Eritrean troops allied with Ethiopia’s government have “committed war crimes and possible crimes against humanity” in Tigray, rights group Amnesty International says.
In a report released on Monday, Amnesty detailed how Eritrean soldiers extrajudicially executed civilians and sexually enslaved women for months after the signing of a peace agreement last year.
The war, which broke out in November 2020, pitted regional forces from Tigray against Ethiopia’s federal army and its allies, which include forces from other regions and from neighbouring Eritrea.
In 2021, Eritrea was sanctioned by the United States for sending troops into Tigray in support of Ethiopia’s federal forces, with its soldiers accused of murder, rape and looting during the two-year war.
The conflict resulted in hundreds of thousands of deaths, and it only ended last November with the agreement of a ceasefire between the Ethiopian government and the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) under the mediation of the African Union.
The deal called for the withdrawal of foreign forces from the region. Eritrea was not a party to the agreement and residents say its troops continue to be present in border areas.
Amnesty said it interviewed 49 people in May and June in the border districts of Mariam Shewito and Kokob Tsibah, corroborating their testimonies with satellite imagery as well as the accounts of social workers, medical experts and government officials.
“Despite the signing of the Cessation of Hostilities Agreement, atrocities against civilians in Tigray continued with Eritrean soldiers subjecting women to horrific abuse including rape, gang rape and sexual enslavement, while civilian men were extrajudicially executed,” said Tigere Chagutah, Amnesty’s East and Southern Africa director.
“The serious violations documented in this report amount to war crimes and possibly crimes against humanity,” the rights watchdog said.
Some women were raped inside an Eritrean military camp while others were attacked and kept prisoner in their own homes, it added.
A single mother of three told Amnesty she was repeatedly raped for three months and held in a military camp with 14 other women.
“They kept taking turns raping me,” she said, adding that the soldiers also deprived their victims of food and water.
Another woman, aged 37, said she was beaten and raped for nearly three months by soldiers inside her own home.
“They told me, ‘whether you shout or not, no one is going to come and rescue you’. And then they raped me.”
Amnesty also documented the execution of 24 civilians, including one woman, between November 2022 and January 2023, citing interviews with survivors, witnesses, victims’ families and local officials.
Amnesty said Eritrean and Ethiopian authorities have not responded to its preliminary findings.
Earlier this year, officials from both countries rejected a determination by the US Department of State that their armies, along with all sides in the conflict, had committed war crimes.
Ethiopia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs called the US claims “inflammatory” and “untimely”, while the Eritrean Ministry of Foreign Affairs said they were “unsubstantiated and defamatory”.
“Such apportioning of blame is unwarranted and undercuts support of the US for an inclusive peace process in Ethiopia,” the Ethiopian Foreign Ministry said in a statement in March this year.
Amnesty also urged the African Union’s rights commission to “rescind its decision” to scrap an investigation into atrocities in Tigray without publishing a report on its findings or recommendations.
Ethiopia has repeatedly rejected international efforts to investigate abuses connected with the war in Tigray and warned that any inquiries could undermine the progress of the AU-brokered peace agreement.
During a rare news conference in Kenya earlier this year, Eritrean President Isaias Afwerki dismissed accusations of rights abuses by Eritrean troops in Tigray as “fantasy”.