(NEW YORK) — Ethnic cleansing campaigns have continued in Ethiopia’s Tigray region, despite a November 2022 peace agreement, according to a new report by Human Rights Watch.
“The November truce in northern Ethiopia has not brought about an end to the ethnic cleansing of Tigrayans in Western Tigray Zone,” Laetitia Bader, deputy Africa director for Human Rights Watch, said in a statement. “If the Ethiopian government is really serious about ensuring justice for abuses, then it should stop opposing independent investigations into the atrocities in Western Tigray and hold abusive officials and commanders to account.”
The new report highlights that Tigrayans have suffered forced expulsions and deportations, torture, death and life-threatening treatment that “may amount to the crime against humanity of extermination” on the basis of their identity.
The Ethiopian military entered Tigray, a semi-autonomous region in the northern part of the country, on Nov. 4, 2020, in response to claims the Tigray People’s Liberation Front attacked a military base in the region, according to the country’s prime minister.
The war in Tigray is estimated to have claimed the lives of up to 600,000 civilians between November 2020 and August 2022, according to researchers from Belgium’s Ghent University. Han Nyssen, senior professor of geography at Ghent University, told ABC News in January that the true scale of death in Ethiopia’s Tigray region remains hard to ascertain.
“We [still] have almost no view of what happens in Western Tigray,” he said.
Human Rights Watch conducted dozens of interviews with witnesses, victims and humanitarian aid staff in gathering information about the bleak conditions for Tigrayans.
“The [militias] came into my home and said I need to leave because it’s not our land,” a woman from the town of Adebai who was forced to flee toward Sudan told Human Rights Watch on the condition of anonymity. “They would knock at midnight and say Tigrayans can’t come back.”
More than a thousand Tigrayans have been arbitrarily detained from September 2022 to April 2021, in the Western Tigrayan towns of Humera, Rawyan and Adebai, according to the report. One interviewee who was held at Bet Hintset prison told Human Rights Watch that detainees endured poor treatment, with many dying due to lack of food and medication.
The African Union, which convened the peace talks alongside members of the high-level, AU-led Ethiopian Peace Process panel, reached a “cessation of hostilities agreement” on Nov. 2, 2022. It said at the time it marked an “important step in efforts to silence the guns.”
Many of the displaced — which the U.N. registered as 47,000 in eastern Sudan as of October 2022 — told Human Rights Watch that they felt unsafe returning home due to intimidation from abusive officials and security forces that remain in the region.
The Human Rights Watch has called on the Ethiopian government to “suspend, investigate and appropriately prosecute” commanders and officials who are implicated in the abuse of human rights in Western Tigray.
“If the Ethiopian government is really serious about ensuring justice for abuses, then it should stop opposing independent investigations into the atrocities in Western Tigray and hold abusive officials and commanders to account,” Bader said.
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