous atrocities will only embolden security forces to commit more heinous crimes’ - Muleya Mwananyanda

Warring factions involved in the ongoing conflict in northern Ethiopia must protect civilians amid intensifying hostilities in the Tigray region, warned Amnesty International today.   

Last Tuesday (18 Oct), the Ethiopian government captured the major town of Shire in northwestern Tigray - which hosts thousands of forcibly displaced Tigrayans - as well as the towns of Alamata and Korem in the south of the region.

The Government claims it is trying to minimise civilian casualties by avoiding urban fighting and instructing their forces to follow strict rules of engagement. However, reports received by Amnesty appear to show this is not the case.

Since 2020, Amnesty has documented grave human rights violations by all parties of the conflict in the Tigray region, which may amount to war crimes and crimes under international law. 

Muleya Mwananyanda, Amnesty International's Director for East and Southern Africa, said: 

“Tigrayan civilians are afraid that the widespread abuses, such as unlawful killings, sexual violence and systematic attacks, that were rampant when the Ethiopian National Defence Forces and its allied forces were in control of these areas from November 2020 to June 2021, might happen again.

“We have already seen in this conflict that impunity for previous atrocities will only embolden security forces to commit more heinous crimes. The war crimes and crimes against humanity Amnesty has documented should never be allowed to happen again.

“Military and civilian officials must recognise their duty to prevent and prosecute war crimes committed by their forces. Failure to do so implicates them in these crimes.”

Fear of history repeating

In August and September of this year, multiple air strikes in Mekelle and Adi Daero killed hundreds of civilians, including children. Between 6 and 12 September, the Eritrean army, which is allied with the Ethiopian National Defence Forces, extrajudicially executed at least 40 people, including Eritrean refugees, in Sheraro town.  

Ethiopian authorities must suspend and remove from active duty all those implicated in human rights violations and war crimes - including in the Eritrean army and Amhara militia - and ensure that they are immediately investigated.

Amnesty is calling on Ethiopian authorities to allow unrestricted access to Tigray, so that impartial and effective humanitarian relief can be delivered. Ethiopian authorities should also allow international, regional and other human rights mechanisms to conduct independent and credible investigations on past and present atrocities in the northern Ethiopian conflict. 

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