Ethiopia: Abiy Ahmed repeating the Hawzen Massacre on Tigrayans


(Source: Tghat, By Abraham A Belay, 25 February 2021 ) –

Memorial in Mekelle City commemorating civilians massacred by the Derg regime (1973-1991) in Hawzen, Tigray in 1988. Photo: Twitter/@nebilhun

The Hawzen massacre was an act of mass murder committed against the Tigrayan civilian population in Hawzen town by the Derg military forces during the summer of 1988, towards the end of the Ethiopian Civil War.

The Derg used 6 fighter jets to bomb civilians on a market day in the middle of Hawzen, reportedly killing more than 2500 civilians. Napalm, a lethal weapon of mass destruction (supplied by Israel), was one of the munitions used in the bombing. The alleged use of napalm by the Ethiopian air force has always been denied by the Derg and its sympathizers. However, there have been accusations that the Ethiopian government had been using napalm since the 1970s. Such accusations are extremely difficult to prove because other munitions cause similar injuries. Phosphorous in particular is even more devastating than napalm because the flame it causes is more difficult to put out.  Water does not extinguish it, and the phosphorous continues to burn through to the bone.

The Human Rights Watch Africa archive documents a strong report based on medical examination of the victims of the Hawzen massacre in 1988. ‘‘A mission to rebel-held Tigray by a British medical team in 1988 discovered evidence of the use of napalm-like weapons. Four patients were suffering from burns. One, Tabey Kidane, aged 19, described what happened to him: ‘I was guarding my cattle near Edaga Habret when burning material came from the sky, burning the trees and the grass and killing one of my cows.’  When examined by Dr Eric Charles ten months later, his burns were still suppurating. The doctor described the wounds: ‘their burns were deep and were a chemical type of burn… they kept erupting and wouldn’t heal.’” Despite the concrete evidence, the Ethiopian government had consistently denied using napalm.

Three decades on, Kibrom Berhe, the leader of Baitona Party – a Tigray-based opposition party – in his recent interview with Awlo Media, accused the Ethiopian National Defense Forces (ENDF) of using banned chemicals to attack villages in Tigray. Kibrom said that “drones were used to spray internationally banned chemicals.” He maintained that this information remains to be verified by independent investigators. There are also reports from eye witness accounts that Eritrean forces burnt or spoiled crops that farmers subsist on. While they looted house furniture including kitchen utensils, in some places they collected what they cannot take and set it on fire.  

The atrocities of the war on Tigray have occurred in the shadows. Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2019 for making peace with neighboring Eritrea, declared the war on Tigray as the world focused on the U.S. election. He accused Tigray’s regional forces of attacking on federal forces and bases. Tigray’s leaders called it anticipatory self-defense after months of tensions.

While the world clamors for access to Tigray to investigate the atrocities on all sides and deliver aid to millions of people in need, the prime minister has rejected outside “interference.” He declared victory in late November and said no civilians had been killed. His government denies the presence of thousands of soldiers from Eritrea, long time enemy of the Tigray leaders.

Earlier in the course of the war on Tigray, Laetitia Bader, Horn of Africa director at the Human Rights Watch, reported that “Ethiopian federal forces fired artillery into Tigray’s urban areas in an indiscriminate manner that was bound to cause civilian casualties and property damage.” She added that “these attacks have shattered civilian lives in Tigray and displaced thousands of people, underscoring the urgency for ending unlawful attacks and holding those responsible to account.”

As of February 2021, many Tigray residents lack adequate access to food, fuel, water, and medicines. More than 200,000 people are internally displaced, while tens of thousands have also fled to neighboring Sudan.

On February 20, 2021, Zecharias Zelalem wrote for the Telegraph about the conduct of mass execution of civilians in and around Shire based on a 4-minute long video account. “…the ground of the Tigrayan village is soaked with blood and dozens of bodies lie strewn in the grasses,” states Zecharias Zelalem. Forty male corpora in civilian clothes with bloodstain on their necks are visible on the video as their bodies lay on the ground (verified by geo-location). This video evidence of the atrocious mass execution of young male Tigrayans by the Ethiopian army is the longest video footage of the ongoing mass killing in Tigray. So far pieces of evidence are mounting that vindicate the war crimes against humanity and potential Genocide.

Associated Press has also made an important anonymous interview with a Deacon in Axum, who has counted the remains of 800 Christians massacred in and around the Ethiopian Orthodox church in Axum.

“Bodies with gunshot wounds lay in the streets for days in Ethiopia’s holiest city…The deacon, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he remains in Axum, said he helped count the bodies — or what was left after hyenas fed. He gathered victims’ identity cards and assisted with burials in mass graves. He believes some 800 people were killed that weekend at the church and around the city, and that thousands in Axum have died in all. The killing continues: On the day he spoke to the AP last week he said he had buried three people.”

Another short video footage of ENDF soldiers killing in Adwa town has also surfaced recently on a respected Tigrayan media source: the Tigray Media House’s Television channel.

A soldier is heard telling a group of 7 teenagers with a loud voice ‘get back’ …apparently after ordering them to remove two dead bodies from the main street to the back of the street, and as it appears on the next short video, a group of soldiers lined up all the 7 boys and after that 7 bullet shots are heard… killing them in an execution-style.

Three Tigray based opposition parties, the Tigray Independence Party, National Congress of Great Tigray and Salsay Weyane Tigray, in a joint statement claimed at least 52,000 civilians died in Tigray region since the conflict began in November. A further 3 million people have been forced to flee their homes and even more are dependent on food aid, according to the statement.  

Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed said, after the statement was published, that enemies of the state were spreading misinformation, but without specifically citing the opposition parties’ statement. The parties’ estimate of the death toll hasn’t been independently verified.

Similarly, Amnesty International has found that abuses against women, including rape, have been widespread. In some cases, the rapes are so organized that women are deliberately detained so that they can be raped or otherwise sexually abused. In the current unprecedented destruction and scorched earth bombardment of the people of Tigray using fighter jets, drones, tanks and over 500,000 ground troops, the whole infrastructure, factories, religious sites (both Churches and Mosques), schools, hospitals, health centers, universities, water supply lines are being looted, destroyed and shipped to the Amhara region and Eritrea. Rape and sexual violence have become the tool of subjugation and unheard of suffering.

The U.N. special representative on sexual violence in conflict says “serious allegations of sexual violence” have emerged in Ethiopia’s embattled Tigray region, while women and girls face shortages of rape kits and HIV drugs amid restrictions on humanitarian access.

“There are also disturbing reports of individuals allegedly forced to rape members of their own family, under threats of imminent violence,” Pramila Patten said in a statement released on January 21, 2021. She added, “Some women have also reportedly been forced by military elements to have sex in exchange for basic commodities, while medical centers have indicated an increase in the demand for emergency contraception and testing for sexually transmitted infections.”

The Associate Press and Reuters reported that Ethiopian Minister, Filsan Abdullahi, has admitted and issued a statement after a task force visited Tigray to investigate accounts of sexual assault in a region under communication blockage, bombardment, extrajudicial execution, destruction of historical sites for the last 4 months.

Members of the ENDF who are captured by TDF in Tigray also reportedly said that they are told to destroy everything and to kill as many people as possible. Ethiopia’s narrative, however, remains as it is the victim and forced into the war. Abiy Ahmed keeps a double face for outsiders and inside the country. He intends to kill as many people as possible by drugging the conflict and blocking any aid. Besides, the Eritrean president Isaias Afewerki was recently quoted in a recent video interview saying that Abiy made a mistake in declaring the war over too soon and he reiterated his desire to see the extinction of all TPLF legacy. It is, therefore, safe to say that the war is over only when Isayas Afewerki says it is over. Till then the rape, plunder, callous and intentional mass killings of civilians are likely to continue unabated. 

In my opinion, the Hawzen bombing has repeated itself under the full intention of Abiy Ahmed and the whole world is standing idle. I think Ethiopia is also on the course of repeating the 1994 Rwandan genocide on Tigrayan minorities. Popular TV and media outlets are seen chanting the 100 million to 6 million narrative. What is unique now (compared to the Hawzen Massacre) is that all this might take place under the electricity and communication blackout where the world will have little or no evidence of the atrocity. For the last 4 months, the Ethiopian federal government has imposed a blanket humanitarian aid, electricity and communications black-out in Tigray, meaning that, no aid or aid worker gets into 80% of Tigray where there is a urgent need for aid and medical support. 

Despite the increasing pressure from international organizations and governments for a peaceful solution to the conflict in the Tigray region and an unimpeded access to the region for humanitarian supplies to the people affected, Abiy Ahmed continues the kill tens of thousands of civilians in the shadow.

Abraham A Belay

Abraham Abraham A. Belay worked as Graduate Assistant at Mekelle University. Currently, he studying international relations at the university of Groningen, the Netherlands.

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