Almost 2,000 people killed in more than 150 massacres perpetrated by soldiers, paramilitaries and insurgents in Tigray have been identified by researchers studying the conflict. The oldest victims were 90 years old and the youngest were babies.
The identifications are based on reports from a network of informants in the northern province of Ethiopia led by a team from the University of Ghent in Belgium. The team, which has been studying the conflict in Tigray since it erupted last year, has collated reports with testimonies from family and friends, media reports and other sources.
The list is one of the most comprehensive public records of the mass slaughter of civilians during the war and will increase international pressure on Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, who has claimed that many reports of atrocities are exaggerated or fabricated.
Abiy launched a military offensive in November to “restore the rule of law” in Tigray by overthrowing the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), the then-ruling political party in the province, following a surprise attack on a Tigray base. federal army.
The offensive was declared successful after the TPLF leadership evacuated its stronghold from Mekelle, the provincial capital, and an interim administration loyal to Addis Ababa was installed.
However, mass killings and violence against civilians have continued since then as federal forces and their allies fight insurgents. There have been clashes in recent days around the town of Selekleka, on a key road in the center of Tigray.
Twenty of the massacres the team listed, defined as incidents in which at least five people were killed, occurred in the past month. They include the killing of some 250 civilians over three days in Humera, a city of great economic and strategic importance on the western edge of Tigray, where ethnic cleansing of local communities Has been reported.
Eight days ago, Eritrean soldiers searching for suspected TPLF insurgents killed 13 people in Grizana, a town 50 miles southwest of Mekelle in an area where fierce fighting has been fought. Among the victims were three 50-year-old men, several women, a 15-year-old and a two-year-old.
Professor Jan Nyssen, a geographer who led the research and who has spent decades living and working in Tigray, said the research was “like a war memorial.”
He said: “These individuals must not be forgotten and these war crimes must be investigated… The list is to show the magnitude of what is happening. We know that there are many more but… we know the name and the circumstances of these 1,900 ”.
The list of identified victims was compiled after more than 2,000 phone calls, including around 100 in-depth interviews with witnesses. The full list of victims the team has compiled from social media posts and other sources totals more than 7,000. The main findings of the research based on the information were published on thursday, and the names were posted on Twitter.
Investigators found that only 3% of the identified victims had been killed in airstrikes or artillery. Most had been shot to death in summary executions during searches or in organized massacres such as that of Aksum, in which 800 people are believed to have died, or in the city of Mai Kadra, where 600 died in the violence attributed to militias loyal to the TPLF.
More than 90% of the identified victims were men. Among the incidents in which guilt can be safely determined, Ethiopian soldiers appear to have been responsible for 14% of the killings, Eritrean troops who have fought alongside federal forces for 45%, and irregular paramilitaries from the neighboring province. of Amhara 5%. Witnesses blamed Ethiopian and Eritrean soldiers operating together in 18% of the cases.
Tim Vanden Bempt, one of the investigators, said the team’s list of massacres did not include the perpetrators because the information was often fragmentary.
“Much is still unknown. There are many incidents where we cannot conclude which side is responsible for the moment. So, for example, there may have been two or three massacres committed by fighters aligned with the TPLF, but we can’t say for sure, ”he said.
Abiy publicly recognized the possibility of war crimes in Tigray for the first time last month. He told MPs that despite the “hype propaganda of the TPLF … reports indicate that atrocities have been committed in the Tigray region.”
He called the war a “nasty thing” and promised that soldiers who had raped women or committed other war crimes would be held responsible.
Eritrean officials have described accusations of atrocities committed by his soldiers calling them “scandalous lies”.
Humanitarian officials have said that a growing number of people may be starving in Tigray. Madiha Raza of the International Rescue Committee recently visited the province and said conditions were dire.
“The situation in rural areas is the worst. Medical centers, schools, hospitals, banks and hotels have been looted. The people I interviewed had heard various reports of arrests and killings of civilians. Farm animals and cereals are being burned or destroyed and scare tactics are being used throughout the conflict, ”Raza said.
Reports of widespread human rights abuses continue, including a wave of sexual assaults. More than 500 rape cases have been reported at five clinics in Tigray, the UN said last month. The actual numbers are likely to be much higher due to stigma and a lack of health services, he said.
Selam, a 26-year-old farmer, fled her home in the central city of Korarit with her husband, children and hundreds more in mid-November “because Amhara’s special forces beat and killed people.” The family walked for a month to get to safety.
“We saw many corpses during our trip … I witnessed how many women were raped in front of my eyes. Five or more soldiers would rape each woman. Some of them were left for dead because of the number of men who raped them, ”he said.
Other witnesses described teenagers with “broken bones after being raped by 15 or 16 men each.” Metal fences have recently been installed at the University of Mekelle to protect the shelters that house female students.
Ethiopia’s ambassador to the UN, Taye Atskeselassie Amde, said last week that his government took allegations of sexual violence very seriously and had deployed a fact-finding mission.
In a leaked recording of a meeting last month between foreign diplomats and an Ethiopian army general, Yohannes Tesfamariam, he described the conflict in Tigray as a “dirty war” and civilians as defenseless.
The lead author of the Ghent report, Dr. Sofie Annys, said that its maps and database would be updated regularly.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism