From Atrocities Watch Monitor N° 4, May 2022
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On 5 April 2022, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch released a joint report based on information collected between November 2020 and March 2022 through 427 interviews and other research.
The report establishes a clear pattern of ethnic cleansing of Tigrayans from Western Tigray by Amhara regional officials and regional special forces and militias, with the acquiescence and possible participation of the Ethiopian federal forces, and in some cases, participation of Eritrean forces. Ethnic cleansing was accomplished though crimes including, but not limited to, murder, enforced disappearances, torture, rape, sexual slavery and other forms of sexual and gender-based violence, persecution, unlawful imprisonment, denying access to humanitarian aid, and other inhumane acts designed to suppress the rights and presence in the area of targeted groups, such as not allowing them to speak their own language. These acts amount to serious human rights violations and violations of international humanitarian law, including war crimes and crimes against humanity.
This resulted in the forced displacement of hundreds of thousands of Tigrayans from their homes due to threats, intimidation, and a campaign of violence and forcible removal. To this day, the precise number of people displaced from Western Tigray remains unclear.
Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch issued recommendations to each of the parties to the armed conflict, the UN, the AU and other key actors. Key recommendations include the need to protect civilians by releasing those arbitrarily detained, ensuring unimpeded access to humanitarian aid and the restoration of basic services. To promote this protection, they suggest the creation and deployment of a UN-backed, AU-led international peacekeeping force to be deployed with the consent of the parties. They argue, however, that a neutral peacekeeping force, which can be trusted by all sides, is critical to building trust. The organisations also call for immediate demobilisation and disarmament of all irregular forces such as Fano and other militias and call on the UN Security Council to include Ethiopia in its formal agenda and impose an arms embargo on all warring parties.
Amnesty International’s secretary general, Agnès Callamard, insisted the international community had ”failed to reflect the gravity of the crimes that continue to unfold in western Tigray.” Kenneth Roth, Human Rights Watch Director reprimanded the Ethiopian government for having “denied the shocking breadth of the crimes that have unfolded and have egregiously failed to address them.” Laetitia Bader, Horn of Africa director at Human Rights Watch, highlighted the role of three prominent individuals Colonel Demeke Zewdu, head of security of the Western Tigray Zone; Dejene Maru “Shaleqa,” a commander of the Amhara special forces; and Belay Ayalew, believed to be an intelligence officer based in Humera. She called for the Ethiopian government to “immediately investigate them and suspend them from their positions of power where they continue to commit crimes against the civilians.”
Western Tigray remains the “thorniest obstacle to sustainable peace” in Ethiopia and the political disputes surrounding it could determine the fate of any negotiation between the federal government and Tigray.
The Ethiopian Federal Government released a statement the day after the report’s release indicating they would seriously examine all allegations of human rights violations and expressing concern regarding the “ethnic undertones” of the report, which they consider to disproportionately blame some parties and exculpate others. This, they argue, “fuels hatred and makes reconciliation and healing more difficult.” They argued that implementation of the report’s recommendations would further complicate peace efforts.
The Amhara Regional Government rejected the report and accused it of being biased. They accused both human rights organisations of spreading “false accusations that don’t play a positive role in preventing violations of human rights” and for “sharing the political stand of a designated terrorist group.” Spokesperson Gizachew Muluneh contended that the allegations were lies and fabricated news.
The Government of Tigray welcomed the findings of the report but critiqued that “the report does not even begin to scratch the surface when it comes [to] documenting the true scale of the barbaric crimes committed against Tigrayans.”
The US Department of State issued a press release expressing grave concern, requesting the release of those who had been arbitrarily detained and for granting international monitors access to all detention facilities. They also called on all foreign forces to withdraw from the country or regional security forces to leave neighbouring regions and the need for further investigation into the alleged atrocities and that accountability must be ensured.
The EU Spokesperson for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy condemned the violations in Western Tigray and called on the government to cooperate with the International Commission of Human Rights Experts on Ethiopia established by the Human Rights Council (HRC) in December 2021 and insisted an independent investigation is urgently needed, to establish accountability and ensure justice for victims.
 Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, “We Will Erase You from This Land,” 6 April 2022, https://www.hrw.org/report/2022/04/06/we-will-erase-you-land/crimes-against-humanity-and-ethnic-cleansing-ethiopias
 The report adopts the definition provided by the United Nations Commission of Experts on the former Yugoslavia as a “purposeful policy by an ethnic or religious group to remove, by violent and terror-inspiring means, the civilian population of another ethnic or religious group from certain geographic areas.”
 The Guardian, “Tigray has been the scene of ‘ethnic cleansing’, say human rights groups,” 6 April 2022, https://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2022/apr/06/tigray-has-been-the-scene-of-ethnic-cleansing-say-human-rights-groups
 The Citizen, “Rights groups accuse Ethiopian forces of committing war crimes in Tigray,” 6 April 2022, https://www.thecitizen.co.tz/tanzania/news/africa/rights-groups-accuse-ethiopian-forces-of-committing-war-crimes-in-tigray-3773160
 The East African, “Ethiopia: Rights watchdogs name ‘perpetrators’ of Tigray atrocities,” 7 April 2022, https://www.theeastafrican.co.ke/tea/news/rest-of-africa/rights-watchdogs-name-perpetrators-tigray-atrocities-3774132
 Ethiopia Peace Observatory, EPO Weekly 2-8 April 2022, 13 April 2022, https://epo.acleddata.com/2022/04/13/epo-weekly-2-8-april-2022/
 Twitter, FDRE Government Communication Service (@FdreService), 7 April 2022, https://twitter.com/FdreService/status/1511953365135151114?ref_src=twsrc%5Egoogle%7Ctwcamp%5Eserp%7Ctwgr%5Etweet
 All Africa, “Ethiopia: News – Amhara State Rejects Rights Groups Report Detailing Crimes Against Humanity, Ethnic Cleansing in Western Tigray,” 11 April 2022, https://allafrica.com/stories/202204120053.html
 SABC News, “US expresses alarm over reports of atrocities in Tigray,” 9 April 2022, https://www.sabcnews.com/us-expresses-alarm-over-reports-of-atrocities-in-tigray/
 Twitter, Tigray External Affairs Office ( @TigrayEAO), Statement on the Joint Report of Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch on Atrocity Crimes Committed in Western Tigray, 8 April 2022, https://twitter.com/TigrayEAO/status/1512466736712491010
 US Department of State, Press Release, Reports of Mass Atrocities in Western Tigray, 8 April 2022, https://www.state.gov/reports-of-mass-atrocities-in-western-tigray/
 European Union External Action, Ethiopia/Tigray: Spokesperson statement on the reports on human rights violations and abuses of civilians, 9 April 2022, https://www.eeas.europa.eu/eeas/ethiopiatigray-spokesperson-statement-reports-human-rights-violations-and-abuses-civilians_en