Trigger warning for violence, including sexual violence. This is a tough topic. Since November, an “ethnic cleansing” is underway in the northern region of Ethiopia when Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, who ironically received the Nobel Peace Prize, launched a major military operation against the ruling party in the area, the Tigray People’s Liberation Front. This “cleansing” hits close to home for our family, as two of our children were adopted from that area almost 20 years ago. Our hearts are broken.
Two bullets is enough – Video has emerged from Ethiopia’s northern Tigray region where Ethiopian soldiers are seen rounding up a group of young, unarmed men, killing them, and tossing their bodies off a cliff. The soldiers can be heard in the footage urging one another not to waste bullets, to use the minimum amount needed to kill and to make sure none of the group were left alive. They also appear to cheer each other on, praising the killings as heroic and hurling insults at the men in their captivity. Thousands of civilians are believed to have been killed since November, when Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed launched a major military operation against Tigray’s ruling party, the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), sending in national troops and militia fighters from Ethiopia’s Amhara region. The state-appointed Ethiopian Human Rights Commission last week said its investigations found preliminary evidence that more than 100 people in Axum were killed by Eritrean soldiers in November, confirming earlier reports by Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch. In late March, Medecins Sans Frontieres said its staffers had witnessed Ethiopian soldiers drag several men off public buses and execute them near the Tigray capital, Mekelle. (CNN)
Massacre in the mountains – On November 30, scores of religious pilgrims were arriving at the historic Maryam Dengelat monastery complex for the Orthodox festival of Tsion Maryam, an annual feast to mark the day Ethiopians believe the Ark of the Covenant was brought to the country from Jerusalem. The holy day was a welcome respite from weeks of violence, but it would not last. A group of Eritrean soldiers opened fire on Maryam Dengelat church while hundreds of congregants were celebrating mass, eyewitnesses say. People tried to flee on foot, scrambling up cliff paths to neighboring villages. The troops followed, spraying the mountainside with bullets. The soldiers went door to door, dragging people from their homes. Mothers were forced to tie up their sons. A pregnant woman was shot, her husband killed. Some of the survivors hid under the bodies of the dead. More than 100 died that day, including the elderly and children. Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, who was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2019 for resolving a long-running conflict with neighboring Eritrea maintained that no civilians were harmed. (CNN)
Leave no Tigrayan – What started as a political dispute in one of Africa’s most powerful and populous countries has turned into a campaign of ethnic cleansing against minority Tigrayans. Ethiopia claims that life in Tigray is returning to normal, and Abiy has called the conflict “tiresome.” But the refugees the AP spoke with, including some who arrived just hours before, said abuses were still occurring. Almost all described killings, often of multiple people, rapes and the looting and burning of crops that without massive food aid could tip the region into starvation. U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken asserted last month that “ethnic cleansing” has taken place in western Tigray, marking the first time a top official in the international community has openly described the situation as such. The term refers to forcing a population from a region through expulsions and other violence, often including killings and rapes. The Ethiopian government says it rejects “any and all notions and practices of ethnic cleansing” and will never tolerate such practices, “nor will it turn a blind eye to such crimes.” However, almost everyone the AP interviewed said they had watched fellow Tigrayans being killed or seen bodies on the ground. (AP)
Rape as a weapon of war – More than 500 rape cases have been reported to five clinics in Ethiopia’s Tigray region but the actual numbers are likely to be much higher due to stigma and a lack of health services. “Women say they have been raped by armed actors, they also told stories of gang rape, rape in front of family members and men being forced to rape their own family members under the threat of violence,” Wafaa Said, deputy U.N. aid coordinator in Ethiopia, said in a briefing to U.N. member states in New York. One rape victim described how Eritrean soldiers ordered her father to rape her, then shot and killed him when he refused. The soldiers raped her instead. An Ethiopian schoolgirl has told the BBC how she lost her right hand defending herself from a soldier who tried to rape her – and who had also tried to force her grandfather to have sex with her. Many women say they were raped by Amhara forces who told them they were intent on ethnically cleansing Tigray, a doctor working at the sprawling refugee camp in Hamdayet said. “The women that have been raped say that the things that they say to them when they were raping them is that they need to change their identity — to either Amharize them or at least leave their Tigrinya status … and that they’ve come there to cleanse them … to cleanse the blood line,” Dr. Tedros Tefera said. “Practically this has been a genocide,” he added. The leader of a women’s rights group in Tigray said “Many women were raped in Mekelle. This is being done purposely to break the morale of the people, threaten them and make them give up the fight.” (CNN, Reuters, AP, BBC)