Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch warned on Thursday that Amhara security forces were responsible for a surge of mass detentions, killings and forced expulsions of ethnic Tigrayans in the Western Tigray territory of northern Ethiopia.
The human rights groups said Tigrayan civilians attempting to escape the new wave of violence have been attacked and killed, and that scores in detention face life-threatening conditions including torture, starvation, and denial of medical care.
“The new onslaught of abuses by Amhara forces against Tigrayan civilians remaining in several towns in Western Tigray should ring alarm bells,” said Joanne Mariner, Amnesty International’s Director of Crisis Response.
“Without urgent international action to prevent further atrocities, Tigrayans, particularly those in detention, are at grave risk.”
Since armed conflict began in November 2020, Western Tigray, a disputed administrative territory, has been the site of some of the worst atrocities, including massacres, indiscriminate shelling, and large-scale forced displacement of the Tigrayan population.
On December 2, 2021, the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) reported that 1.2 million people have been displaced from Western Tigray since the beginning of the conflict. A December 9 OCHA report found that between November 25 and December 1, over 10,000 Tigrayans were newly displaced from Western Tigray. It also stated that Western Tigray remained inaccessible to aid agencies due to security concerns.
The rights groups said since early November, Amhara regional police forces and militias, including militia groups known as Fanos, have systematically rounded up Tigrayans in Adebai, Humera, and Rawyan.
They reportedly separated families, arrested teenagers age 15 and older and men and women civilians. They have forcibly expelled women and younger children, as well as sick and older people from the area. Some of those expelled have since arrived in Central Tigray, while others remain unaccounted for.
“Tigrayans, regardless of [their] sex and age, were taken to a school,” said one man in Rawyan who witnessed the house-to-house roundups of Tigrayans by Fano militia. “They separated the old from the young, took their money and other possessions. … Older people, parents were loaded on big trucks [going] east. They let them go with nothing, while the young remained behind.”
The human rights organizations cited satellite imagery captured between November 19 and December 5 as showing significant activity in Adebai, including moving vehicles, groups of people around a makeshift detention site, large amounts of debris on the main road, and burned structures, while imagery taken on December 5 in Humera showed 16 open-back trucks near the town’s central roundabout.
“The global paralysis on Ethiopia’s armed conflict has emboldened human rights abusers to act with impunity and left communities at risk feeling abandoned,” said Laetitia Bader, Horn of Africa director at Human Rights Watch.
“As evidence of atrocities mounts, world leaders should support the creation of an international investigative mechanism and the UN Security Council should put Ethiopia on its formal agenda.”