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Ethiopia: Investigation confirms scores of civilians killed in Tigray state massacre

Photo and video evidence show scores killed and wounded in knife and machete attacks on night of 9 November

Witnesses say Tigray People’s Liberation Front responsible

‘This is a horrific tragedy’ - Deprose Muchena

Amnesty International has verified video footage and photographs that show scores of people were attacked with knives and machetes, with hundreds feared dead, in Ethiopia’s Tigray Region on the night of 9 November.

The gruesome evidence shows bodies being carried away on stretchers or strewn across the town of Mai-Kadra (May Cadera) in the western Tigray state of Ethiopia. Amnesty’s Crisis Evidence Lab used satellite imagery to geolocate and confirm the exact location where the crimes were committed (14.071008, 36.564681).

Amnesty spoke to witnesses providing food and supplies to the Ethiopian Defense Forces immediately after the deadly attack, on the morning of 10 November, who found dead bodies and injured survivors strewn across the town. Witnesses confirmed that the majority of dead bodies were found in the town centre, near the Commercial Bank of Ethiopia, and along a road that exits to the neighbouring town of Humera.

Gaping wounds confirm use of knives and machetes

Witnesses told Amnesty that victims had gaping wounds which appear to have been inflicted by sharp weapons such as knives and machetes. Amnesty has confirmed these reports after commissioning an independent pathologist to verify the claims.

One distraught witness told Amnesty:

“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. It is horrible and I am really sad that I witnessed this in my life.”

‘Soaked in blood”

Amnesty has not yet been able to confirm who was responsible for the killings, but has spoken to witnesses who said forces loyal to the Tigray People’s Liberation Front were responsible - apparently carrying out the killings after they suffered a defeat at the hands of federal Ethiopian Defense Forces. Three people told Amnesty that survivors of the massacre said they were attacked by members of the Tigray Special Police Force and other Tigray People’s Liberation Front members.

A civilian who entered the town after it was retaken told Amnesty:

“There was a military operation by the Ethiopian Defense Forces and Amhara Special Force against the Tigray Special Police and militia during the daytime on 9 November. After they defeated the Tigray forces, the Ethiopian Defense Forces spent the night on the outskirts of Mai-Kadra town.

“When we entered, we saw a lot of dead bodies, soaked in blood, on the streets and rental dormitories frequented by seasonal workers. I am still in shock struggling to cope with the experience.”

This was corroborated by another eyewitness, who said:

“We went to the town immediately after the army and the Amhara Special Force took control of Mai-Kadra town on 10 November at around 10 am. The army entered … after encircling the town overnight. There was no exchange of fire for the army to take over the town. But when we entered the town, what we saw was devastating. The roads were strewn with dead bodies especially in the centre of the town, and on the road that connects the town to Humera.”

While the official death toll in Mai-Kadra is not yet known, the Amhara regional government’s media agency AMMA reported there were around 500 victims, adding that they were primarily non-Tigrayan residents of the town. A man who is helping to clear the bodies from the streets told Amnesty that he had looked at the state-issued identification cards of some victims, and most were Amhara.

Deprose Muchena, Amnesty International’s East and Southern Africa Director, said:

“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.

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

“The government must restore all communication to Tigray as an act of accountability and transparency for its military operations in the region, as well as ensure unfettered access to humanitarian organisations and human rights monitors.

“The Ethiopian authorities must immediately, thoroughly, impartially and effectively investigate this blatant attack on civilians and bring those responsible to justice in fair trials.

“The Tigray People's Liberation Front commanders and officials must make clear to their forces and their supporters that deliberate attacks on civilians are absolutely prohibited and constitute war crimes.

“All parties in the Tigray conflict must ensure full respect for international humanitarian law and human rights law in their operations. The safety and protection of civilians must be paramount.”

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