ADDIS ABABA, 24 March 2021 – A preliminary report by the Ethiopian state-run rights group has blamed Eritrean soldiers for grave human rights violations and massacres in the Tigray region.
The Ethiopian Human Rights Commission (EHRC/Commission) soldiers from Eritrea for the massacres last November 28 and 29 of hundreds of civilians in holy city of Axum in Ethiopia’s northern Tigray region.
According to the report, the victims included residents of the city, persons internally displaced by the armed conflict from other parts of Tigray, and visitors.
Thousands of people had come from other parts of Ethiopia to the holy city to mark the annual Axum Tsion celebration.
Witnesses, residents, and family members described gruesome killings of victims in the presence of their children, wives, and mothers, according to the human rights commission.
The report is based on accounts provided by survivors, 45 families of victims, eyewitnesses and religious leaders in the city.
The commission says its team of researchers traveled to the region from last February 27 through last March 5, bringing back documentary evidence of the violations, including videos, audios and photographs from families of victims and relevant authorities.
The report says the crimes were committed by the Eritrean soldiers who were present in Aksum city at the time of the incident, suggesting that Eritrean troops have since withdrawn from Tigray.
The Ethiopoian and Eritrean govenrments previously and persistently rejected accusations that Eritrean forces were fighting alongside Ethiopian federal forces in the region.
On Tuesday, Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed admitted for the first time that troops from neighbouring Eritrea entered Tigray during the five-month-old conflict, ending months of denials by both Asmara and Addis Ababa.
In an address to lawmakers, he also admitted for the first time that atrocities like rape had been committed during the fighting, and promised perpetrators would be punished.
Aby Ahmed said Eritrean troops had crossed the border because they were concerned they would be attacked by TPLF forces, but the Eritreans had promised to leave when Ethiopia’s military was able to control the border.
The claim by Addis Ababa and Asmara is that TPLF repeatedly fired rockets at Eritrea after the conflict began.
Journalists have contradicted current claims by both capitals that Eritrean troops left Tigray a long time ago.
Reuters news agency reported Tuesday that its journalists on a trip to Tigray last week saw hundreds of men wearing Eritrean uniforms in buses with Eritrean plates on the main road between the regional capital Mekelle and Shire, and on the main streets of Shire.
Dozens of witnesses in Tigray told Reuters that Eritrean soldiers routinely killed civilians, gang-raped and tortured women and looted civilian households and crops. Some provided images of Eritrean trucks loaded with household goods.
The commission report says the violations are not ordinary crimes, but constitute grave contraventions of applicable international and human rights laws and principles.
The commission report also decries the looting, destruction and appropriation of property not justified by military necessity – including religious institutions and health facilities.
These violations may amount to crimes against humanity or war crimes, the EHRC says in its preliminary report.
The commission says their findings underscore the urgent need for a comprehensive investigation into the overall human rights situation in Tigray.
The United Nations Human Rights Council accepted the request of the Ethiopian government to conduct a joint investigation into the violations in Tigray.
The report has come under sharp criticism for failing to find violations committed by Ethiopian federal forces beyond what it calls law enforcement measures and actions taken reportedly to enforce a curfew that resulted in deaths and severe injuries.
While acknowledging the sacrifice consented by members of the military, the commission report stresses the need for those who commit human rights abuses to be held accountable for their actions.