Amnesty International is accusing Tigrayan forces of deliberately killing dozens of unarmed civilians and gang-raping dozens of women and girls in the northern Amhara region of Ethiopia. This comes as the Ethiopian government and Tigrayan rebel forces remain at war, and just last year Amnesty similarly accused the Ethiopian government of subjecting Tigrayan women and girls to rape, gang rape, sexual slavery, sexual mutilation and other forms of torture. “These are deliberate attacks which constitute war crimes and possibly may also constitute crimes against humanity,” says Amnesty’s Donatella Rovera, who led the investigation behind this most recent report. While Amnesty has been barred by the Ethiopian government from investigating these crimes on the ground, she says they have used satellite imagery to corroborate the testimonies of civilians who have escaped attacks by both Ethiopian government and Tigrayan rebel forces that began last July.
AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org. I’m Amy Goodman, with Nermeen Shaikh.
Lawmakers in Ethiopia have voted to lift a state of emergency that was imposed in November when forces from the Tigray region threatened to march to Addis Ababa. The Ethiopian government, which is led by the Nobel Peace Prize winner Abiy Ahmed, has been at war with the Tigray People’s Liberation Front for 15 months. Both sides have been accused of committing war crimes in the conflict that’s left thousands of people dead and millions displaced.
Amnesty International has just released a report accusing Tigrayan forces of deliberately killing dozens of people and gang-raping dozens of women and girls in northern Ethiopia’s Amhara region. Last year, Amnesty accused Ethiopian government forces and their allies of subjecting Tigrayan women and girls to rape, gang rape, sexual slavery, sexual mutilation and other forms of torture.
We’re joined now once again by Donatella Rovera, senior crisis response adviser at Amnesty International, lead investigator of the new Amnesty report, joining us from Tripoli, Libya.
Welcome back to Democracy Now!, Donatella. Tell us what you found.
DONATELLA ROVERA: So, during the period when the Tigrayan rebels were in control of parts of the Amhara region, they engaged in very widespread abuses against the civilian population, deliberately killing men who were not armed, who were not fighters, raping and gang-raping women. These attacks were often accompanied by ethnic slurs, by sort of declaration of revenge, telling the victims that they were doing this to them in revenge for what Amhara forces had done in the Tigray region. So we’re not talking about a situation where civilians are caught in the crossfire between two parties that are fighting. These are deliberate attacks which constitute war crimes and possibly may also constitute crimes against humanity. They are widespread, because we’ve found evidence of such crimes in a number of different areas that were under the control of the Tigrayan forces. And so, deliberate attacks against defenseless civilians.
In addition, Tigrayan forces also looted property, both people’s homes but also public property such as schools and medical facilities. And that resulted in even more misery for the civilians, both for those who were left for dead, when others were killed and they sustained injuries, as well as for the women and girls. I mean, some of the girls were as young as 14, who were raped and gang-raped by Tigrayan forces, and who were then unable to receive any kind of medical care until much later, when they were able to reach areas under government control where medical facilities were functioning, because in the areas where the Tigray forces operated, they looted and pillaged medical facilities. So, you know, such action made the crimes even worse for the survivors.
NERMEEN SHAIKH: Donatella, 'til last July, Tigrayan forces were confined to Tigray itself, fighting only defensively. But the situation has since changed, since these forces started spreading to Amhara and beyond. Could you explain what's happened since? And then talk about some of the obstacles that you encountered in investigating these crimes, who you were able to speak to, who testified to you about these possible war crimes.
DONATELLA ROVERA: Indeed. Since the conflict broke out in November 2020 and until last July, July 2021, the overwhelming majority of the violations were committed by Ethiopian government forces and the associated Amhara militias and special forces, as well as the Eritrean forces that have been cooperating with Ethiopian government forces. And the victims of those attacks, massacre, large-scale killings, widespread sexual violence, rapes, gang rapes, sexual mutilation, sexual slavery — all of that was being perpetrated against Tigrayans by Ethiopian government forces and associated Amhara militias.
The situation changed significantly when Tigrayan forces allied to the Tigrayan People’s Liberation Front started to operate and to take control of parts of the Amhara and Afar regions, which are the regions neighboring the Tigray regions. And there, in the areas that came under their control, they perpetrated widespread abuses, as we’ve been able to document.
Now, documenting abuses and war crimes and possible crimes against humanity, by all sides, has been extremely difficult, essentially because the Ethiopian government, you know, which is a government led by a prime minister whose a recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize but who has refused access to the conflict-affected areas to any international human rights organization — not just to Amnesty International but any international human rights organization. So we’ve not been able to go there and investigate on the ground.
So, we’ve been able to speak to Tigrayans who fled to Sudan, and so — you know, to go to the camps in eastern Sudan. And for this, from the Amhara region, I’ve been able to speak to those who fled the areas under the Tigrayan forces’ control, because a blackout was imposed there, as it was imposed in Tigray, so no telephone, no internet. So, it’s been incredibly difficult and time-consuming to find people, survivors, witnesses, relatives of victims, in other places, to the places where they fled to and where there has been the possibility to communicate with them.
We’ve also been able to corroborate testimonies by interrogating satellite imagery. So, for example, in Kobo, satellite imagery shows us large numbers of new graves in the specific places where witnesses and survivors told us that they had buried the bodies of those who were killed in September last year by the Tigrayan forces. Satellite imagery has also been useful in corroborating damage to certain facilities, such as schools and hospitals, for which we had received testimonies from residents.
And we’ve also been able to speak to medical personnel, social workers, who have provided medical care and social support to some of the women and girls who have been subjected to these horrendous sexual violence attacks.
AMY GOODMAN: Donatella, we just have 30 seconds, but what is Amnesty calling for?
DONATELLA ROVERA: We’re calling for, obviously, for those who were — for the perpetrators to stop and for the perpetrators to be stopped, to be removed from position of powers, and for the Ethiopian government to cooperate with the international community and allow investigators into the country, and for greater efforts and engagement both from U.N. mechanism and African Union mechanism. The African Union is the region’s main body, and its own human rights commission hasn’t been allowed into Ethiopia. And more pressure is needed on all perpetrators to ensure accountability for the perpetrators and justice for the victims.
*AMY GOODMAN: We want to thank you so much for being with us, Donatella Rovera, senior crisis response Adviser at Amnesty International, lead investigator on the new Amnesty report titled “Ethiopia: Summary Killings, Rape and Looting by Tigrayan Forces in Amhara.” Finally, today, the biggest news,
And finally, today, the biggest news. Nermeen, would you like to break it?
NERMEEN SHAIKH: A very big congratulations to our dear news director Deena Guzder on the birth of her baby boy on February 11th. Welcome to the world, Rustam Guzder Turner!
AMY GOODMAN: Ah, Rustam. We are so excited about this new little chap-ter in the family of Peter and Deena and all of us at Democracy Now!
That does it for our show. Democracy Now! has a job opening — Rustam isn’t quite old enough yet — for human resources manager. Check it out. I’m Amy Goodman, with Nermeen Shaikh.