The Ethiopian Human Rights Commission said Wednesday that Eritrean soldiers killed over 100 civilians in a November massacre in war-torn Tigray that may amount to crimes against humanity.
The findings by the government-affiliated but independent body corroborate separate investigations by Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch into the same killings in the historic town of Axum.
“Information collected during this preliminary investigation confirm that during the two days of November 28 and November 29, grave violations of human rights were committed and that in Axum, over one hundred residents… were killed by Eritrean soldiers,” the commission said.
“As these grave human rights violations may amount to crimes against humanity or war crimes, it underscores the need for a comprehensive investigation into overall human rights situation in Tigray region.”
The latest report comes after Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed admitted for the first time that Eritrean troops had crossed the border into Tigray, and suggested they may have been involved in abuses against civilians.
Addis Ababa and Asmara had for months flatly denied the involvement of Eritrean forces in the conflict, and described reports of their alleged atrocities in the region as misinformation and propaganda.
– ‘Door to door’ –
The EHRC conducted a fact-finding mission to Axum, a UNESCO World Heritage site, in late February and early March after earlier attempts to reach the town were “impeded by the security situation”.
The rights commission spoke to dozens of witnesses who said Eritrean troops shot unarmed civilians and fired on those who tried to collect their bodies.
“Eritrean soldiers went door to door asking women ‘where their husbands or children were’ telling them ‘to bring their sons out if they have any’,” the report stated.
Corpses were left in the streets for days, some being dismembered by animals, witnesses said.
Like Amnesty and HRW — which separately reported hundreds butchered in Axum — the EHRC could not provide an exact death toll. The commission was still verifying more victims and investigating other alleged atrocities in areas around Axum, it said.
Eritrean and Ethiopian troops were also accused of looting hospitals — even taking hospital beds and mattresses — resulting in crippling medicine and equipment shortages that resulted in patient deaths, the report said.
Abiy sent troops into Tigray on November 4 after he blamed the region’s ruling party, the Tigray People’s Liberation Front, for attacks on federal army camps.
He declared fighting over in late November with the capture of the regional capital but reports of widespread rape, murder and looting by Ethiopian and Eritrean forces have spurred calls for an investigation.
The United Nations, among other members of the international community, have urged Eritrean troops to withdraw from Tigray.