Eritrean troops operating in the Ethiopian city of Axum, Tigray,
committed a series of human rights and humanitarian law violations, including killing hundreds of civilians, Amnesty International said Friday
According to the report, Eritrean soldiers deliberately shot civilians on the street and carried out systematic house-to-house searches, extrajudicially executing men and boys.
The rights watchdog said that the massacre took place over an approximately 24-hour period on 28-29 November.
In the immediate aftermath of the massacre, Eritrean troops shot at those who sought to remove bodies from the streets, but later allowed residents to collect the bodies and bury them. Men from the community led the
collective effort, pulling carts piled with the bodies of relatives, friends, neighbours and strangers, which they brought to churches across the city for burial, many in mass graves.
“The evidence is compelling and points to a chilling conclusion. Ethiopian and Eritrean troops carried out multiple war crimes in their offensive to take control of Axum,” said Deprose Muchena of Amnesty International.
“Above and beyond that, Eritrean troops went on a rampage and systematically killed hundreds of civilians in cold blood, which appears to constitute crimes against humanity.
“This atrocity ranks among the worst documented so far in this conflict.”
The events in Axum — a city located on the road linking Shire to Adwa, some 187 km north of Mekelle, the capital of Tigray Regional State — occurred during the ongoing armed conflict between Ethiopia’s federal government and the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF).
Axum, with its ancient ruins and churches, holds significance for the Ethiopian Orthodox faithful, who believe that the Ark of the Covenant, built to hold the tablets inscribed with the Ten Commandments, is located there.
“I was with my friends chilling out on the street, when the bombing started. We were scared and tried to hide underground or in buildings. We found a market and hid there. I saw three people who were friends with each
other try to run on the street. Two of them got injured. The third one was killed: half of his face was removed. We also saw a building hit. Then, later, we went to check it and I saw an old woman [had been] killed by the fallen
building,” one of the witnesses interviewed by Amnesty said.
Another witness described the atrocities “I was at home. I saw around my home what is happening when some soldiers targeted people with sniper rifles, killing people. I … saw the people being shot on the ground when they were running. Approximately 10 people or more. All of them young men … Everyone was scared and ran away.”
The region has become the centre of a humanitarian tragedy since the conflict broke out in early November 2020.
It is estimated that thousands of fighters and civilians have died, and around 4.5 million people require emergency food assistance, of whom an estimated 2.2 million are displaced since Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed ordered the military operation against the region’s former ruling party, the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF).
The Ethiopian authorities and Eritrean authorities have made contradictory statements regarding the involvement of Eritrean troops in the Tigray conflict, with some high-ranking officials denying their presence but others acknowledging it.
Yemane Meskel, the Eritrean minister of information, said his country categorically rejected the “preposterous accusations” and accused Amnesty of basing its report on the testimonies of refugees in in a camp in Sudan.
Amnesty International report documented how the Eritrean military is
responsible for serious violations against Tigrayan civilians in Axum. It concludes that the indiscriminate shelling of Axum by Ethiopian and Eritrean troops may amount to war crimes, and that the mass execution of
Axum civilians by Eritrean troops may amount to crimes against humanity.
Amnesty International called for an international investigation into the events in Axum, and for the Ethiopian government to grant full and unimpeded access to humanitarian, human rights, and media organizations.