Grave atrocities continue unabated in Ethiopia

September 23, 2023
2 mins read
A man passes by a destroyed tank on the main street of Edaga Hamus, in Ethiopia's Tigray region. Image: Yan Boechat/VOA

In Ethiopia, a year after a ceasefire was declared between the government and forces from the northern Tigray region, reports of unrelenting war crimes persist, according to the UN-appointed independent rights experts. They revealed that rape and other forms of sexual assault have endangered at least 10,000 people, the majority of whom are women and girls.

The experts have also issued warnings of “hallmark risks” associated with the potential for further escalation of violence, leading to more “atrocity crimes” and posing a broader security threat to East Africa.

The recent report from the International Commission of Human Rights Experts on Ethiopia documents atrocities perpetrated by “all parties to the conflict” since November 3, 2020, marking the onset of the armed conflict in Tigray. These acts include mass killings, sexual violence, starvation, the destruction of schools and medical facilities, forced displacement, and arbitrary detentions.

Commission Chair Mohamed Chande Othman underscored that violent confrontations were now “at a near-national scale” and highlighted “alarming” reports of violations against civilians in the Amhara region as well as ongoing atrocities.

“The situation in Oromia, Amhara, and other parts of the country, including ongoing patterns of violations, entrenched impunity, and increasing securitization of the state, carries significant risks of further atrocities and crimes,” Othman cautioned.

‘Mass detentions’

In the Amhara region, where a state of emergency was declared by the government last month, the Commission has received reports of “mass arbitrary detention” of civilians and at least one drone strike conducted by the state. Several urban centers in the region are currently under curfew, and a militarized “Command Post” system devoid of civilian oversight has been implemented. The Commissioners noted that such structures are frequently linked to severe violations.

“We are deeply concerned about the deteriorating security situation in Amhara and the persisting risk factors for atrocity crimes,” the UN experts stated.

Humanitarian needs in the region have escalated significantly. In early August, WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus emphasized that the people of Amhara “could not bear another conflict,” as nearly two million individuals required urgent healthcare assistance. This situation has been further complicated by the influx of refugees from war-torn Sudan.

Shifting focus to Tigray, Commissioner Radhika Coomaraswamy has raised concerns regarding the ongoing nature of rape and sexual violence perpetrated against women and girls by Eritrean forces in the region. She emphasized that the continued presence of Eritrean troops in Ethiopia demonstrates not only an entrenched culture of impunity but also the Federal Government’s continued support for and tolerance of such violations. The trauma resulting from the atrocities in Tigray is likely to persist for generations.

Source: Ethiopian Peace Observatory

The Commission has called for a “credible” process of truth, justice, reconciliation, and healing while highlighting the shortcomings of the transitional justice process initiated by Ethiopia’s Government. They contend that the government has failed to effectively prevent or investigate violations and has instead launched a “flawed” transitional justice process that overlooks the plight of victims.

The International Commission was established by the UN Human Rights Council in December 2021 to impartially investigate violations committed in Ethiopia since the start of the Tigray conflict in November 2020.

The report said the Ethiopian National Defence Forces, Eritrean Defence Forces, and allied regional special forces carried out a “widespread and systematic attack” against civilian populations in the form of murder, torture, rape and other violations.

Ethiopia, which has tried in the past to have the U.N.-mandated inquiry stopped, “has sought to evade international scrutiny,” according to the commission, whose requests to meet with government officials and travel to the country went unanswered.

Ethiopia’s government and its armed forces have repeatedly denied that their soldiers committed widespread crimes on their own, or with Eritrean forces, and have promised to investigate complaints of individual abuses.


Mariya Nadeem Khan

Mariya is a researcher within the Urban Socio-Spatial Development department at Erasmus University Rotterdam. She has an MA in Development Studies from Erasmus University and a Bachelor’s in International Relations from Leiden University. Her research builds on violence, nationalism, and social movements in South Asia and the GCC. Her other areas of interest include non-Western historiography, alternatives to the capitalist world economy, and Urdu literature.

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