Human Rights Watch accuses government-backed militias and officials of committing ‘war crimes and crimes against humanity’ in the region.
The Ethiopian government has rejected a report by Human Rights Watch (HRW) that alleges an “ethnic cleansing” campaign is under way in western Tigray despite a truce signed in November.
The allegations are “not substantiated by evidence”, Ethiopia’s Government Communication Service said in a statement on Tuesday.
“This distorted and misleading portrayal of the situation attempts to undermine peaceful coexistence and fuel inter-ethnic conflict and obstruct the national efforts for peace and reconciliation,” it said.
The war, which broke out in November 2020, has pitted regional forces from Tigray against Ethiopia’s federal army and its allies, including forces from other regions and neighbouring Eritrea. It stems from grievances rooted in periods of Ethiopia’s turbulent past when particular regional power blocs held sway over the country as a whole.
Fighting has raged on and off since then, killing thousands of civilians, uprooting millions and leaving hundreds of thousands on the brink of famine.
The HRW issued a report last week saying the November peace agreement to end the two-year conflict in Tigray had not stopped “ethnic cleansing” in the disputed western part of the region, known as the Western Tigray Zone.
“The Ethiopian government should suspend, investigate, and appropriately prosecute commanders and officials implicated in serious rights abuses in Western Tigray,” the report said.
“Since the outbreak of armed conflict in Tigray in November 2020, Amhara security forces and interim authorities have carried out a campaign of ethnic cleansing against the Tigrayan population in Western Tigray, committing war crimes and crimes against humanity.”
It was not the first time forces aligned with Ethiopia’s federal government have been accused of forced expulsions and other rights abuses in western Tigray.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken called for troops from the Amhara region to leave Tigray in 2021, accusing them of committing “acts of ethnic cleansing”. An Amhara spokesman at the time dismissed the allegations as “propaganda”.
Western Tigray – fertile land under Tigray’s authority but also claimed by ethnic Amharas as ancestrally theirs – was swiftly captured by federal and Amhara forces during the war. According to the HRW, a concerted campaign of “forced expulsions” began in earnest and has not let up despite the November peace deal.
The Ethiopian government, however, said the US-based rights group made the allegations “without conducting a thorough and credible investigation in all areas affected by the conflict”.
The government said it has embarked on nationwide consultations in a process for transitional justice that will allow a “comprehensive investigation”.
“The truth will be told and perpetrators of crimes will be held accountable,” the statement said.
The UN-backed Commission of Human Rights Experts on Ethiopia issued a report in September saying there was evidence of widespread human rights violations by all sides during the fighting.