Tag Archives: TPLF Maikadra war crimes

Ethiopia’s Human Rights Commission Preliminary Findings about the Maykadra Massacre

24 Nov

Posted by The Ethiopia Observatory (TEO)

Ethiopian Human Rights Commission 

Rapid Investigation into Grave Human Rights Violation in Maikadra Preliminary Findings 

24 November 2020 

Introduction 

The Ethiopian Human Rights Commission (EHRC/The Commission) deployed a team of  human rights experts to Maikadra, in Tigray Region’s Western Zone, for a rapid investigation  into purported mass killings of civilians and related human rights violations.  

Between November 14th, 2020 and November 19th, 2020, the EHRC team travelled between  Maikadra, Abrhajira, Sanja, Gondar, Dansha and Humera and gathered testimonies and other  evidences from victims, eye witnesses, families of victims, first responders, military personnel  and various other sources including government authorities who were present at the time of  EHRC’s visit. The team also visited hospitals and health facilities and talked to survivors and  other relevant authorities.  

This report presents the mission’s key preliminary findings along with highlights of ongoing human rights concerns and recommendations. The full report will follow with additional  detailed and verified evidence.  

Preliminary findings 

Brief description of Maikadra 

Maikadra is a rural town located in Western Zone, Hafta Humera Woreda of Tigray Region. It is situated 30 kilometers south of Humera and 60 kilometers north of Midre Genet (also known  as Abdurafi). An estimated 40,000 to 45,000 people of Tigrayan, Amhara, ’Wolkait’ and other  ethnic origin reside there. Wolkait is the local name for people of Amhara descent who were  born or have long resided in Wolkait Woreda. 

Seasonal workers, mainly from Amhara Region but also from a few other areas, go to Maikadra  for seasonal work on large sesame and millet farms on the outskirts of the town, locally known  as ‘desert plains’, and live in one designated neighborhood with groups of up to 12 people  sharing a single house. As in every other year, these seasonal laborers, also known as ‘saluks’,  have been in Maikadra since September for the season’s harvest.

Preparation leading up to and start of the attack  

People of non-Tigrayan ethnic origin, and especially of Amhara and Wolkait origin, have been  subjected to great fear and pressure from the day the conflict between the Federal and the  Tigray regional governments broke out on November 4th, 2020. The seasonal labourers, in  particular, were altogether prohibited from moving freely in the town, from going to work and  even from returning to their usual place of residence.  

A few days before the attack, when the Ethiopian Defence Forces were said to be nearing the  town, the local administration police and militia forces shut all the exit points from Maikadra. (Militia refers to armed community security personnel who are not part of the regular police  force but are set up by regional/local administration within the structure of, as applicable,  either the Regional Peace and Security Bureau or the Regional Police Commissions. They are  therefore part of the government security apparatus. In rural towns and villages with no regular  police, in particular, militia serve as first security responders.) 

Some of the Maikadra residents who attempted to escape to the ’desert plains’ or the nearby  Sudanese town of Berehet, fearing attacks by a defeated and retreating Tigrayan militia and  special force, were forced back home by the local militia. Around the same time, members of  “Samri” – an informal Tigrayan youth group -set up and manned checkpoints at all of the town’s  four main exits.  

On November 9, 2020, the day of the attack, from around 11:00 AM onwards, the town police started checking identity cards to differentiate people of non-Tigray origin from the rest and  raided all the houses/huts, stretching from the neighbourhood known as “Genb Sefer” up to the  area called Wolkait Bole (Kebele 1 Ketena 1) which is largely resided by ethnic Amharas. They detained up to 60 people they profiled as Amhara and Wolkait and who were said to use  Sudanese SIM cards on their mobile phones and destroyed said SIM cards. Ethiopian SIM cards had already stopped working by then and the motive for confiscating and destroying the  Sudanese SIM cards was to prevent any communications or call for help during the attack,  according to testimony of the people in the area. Women and children of Tigrayan ethnic origin  were made to leave the town a few hours ahead of the attack.  

On the same day (November 9th, 2020), around 3:00 P.M., the local police, militia and the  informal Tigray youth group called “Samri” returned to “Genb Sefer” where the majority of  people of Amhara ethnic origin live and began the attack against civilians. 

According to eyewitnesses and families of victims who spoke with EHRC, the first act committed by the perpetrators was to execute an ethnic Amhara former soldier called Abiy  Tsegaye in front of his family and outside his house and set the house on fire. Afterwards, they threw his body into the fire. Residents said Abiy Tsegaye was a former soldier and militia member who had declined a request to re-join the militia as tensions began to rise. They surmise  that this might be why he was targeted. The victim’s wife and eyewitnesses have given a  detailed account of how the group of perpetrators forced Abiy Tsegaye out of his house and  had him shot in front of his family by a local militia and former colleague called Shambel  Kahsay, before throwing his body into the raging fire that engulfed their house. The EHRC  team also visited said house, still smouldering, and the area around it, still heavy with burned  body smoke. 

How the massacre of civilians unfolded  

Immediately after the attack on Abiy Tsegaye’s house, members of Samri, with the help of the local police and militia, moving from house to house and from street to street, began a cruel  and atrocious rampage on people they pre-identified/profiled as Amharas and Wolkaits. They  killed hundreds of people, beating them with batons/sticks, stabbing them with knives,  machetes and hatchets and strangling them with ropes. They also looted and destroyed  properties.  

While Samri, comprised of several groups consisting of 20 to 30 youth, each accompanied by  an estimated 3 to 4 armed police and militia, carried out the massacre, police and militia – strategically posted at street junctions – aided and directly participated in the carnage by  shooting at those who attempted to escape. 

It has been made apparent that the attack was ethnicity based and specifically targeted men the  attackers profiled through, amongst other things, identification cards, as Amharas and  Wolkaits; but a certain number of people from other ethnic groups have also been killed.  Moreover, it was men who were the specific targets in the attacks. While it can be verified that  women and children were spared, some women, including mothers who have tried to shield  their families, have suffered physical and mental injuries. Eyewitnesses also said women  received threats from the perpetrators that “tomorrow, they will come after the women. It will  be their turn”. 

EHRC spoke with victims who suffered grave physical and mental injuries, including people whose bodies were maimed by sharp objects or severely bludgeoned, as well as others who  were dragged on the ground with their necks tied to a rope. The team also talked to survivors  who describe how the attackers tied them to other people before attacking and of being the only  ones to come out alive. The fact that the main target of the attack, the neighborhood of Genb  Sefer is an area where, as mentioned earlier, laborers live together in large numbers, made it  possible for the perpetrators to attack between 10 and 15 people at once in a single house; 

thereby aggravating the heavy toll. 

While it is not possible yet to verify the exact numbers of the dead, the physically injured and/or  those who suffered property damage, the members of the Burial Committee, set up after the  attack, eyewitnesses and other local sources, estimate a minimum of 600 have been killed and  say the number is likely to be higher still. A mismatch between the large number of bodies and  limited burial capacity meant that burial took three days. EHRC has visited one mass burial  site and seen bodies still scattered on streets. Locals also said that the bodies the perpetrators  dragged to and hid in the bushes and “desert plains” outside the town were not picked up yet  and were therefore not included in the estimates. During the visit, the Commission’s team also  noted that the pungent smell of decaying bodies still lingered in the air.  

Survivors told EHRC that they managed to escape by hiding inside roof openings, pretending  to be dead after severe beatings, fleeing to and hiding in the “desert plains” and, for a few of  them, by hiding inside the nearby Abune Aregawi Church. The attack which began on  November 9th at around 3:00 p.m. went on throughout the night until the perpetrators left in the  early hours of November 10th. The entry into the city of the Ethiopian National Defence Forces  at around 10:00 a.m. made it possible to start the process of getting medical help to victims. 

The Commission visited victims with grave physical injuries as they received treatment in  hospitals in Abrhajira, Sanja and Gondar. 

Humane acts in the midst of inhumanity 

Victims have also explained to EHRC that even though this atrocious massacre was carried out  by Samri, a Tigrayan youth group, other residents, who were Tigrayan themselves, helped  several of them survive by shielding them in their homes, in churches and in farms. 

An exemplary instance is the case of a Tigrayan woman who hid 13 people in her house first, before leading them to a nearby farm. She went as far as staying with them the whole night in  case the group came back in search of them. Another is also of a Tigrayan woman who was  hit on the arm with a machete while trying to wrestle a man away from attackers who set him  on fire. 

Atrocity Crimes against Civilians  

The overall conduct and the results thereof, all point to the fact that the Maikadra attack is not  a simple criminal act but is rather a premeditated and carefully coordinated grave violation of  human rights. More specifically,  

• The perpetrators killed hundreds of people with full intent, a plan and preparation,  

• The conduct was committed as part of a widespread or systematic attack directed  against a civilian population, 

• The perpetrators knew that the conduct was part of or intended the conduct to be part  of a widespread or systematic attack directed against a civilian population, 

• The conduct took place in the context of an armed conflict between the Federal  Government’s National Defence Forces and the Tigray Regional Government’s  security forces while the latter were retreating following a defeat; and perpetrators targeted civilian residents of Maikadra they profiled based on their ethnic origin,  

• During the conduct, the local security apparatus in charge helped and collaborated with  the group known as Samri, responsible for the attacks while the former aided and  participated in the attacks instead of protecting civilians from harm.  

From the above, EHRC is of the view that what transpired in Maikadra on November 9th, 2020  including the killings, bodily and mental injury, as well as the destruction that went on  throughout night and morning, the overall conduct and results thereof, strongly indicate the  commission of grave human rights violations which may amount to crimes against humanity  and war crimes. The full extent of the evidence and elements of the crime will be examined in  detail in the full report. 

When such grave human rights violations occur, all direct and indirect perpetrators at all levels  must be duly investigated and held to account before the law. 

Ongoing human rights concerns that require urgent attention and recommendations 

• EHRC has learned that at least up to November 14th, 2020, people who have escaped from  or were injured by the attacks were still in hiding in the “desert plains” around Maikadra  or had sought shelter in the towns nearby. Among them are also ethnic Tigrayans who fear  retaliatory measures. While EHRC has learned that some of them are returning to Maikadra  over these last few weeks of the month of November, the safety of those who remain in  hiding is of concern. It is therefore imperative to return these displaced persons. Similarly,  the damage caused needs to be documented in a more systematic manner (Those who have  lost their lives and those who have suffered physical injury and/or property damage need  to be identified and the information gathered appropriately recorded. )  

• The residents of Maikadra are in complete shock, grief and psychological trauma from the  attack and the destruction and the separation of family members that followed. When the  EHRC team visited the town, the streets were still lined with bodies yet to be buried. The  psychological and health impacts on the residents is of concern.  

• Because the attack specifically targeted men and most of the victims are heads of  households/breadwinners for their families, a shortage of basic necessities has arisen. The  need for basic necessities, in particular of women, children, and breast-feeding mothers, is  increasing by the day. Moreover, if the harvest is not carried out soon, it might add to the  humanitarian crisis. It is, therefore, essential to invite humanitarian organisations into the affected area and to provide the support necessary to allow return and  recovery/rehabilitation/redress of residents.  

• Maikadra Residents of Tigrayan ethnic origin who fear for their safety, including women  and children, have been assembled in a temporary shelter under the protection of  government security forces. Residents told EHRC that some perpetrators of the attacks may  have also taken refuge among the people in the shelter but EHRC could not independently  verify this information. While it is appropriate, in such unstable security situations, to  provide protection to groups especially vulnerable to various kinds of threats, assembling  them in one location, might, on the contrary, expose them further to discriminatory  treatment. It is therefore urgent to identify perpetrators, if any, hiding in there and close the  said shelter.  

• The continued interruption of telecommunications, water and electricity supplies has  prevented the delivery of basic necessities, and the reunification of separated families. It  has also made provision of health and related services difficult. It requires urgent attention.  

• The media and influencers must ensure that the information they share regarding the  Maikadra attacks, is sensitive to the psychological pressure this puts on survivors and the  community in general. 

/Ethiopian Human Rights Commission

AI investigation reveals evidence that scores of civilians were killed in massacre in Tigray state

14 Nov

Posted by The Ethiopia Observatory (TEO)

Amnesty International can today confirm that scores, and likely hundreds, of people were stabbed or hacked to death in Mai-Kadra (May Cadera) town in the South West Zone of Ethiopia’s Tigray Region on the night of 9 November.

The organization’s Crisis Evidence Lab has examined and digitally verified gruesome photographs and videos of bodies strewn across the town or being carried away on stretchers. It confirmed the images were recent and using satellite imagery, geolocated them to Mai-Kadra in western Tigray state (14.071008, 36.564681).

“We have confirmed the massacre of a very large number of civilians, who appear to have been day labourers in no way involved in the ongoing military offensive. This is a horrific tragedy whose true extent only time will tell as communication in Tigray remains shut down,” said Deprose Muchena, Amnesty International’s Director for East and Southern Africa.We have confirmed the massacre of a very large number of civilians, who appear to have been day labourers in no way involved in the ongoing military offensive. This is a horrific tragedy whose true extent only time will tell as communication in Tigray remains shut down. Deprose Muchena, Amnesty International’s Director for East and Southern Africa.

“The government must restore all communication to Tigray as an act of accountability and transparency for its military operations in the region, as well as ensure unfettered access to humanitarian organizations and human rights monitors. Amnesty International will regardless continue to use all means available to document and expose violations by all parties to the conflict.”

The organization has also spoken to witnesses, who were providing food and other supplies to the Ethiopian Defense Forces (EDF), who visited the town immediately after the deadly attack, on the morning of 10 November, to find dead bodies strewn all over the town, as well as injured survivors.

Most of the dead bodies were found in the tow​n centre, near the Commercial Bank of Ethiopia, and along a road that exits to the neighbouring Humera town, according to the witnesses and verified images.

People who saw the dead bodies told Amnesty International that they had gaping wounds that appear to have been inflicted by sharp weapons such as knives and machetes, reports which have been confirmed by an independent pathologist commissioned by Amnesty International. Witnesses said there were no signs of gunshot wounds.

The witnesses said that together with the EDF soldiers, they found some wounded people among the dead and took them to nearby hospitals in Abreha-Jira and Gondar, before removing dead bodies from the streets.

“Those wounded told me they were attacked with machetes, axes and knives. You can also tell from the wounds that those who died were attacked by sharp objects. It is horrible and I am really sad that I witnessed this in my life,” one distraught witness said

‘Soaked in blood’

Amnesty International has not yet been able to confirm who was responsible for the killings, but has spoken to witnesses who said forces loyal to the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) were responsible for the mass killings, apparently after they suffered defeat from the federal EDF forces.

Three people told Amnesty International that survivors of the massacre told them that they were attacked by members of Tigray Special Police Force and other TPLF members.

“There was a military operation by the EDF and Amhara Special Force against the Tigray Special Police and militia at a place called Lugdi during the daytime on 9 November. After they defeated the Tigray forces, the EDF spent the night on the outskirts of Mai-Kadra town. When we entered, we saw a lot of dead bodies, soaked in blood, on the streets and rental dormitories frequented by seasonal workers. The view was really debasing, and I am still in shock struggling to cope with the experience,” a civilian who entered the town after it was retaken by EDF told Amnesty International.When we entered the town, what we saw was devastating. The roads were strewn with dead bodies especially in the centre of the town, and on the road the connects the town to Humera. Civilian who witnessed the aftermath of the massacre

This was corroborated by another who said: “We went to the town immediately after the army and the Amhara Special Force took control of Mai-Kadra town on 10 November around 10 am. The army entered … after encircling the town overnight. There was no exchange of fire for the army to take over the town. But when we entered the town, what we saw was devastating. The roads were strewn with dead bodies especially in the centre of the town, and on the road the connects the town to Humera.”

“The Ethiopian authorities must immediately, thoroughly, impartially and effectively investigate this blatant attack on civilians and bring those responsible to justice in fair trials,” said Deprose Muchena.

“TPLF commanders and officials must make clear to their forces and their supporters that deliberate attacks on civilians are absolutely prohibited and constitute war crimes. All parties in the Tigray conflict must ensure full respect for international humanitarian law and human rights law in their operations.  The safety and protection of civilians must be paramount.”

While the official death toll in Mai-Kadra is not yet known, the Amhara regional government’s media agency AMMA reported there were around 500 victims, adding that they were primarily non-Tigrayan residents of the town. A man who is helping to clear the bodies from the streets told Amnesty International that he had looked at the state-issued identification cards of some victims, and most were Amhara.

Background

On 4 November 2020, Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed ordered the Ethiopian Defence Forces (EDF) to militarily engage with the Tigray Regional Paramilitary Police and militia loyal to the Tigray People Liberation Front (TPLF) in what he stated was a response to multiple attacks by the Tigray security forces on the EDF North Command base in Mekelle and other military camps in Tigray Region.

Since the start of the conflict, there have been armed confrontations between federal forces (Federal Army, Amhara Region’s Special Force Police and Amhara local militia) on one side and the Tigray regional forces (Tigray Special Force Police and militia) on the other side

The Ministry of Defence and the Prime Minister have announced that Ethiopian Air Force planes carried out multiple air strikes against TPLF military installations. The Prime Minister and the Army Chief of Staff pledged to continue air strikes on selected targets without endangering civilian life, advising residents to stay away from ammunition depots and other military targets. 

According to the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), as of 11 November, some 7,000 refugees had fled western Tigray state into neighbouring Sudan.

/ Amnesty International Statement 12 November 2020, 17:25 UTC

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