Friday September 30, 2022
By Lenin Ndebele
Units of Ethiopian army patrol the streets of Mekelle city of the Tigray region, in northern Ethiopia. Minasse Wondimu Hailu/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images
The recently released International Commission of Human Rights Experts on Ethiopia (ICHREE) report shows that both Tigrayan and Ethiopian Defence Forces (EDF) were responsible for gross human rights violations.
The report was released less than a year after another report by Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch had highlighted ethnic cleansing in Tigray by security forces from Ethiopia’s Amhara region.
The report, the first to link blame to the Tigray People's Liberation Front (TPLF), highlights graphic details of the bombing of refugee camps, sexual violations such as rape, shooting, and killing of civilians, and torture.
One of the survivors of TPLF's brutality interviewed in the report by the International Commission of Human Rights Experts on Ethiopia spoke about how they were tortured and shot at with the intent to kill.
"On 9 September 2021, at approximately 16:00, five Tigrayan (fighters) came to my house, took me and my three brothers and beat us. A few metres from my house… they shot us in the back. I survived but my brothers died," he said recalling his near-death experience as Tigrayan forces advanced on the town of Kobo in northern Amhara.
Many female survivors faced new hardship after their husbands and male relatives were killed.
"Two [Tigrayan] attackers entered our compound, beat me with a stick, and shot and killed my husband. He used to take care of me. I'm now left with only the children and feed them whatever I can find," a female survivor informed the commission.
One of the most horrific attacks by the EDF on civilians to date was a drone attack on a camp for Internally Displaced People (IDPs) in January this year.
The report detailed that the drone strike had killed and injured approximately 60 civilians and destroyed civilian infrastructure.
"Running out of the house [fleeing the drone] we were bombed on our way to the gate. Mothers were carrying their children; who died trying to leave the compound," a survivor told the commission.
Interviews with survivors, service providers, humanitarian workers, and others, confirm that rape and sexual violence against Tigrayan women and girls were common while the ENDF controlled large parts of the Tigray region.
"Although information received by the commission indicates that more than 1 000 women and girls have been subjected to such acts, Tigrayan service providers indicate that this figure could be significantly higher," the report says.
Rapes of Tigrayan women and girls were frequently accompanied by other forms of humiliation. Survivors reported being threatened with guns, kicked, and beaten.
In some cases foreign objects were inserted into their bodies.
Rape and sexual violence were also committed by Tigrayan forces. Many of these crimes were committed after Tigrayan forces took control of parts of Amhara in August 2021.
"Women and girls reported being raped/gang-raped by Tigrayan fighters in their homes during searches, or while hiding with friends or relatives. Some were raped in nearby forested areas. In several cases, Tigrayan forces told victims the rapes were revenge for the widespread rape of Tigrayan women and girls by Eritrean soldiers," read the report.
One victim said: "There were two of them. One was holding a stick. He beat me and made me walk in front of him. They took us to a nearby bushy area and began raping us. As one raped me, the other pointed his gun at me. I wanted to run away. I asked him: 'Don't you have any sisters? Why don't you just kill us?'. He told me to keep quiet and said they were taking revenge."
Survivors from all walks of life face long-term physical and mental health consequences, including trauma, unwanted pregnancy, and HIV.
According to service providers interviewed in the report, there was a high rate of pregnancy among rape survivors in Tigray, with a large percentage having to have abortions.
The social stigma of rape has destroyed the community's social fabric by leading to the ostracisation of survivors, divorce, broken families, and abandoned children.
The report's shortcomings
The ICHREE report followed one by the Joint Investigation Team (JIT), released in November last year.
However, the JIT report was rejected by Tigrayan authorities as "incomplete, biased or ignoring the scale of violations by different parties".
The Ethiopian authorities also urged ICHREE to investigate issues that took place after the 16-30 May period covered by JIT. As a result, ICHREE's work had to make sure it didn't duplicate the JIT report.
The Eritrean government, which plays a central role in the conflict, fighting alongside EDF, declined to be interviewed for the report.
Both Tigrayan and Ethiopian authorities were uncooperative in response to questions sent to them.
"The commission sent a list of issues to the Ethiopian Federal Government and Tigray authorities in mid-August 2022. The federal government did not reply by the time of submission; the Regional Government of Tigray submitted a preliminary general response on 2 September 2022," the report said.
The Ethiopian federal government refused the commission access to areas outside Addis Ababa, meaning the scope of the commission was narrow, regulated, and forced to do remote interviews.
The commission encountered many obstacles to its work, preventing it from fully fulfilling its mandate. It also only had two full-time human rights investigators.
Furthermore, due to logistical and administrative issues beyond its control, it could only begin its investigation in mid-June.
On 28 September, the United Nations Security Council members held an Informal Interactive Dialogue (IID) on the situation in Ethiopia.
Previously, holding a private meeting in a closed formal format was also considered but according to the security council report, "some members were not comfortable with this option, apparently fearing that holding a formal meeting would set a precedent that might lead to Ethiopia being placed on the council’s formal agenda".
A formal meeting would have led to the adoption of the ICHREE report to verify the evolving situation on the ground.