Two weeks after Amnesty International released an in-depth investigation concluding that hundreds of civilians were killed by Eritrean forces in the city of Axum in Ethiopia’s Tigray region, posts circulating on social media claimed that the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) conducted its own investigation and found no evidence that the atrocities happened. This is false; USAID told AFP Fact Check that the organisation was not the source of these claims, which were also dismissed on social media.
“Some Good NEWS from USAID, #Axum massacre neither occurred nor substantiated (sic),” reads the caption from a Facebook post published on March 9, 2021.
The post, with more than 130 shares, includes a graphic of a news report by the Ethiopian Herald claiming USAID had found no evidence for the massacre following its own investigation.
However, the claims are false. USAID spokesman Ryan Essman told AFP Fact Check in an email on March 11, 2021, that the organisation was not the source of the quotes attributed to them in the article.
Essman pointed to two tweets from USAID’s official account that addressed the falsely-attributed statements.
“Contrary to a recent report in the Ethiopian Herald about a USAID investigation in Axum, USAID has neither conducted an investigation nor sent a team to investigate the reported events that took place in Axum,” reads one tweet, posted March 9, 2021.
Another tweet in the same thread said: “The U.S. government encourages independent investigations into all reported incidents of atrocities and remains committed to providing humanitarian assistance to all people affected by the ongoing conflicts in Tigray and other parts of the country.”
On March 1, 2021, USAID assembled a Disaster Assistance Response Team (DART) to “assess the situation in Tigray, identify priority needs for the scale-up of relief efforts, and work with partners to provide urgently-needed assistance to conflict-affected populations across the region”.
However, the DART mission did not investigate the massacre itself nor did it probe a mass burial site and detention centres.
AFP Fact Check contacted the Ethiopian Herald about the newspaper’s article but has yet to receive a response. This fact check will be updated if we receive a comment.
According to social media monitoring tool CrowdTangle, the article, published on March 9, 2021, has been shared on Facebook more than 1,100 times.
The false claims surfaced shortly after Amnesty International released an in-depth investigation based on satellite imagery and eye-witness testimonies that concluded the killing of hundreds of civilians in Axum by Eritrean troops was “coordinated and systematic” and “may also constitute crimes against humanity”.
The report from Amnesty found that “between 19 and 28 November 2020, Eritrean troops operating in the Ethiopian city of Axum, Tigray, committed a series of human rights and humanitarian law violations, including killing hundreds of civilians”.
The organisation gathered testimonies from more than 240 people but was unable to independently verify the exact death toll. However, the report noted that corroborating testimonies and evidence indicated that hundreds died, as AFP reported.