Nearly 2,000 people killed in more than 150 massacres committed by soldiers, paramilitaries and insurgents in Tigray have been identified by researchers studying the conflict. The oldest victims were 90 years old and the youngest were infants.
The identifications are based on reports from a network of informants in the northern province of Ethiopia led by a team from Ghent University in Belgium. The team, which has been studying the conflict in Tigray since it broke out last year, has cross-checked the reports with testimonies from family and friends, media reports and other sources.
The list is one of the most comprehensive public documents on the massacres of civilians during the war and will increase international pressure on Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, who has claimed that many reports of atrocities are exaggerated or fabricated out of thin air. rooms.
Abiy launched a military offensive in November to “restore the rule of law” in Tigray by ousting the Popular Front for the Liberation of Tigray (TPLF), the then ruling political party in the province, following a surprise attack against a federal army base.
The offensive was declared successful after the TPLF leadership evacuated its stronghold in Mekelle, the provincial capital, and an interim administration loyal to Addis Ababa was installed.
However, massacres and violence against civilians have continued since, as federal forces and their allies fight the insurgents. Clashes have taken place in recent days around the town of Selekleka, on a key road in central Tigray.
Twenty of the massacres listed by the team – defined as incidents in which at least five people died – occurred in the last month. They include the killing of around 250 civilians in three days in Humera, a town of significant economic and strategic importance in far western Tigray, where ethnic cleansing of local communities has been reported.
Eight days ago, Eritrean soldiers searching for suspected TPLF insurgents killed 13 people in Grizana, a village 50 miles southwest of Mekelle in an area where heavy fighting took place. The victims included three men in their fifties, several women, a 15-year-old and a two-year-old.
Professor Jan Nyssen, a geographer who led the survey and who has spent decades living and working in Tigray, said the research was “like a war memorial”.
He said: “These people should not be forgotten and these war crimes should be investigated… The list must show the scale of what is happening. We know there are many more, but… we know the names and circumstances of those 1,900 people.
The list of identified victims was established after more than 2,000 phone calls, including around 100 in-depth interviews with witnesses. The full list of victims the team compiled from social media posts and other sources stands at more than 7,000. The main research findings based on the information were released on Thursday, and the names have been posted on Twitter.
The researchers found that only 3% of the identified victims had been killed in air strikes or by artillery. Most had been shot dead in summary executions during searches or organized massacres such as that of Aksum, in which 800 people are said to have died, or in the town of Mai Kadra, where 600 died in violence blamed on loyal militias. at TPLF. .
More than 90% of the identified victims were men. Of the incidents where blame can be confidently determined, Ethiopian soldiers appear to have been responsible for 14% of the killings, Eritrean troops who fought alongside federal forces 45%, and irregular paramilitaries from neighboring Amhara province. 5%. Witnesses blamed Ethiopian and Eritrean soldiers operating together in 18% of cases.
Tim Vanden Bempt, one of the researchers, said the team’s list of killings did not include the perpetrators because information was often sketchy.
“A lot of things are still unknown. There are many incidents where we cannot conclude which side is responsible at this time. So, for example, it is possible that there were two or three massacres committed by combatants aligned with the TPLF, but we cannot say that with certainty, ”he said.
Abiy publicly acknowledged the possibility of war crimes in Tigray for the first time last month. He told parliamentarians that despite “the TPLF’s” hype propaganda … reports indicate that atrocities have been committed in the Tigray region. “
He said war was “a bad thing” and promised that soldiers who raped women or committed other war crimes would be held accountable.
Eritrean officials have called the allegations of atrocities committed by their soldiers “outrageous lies”.
Aid officials have said increasing numbers of people could starve to death in Tigray. Madiha Raza, of the International Rescue Committee, recently visited the province and said conditions were dire.
“The situation in rural areas is the worst. Medical centers, schools, hospitals, banks and hotels were looted. The people I interviewed had heard several reports of round-ups and civilian deaths. Farm animals and grain are burned or destroyed and fear tactics are used throughout the conflict, ”said Raza.
There are persistent allegations of widespread human rights violations, including a wave of sexual assault. More than 500 cases of rape have been reported at five clinics in Tigray, the UN announced last month. The actual numbers would likely be much higher due to stigma and the lack of health services, he said.
Selam, a 26-year-old farmer, fled her home in the central town of Korarit with her husband and children and hundreds more in mid-November “because Amhara’s special forces were beating and killing people” . The family walked for a month to get to safety.
“We saw a lot of corpses on our trip… I saw a lot of women being raped in front of my eyes. Five or more soldiers would rape each woman. Some of them were left for dead because of the number of men who raped them, ”she said.
Other witnesses described teenage girls with “broken bones after being raped by 15 or 16 men each”. Metal fences have recently been installed at the University of Mekelle to protect youth hostels housing female students.
Ethiopia’s Ambassador to the UN Taye Atskeselassie Amde said last week that his government takes allegations of sexual violence very seriously and has deployed a fact-finding mission.
In a leaked recording of a meeting last month between foreign diplomats and Ethiopian army general Yohannes Tesfamariam, he described the conflict in Tigray as a “dirty war” and civilians as defenseless.
Lead author of the Ghent report, Dr Sofie Annys, said their maps and database will be regularly updated.