NAIROBI, Kenya: At least 600 civilians were killed during an attack in northern Ethiopia in early November, a state-appointed human rights commission revealed.
In its preliminary report into the November 9 massacre at Mai-Kadra, a town in the Tigray region, the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission (EHRC) said an informal group of Tigrayan youths, aided by local officials and police, “carried out door-to-door” raids, killing hundreds they identified as ethnic “Amharas and Wolkait”.
The EHRC, which describes itself as an “independent national” institution, accused the group, along with local Tigrayan militia and police security, of committing “war crimes” and “crimes against humanity” before they retreated from the advance of the Ethiopian Defense Forces (EDF).
“The unimaginably atrocious crime committed against civilians for no reason other than their ethnicity is heart-breaking,” said EHRC chief Daniel Bekele in a statement. “It is now urgent priority that victims are provided redress and rehabilitation, and that perpetrators involved directly or indirectly at all levels are held to account before the law.”
The attackers destroyed and looted homes while using knives, machetes, hatchets and ropes to butcher or strangle victims, the EHRC said. Witnesses also told the EHRC that other residents of ethnic Tigrayan origin saved lives by hiding people in their homes, churches and fields.
Related story: Ethiopian jets bomb Tigray capital as fighting escalates
Witnesses to the massacre said told Amnesty International that Tigrayan officials were behind the attack and that they targeted ethnic Amharas.
There have also been reports of atrocities committed by federal forces since Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed ordered air strikes and a ground offensive against Tigray’s rulers for defying his authority. Tigrayan leaders have accused federal forces of killing innocent civilians while targeting churches and homes.
The federal government has denied targeting civilians previously. It condemned the attack at Mai-Kadra in a statement on Tuesday, blaming the TPLF.
The conflict threatens to undo years of progress in Africa’s second most populous country and the restive Horn of Africa region.
On Sunday, Abiy Abiy warned members of the TPLF to surrender “within the next 72 hours, recognizing that you are at a point of no return.”
Despite the ultimatum, the TPLF vowed to continue the fight in the north of the country, raising fears of further bloodshed.
“We are not concerned about timing, we are concerned about our final complete success,” said the president of the Tigray region, Debretsion Gebremichael, on Tigray TV Monday night.
Government forces say they are currently closing in on Mekelle ahead of a promised “final phase” of the military operation that includes plans to surround the regional capital Mekelle with tanks.
The UN high commissioner for human rights, Michelle Bachelet, expressed alarm Tuesday at reports of a heavy build-up of tanks and artillery around the city and feared “further violations of international humanitarian law.”
“The highly aggressive rhetoric on both sides regarding the fight for Mekelle is dangerously provocative and risks placing already vulnerable and frightened civilians in grave danger,” Bachelet said in a statement.